A note from Kelly King: In a culture of busyness and connectedness to technology, Casey Merrifield’s article today is a good reminder that we can’t live our lives in “one gear.” Just like my bicycle that has different gears for different terrains, we must shift from one gear to another as we navigate times of focus and times of rest. This is an article you’ll want to read and reread again and consider how you can incorporate it into your life.
I was out to dinner recently, when I noticed an all-too-familiar scenario. A young family was sitting at the table waiting on their food, but nobody was talking to each other. They were all looking at their screens, fully engaged in something other than the people around the table. You’ve seen it too, and you’ve also been around the guy or gal at work who never gives you his or her full attention when you need to get some important instruction to complete your work. They are either half-way completing an email while trying to carry on a conversation with you or constantly shuffling papers as you try to engage. You wonder if they even care about you or the conversation you are trying to have.
In a digital world where our work never ends, we are in desperate need to find a reprieve from all the notifications that distract us with their constant “buzz” or personalized ring tones. Gone are the days when we only receive phone calls at the home or office. And with the computers that fit neatly in our pockets or are often attached to the palm of our hands, we are constantly “available” and tied to the never-ending tasks that monopolize most of our days. We are connected 24/7, and yet we must be honest to ask, “Are we really connected to the people right in front of us?”
The distractions are not going to end, and the tasks will always be there. When coaching people, we offer a small visual tool that helps leaders process “shifting” through the “5 Gears” as a way to be more present and productive with the people they value and the tasks and projects that need their time.
In Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram’s book, 5 Gears: How to Be Present and Productive When There is Never Enough Time, they suggest that our lack of connectivity is a result of our inability to shift in and out of the right gears at the right time. Not only does this tool give us an objective language to understand the realities of our day-to- day engagements with people and tasks, but it gives us a chance to be intentional with shifting in and out of the right gears so we connect appropriately, offering our best in the right moments, and thus, growing our relationships and influence. The authors say that “the combined lack of awareness and practice explains why we have so many people suffering from the realities of workaholism, social awkwardness, rude commentary, and a rash of disconnection within families, spousal relationships, boards, and teams.”
Changing the language changes the conversation.
When everyone learns the gears and when it’s appropriate to be in a specific one, you can help everyone be in the right gear. You can avoid the frustrations that accompany people being in the wrong gear at the wrong time. As the leader, you get to call the play. You get to set the tone for what gear is the expectation, and the gears’ language is an objective way to set that tone.
So, next time you’re at dinner with your family and the screens are front and center of everyone’s world, the language helps you get in the right gear. Instead of the often emotionally charged accusation of “Nobody is engaged when we’re all together; everyone is always staring at their phones,” maybe you can say, “Hey, what gear are we in? Dinner time is for second gear.” I can’t guarantee that everyone will want to be in second gear, but you do have the chance to lead your family to intentional times of connecting by using a language that everyone can understand—even those kiddos of yours.
Or what about the team meeting, when you really need to get into fifth gear? Sometimes team meetings can feel more like an office party, where everyone is there for the social engagement (third gear) rather than being focused (fifth gear). Now, you can say, “Hey, we need to get into fifth gear for the next forty-five minutes.” Here is a hint for those of you who love fifth gear, but rarely find a need for third gear. You will have a more productive fifth gear team meeting if you shift into third gear for the first five to ten minutes of your meeting. It doesn’t have to be an extended shift, but when you can go around the table and just check in with the people on your team before getting focused, it will change the dynamic of your meeting and increase your influence amongst them.
Shifting Gears and the Art of Intentional Markers
We often get the question, “How do I know when to shift gears?” The basic answer is be intentional with your calendar and the people with whom you will engage throughout the day.
A rule of thumb we encourage: Don’t let fourth gear start your day. Do you look at your email before breakfast? For many of you, the news and information you get from that email sets the tone for your day (good or bad) rather than the quiet time you have with the Lord before you leave for work. Save fourth gear for the office.
Find Your Groove.
Finding your groove means finding out which gear works well for you and those around you at the appropriate time. If your prime time to be focused is better at one time of the day or another, mark your calendar for fifth gear at that time.
I know a church that blocks off two hours a couple of times a week for their fifth gear time. On those days, pastors and ministry leaders have time to be undistracted and focused on the things they need to accomplish. Assistants know not to let them be bothered during that time. Other teams we have worked with have started putting up the fourth or fifth gears on their doors. If it’s fifth gear, they know not to be interrupted. If it’s fourth gear, their team knows they are available to meet.
What is the groove for your family? With school, sports, church, and a various activities that often dictate your calendar, what gears do you need to be intentional with so that those things don’t crowd out intentional times of connectivity?
Create a Buffer Between Gears.
Use a landmark on the way home (three to five miles out) from work that you can end that last call, turn off the podcast, and begin focusing on the needs ahead. Use those last few minutes to think about where you’re headed: what’s going on with your spouse, kids, roommate, etc.? What’s on the calendar for that night? Begin making an intentional shift to the next appropriate gear. The goal is to be “in the moment” with the people in your world, even after a long day.
Set an Alarm.
Three to five minutes before your next meeting, wrap up that last email or phone call and begin thinking about the meeting ahead. Who is it that you’re meeting with? How can you start in third gear to be intentional about the relationship? Is there something that has been happening in that person’s world that needs a word of encouragement? How can you check in with them on a personal level or what do you need to affirm in their life before you get down to business?
*Hint: put the cell phone away. Use a different table or meeting space that allows them to have your full attention. Be in the moment with those who are at home.
In the greatest commandment, God has instructed us to love our neighbors. I’m wondering if our ability to shift in and out of the gears will give us a chance to do that better?
Here are some questions to consider as you think about your ability to connect with and love those God has given you.
- What gears are most natural for you?
- What gears are hardest for you? Do you find yourself frustrated with people who access those gears regularly? How can you begin to practice and value those gears?
- What gear will help you connect better with those you love and lead (spouse, roommate, family, team)?
- What is your landmark (gas station, grocery story, etc.) that will be your reminder to shift gears before you get home?
- Are you missing opportunities for influence because you are not shifting gears when it’s appropriate?
Casey Merrifield, a proud Texan, lives in Elk City, Oklahoma. She currently works as a Master Coach for GiANT Worldwide, a global leadership consulting firm where she helps leaders grow healthy cultures in the workplace. For over twenty years, she served in ministry to teenagers, but now spends her time teaching and discipling women in the local church or wherever the Lord gives her opportunity. She is enjoying married life with her husband, Scott, and their pug, Bodee.