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Multitasking is unhealthy, inefficient and dangerous.

BusyWorking on two or more jobs at the same time reduces the efficiency of each. Researcher David Meyer, PhD., claims that not being able to concentrate on one task for significant periods of time may cost a company as much as 20 to 40 percent in efficiency. I have seen figures as high as 50%.

This agrees with tests conducted in time management workshops where we had students continually switch back and forth between jobs versus completing one job at a time. The total time consumed was always less when each job was completed in turn.

According to Stefan Klein, in his book The Secret Pulse of Time (Marlow & Company, 2007) every time you turn your attention to a new problem, you interrupt your train of thought and important information vanishes from your working memory. This is backed up by an article in the November, 2007 issue of American Way magazine that stated that multitasking may also decrease what you can remember later.

Brain scan studies reveal that if we do two tasks at the same time, we have only half of our usual brainpower devoted to each. When we multitask, we are only half there for each activity.

People who think they are doing two jobs simultaneously, such as listening on the telephone while proofing and signing letters, are deceiving themselves. The brain cannot do two tasks at the same time. It actually switches rapidly back and forth between one task and the other. Although the brain is only absent from either task for a fraction of a second that brief absence could result in a catastrophe.

Unfortunately many people think they’re the exception. 91% of Americans watch TV while they eat, 26% admit that they often eat while driving, and 35% eat lunch while they’re at their desks while reading, working on a computer or making and receiving phone calls. In a 2006 survey conducted by Basex, a New York research company, 50% said they wrote emails or instant messages during conference calls.

The consequences of missing something while reading or eating or studying may not be that great. But imagine what a lack of concentration could do if you were driving at high speeds while talking on a cell phone. That fraction of a second could prevent you from stopping in time at a railway crossing or noticing another car about to run a stop sign.

The more complex the tasks are that are being worked on simultaneously, the greater the chance of error, and the greater the amount of time consumed in the transition. Listening to the radio while taking a shower might consume a little more time, and might cause you to shampoo your hair twice; but nothing serious should result. But review an important proposal while carrying on a heated discussion on the telephone and you could commit errors that could impact the bottom line of your company.

In an office environment, the temptation to multitask is tremendous. We need to review last night’s e-mail and voice mail, sign documents, make telephone calls, download files, revise our schedules, answer text messages, and fax a proposal, ad infinitum. It seems the only way to get everything done is to do more than one thing at a time.

Ironically, doing so consumes even more of that precious time that we are trying to preserve. How many times have you had to ask someone to repeat what they said because you were reading the paper at the time? That’s hardly a timesaver. In addition we are risking errors, sacrificing quality and creating anxiety. Research shows that multitasking increases stress and causes physical ailments such as headaches and stomach aches.

In our zeal to get more things done in less time we are sabotaging our efforts. I suggest you ignore the recommendations to double up on tasks contained in many time management books. You don’t have to listen to your voice mail while reviewing your e-mail or take reading material to meetings or collate papers while talking on the phone. Instead, identify the priorities and work on them one at a time. Time management is not about doing more things; it’s about doing more important things. Many of the things that we are now attempting to do simultaneously could probably be eliminated altogether. Give your full attention to the important task at hand, and don’t be distracted by the trivial many.

Whether you are jumping from one task to the other and back again or doing two jobs simultaneously, you are still multitasking. In the latter instance your mind is switching attention more frequently, while in the latter case you mind has been away from the first task so long it has trouble remembering where it left off. In either case, it’s inefficient.

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The stressful cocoon

cocoonThe “cocooning” trend has been with us for many years – the tendency to hole up in our homes and send out for pizza, watch home videos, shop via phone or TV and even work from home. BrainReserve describes it as “the impulse to go inside when it just gets too tough and scary outside.”

Although The Popcorn Report is a book about trends and the marketing opportunities arising from these trends, it also provides a glimpse of the time-obsessed world in which we live. Technology brings us facts faster than we can handle them. Texting seems to have become a national pastime. We email or text our messages and letters and seldom have to visit a post office, We shop online, have groceries delivered, scan and email contracts, invoices, and proposals, send electronic greeting cards, and order take-out from our laptops or smartphones. We don’t even have to visit people; we now have social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and can even save time on relationships.

Time itself seems to move faster and stress increases as we lose even those brief respites provided by obsolete comments such as “it’s in the mail” or “I’ll get back to you.”

The amount of available information is now doubling every few years. By 1987 the microwave oven had already topped the dishwasher as the most commonly owned kitchen appliance. By 1989 people were spending $900 million dollars in the U. S. on microwaveable foods. Faith Popcorn suggests that speed-eating has been elevated to a fine art. About half of the 86% of Americans who eat dinners at home during the week are eating pre-packaged or take-out food that they pick up or have delivered.

A new trend is continuing to develop. Originally described by Faith Popcorn in her book, The Popcorn Report (Doubleday, 1991) as the “wandering cocoon”, the trend involves making our cocoons mobile. So when we do get out of our home cocoons, we can live and work in our cars. Thus we are decking our cars with iPods, plug-in TV’s, a GPS, and literally having our meals on wheels. Cars are being made more “livable” and drive time becomes a protected escape. There’s even talk of a microwave in the glove compartment and dashboards that serve as tables to eat from. Some people use their cars as offices on wheels.

How ironic if cocooning is an attempt to escape the stress of a fast¬ paced world, and yet finds itself invaded by smartphones, texting, electronic mail and electronic faxes. And as personal one-on-one relationship time decreases, stress increases.

Let’s not relinquish that final bastion of peace and tranquility of a home life and friends. It may mean sacrificing the efficiency of working in transit for the sanity of quiet reflection or trading a pizza ¬on-the-run for an old-fashioned home-cooked meal or playing cards with our kids at the kitchen table. It might even require that we turn off our cell phone while we visit a friend or, heaven forbid, actually leave our handheld device at home the odd time. Whatever it takes to regain balance in our lives is a small price to pay for the concomitant rewards: self-renewal, creativity, wellness, and the opportunity to touch base with ourselves.

Time management is great as far as it goes — until it goes too far. To quote Peter Drucker, “Time has a way of changing your assets into liabilities.”

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Are you addicted to technology?

Addicted to technologyYou know something must be wrong when companies design 12-step programs to tackle email addiction or when psychiatric investigators in South Korea find that 20 percent of Internet-addicted children and teens end up with relatively severe ADHD symptoms or when people report a loss of energy and a sense of depletion after a marathon session with their TV or computer.

We are seduced into buying the latest gadget, and considered to be behind the times if we still use a land line in the office or a paper planner for our planning. TV, itself addictive, glorifies video games, and by 2006, approximately 145 million people were playing video or computer games. By 2013, the average American adult was spending 11hours a day with electronic media according to a recent Nielson study.

Social life is migrating to the Internet, and with online communities consuming so much time, there is less available for offline interpersonal relationships.

Indications are that our social skills are being affected as well as our ability to focus. Some studies indicate that the degree of digital involvement is impacting our academic achievement and reasoning ability as well. There is also a suggestion that all this multitasking leads to attention deficit traits and a loss in working memory.

Physical health is could be affected as well. Video games have been found to increase blood pressure and heart rate and activate the stress response. The more time people spend on digital technology, the less they exercise. Research also indicates that extensive video gaming makes youngsters more aggressive and desensitizes them to violence. There have been at least two documented cases of death occurring while playing video games (both cardiac arrests, and one of them being a 19 year-old.)

Video gaming has also become a popular spectator sport – evidently more popular than the World Series, with 32 million people watching the League of Legends World Championship while about 15 million tuned into the World Series last year. Evidently you become a better gamer if you watch the experts.

Are you addicted? Do you check your email first thing in the morning, even before getting dressed or brushing your teeth? Do you take your BlackBerry to the beach or keep your cell phone turned on in meetings and in church? Do you flip through a hundred or more channels desperately searching for a reason to remain in front of your TV set? When you are walking, is at least one ear blocked most of the time with earphones or an earpiece?

Unlike email, computer games are designed to be addictive, like the slot machines in Las Vegas, and researchers in 2005 found that dopamine levels in players’ brains doubled while they were playing. Dopamine is the hormone associated with mood and feelings of pleasure.

Email can be just as addictive, however, to those individuals who feel that checking email – like pulling the handle on a slot machine – will bring them that much closer to a payoff.

I’m not saying we should throw away our smart phones and turn our backs on technology; but I am saying we should control it. And we should not throw away our paper and pen either. When people ask me whether a BlackBerry is better than a paper planner, I wince. They would never ask me if they should throw away their sink because they bought an electric dishwasher. Both have their uses. We still refuse to wash our vegetables in the electric dishwasher, and I still refuse to do my weekly planning in a iPad since for me, it’s not a good planner.

The next time your partner or friends suggest that you are married to your computer or addicted to email, take heed. There could be some truth in it.

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Can we slow the aging process?

AgingI believe we can slow the aging process. There is no such thing as a gene that is responsible for aging, although scientists do believe they have found one that is responsible for the aging of skin. And genes do play some role. If your parents lived to be over one hundred, you have a greater chance of living to a ripe old age than if they had both died in their sixties. But our genes evidently determine only between 20 and 50 percent of how long you will be alive. That leaves a lot of leeway for improving your odds.

There are three parts of the world where people have a greater chance to live to be 100: Sardinia, Okinawa and Costa Rica. In each of these areas, people have found ways to cope with stress. The communities have strong traditions of walking, building family strengths, playing with kids, and being active. And there’s no such thing as retirement. This might indicate that being able to decrease or manage stress, have strong family or interpersonal relationships, and living an active lifestyle, including plenty of exercise, should all help.

There are a lot of products on the market that claim to maintain health and extend life; but there is no definite proof that they help – although just thinking they help could make a difference since the body-mind connection is a powerful factor.

In fact 30% to 40% of people taking a placebo for depression, pain or arthritis will feel better, according to the book, The real truth about aging. Our attitude and outlook also have a large bearing on the occurrence of illness. For example, according to the author of the book, How not to be my patient, pessimists die, on average, eight years younger than people who have a positive attitude. Cancer survival rates also increase in accordance with a person’s outlook, attitude and faith.

Your chronological age is your age in years; but what really matters is your biological age, which is an estimate of your well-being and general health compared to others your age. If you want to check your biological age, go to www.realage.com. What you eat, your lifestyle and your attitude all seem to have a bearing on how you age.

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Working in bed

Laptop in bed
From a holistic time management perspective, working in bed is not a good idea.

An article in the November 17, 2012 Toronto Star reported on a survey by Infosecurity Europe in London that found that 70% of the workers surveyed spent at least a half hour a day working in bed. Another survey by Good Technology revealed that half of the office workers polled were answering emails while in bed. The trend is encouraged by suppliers who are offering everything from pyramid pillows to laptop trays designed specifically for bed workers.
This practice is neither efficient nor healthy.

The November 22, 2011 issue of the Toronto Globe & Mail, reported on a study of over 200 students at the University of Rhode Island that found they were losing an average of 45 minutes of sleep each week because of their cell phones.

An Angus Reid/Vision poll reported in the January 26, 2013 issue of the Toronto Star found that one third of wired Canadians use Internet-ready digital devices before getting out of bed in the morning.

Add this to the fact that recent research reinforces the belief that insufficient sleep can precipitate stress disorders and other ailments, and you have reason to believe that working in bed is a poor time management strategy. A study published in the National Academy of Sciences, reports that even an hour or two less sleep a night can negatively impact more than 700 genes required for repairing cell tissue.

Most people think they need less than 7 hours sleep a night; but according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, only 1 to 3 percent of the population actually needs less than 7 hours of sleep a night. The rest are sleep deprived.

A bed is better used for sleeping than for working.

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Make time to think

Thinking Do you find that you are so busy that you have little or no time to even think about goals and priorities and where you are heading? Many of us used to have plenty of thinking time while we were waiting in a doctor’s office or going for our morning walk or sitting on a bench in the shopping mall while our spouse went shopping or whatever. Now our smartphones and iPads have taken over any such spare moments. I think it’s essential that we allocate time each week for planning and creativity by actually scheduling blocks of time in our planners – perhaps an hour or two every week – so we can review our goals and plans for that week and think about the future.

Thinking time allows us to prioritize and decide what to do and what not to do. You should simplify your life. That means getting rid of the trivia. Time management is not doing more things in less time, which technology encourages. It is doing fewer things – things of greater importance, in the time that we have. It’s not doing more things; it’s doing more important things. And this involves looking at the stuff in your life – possessions, activities, and “To Do” items with a view to eliminating or reducing those that have little meaning to you or to the significant people in your life.

For the “thinking” process, I recommend:

1. That you schedule time to think and plan. Probably 1 to 2 hours each week -perhaps a half hour each day – and also a full day or more each year.
2. Control technology; don’t let it control you. Turn off your BlackBerry or smart phone when you are in meetings, driving, or working on scheduled priority tasks.
3. Don’t feel you have to toss out your paper planner, index cards or scratch pad. High-tech and high-touch go hand in hand, and many a great idea has emerged while doodling on a napkin.
4. Keep all the ideas jotted down during the thinking process. Ideas rejected may suddenly take on a life of their own.
5. Keep reading in areas of interest far afield from your own. Ideas tend to cross-pollinate, and you could come up with a novel idea that you would not have thought of otherwise.
6. Look at thinking time as fun time. Put your left brain in idle and go with the flow. There is no such thing as a bad idea – only unworkable ones. Evaluation can come later.

Keep an idea book, or a place where you can jot down ideas at any time, not just during your scheduled thinking time. I have a `Back Burner ‘page at the back of my Taylor Planner for this purpose – for spontaneous thoughts and ideas that could be explored later. This could serve as your starting agenda for your next creative thinking session.

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Friendships can extend your lifespan

FriendshipYou should not work and live in isolation; friendships can extend your lifespan. And how you interact with others – communicating, networking, delegating, socializing and collaborating – all impact your success in managing time.

Although we tend to blame our time problems on others, including socializing at work, interruptions and meetings, the higher the quantity and quality of your relationships, the longer you live. That’s the message we get from examining the research in that area. Strong relationships lengthen your life, boost your immune system and cut the risk of depression.

An article in the January, 2015 issue of Reader’s Digest mentioned a Grant Study of Harvard undergraduates conducted by psychiatrist George Vaillant. The study revealed that those who thrived into old age were ones who figured out how to love and be loved. Vaillant suggested that it was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing

Data collected from Brigham Young University showed that people with active social lives were 50% less likely to die of any cause than their non-social counterparts. Low levels of social interaction evidently have the same effects as smoking15 cigarettes a day – and even worse effects than being obese or not exercising.

Research by Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University suggests that the more social connections you have, the greater your ability to fight infection. A University of Michigan study of 3500 people revealed that the more time spent with friends was associated with higher scores on memory tests. And interaction with people provides greater brain stimulation than a computer monitor or TV set.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic say that having friends can increase your sense of belonging and purpose, boost your happiness, reduce stress, improve your self-worth, and help you cope with traumas such as divorce, serious illness, job loss or the loss of a loved one.

And most people will agree that being among friends is a lot more fun than being alone -especially during special occasions such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

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Time management myths

MythsThere are many misconceptions about time management. Here are five time management myths that may appear to be true at first glance.

Myth number 1: We can manage time.
We cannot manage time. Nor can we save it. Time ticks away relentlessly in spite of our efforts to control it. We are provided with 24 hours of time each day to use as we like. The key is in how we use that time. We can use it wisely, or we can waste it, but we can never save it. At the end of the day, it’s gone. Self-management would be a more accurate term than time management.

Myth number 2: Time management involves getting more done in less time.
Some people may still believe that, but effective time management refers to doing fewer things – things of greater importance – in the time that we have. We cannot possibly do everything we want to do, or all the things there are to do. But if we prioritize what there is to do, and focus on completing the priorities to the exclusion of everything else, we will be more effective.

Myth number 3: “To do” lists help get things done.
“To do” lists do nothing to further a project or task. They simply remind us that they are not done yet. Scheduling time in your planner, as appointments with yourself, to work on the tasks helps get them done. “To do” lists are intentions; scheduled blocks of time are commitments.

Myth number 4: People need an electronic organizer or smartphone get organized. People are not organized because they use a smartphone; they use a smartphone because they are organized. Personal organization includes breaking old habits and forming new, effective and efficient ones. It is a state of mind as opposed to a state of the office. For example, some people are more organized using a $2 steno pad than others are using a $200 electronic organizer. Organize before you speed up with technology or you will simply reach chaos quicker.

Myth number 5: A “Quiet Hour” is a great time management tool.
A “quiet hour” is an obsolete strategy from the past. We can reduce interruptions, but never eliminate them. To be effective we must learn to work in spite of the interruptions. Frequently, interruptions are not time wasters, but opportunities arriving at inopportune times. To be effective today, we have to strengthen our brain-based executive skills, particularly those that relate to sustained attention and focus. The battlefield has moved from the office to the brain. Increase your focus, sustained attention and working memory and you will experience fewer distractions.

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Keeping productive as a senior

Older workerNow that I’m in my eighties, and officially a “senior,” I suppose I should spend more time on time management for seniors and in particular how to cope with the side effects of aging and still maintain our productivity. There may be certain barriers that we have to overcome as we grow older, but if we continue to look after our body, mind and spirit, our personal productivity and fulfilment can continue to increase.

As you get older, you are more easily distracted. That’s a fact. So the “quiet hour” concept is of particular importance. I work more efficiently in coffee shops, where the ambient noise has been proven to be conducive to increased creativity. But some seniors work better in complete solitude, so experiment a little.

As you grow older, it’s even more important that you don’t try to multitask. “Do significant tasks one at a time and eliminate distractions,” advises Dr. Roizen and Dr. Oz. Multitasking is difficult regardless of your age, and I don’t recommend it to anyone. But for older people it becomes virtually impossible without cutting your efficiency in half. So do one thing at a time.

80% of people over 85 experience hearing loss. Only 16% of those with hearing problems have hearing aids – and only 8% actually use them. If you need them, use them. Stick with them for at least six months giving up on them. They can make a big difference – and nowadays they are hardly visible if you feel self-conscious about wearing them.

50% of seniors over 75 have cataracts, and 20 to 30% of people over 75 have impaired vision, so keep your vision sharp. That’s possible through prescription glasses, cataract surgery or both. Having worn glasses all my life, my vision is now better without glasses than it ever was with glasses.

Also, the ability of your eyes to adapt to a dark room can be delayed several fold; but that’s no big deal. Have nightlights in the bedroom, bathroom and halls. I have nightlights in about every room there is in my condo. When you’re older you tend to get up more at night as well, and the dim lighting comes in handy.

Seniors generally need good lighting. As we age, our eyes process only about 1/3 of the light – so lights need to be about 3 times brighter. And of course you could have trouble reading small print or thin fonts. So labels on your file folders should be large & bold.

Because of failing eyesight and “floaters”, high gloss surfaces may give you problems. The light bounces off these “floaters.” So avoid glare. Use matte finish on materials. Peripheral vision may also affected ; materials at your work station should be within a 90 degree radius as opposed to 180.

Stress is everyone’s enemy; but it is particularly harmful to seniors because our immune system is not usually as strong. Research shows that one of the most effective ways of neutralizing the negative effects of stress is to have social networks. Activities with other people are like a mental medicine. That could be playing cards, golf, shopping or just plain chatting. So don’t make it all work and no play.

You could join chat rooms and participate in social networks such as Twitter – in addition to exchanging emails with family and friends. But remember that one-on-one personal relationships are healthier.

A sense of control is particularly important for seniors in order to keep stress at bay. That’s why time management, organization and structure is so important. Always control your technology and your life as long as you are able.

Scientists tell us that brain speed is also reduced; we don’t think or react as quickly when we age; but that depends on the individuals, and how active they are, both mentally and physically. An older brain can continue to grow new cells and connections through activities such as continuous learning, walking, mind games and variety in your life.

Research also revealed that seniors absorbed more facts during memory tests and were 30% better at using the information later. In other words, we make better decisions. We have also more experience to draw upon, larger networks, and usually well-established businesses, hobbies and recreational interests. So don’t let any of the negative comments about seniors distract you from achieving your full potential.

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Have a purpose in life

PurposeHaving a purpose in life refers to being dedicated to a cause that is bigger than you are – one that you will never fully attain in a lifetime. Whereas goals are specific, measurable and have a deadline, purpose is general in nature, a way of living as opposed to a means of achieving. Goals provide the what, how and when. Purpose provides the why.

Purpose provides meaning to life – a reason for getting up in the morning and tackling each day with enthusiasm. It provides the standards by which we live, the motivation for what we do.

Can work be a purpose? Probably. But when work ends, then what? People who retire to nothing usually end up dying earlier and becoming ill more often than those who give up their jobs, but not their purpose in life.

Leider, in his book, Power of Purpose, relates a survey conducted at an American university where 60 students were asked why they had attempted suicide. 85 percent replied that life seemed meaningless. And surprisingly “93 percent of these students, suffering from the apparent lack of purpose in their lives were socially active, achieving academically, and on good terms with their family situation.”

It’s not so much what we do, but why we do it that will give us an insight into our purpose. What are your values? What really matters to you? What is your belief system? Do you feel strongly about some aspect of life, the world, the environment, people? What determines your behavior? What makes you angry, sad, or happy? What moves you emotionally? Purpose comes from within us, and we must dig deeply sometimes to find it.

Once we know our purpose in life, we might express it as a personal mission statement. Then goals we set will be compatible with our purpose. Our walk will reflect our talk. Nothing is more stressful than pursuing goals that conflict with our purpose. We must be at peace with ourselves. What we accomplish through goals is not as important as what we become. If we are forced to work on goals that are incompatible with our purpose, we become emotionally upset. According to Andrew Matthews, author of the book, Being Happy, emotional upsets produce powerful and lethal toxins: “Blood samples taken from persons experiencing intense fear or anger when injected into guinea pigs have killed them in less than two minutes. Imagine what these toxins can do to your own body.”

When we work on goals or activities that reflect our values and purpose in life, we have fewer anxieties and a greater sense of success and happiness. But how do we go about defining our purpose or mission in life? Perhaps a good start would be to jot down some of your beliefs and feelings on paper. Roger A. Merrill, author of Connections Quadrant II Time Management, suggests that developing a mission statement is a process that takes time. Writing a rough draft, carrying it with you, making additions and deletions as you go along, will eventually result in a brief statement that reflects your own values. It might end up stating “to elicit growth and change in the lives of those I meet” or “to look upon everyone with love” or “to become more Christ like”. It could be longer. A. Roger Merrill suggests that a mission statement should contain three basic elements:

1. What you want to be.
2. What you want to do or accomplish.
3. The values and principles upon which your being and doing are based.

The important thing is that it reflects your values, what you consider to be important. As Victor Frankl, survivor of a concentration camp, has often been quoted, “Life asks of every individual a contribution, and it is up to that individual to discover what it should be.”