When you’re brainstorming.
When you’re typing.
When anyone is describing something important or difficult to you.
(But not while you’re driving!)
No, seriously. Research has shown that our brains can’t really multitask, and also that blocking off your vision allows your brain to concentrate more of its power on the task at hand–be it listening or brainstorming.
(OK, so the second suggestion is more in jest, but it will improve your typing, and especially when you’re copying down the results of a creativity burst, will help you keep focus on what you were thinking, instead of all the other distracting stuff on the screen.)
I learned this trick implicitly many years ago, and just about every boss (except the current one) has tried to break me of the habit. (I’m sure I did it in inappropriate situations more often in my youth, but it always improved my concentration.)
So perhaps you shouldn’t start off trying this technique out while in one-on-one press briefings with Intel, HP, or Autodesk, but do try it.
Start out when you’re on a conference call in your office, so nobody can criticize you. Keep your keyboard (or better yet, pen and paper) handy, and open your eyes whenever you need to take notes.
Once you’ve understood the benefits, try it under more public circumstances. Say you’re talking to someone face-to-face, and they say something you don’t quite understand. Resist the urge to nod your head in silent, fake understanding. Instead, ask them to repeat the statement or question again; more slowly and carefully. Make eye contact with them, but then immediately close your eyes when they start talking. Maybe cock your head a little, to show you’re really concentrating. And you must acknowledge that you’re paying attention, so either ask an occasional question, use hand gestures.
If you do it right, and are really concentrating on what they are saying (instead of what others are thinking), I’ll bet you will find you start asking more profound questions.