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MCLEOD: Three ways to break out of the gerbil syndrome

Lisa McLeod

Lisa McLeod

Do you ever feel like your life has become a series of frantic short-term interactions?

Demands and distractions come in by the nanosecond -- beeping and clicking at you from multiple devices -- and there's not a minute left for invigorating conversation, true relaxation or, heaven forbid, strategic thinking.

Welcome to the age of distraction, where potential big thinkers have been sucked into the vortex of electronic minutia.

We're like little gerbils. But instead of racing on a little wheel going nowhere, we're clicking away on devices that never stop spinning.

When you find yourself checking email at red lights, it's time for a regroup.

Trying to manage, and ultimately master, my own time and information has been one of the biggest challenges of my life.

Here are three tips that help me live my days more strategically, productively and joyfully. Full disclosure, I'm only averaging about a 50 percent success rate with these. But I think you'll find that even small improvements make a big difference.

1) Don't check email first thing in the morning

It's tempting to grab your device before you roll out of bed. Resist this urge. The minute you dive into email you've gone from proactive to reactive. Your plan for the day is gone as you're sucked into other people's agendas.

Instead, block out your priorities and start working on them before you see what everyone else wants. Change leadership expert Seth Kahan said, "I'm at my best in the morning, so from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. I block out time to do my most important work. I write, I exercise, I think, I create." Kahan, the best selling author of Getting Change Right and Getting Innovation Right, said, "I don't schedule calls or meetings until after 10 a.m. I get my creative work done, then I can be focused on my clients."

2) Turn away from your devices during important conversations

I confess I used to read emails during phone calls. But after being on the receiving end of this behavior, I realize it's not only rude, it's inefficient.

Now, when I speak to a colleague, client or family member, I physically turn my chair away from my computer.

A 5- or 10-minute focused conversation with an employee can improve their performance for the rest of the week. Being fully attentive to the people you love provides a lifetime of benefits.

3) Allocate 5 minutes to prep and debrief meetings

I used to book myself with back-to-back meetings and phone calls. But rushing to the next thing prevented me from fully processing the previous meeting. It took longer to get into the meat of the next conversation because my brain needed time to transition.

Meetings take longer, follow-up is not great, and you find your team covering the same ground over and over, because you're regrouping every time you re-engage.

Now instead of one-hour meetings, I schedule 45 minutes. Calls that were once 30 minutes are now set for 20. I use the extra time to prep, debrief and make notes. My interactions are more productive. When I take the time to prep and debrief, even 5 minutes, I think more strategically. I don't feel rushed; I feel intentional. There's a big difference.

The amount of information coming at you isn't going to decrease; it's going to increase. Life may come at you in frantic endless blips, but don't let the pace of your electronics set the pace for your life.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of several books, including "Selling with Noble Purpose: How to Drive Revenue and Do Work That Makes You Proud."