How many times have you walked into a meeting and noticed everyone heads down and fingers flying? This scenario is all-too-familiar in our workplaces, not to mention our homes. And we’ve accepted it as normal. In fact, I’ve heard arguments that our head-bowed, thumb-dancing behavior is the natural extension of our advanced society… that we have to grow up and adapt… and that asking for different behavior is a step backwards at best.

To that, I politely say, “Bull.”

Yes – our BlackBerrys, iPhones, and other technology tools have changed our lives for the better, arming us with more flexibility, information, and power than ever before.

And – with great power comes great responsibility, as Spiderman says. Even though our use of these tools has exploded with unprecedented speed, no one has stopped to teach us how to integrate them into the work and life we want to have. When there are no rules, the technology rules us.

Why Should We Care?

Letting technology rule might be fine – if everything else was working well. But it isn’t. And we’re missing something important in our professional and personal lives.

We’re missing connection.

“Connection?” you laugh at me, amazed. “Why, right now I’m connected to my 400 Twitter followers, 875 Facebook friends, and my email contact list in the thousands! I’m more connected than ever before!”

All true. You are connected. But are you connect-ing? My clients, friends, and people in my speaking audiences tell me they’re not. In fact, they’re feeling:A�

Less connected to their colleagues, even those just a floor away,

More distant from their friends and family, and

Even farther away from their own thoughts and voices because they’re constantly responding to the adrenaline buzz of their device(s).

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Connection is a basic human need- a longing, even. We want to connect. So you’d think we’d do whatever it takes to connect, right? But we’re not doing it. In fact, we’re unintentionally replacing connecting with clicking.

And it’s not working.

The sad part is that I hear people say “that’s the way it has to be” to be successful in a wired world. Again, I challenge, bull.

It’s Time to Make New Rules

Our wonderful technology tools tumbled into our lives with great speed. When we quickly adjusted to integrate their possibilities, we unintentionally created informal, habit-based rules that we never thought through, challenged or rejected. Until now.

Now, we have the opportunity to design new rules and techniques that work to support our success instead of drain it. With new rules, we can take control of these amazing, empowering tools – and take control of our work lives again.

If you’re ready for new rules, here are four to try. If you want to connect more, try these out and discover how you can click less!

Rule #1: Decide Whether You’re Using Your Technology – or Whether It’s Using You.

Start by asking yourself:

Am I “pulled” into work emails and calls during times I’m trying to be present for my friends or family?

Do my friends or loved ones complain that I pay more attention to the technology than to them?

Do I feel anxious or jumpy when my technology buzzes or beeps?

Do I text or manually dial while I’m driving a car?

If you’ve said “yes” to any of these, your technology is using you. Remember, you’re the one with the brains here – and you’re too smart to get used.

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Rule #2: Experiment with Connecting Differently.

In many of our workplaces, it feels like we’ve forgotten that we have alternatives to email, text, and tweeting. So here’s a reminder! You can still:

Call instead of click. Sure, voicemail can be misused as much as email, but a brief, upbeat, and clear message helps build a stronger personal connection.

Walk instead of click. Go to someone’s location, even if it’s a few minutes out of the way. If you’re longing for connection, never pass up an opportunity to be face-to-face – it builds relationships, prevents multi-tasking, generates better ideas, and is just more fun!

Write instead of click. Physical, hand-written notes are not passe. They’re simple to do and carry powerful emotion with them, even when they’re just saying a simple “thank you.” Notes get saved – and remembered.

Rule # 3: Create Your Click-Free Zones

Your local 7-Eleven can be open all the time, with a rotating staff in and out. But you, as an individual, can’t be “open for business” 24/7- especially if you want to work at your peak energy and be successful.

When your devices are on and you’re “open” to receiving and responding to information, you’re open for business. But you can choose a time or situation to be “closed,” too. I call these your “click-free zones.” For example:

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I don’t check email after 7 p.m.

I do not use my business cell phone on weekends.

On Mondays, I don’t check email until after our weekly staff meeting.

I don’t use my BlackBerry when I’m eating with another person.

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A�Sound extreme? You can make exceptions, as long as they’re clear. For example:

I don’t check email after 7 p.m. except during the week we are on deadline with the monthly newsletter.

I only turn my iPhone on in meetings if I am expecting a client call or we need to find information that will help the meeting. If my iPhone’s on for one of these reasons, I’ll say so at the start of the meeting; otherwise, it will be off.

Your click-free zone gives you permission to be fully present and attentive at times when you typically aren’t. It lets you recharge and refresh, and will strengthen your performance in the long run.

Rule # 4: Share Your Rules With Others.

We teach others how to treat us. If we’re constantly available and responding – whether or not the request is of high priority and value – we teach them that our time is fully accessible and as such, less valuable.

Communicate the new rules you’ve created, and share your click-free zones. Then, act on them consistently. Resist letting others guilt you out of your commitments to yourself.

Resist making too many exceptions, too – they send a message that you aren’t really serious, and they make your word less valuable.

Finally, remember that the rules you create are yours and yours alone. They won’t work for everyone in the same way you’ll make them work for you. You get to give yourself a gift her – to create your rules exclusively for the way you want to work, live, and connect.