It was a dimly lit restaurant. Still she was dressed in pink, and while I admit it\’s hard to tell the gender of three month old babies, clothing color is a reliable clue. So, it surprised me when the waitress began playing with my granddaughter, asking “How old is he?”

Twenty minutes later, that same waitress served our dinners into my daughter-in-law\’s lap, spilling the contents of her tray as she approached the table. We made light of the occurrence, assisting her with basic cleanup, but the interaction got me thinking.

I\’ve met and managed too many people who operate like that waitress. They\’re “at work” but not “present.” Preoccupied. Disengaged. Daydreaming. Bored. Text Messaging. Socializing. Whatever. Their body is somewhere their mind isn\’t. They\’re easy to spot as they go about their tasks in a robotic dance of just enough-to-get-by-ness.

These disengaged people seem unaware their present actions carve their future opportunities. They\’re surprised when they don\’t get the biggest raise, next promotion, or most interesting work. They\’re astonished when the fun project or great client doesn\’t come their way. After all, they\’ve earned it. They\’ve put in their time.

But time spent is not the important currency at work, nor is it a key to winning at working. What\’s prized is your presence; your engaged passion; yours enhanced efforts.

Malcolm Forbes said, “Presence is more than just being there.” He\’s right. Presence is conscious action and deliberate intention. Presence is purposeful engagement of self. And that purposeful engagement differentiates people who are winning at working from people who aren\’t.

You see, when you go through the motions or come to work without being engaged, you\’re passing time. It\’s not only the boss or the company or the customer you short change – it\’s yourself. Passing time diminishes your ability to be winning at working, reducing your opportunities, financial gains, and interesting work. Passing time hinders you from living your potential.

Whether you\’re bussing tables or performing surgery, stocking shelves or drafting briefs, cleaning houses or teaching classes, you can\’t be offering the best of who you are to your work, your life, or yourself unless you\’re engaged, conscious, attentive, and intentional about the tasks you\’re doing. And I\’d wager you can\’t be enjoying your work much either.

But here\’s the thing. Even if those tasks are far from your interests, when you\’re intentionally engaged, time flies. Purposeful engagement transforms the way you think about and approach your work, allowing you to both learn and contribute. People who are winning at working know that being present magnifies their results, enhances their potential, and creates their future. They\’re not just at work, they\’re actively in it.

(c) 2007 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008). Host of “Work Matters with Nan Russell” weekly on Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. Sign up to receive Nan\’s “Winning at Working” tips and insights at

Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, and speaker. Her career insights column, Winning at Working ( ) regularly appears on over eighty websites; and her life-reflections column, In the Scheme of Things ( is published in six states and Canada. Her work has been selected to appear in several anthologies. To sign up for Nan's free eColumn(s), or read more about Nan or her work, visit: