Be Present.

Features like "Do Not Disturb" allow you to minimize distractions so you can be present.

Features like “Do Not Disturb” allow you to minimize distractions so you can be present.

I rearranged my entire schedule this past September so I could attend a parent/child class with my daughter, Isabelle, two mornings a week. It’s quickly become a sacred time. Keeping this time free for the two of us has become tricky, especially when medical appointments are only available on a given day of the week or consulting offers come up.  While I have occasionally had my mother or mother-in-law take Isabelle to class, I try not to schedule anything else on those mornings so I can be present for my daughter.  During class time, the other moms and I aren’t just physically present for our kids.  We’re emotionally present since no one’s cell phone is ever out. In fact, they’re banned from the classroom! This ban has helped me keep all of my attention on Isabelle. Since I cannot take out my iPhone, I focus on her play and conversing with the other moms rather than thinking about the calls I need to make or the e-mails in my inbox.  Everything waits until class ends at 11:30 a.m.

Smart phones have crept into nearly every crevice of our society.  I notice families at restaurants who are plugged in to their cell phones at dinnertime rather than talking to each other.  I might give another driver the fish-eye and find their eyes are on their phone, rather than the road, while we’re driving on an interstate.  I’ve seen parents pull out a Blackberry during my daughter’s music class to check e-mail rather than partaking in the music class.  Do people want to be somewhere other than where they are?

Most of the people I regularly hang out with are present when we dine out or get together at someone’s house.  However, there are a few people whose cell phones are always on the table, in their back pocket, or are in their palm.  They’re grabbing their phones every time there’s a ding to see who needs them.  While I rarely say anything about this behavior, I get agitated when someone is more interested in using their phone to communicate with someone else rather than conversing with the people they’re scheduled to be with.   [NOTE: I’m not talking about the occasional response to a text (or e-mail) that comes in during a dinner out with friends.  I’m talking about the folks whose heads are always down during social interactions.]

Don’t get me wrong, I like my iPhone! It has changed my life more than any other possession.  I especially appreciate the way it helps me stay connected when I cannot get to my computer. However, I’ve had to set limits on the way I use it so that my head isn’t always down.  For instance, my husband and I  do not allow smart phones during mealtime.  Therefore, we don’t placate our daughter at restaurants by allowing her to watch videos on our iPhones.  If we have a burning question at dinnertime, we hold on to it, like we did in the old days, and look up the answer after we’re finished eating.  My husband and I are strict about this no cell phone policy since we want to be present for our daughter and each other during mealtimes.

I’m from the belief that it’s important to be present during professional activities too.  For instance, I tuck my phone away when I attend board meetings since I don’t want people to think I’m Facebooking rather than listening to someone who is presenting a report.  When it comes to me teaching, I like having a captive audience.  Therefore, when I taught a graduate course in children’s literature and the teaching of writing last summer, I crafted a cell phone policy for my syllabus.

It is expected that participants will turn off cell phones during class. If the participant is expecting an important call, please inform the instructor at the beginning of class, and set the phone to vibrate. Please do not answer the call in the classroom. Please be courteous to other learners by excusing yourself, and leaving the classroom to answer the call.

In addition, if you need to send or receive a text message during the class, then please leave the room to do this.

Initially, I worried about enforcing this policy.  I reviewed it on the first day of class and thankfully no one’s cell phone rang or dinged once.  This ring-free, text-free environment allowed for the maximum amount of learning to occur.  Everyone was physically and mentally present for class every time we met.

There’s another place we must be present: in our cars.  I cannot tell you how often I drive past other drivers who are looking down and texting.  It frightens me because the threat is real.  Texting and driving never mix no matter how quiet a stretch of road may seem.  Therefore, if you’ve ever read or sent an occasional text while driving, I hope you’ll take the time to watch this “Rock Center” report by Kate Snow. It’s a reminder of why it’s gravely important to always be present behind the wheel.

Fatal Distraction: Texting & Driving Like “Russian Roulette”

Knowing when to be present helps me think about being more intentional when dividing my time between technology and the people in my life.  I’ve come to believe that in order to be present we must put down our smart phones.  It’s time to talk to one another, face to face, again.  I hope you’ll join me in an effort to be present with those you’re with in the weeks and months to come.

How do you make yourself present for your students, your family, and your friends? Share your tips by leaving a comment.

This is the third in a series of six posts about taking care of yourself and others.

Post 1:  Be more than busy. Be productive. Be happy.

Post 2:  Schedule some time for yourself in 2013.

Please come back on Friday, February 1st for the next post in this miniseries.

A special thank you to Melanie Meehan who got me thinking about the idea of being present a couple of months ago.