Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. — Simone Weil

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. — Simone Weil


In my early 20’s, I memorized the following quote as I was sure it would become a handy reference later in life. I still remember it and thought it would make a good conversation piece this month. Here is the quote.

“For yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow is only a vision; but today well-lived, makes yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. Look well therefore to this day; such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!” Kalidasa—The Sanskrit

In our current connected environment, we are challenged to multi-task with smart phones, email, social media, alternate reality, and virtual reality. As a result, we rarely appreciate the moment we are currently in. To be productive and execute at a high level, it is important to “Be Here Now,” to live well in the moment in which we currently reside. Let’s talk about a few ways to focus our efforts, including: Putting Away Your Toys; No Social Media in the Workplace; Not Overthinking; Getting Lost in the Moment and Know What You Don’t Know.

1. Put away your toys.

I received an email from a peer group partner and on the bottom of his signature line it said…”I review my emails at 7:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. I will respond when I receive your email.” He has managed my expectations and he has also allowed himself not to be distracted by the barrage of extraneous communication. Keep your phones out of meetings. Think of the things that distract you…then get rid of them.

2. Social media is not for the workplace.

I read an article on Facebook (I’m joking) in a leadership blog from a serial entrepreneur and investor who listed out a myriad of things he could do to become more effective in his work. After 90 days he found he wasn’t achieving his goals, so he quit using Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms during the work day and said he wished he had done it 90 days earlier. It wastes time, makes people less happy and is not trustworthy. There is no place for personal social media at the office. Just get rid of it.

3. You improve your performance by not overthinking.

My wife was on the ballroom dance team of the most decorated dance program in the nation. Dancing with her was always a fabulous experience, but also very intimidating. So, I took beginning dance, then intermediate and found that by focus and practice I got to a point that I quit thinking about dancing and just did it and began to enjoy it. Focusing on the present moment forces you to stop overthinking. "Being present-minded takes away some of that self-evaluation and getting lost in your mind—and in the mind is where we make the evaluations that beat us up," says Stephen Schueller, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Instead of getting stuck in your head and worrying, you can let yourself go.

4. Get lost in the moment.

We tend to make the best use of time when we lose track of it. Have you ever looked up from your desk after working on a thought provoking project or after an engaging meeting and realized that it was a couple of hours later than you thought? Think about it, why did the time go so quickly? Patty and I once went to a concert where Yo-Yo Ma was performing on the cello and we were astonished at the virtuosity with which he played. He didn’t have sheet of music in front of him, in fact, most of the time his eyes were closed as his fingers flew up and down the neck of his instrument. He wasn’t thinking about the bar of music or the finger placement. He was living in the moment and taking us with him on the journey. We most likely will not play an instrument like Mr. Ma, but we can have the same experience as we focus to execute our duties at the highest levels.

5. Know what you don’t know.

When I worked for ‘The Limited’ retail group in Columbus, Ohio, the founder of the company, Les Wexner would attend Monday meetings where we discussed the last week results. I remember him saying, after one buyer was trying to explain why their business wasn’t good, “You can’t not know what you don’t know.” If you don’t understand why things aren’t working the way you thought they would, then find out! You've probably had the experience of driving along a highway only to suddenly realize you have no memory or awareness of the previous 15 minutes. Maybe you even missed your exit. You just zoned out; you were somewhere else, and it's as if you've suddenly woken up at the wheel. Or maybe it happens when you're reading a book: "I know I just read that page, but I have no idea what it said."

The philosopher Simone Weil said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” We would do well to give attention to our homes, families, co-workers and acquaintances and show this generosity abundantly. We are all beginning a new year…let’s take some time to resolve how we can make the most of the moments we are given. When we are at work--be at work, when we are otherwise engaged--focus on it, enjoy it. When we do this, the future usually takes care of itself and it will be our vision of hope. Happy New Year.