Presence for Productivity . . . Plus

October 1, 2009 Leave a comment

My colleague Linda Guinee recently forwarded a great blog post by Mark McGuinness of Lateral Action .  Mark is a consultant in the realm of personal creativity and productivity and he is the father of infant twins.  This recent development has him taking a hard look at the advice he often gives others and what holds up under the demands of two babies and sleepless nights.  Whether or not you are a parent of young children, it is well worth a read, and I couldn’t agree more with tips such as “let go of routines, focus on systems” and “you can’t please all the people all the time, prioritize the important stuff.”  Much of this is in line with Melinda’s post last week (see “Less=More: A Dare”).

As a parent of twins myself (today is their 4 month birthday), I am tempted to add to McGuinness’ list of tips.  My addition may or may not fit perfectly into the category of productivity, but I believe that it does have relevance to overall quality of work and life.  And that is the profound importance of BEING PRESENT.  What I am learning right now, at times begrudgingly, is that as soon as I try to escape where I am, the pain begins, not just for me but often for those around me.  As soon as my mind drifts to what it would be like to not change diapers or tend to crying babies, I struggle to stay in the moment and my daughters and wife pick up on my distractedness and frustration.   Similarly, at work if I am focused on my guilt about not being home more with my wife and the kids, my colleagues sense my lack of attention (and occasional grumpiness) and the quality of my contributions suffers.

How humbling this is!  I am reminded of a frequent conversation that we have in our collaboration workshops about what one does in those moments when facilitating very challenging groups and situations, when the heat or uncertainty is really up.  What’s the tool that gets us through?  Time and again, we come back to the need to be grounded, to stay in the moment, to refrain from making our only options fight or flight.  The third path, so to speak, is to simply be where we are, to sit with the discomfort and see what emerges.  This is in keeping with the guidance offered by seasoned facilitators Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff in their wisely titled book Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There! Depending on the situation, this approach can yield previously unnoticed (and important) details, a deeper connection to others, an elevated sense of our own awkward feelings. . . .  What it avoids is the tendency to be resistant or combative, neither of which tends to further our cause.  So the question I have is how do we, how do you, stay present when circumstances do little to support us in that direction?  And if you have a free hand and are dying to change and/or hold a baby, let me know!

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  • My first blog response. Hindsight reveals that being present is powerful. Thank you for naming what I experienced in my workshop on Saturday. I look forward to holding both babies.

  • Curtis says:


    Welcome to the blogosphere! Hope we can keep some of our conversations going here. This Thursday I plan to talk more about what being present at the Retreat inspired in my own thinking. The grassroots rising! Talk soon . . . and babies look forward to being held!


  • Congratulations on your twins Curtis! It’s great to see you can get to 4 months of looking after them and still write so lucidly. 🙂

    And thank you for your kind words about my piece. I agree that being present is important, both for quality of life and quantity/quality of productivity. Fortunately I find the babies usually have the effect of bringing me into the present – it’s hard to interact with them any other way.

    Ruwan left a nice comment on my post, about the positive effect of having your awareness of time narrowed by caring for babies:

  • Curtis says:

    Thanks for your message, Mark. I agree that it is hard to interact with the babes without being present. It’s just the (mostly unseen) internal struggle that can be the big bear. And I agree that there is a blessing in all of this in that I am keenly aware of how I want to be spending my time as it seems more precious than ever! As we here at the Institute continue our work with change agents on the fronts of social justice and sustainability, I’m wondering how we might encourage folk to be conscious of this preciousness, not just of time but of other resources as well, so as to use them wisely, not wastefully or wantonly. For some reason a quote from Wendell Berry just came to mind that speaks to the importance of reverence and humility in the face of the world’s beauty so that we can stay in it!

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