Liberator 013: 5 Gears – How to Be Present and Productive

The 5 Gears is a simple (but powerful) system that will help you be present and productive when there is never enough time.

In episode #13 of the Liberator Podcast, Jeremie and Steve unpack each of the 5 Gears and discuss how you can begin using this system in your day-to-day life both at home and at work.

be present and productive 5 gears

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My first car was a 1972 Alfa Romeo GT2000. It was a sleek, candy-apple red, two-door, five-speed beauty. As a 16- year-old living in a small city in central Oklahoma, it felt as James Bond-ish as any car could. The windshield wipers alternated toward one another and the smooth lines along the small car gave it a very distinct, European feel. The crown jewel of my beautiful “new”, old car, however, was the elegant wood. The steering wheel was made from a distinguished walnut wood, as was the manual gearshift handle.

As a new driver who was getting acclimated to a manual transmission, that poor car had to deal with my grinding gears and timid use of the clutch. I had to practice shifting, learning to listen to the engine to know when to shift, and then practicing a smooth transition from one gear to the next.

As I became a bit more confident in my driving skills, I remember trying to start driving straight out of second gear while avoiding first gear altogether. Starting in first just took too long and I had places to go, people to see, things to do. I thought I could just skip a gear and get to fourth or fifth gear as fast as possible. That was a mistake. It didn’t take long before I learned what such impatience did to the engine, not to mention my plummeting gas mileage, and the lurching effect it caused.

Twenty-plus years later I found myself living in the English countryside, staring at a right-sided steering wheel and a left-handed manual stick shift in our first rental car. Learning to drive on what the English call the correct side of the road is one thing. But adding a left-handed gear shift to the equation made driving on the opposite side of the road even more challenging, given how intently I had to focus on shifting as we drove on the tiny lanes of London. I would sum up the experience with the following words: Grinding gears, close calls, lurching motions, and terror—I mean, excitement.

There are parallels with shifting gears in a car and the rhythms and routines of our lives: There is a right order and a right time for each gear.

Conversely, there is also a wrong gear and a wrong time. People who figure this out tend to drive smoothly and effectively. People who don’t shift well tend to cause damage to all those around them—people and vehicles.

There is a right time and a right place for each gear.

1st gear is meant to lead to 2nd and so forth. Each gear has a purpose, and if you understand the purpose and apply this driving analogy to the way you “drive” your life, aligning the right gear with the right speed and situation of your day will allow you to have a smooth journey. Conversely, if you choose to skip a gear, as in my example, then you may rev to screaming levels and cause the engine of your life all sorts of problems.

The 5 Gears is a metaphor centered on an everyday, manual transmission vehicle or stick shift. Most European cars have a manual gearbox, while most American vehicles have an automatic transmission. In both cases there are gears that start in 1st gear and shift through until you reach 5th gear (unless you drive a very expensive car that adds a 6th gear). Reverse is also a gear, which could make up a 6th or 7th gear depending on the car, but for simplicity we will use 5 Gears as the overall theme of the metaphor.

How will this help you be present and productive?

With our metaphor, each gear represents a different mode of connecting through living, leading, working, and resting. We will define each one and give concrete examples through- out to help make this a practical system for increasing connectivity, improving work–life balance, deepening emotional intelligence, and identifying how to be present with those in our lives.

How to Be Present & Productive

The same thinking applies to our metaphor: To lead yourself well and connect appropriately in your relationships, your day needs to begin in 1st gear, after which you shift up into other gears. You can go from 1st gear to 5th in life, but it is not recommended and the consequences can be damaging, just like with your car. You can also go from 3rd gear to reverse, but just because you can, does not mean you should, considering cause and downstream effect. The best drivers understand when to shift and when not to.

The same is true with the best leaders. They understand the gears.

  • 1st gear represents being fully recharged.
  • 2nd gear represents connecting with family, friends, or
  • 3rd gear is the social gear.
  • 4th gear is the task gear that allows us to work hard while
    also multitasking.
  • 5th gear is focus mode that allows us to “get in the zone”
    without interruption.
  • Reverse is the responsive gear. It is used when we need to
    back up and start again or apologize.

Each gear has its own purpose and place. Once you learn to use the gears consistently with those in your life, you will notice the common language that begins to form, enabling objectivity to characterize your conversation instead of the subjective judgment or condescension that becomes pervasive when each person is speaking a different “language.” With the gears, you will also be able to incorporate some shorthand sign language to describe what gear you are in with a hand signal, which makes conversations more efficient and effective among people who share the same language. It’s a proven system thousands of people are using to be present with their friends and family, as well as more productive in everyday life.