Posted on

Simplify your life

SimplifySimplifying your life by getting rid of a lot of the “things” in your life is an important step towards getting organized and gaining control of your time. We are complicating our lives with all the stuff we buy and accumulate. Daniel Pink, in his book, A Whole New Mind, points out that self-storage, where people store the stuff they no longer have room for at home, is a $17 billion business. That’s larger than the motion picture business.

According to the Self Storage Association, the number of self-storage facilities has grown about 70 percent in the last decade. And what we don’t store, we just throw away. Ciji Ware, in her book, Rightsizing Your Life, claims that Americans are known around the world as the major consumers on the planet, generating nearly 200 million tons of household garbage a year. The U.S. spends more on trash bags than 90 other countries spend on everything. Think about that. The cost of the containers for our waste is greater than the cost of all goods consumed by nearly half of the world’s nations.

It’s no longer considered a luxury to own a car. But the U.S. now has more cars than drivers. And many purchases are not considered a necessity. Cell phones may be considered a necessity for many. But consumers spend nearly as much on decorative faceplates for their cell phones as they do on the cell phones themselves. And we insist on having the latest model. A statistic from the June 29, 2008 Toronto Star indicated that every year in the U.S., people toss out $80 million in metals alone when they trash their old cell phones.

There’s an excellent book called Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin that describes a Fulfillment Curve. This curve is illustrated here. This curve plots money or possessions or “stuff” along the x-axis, or horizontal axis, and fulfillment or happiness along the y-axis – that’s the vertical axis. The more money you have to spend, the greater the degree of fulfillment – up to a point. After fulfillment goes through the survival stage, comforts stage and luxuries stage, it levels off. As you start accumulating more luxuries after the “enough” stage, your degree of fulfillment starts decreasing. In other words, once you have achieved what the authors refer to as enough, acquiring more simply makes you unhappier. It’s interesting to note that Daniel Pink also mentions in his book, A Whole New Mind, that while living standards have risen steadily decade after decade, person, family and life satisfaction haven’t budged.

Material things do consume a lot of our time. People spend their precious non-renewable resource, time, in order to acquire more money and possessions, only to discover that the possessions do little to further their enjoyment of life. In fact, possessions consume even more of this non-renewable resource. Not only does it take time to earn enough money to buy this stuff, it takes time to shop for it, learn how to operate it, maintain it in good working condition, repair it, upgrade it, insure it and use it. If we have to rent public storage, we have to sign a contract, pay rent, buy a lock, take trips back and forth to check on it or add to it, and so on.

It’s not surprising that the more we acquire beyond a certain point, the unhappier we get. We are afraid of losing it, breaking it or having it stolen. We frequently have to make payments on it, acquire more space to accommodate it, and worry about keeping the neighborhood kids or the family dog away from it. There also comes a time when we have to figure out how to get rid of it.

The more stuff we have, the greater the responsibility we have and the more opportunity there is for worry, anxiety and stress. It also complicates our life, causes clutter and distracts us from our life purpose.

This complexity can extend to our business as well. We can have too much inventory, too many receivables, too broad a range of products, too many styles, types, channels of distribution and so on. The years produce clutter and complexity that hinder goal achievement and profits. Just like the application of the 80-20 Rule, simplification is a key time management strategy that can be applied to all areas of life.

Posted on

Action speaks louder than words

Mirror neuronsAction speaks louder than words, and I mean even little actions like frowns, signs of frustration and grimaces of pain.

Since mirror neurons were discovered back in the early 1990s, there has been a plenty of research proving their existence in humans, and the impact they have on communications, training, interpersonal relationships and wellbeing.

Neuroscientists have discovered that the neurons that fire in our brain when we are performing an action are the same neurons that fire when we see someone else performing the same action. These mirror neurons respond to both what we hear and what we see; but visual has the greatest impact. This process supports imitation-based learning, highlighting the effectiveness of on-the-job training. It is also believed to lend credence to mind-reading – or at least to our ability to interpret the intentions of others.

According to the research conducted to date, perception and action occur in the same exact neurons. This explains how we can empathize with others, and why we cringe at the sight of someone being hurt or humiliated.
It also explains why we can be affected by second-hand stress, which can be hazardous to our own health, productivity and wellbeing. Our mirror neurons appear to reflect the actions and feelings of others.
The bad vibes you get from people you meet, the adrenaline rush you get when your favourite team scores, the pain of seeing someone else punished, the enthusiasm you catch from an instructor, and the contagious nature of a smile might all be explained by the existence of these mirror neurons, which appear to be located in the lateral frontal and parietal areas of the brain.

It also indicates the importance of our behaviour when interacting with others – especially with impressionable children – and the influence we can have when teaching by example.
There are many scientific papers as well as books that describe these mirror neurons and their significance in great detail – one such book being Social: why our brains are wired to connect, by Matthew D. Lieberman (Random House, 2013.)

Posted on

Routine and habits rob you of your past

RoutinesRoutines and habits make life seem shorter. A long period of time spent on the same or similar activities shortens our perception of this time years later. For instance, if we fish off the same dock with the same person for three hours every morning usually with the same results, the time may seem to drag at the time, depending on our level of interest. But afterwards, our brain can’t distinguish between one fishing session and the next. Our brain is too efficient to waste valuable space remembering multiple episodes of the same thing. The past will have seemed much shorter since this part of our life has been compressed. Barry Gibb, in his book, The Rough Guide to the Brain, refers to this as “retroactive interference.”

These effects make life seem to move faster as we grow older. The longer we live, and the more similarity there is in the things we have done, the more compressed our lives become.

An even more dramatic example might be that of watching TV or playing video games extensively. They not only rob you of time that might be better spent on something more meaningful, and seem to speed by quickly because of the rapidly changing images, but they also seem to shorten your life. Who can recall the eight years or so of TV that they have watched in the first 70 years of their life? Certainly I can’t. I have had no experience with video games, but I read in the book, A Whole New Mind, that the average American spends 75 hours per year playing video games. Of course there may be some advantages to playing video games; but certainly not when it comes to time spent and lost.

You are what your brain says you are. You have lived and experienced what your brain says you have lived and experienced. External time passes as quickly as your brain tells you it passes. See how important your brain is? In fact, I had to laugh when I read a line in one of the books on the brain. The author said, “I used to think my brain was the most important organ in my body – until I realized who was telling me that!”

Now we come to a very important question. Can we really manage internal time? Can we influence the perceived rate at which external time passes? Well, these are my opinions, and although most of my conclusions are based on actual brain research, you might research the topic and arrive at different conclusions. But as you will soon see if you read this collection of articles, I am convinced that we can manage internal time to a significant degree. And one way of slowing the passage of time from your brain’s perspective is to add variety to your life.

Don’t vacation in the same place each year or visit the same restaurants or go out with the same friends. Don’t be a creature of habit. Habits have their place in speeding up mundane tasks and improving your efficiency, such as handling each piece of paper only once and always putting your keys in the same place. But don’t make your whole life a habit. Habits are an enemy of time because later you can’t recall most of what you have done. One activity is like all the others. So variety is not only the spice of life, as far as your internal clock is concerned, it stretches time. So don’t go through life on autopilot. Break the routine.

I will be facilitating a teleseminar on holistic time management in March. Details at mindsontime.com. And this particular topic is covered in detail in my book, Slowing down the speed of life, now available as an eBook at Amazon. http://amzn.to/1H4OGYP

Posted on

Hygiene theory of time management

I got the idea of a hygiene theory of time management Hygienefrom Hertzberg’s hygiene theory of motivation. I always thought it was a great theory, and when I taught management theories and leadership at college, we were able to bring Frederick Herzberg to Toronto under the auspices of the Canadian Institute of Management and was fascinated by his approach to motivation in the workplace.

Frederick Hertzberg, developed his motivation-hygiene theory back in 1959 so there’s nothing new about it, although at that time it was quite revolutionary. Basically it states that the things that motivate people are not the opposite of the things that de-motivate them. For instance, money, good working conditions, fringe benefits, good supervision etc. are all necessary to keep a person from being be de-motivated, just as garbage removal is necessary to keep you from becoming sick.

But those same factors won’t motivate people to perform at their full potential any more than garbage removal will make them healthy. He called these things maintenance or hygiene factors and they involve the environment in which people work.

What motivate people to excel in their jobs are such things as recognition, challenge, a sense of achievement, promotion and opportunity for growth – factors that relate to the job itself.

Similarly, in time management, I see many traditional time management and organizing strategies as simply keeping you from being disorganized, non-productive and ineffective. You could call these strategies maintenance or hygiene factors as well.

But they won’t necessarily make you a great time manager. What make you excel at being productive and maximizes your results are those things that we recommend in the holistic approach to time management – those things that also impact body mind and spirit.

I call these things effectiveness catalysts and they include such factors as the ability to focus, self-discipline, self-control, decision-making skills and judgment, which are all executive skills, and lifestyle habits such as adequate sleep, exercise and diet, plus a few traditional time management skills such as planning, visualization, goal-setting and scheduling.

In motivation theory, hygiene factors involve the environment while motivators involve the job itself. Similarly with holistic time management, most hygiene factors involve the environment while effectiveness catalysts involve the persons themselves – or more specifically, their body, mind and spirit.

Hygiene factors for managing time include such things as having a focus hour, streamlining your handling of e-mail and meetings, the use of computers, smart phones, electronic communications and the Internet. Although they allow you to keep pace with everyone else and not fall behind, some of them also place additional burdens on the individual, such as multitasking, speed, 24/7 connectivity, reduced time for sleep, family and creativity. They also negatively impact many cognitive skills such as memory, focus and judgement.

Posted on

How do you develop mindfulness?

MIndful 2Are you mindful every day? Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Happiness Project, relates her experience of driving home with no recollection of going from point A to point B. She said she is sometimes terrified because she has no recollection of watching the road. This is the result of multitasking, where the second task could be just thinking about something else, being preoccupied with other thoughts.

It can be even more terrifying if you consider going through life this way, preoccupied with thoughts of one thing or another and not remembering half of what you did. That’s why it’s so important for your body and your mind to be in the same place at the same time. Scientists claim that being in the now calms the mind and elevates brain function as well as reduces stress. When your mind is rapidly switching from one thought to another, your creativity is at a low.

Some people are thinking of something else when they’re eating and afterwards can’t even recall what they had eaten or how much. Experts agree that simply being conscious of eating will help people eat more healthfully.

According to an article in the December, 2008 issue of Psychology Today, mindfulness reduces stress, boosts immune functioning, reduces chronic pain, lowers blood pressure and even helps patients cope with cancer.

The article also claims that living in the moment reduces the risk of heart disease and that mindful people are happier, more exuberant, more empathetic, and more secure. They also have a higher self-esteem. So as dance instructor Jessica Hayden says, “Focus less on what’s going on in your mind, and more on what’s going on in the room.” Pay attention to your immediate experience.

Keeping a diary, journal or logbook helps keep you in the moment. Use your planner to record events – even the ones that are over. When you write things down it helps get them into your long-term memory. And even those you do forget, you can bring back into consciousness by reviewing them after the fact. That’s why keeping a telephone log (where you make notes while you’re on the telephone) keeps you focused on the conversation and helps you recall the information later – even without reading what you had written. It keeps you in the now.

A paper planner is a great tool for keeping more of your memories intact and slowing down the perceived passage of time. Not only does the act of writing in the appointments and scheduling the important projects and tasks help transfer them to your long-term memory, reviewing those pages after the fact helps solidify them in your memory. Research shows that thinking or talking about an event immediately after it occurs enhances memory for the event. That’s why it’s so important for a witness to recall information as soon as possible after a crime.

The greatest loss of memory is in the first hour or so of the event. By reviewing it in spaced intervals, you are fixing it in your memory. You want as much of the present as possible to be retained so you will recall it in the future. I schedule every significant event in my time planner, even after the fact. In other words when we spontaneously drop into a restaurant or go to a movie or visit friends, I write the details of that event in my planner when I get home. If it’s a restaurant, I take out the receipt and copy the name, address, and telephone number into that block of time, including the names of the people we might have been with at the time. It was unscheduled time; but it becomes scheduled after the fact. By reviewing my planner, I am in effect reviewing my life. And I can readily justify this strange habit by the number of times I have retrieved phone numbers of great restaurants we wanted to revisit or to confirm the name of the movie we saw three weeks ago or to get the name of our friend’s cousin who attended the dinner.

Someone suggested it might be a good idea to also record each day one thing that we’re thankful for. This would reinforce the fact that we should appreciate what we already have. Keeping a journal forces you to concentrate on the present while recording it for the future.

Note: The paper Taylor planner is available at taylorintime.com, and mindfulness is covered in more detail in my book, Slowing down the speed of life, now available as an eBook at Amazon. http://amzn.to/1H4OGYP.

Posted on

Control your own life

ControlPeople have a natural inclination to control events and make things happen. Losing control makes them unhappy and stressed. Stress can induce the release of cortisol, and excess cortisol impairs function in the prefrontal cortex – an emotional learning center that helps regulate “executive” functions such as planning, reasoning and impulse control. Recent evidence indicates that the prefrontal cortex also stores short-term memories.

Here’s an example of how losing control can affect your health. In a nursing home, the elderly residents were given a houseplant. Half of them were told they were to control the care and feeding of the plant while the other half were told that someone on staff would look after the plant. Within 6 months, 30 percent of the residents in the low control group had died, compared with only 15 percent of those who were in control. (Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert). Another study had student volunteers visit nursing home residents on a regular basis. Some residents were allowed to decide when the student was to come in and how long he or she stayed. The others were not given that option. The student just popped in. After 2 months, residents with control were happier, healthier, more active, and taking fewer medications than those in the low control group.

Gaining control can have a positive impact on one’s health and wellbeing. But when the researchers had finished their study and all visits stopped, there were more deaths among the high control group than the low control group, showing that losing control once you’ve had it it can be worse than never having had control in the first place.

One time saving strategy that dwarfs all others, is to live longer and healthier. For some reason, this isn’t emphasized in most time management programs. We seem to be too interested in shaving ten minutes from the length of a meeting or reducing interruptions by five percent. Extending your life by ten years is far more important in my opinion.

Those who don’t rush through the day in a panic, but pace themselves and work efficiently, actually survive longer according to Matthew Edlund, author of The Body Clock Advantage. These people usually have routines for going to bed and rising at the same times every day, exercise and eating. They control their work versus letting their work determine when they go home, go to bed or exercise.

Mental clutter is just as stressful as physical clutter. Writing things down and having a plan to get them done unclutters your mind, relieves anxiety, eliminates the fear of forgetting and makes you feel better.

Ken Blanchard in the book, The One Minute Manager Balances Life & Work, made the comment that we should never put our health at risk in order to gain more money. Otherwise, he claimed, in later years we’ll be spending even more money in an attempt to regain our health.

Other authors also have stated that losing control affects health and productivity. Stefan Klein, for instance, in his book The Secret Pulse of Time, said that stress originates in a surrender of control. In my opinion that’s one reason that cancer is so deadly. Being told that you have cancer – or even worse, also being told that you have only a few months or years to live, is devastatingly stressful. You immediately feel helpless. People become so preoccupied with their uncertain future that they find it difficult to cope with everyday life. And it’s precisely this type of chronic stress that causes a weakness of their immune system. And the immune system is unable to fight the cancer. It’s a vicious cycle. Finding out you have cancer causes stress. Stress weakens the immune system. And the immune system is too weak to fight the cancer.

Attitude can make a big difference. Dr. Edward Creagan in his book How Not to Be My Patient refers to research indicating that pessimists have a 19 percent shorter lifespan than optimists. Bernie Siegel in his book Love, Medicine and Miracles mentions research that reported a ten-year survival rate of 75 percent among cancer patients who reacted to the diagnosis with a fighting spirit, compared with a 22 percent survival rate among those who saw their situation as hopeless.

Time management, stress management and health management are merging disciplines. You cannot focus on one and ignore the others. People who lose control of their time usually end up sacrificing exercise, regular medical checkups, leisure activities, relaxation, and regular eating habits and so on. Keeping well is easier and more time effective than getting well.

Everyone’s priority should be to gain – or regain – and maintain control of their life.

Posted on

Mindfulness will preserve your memories

MindfulnessIf life seems to race by and much of your past seems to be missing, practice mindfulness to preserve those memories. Our sense of how fast time passes is a function of our memory. If we don’t remember something, it doesn’t exist for us. It’s missing from our past, and so our past is shorter than it should be. If we don’t pay attention to what we are doing, if we lack concentration, if we’re distracted, if we’re not totally aware of what’s going on in the moment, we usually don’t remember it. The key to remembering names, for instance, is to listen carefully so you hear it in the first place, focus on it, and repeat it to yourself many times. If you don’t, it’s lost.

When self-help gurus and stress management practitioners tell you to “be in the moment” they may be referring to happy, anxiety-free living. But it’s more than that. It lengthens your life. Because if you’re “in the moment” you are fully aware and focused on the “now” and it will likely become a permanent part of your long-term memory.

Life expectancy for Americans born in 1900 was 50 years. Today it is about 80 years for men and 83 years for women. But I will wager that those 50 years, in retrospect, seemed just as long as our 80 years. Because today we are bombarded by external stimuli – everything from ipods to iphones, paper mail to email and people to podcasts. We are in the age of speed, doing two things at once, thinking ahead while getting behind, anxious and stressed – an ideal situation for memory loss.

Our entire life to date, except for this fleeting second that is happening right now, is in the past. You are living in the age of speed, and as you look back, the last five years probably seems more like two or three; because over half of it is missing from your memory. At this very second, the only present you have, time is not zooming by, regardless of how old you are. In fact, reading this is probably making time drag. You’re already glancing at the clock to see how much longer you have to endure this. You may be thinking about those things you have to do afterwards and what’s on schedule in the morning. You may even be anxious because the kids may start screaming at any moment or your eReader might cut out. Consequently you will forget 40 percent of what you’re reading within the first hour.

Your brain is working against you since it is programmed to be on the alert for any interruptions. It’s a defense mechanism to keep you alert for any pending dangers. You may not encounter very many physical dangers nowadays, but the same response is kicking in when you are in the middle of a conversation with someone at a party and all of a sudden you hear your name mentioned somewhere across the room. Your attention immediately shifts to that conversation.

Your level of awareness depends on your degree of interest in what is happening at the moment. If you can train yourself to be more thoroughly aware of the present, your perception of time will change. An hour spent working on a project that excites you and engages your attention will seem longer, in retrospect, to an hour spent daydreaming. Stefan Klein had a great line in his book, The Secret Pulse of Time – “By giving more life to your time, you give more time to your life.”

This topic is discussed in length in my eBook, Slowing down the speed of life, available from Amazon: http://amzn.to/1H4OGYP

Posted on

Keep your brain fit

Brain exerciseIf you want to fully take advantage of your increased lifespan, keep your brain fit. You can do that with physical and mental exercise, proper diet, and lifelong learning. We hear a lot about diet when it involves weight control or diabetes or blood pressure or cancer or dozens of other possible afflictions. But we don’t hear nearly as much about maintaining brain health through proper nutrition.

The three-pound mass of nerve cells and supporting tissues that we call the brain is so complicated with its 100 billion neurons, or active brain cells, that it is still not fully understood. But it is known that brain health is linked to proper diet as well as the other things such as a physically active lifestyle, stress management and adequate sleep. According to Dr Mehmet Oz (TV show aired December 19, 2009) foods that are good for your brain include bananas, blueberries, hemp seed and apple juice. Omega 3 fatty acids are of particular importance.

Until recently the importance of the brain seems to have been overlooked. This is where time is measured and memories are stored. With life expectancy increasing, a lot of us have healthy bodies but unhealthy brains. In Canada alone, it is estimated that over 750,000 people are suffering from Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

There are now gyms for the brain. People pay $60 per month or more to work out on computers loaded with “mental fitness” software. There are classes in brain nutrition and cognitive training. In the past 3 years, more than 700 retirement communities have added computerized brain fitness centers. People spent 80 million dollars in 2008 on mental fitness. The industry is based on a relatively new scientific discovery – neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to rewire itself by creating neural connections in response to mental activity.

Time management, stress management and health management are merging disciplines. You cannot focus on one and ignore the others. People who lose control of their time usually end up sacrificing exercise, regular medical checkups, leisure activities, relaxation, and regular eating habits and so on. Keeping well is easier and more time effective than getting well.

Although mental exercise is important, the most effective way of keeping your brain healthy is through physical exercise. Physical exercise sends more blood to the brain and with more blood comes more oxygen. It also releases a bunch of other things like nutrients, hormones and cleansing agents. It also stimulates the production of something called BDNF which is important in the growth of new neurons. The brain is only 2 percent of our body weight but consumes 20 percent of the oxygen we take in.

People who exercise regularly in middle-age are only one third as likely to get Alzheimer’s disease in their seventies as those who don’t exercise. So lead an active lifestyle. That reminds me of a cartoon I saw recently. It showed a doctor talking to a patient, with the caption, “What fits your busy schedule better, exercising one hour a day or being dead 24 hours a day?”

Healthy activities such as exercise, relaxation and leisure time should be scheduled in your planner if necessary, along with your priorities and major activities and events. If you don’t, the time in your planner may become filled with work-related activities and you may spiral out of control.

Posted on

Don’t rush needlessly

HurryJust as gulping your food and rushing through meals takes the enjoyment out of eating while doing nothing for your health, so rushing through life has its consequences. If you can’t remember what you had for dinner last night, you were probably mentally absent at the time. And the same thing applies to life itself. If you rush through life, multitasking and always thinking ahead about the next item on your bottomless “To Do” list, later in life you will wonder where the time went.

Speed is the enemy of time management, not its ally. Life is meant to be savored, not dispensed with as quickly as possible. Slowing down will result in fewer errors, fewer accidents, a healthier lifestyle, improved relationships, and a more enjoyable and memorable life.

Many people are too rushed in the morning to pause for breakfast. Skipping breakfast deprives your brain of the energy it needs to function at its best, according to Dr. Brian Morgan of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. And Valorie Burton mentions a survey in her book, How Did I Get So Busy, that reveals that 58 percent of Americans admit that they skip lunch altogether if they’re too busy.

Because we don’t make time to eat properly, exercise properly or sleep sufficiently, we are becoming obese. It has become an epidemic. In the U.S. up to a third of Americans are clinically obese. It’s interesting to note that children in schools within walking distance of fast food restaurants tend to be obese. 4.5 million Canadians are obese. That’s about 20 percent. This becomes one more roadblock to living a longer, healthier and happier life.

It is also essential that we control our use of technological gadgets such as BlackBerrys and other PDAs. They were originally supposed to give us more leisure time, but instead they simply make it easier for us to work longer and faster – regardless of where we are. Controlling them by turning them off at a set time each day, such as 6 PM, will help keep your life in balance, reduce the temptation to multitask, and slow down the pace of life. It will also reduce stress and help us to sleep easier if we’re not checking email just before we go to bed. We try to get more done by cutting back on sleep when studies show that after a good night’s sleep you get more done, with fewer mistakes, because of your increased ability to concentrate.

Technology was meant to speed up the completion of tasks, not the behavior of people. We are not machines. It’s bad enough trying to keep up with our neighbors, without trying to keep up with our smart phones. Don’t allow technology to rob you of your creativity, individuality, humanity and peace of mind. Make time for yourself and rid your life of strife. Smart phones are really not that smart. If they were, they wouldn’t allow so much meaningless trivia into your life.

The busier you are, the faster time seems to pass, and many people seem to be in a constant state of overload. By using technology indiscriminately, they are putting their lives in high gear, multitasking, responding to crises, and filling their lives with incessant interruptions and trivia. No generation has had such a long lifespan as this current generation, yet a third of Americans claim they do not have enough time. In some respects, all we have done by introducing technology and increasing speed is reduce the time we spend on trivial and low-priority activities so we can spend time on even more trivial and low-priority activities.

According to Matthew Edlund in his book The Body Clock Advantage, those who don’t rush through the day in a panic, but pace themselves & work efficiently, actually survive longer. That’s a greater time management strategy than working more efficiently.

Slow down and savor the moment. It will never pass your way again.

Note: This topic is covered in detail in my book, Slowing down the speed of life, now available as an eBook at Amazon. http://amzn.to/1H4OGYP

Posted on

Don’t try to cram too much into a day

images (1)You may have driven along a highway while listening to your car radio or daydreaming or talking on a cell phone and actually missed your turnoff – even though you had taken that same route hundreds of times before. That’s a result of multitasking – trying to do more than one thing at a time.

You do not remember much about the trip because you cannot form memories when your mind is absent. That’s one thing multitasking does; it robs us of our memories. And of course it has been proven that it decreases our efficiency as well. As a Russian proverb says, if you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.

An article appearing in the Toronto Star, July 2, 2008, talked about the myth of multitasking. It referred to a psychologist called Rene Marois of Vanderbilt University, who used brain scans to track what happens when the brain is forced to respond to several stimuli at once. He found that task switching leads to time lost as the brain determines which task to perform.

Psychology professor Russell Podrack of the University of California found that multitasking adversely affects learning inasmuch as you cannot retrieve the information as easily.

The consequences of missing something I write 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 smart 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.

Talking on a phone, whether hands-free or not is on a par with driving at the legal intoxication limit. The conversation literally pulls your attention away from your driving. Statistics also show that we are four times more likely to be in an accident while talking on a smart phone than otherwise. As Kurt Kleiner, writing in the June 8, 2008 issue of the Toronto Star said, “When we’re talking on a cell phone, we’re only half there. And that’s no place to be when the other half is behind the wheel.”

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, synchronize our PDAs, revise our schedules, answer text messages, and print 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. 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.

You will remember the important things; but only if you have given them your full attention. Cramming more activities into a workday is simply not good time management.