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Personal productivity revisited.

Beuatifull woman at the office celebrating her success
Productivity isn’t all about efficiency.

Ever since I broadened my field of interest to include holistic time management, I have been amazed at how many factors influence our productivity besides the usual efficiency – organizing – planning triad of strategies. I have written about them in previous blogs – everything from music to physical movement, office greenery to window scenery and from colors to coffee shops. I am in the process of tying them all together in a new book on the impact of working environment on personal productivity – to be published by Bookboon.com.In the process of doing all this, I’ve been forced to modify my narrow definition of personal productivity. In the past I have defined personal productivity solely in business terms, such as output per unit of input, whether that is the number of invoices processed per hour or the number of customers served in a day or the number of tasks completed during the week.

Other business writers all seem to do the same thing – define personal productivity in terms of the volume of work-related output, which presumably will assist corporate productivity as long as the individual is productive in a direction that aligns with corporate goals.

The problem with this approach is that it does not allow for a truly “personal” output, which may or may not have anything to do with corporate efficiency or productivity. For example, it has been shown that nature walks, friendships, and volunteering can all help, either directly or indirectly, to increase work-related productivity. But they can also have other beneficial outputs such as happiness, hope and well-being, which may or may not influence work-related productivity one iota. And yet who can deny the possible personal benefits of such things, including mental health, mindfulness, and empathy and so on.

What I choose to do, therefore, is have two distinct definitions; one for personal productivity and another for corporate or work-related productivity.

Corporate productivity is a term I will use for the volume of output per unit of input, such as the number of widgets for hour. It is solely a measure of the efficiency of production, whether by an individual or team. Corporate productivity can be increased by increasing the output without increasing the input or increasing output drastically with only a slight increase in input. This might be accomplished through the use of technology or by workers simply working smarter and more efficiently.

Personal productivity can then be defined as the value of your personal life in terms of quality, quantity and contribution. Personal productivity might be increased through varying inputs, such as social relationships, an active lifestyle, love, forgiveness, and a continuing relationship with nature. The personal productivity of an individual in most cases will have a positive influence on corporate productivity if the person is involved in a business or career; but that is not necessarily the case. The challenge is to balance the two.

The tendency in the workplace is to increase input rather than change input. For example, the impulse is to work harder, even though it has been shown that the top performers tend to work no more than 4.5 hours a day. And how many people would actually think to get more sleep in order to get more done?

But with an equal focus on personal productivity, which relies heavily on health and lifestyle issues, it’s easier to buffer the traditional methods of increasing corporate productivity, which are driven solely by efficiency and achievement. This will insure that not only the company will gain in terms of increased productivity, but the individual will gain as well in terms of personal growth, fulfillment, and physical, mental and spiritual well-being.

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Life in the slow lane

life-in-slow-lane

A preliminary report on country living.

We have a definite link with nature, and the human brain is influenced by our environment – what we see, smell, hear and feel. The book, How the body knows its mind, by Sion Beilock reported that city dwellers are at a 20% increase risk for developing anxiety disorders and a 40% increased risk for mood disorders compared with people who live in less populated areas.

If you have been following my blogs, you may recall during the series on the impact of greenery, relationships, and environment on productivity, I announced my move from city life to a small town called Sussex in south eastern New Brunswick. That was about three months ago, and I am giving the preliminary report that I promised.

I had to get used to breathing air I couldn’t see, experiencing five minute average commutes compared to Toronto’s 80-minute adventure, having stand-offs with other motorists who wanted you to go first, having people greet you by name when you walked into the bank, and having strangers say hello to you when you passed them on the street. But after three months, I believe I am finally adjusting to country life.

There are disadvantages of course. There are no movie theatres (except for a drive-in theatre), no Starbucks (although there are two Tim Horton’s) no top of the line clothing or department stores – although they do have Sobeys, Superstore, Home Hardware, Shoppers Drug Mart, Canadian Tire, Walmart and Marks Work Warehouse – and of course McDonald’s. But in less time than it takes to commute to work in Toronto you can drive to the large cities Saint John, Moncton or Fredericton. (Sussex lies in the centre of a triangle connecting those three cities.)

Although it’s a town of only about 4000 people, this number swells to about 20,000 when the annual balloon festival takes place – or the 900-booth gigantic annual flea market is open for business. And of course there are plenty of visitors during the summer months – probably attracted by the dozens of larger-than-life murals painted on buildings by internationally renowned artists or the antique car shows or covered bridges – or maybe it’s the fishing, hiking or the fact that Sussex is the gateway to the Bay of Fundy and other attractions like Magnetic Hill, Hopewell Rocks or the Reversing Falls.

Winters can be nasty. There hasn’t been much snow so far; but two years ago I visited during a snowstorm that seemed to last a week. Of course it’s only 15 minutes to Poley Mountain if you’re a skier; less than that for snowmobiling, cross country skiing or whatever. Personally I plan to hibernate with my books for a few months – or visit my son and his family in Mexico.

I can’t begin to explain how invigorating I find my morning walks, the view of trees and rolling hills, grazing cattle and trout streams where you can easily catch your limit in an hour. I now even enjoy walking in the snow, warmly dressed of course, and marvel at the beauty of nature in the winter.

But as yet I have no acceptable proof of increased productivity produced by the greenery, scenic views, pollution free air, social relationships or increased exercise. I do know my blood pressure has dropped an average of ten points, and I feel good and more energetic than before the move.

I also think I get the same amount of work done in less time; but instead of using it for more work, I use the time to attend music jamborees, church suppers, and attending meetings of the local friendship club. And I admit I enjoy catching speckled trout in the local streams, picking wild blueberries and feeding birds and chipmunks.

There were no lineups when I renewed my driver’s license, no mandatory driver’s test every two years for people over 80, and one thing I can’t help but notice: people in the service industry actually seem to take pleasure in serving you. I find life less frustrating.

So even if I don’t succeed in getting more work done in my life, I seem to be on track to get more life. I’ll report again after the winter, and in the meantime I will try to pay more attention to my productivity level.

Oh, one other thing – I seem to have had an epiphany of sorts. I realized my definition of personal productivity that I have been using during my training career is somewhat inaccurate. I may discuss this in my next blog. Meanwhile, have a very Merry Christmas

 

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How to survive in the digital age of speed.

age-of-speed

As the pace of life increases, along with our use of technology and 24/7 connectivity, a blurring of the separation of work and personal time takes place, stress increases, and we feel pressured to steal time from health-giving activities such as sleep, exercise and social relationships.

Here are a few things you might do to alleviate any negative consequences of the digital age of speed in which we now must function.

Place boundaries on your working hours.

Make sure your working hours are not the same hours as our family time or personal time. In a recent issue of Scientific American Mind, it was suggested that the single biggest stressor is a failure to unplug from the always-connected workplace.

Build structure into your day.

Most of us are now connected 24/7 and vulnerable to incessant interruptions. Checking and responding to email or messaging a maximum of four or five times a day instead of 40 or 50 times a day. And batch similar tasks together when you perform them. For example make phone calls, write email messages and text in batches to consume less energy and mental fatigue.

Find your “high performance” work area.

Try getting away from your regular work environment for an hour or more each day. I have written in the past about the advantages of working in a coffee shop. The moderate noise level has been found to increase creativity. It also gets you away from an environment that may be triggering bad habits, such as checking email or text messages every few minutes. Many people have what is referred to as a high performance area, which may not necessarily be a coffee shop. So experiment a little.

Exercise at every opportunity.

Exercise, whether morning, noon or night, improves your health as well as your energy level. Simply taking the stairs can increase your energy by 200% for example. Another way of increasing performance might be to use a standing desk for a few hours each day. One pharmaceutical company found that after one month of getting standing desk’s employees were 23% more productive. A sedentary lifestyle, including sitting all day, is a killer.

Make the majority of your goals short range. 

For example, set more 90-day goals and fewer annual goals. This allows for an ever-changing environment, the rapid advances in technology, and the instantaneous influence of social media and so on. Priorities also seem to change more quickly in this digital age of speed.

90 days – three months – provides enough time to accomplish something significant, yet not so short as to be seen as a glorified “to do list. Your 90-day goal could very well lead to an annual goal, while having measurable results in itself. But while working on annual goals, we could deceive ourselves into thinking that a last-minute rush will enable us to achieve the goal.

With shorter goals we are able to adjust or even discover that the goal is impossible or impractical and we would still have most of the year available to re-evaluate and reset our goals.

Many goals don’t take 12 months in the first place, and Parkinson’s Law could take place at the time it takes to achieve the goal could expand to fill the time we have available. Many important goals such as product launches or a sales promotion are time sensitive. If you don’t act now you lose much of their benefit. If you can’t make significant progress in 90 days, you probably won’t do much better in 365 days.

Don’t work exclusively from “To Do” lists.

“To do” lists by themselves, are no longer sufficient since we have now more things to do than we can possibly get done in one lifetime. It’s more important than ever to identify the 20% that represent 80% of the value or significant results, and schedule them in our planner – Blocks of time representing appointments with ourselves to get the most important things done – just like we schedule appointments with other people. Also research shows that deciding in advance when you will do something increases your commitment to do it. There is no real commitment to do tasks on a “To Do” list – especially at any particular time – and your brain picks up on that.

Practice holistic time management.

 Don’t limit yourself to the traditional “get organized, plan, write things down” suggestions of the past. Our body, mind and relationship with nature and our environment all influence our personal productivity as well as our health and well-being.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to run effective meetings

meeting-management

To run effective meetings, you must control both the length of the meeting and the meeting itself. Regardless of whether you spend an average of one hour or six hours each day in meetings, there is considerable time savings to be realized by running them efficiently. Here is a summary of the most important things to keep in mind when calling a meeting.

Invite only those who are essential to the success of the meeting.

If people are unlikely to contribute to or benefit from the meeting, don’t include them. Try to keep the total number of attendees fewer than 8 people. According to the book, Decide and Deliver: 5 Steps to Breakthrough and Performance in your Organization, once you have seven people in a decision-making group, every additional person reduces effectiveness by 10 percent.

Plan the meeting in advance.

Avoid last-minute agendas. Anticipate which topics will generate the most discussion, disagreement and time loss. Leave the contentious issues last – when people are less likely to waste time. Put the priority items that will generate the least discussion near the start of the meeting. Allocate estimated time limits to every agenda item, and be sure to include an ending time as well as a starting time on the agenda.

Prepare, and encourage participants to prepare.

Insist that any suggestions for the agenda be submitted at least a week in advance in order to be included on the agenda. Have the agenda and any reports to be discussed distributed to the other participants at least 3 days in advance of the meeting. Discourage participants from wasting everyone else’s time reading reports at the meeting. Meetings are for discussion and decision-making.

 Start on time.

Don’t make exceptions. If anyone arrives late, including your boss, explain that you are now on item 2 or 3. Don’t apologize for being prompt and efficient. Set a businesslike but friendly tone, keep the meeting on course, and encourage participation while maintaining control. Resist the urge to summarize the progress to date for every late arrival. If they ask, tell them you’ll update them after the meeting.

Make notes at every meeting and encourage others to do likewise.

Record decisions reached, actions required, the individuals responsible for the various actions, and the expected completion dates. Review this information at the end of the meeting to ensure that everyone is clear as to his or her responsibilities. If everyone takes notes, there is no need to wait for minutes to be issued before taking action.

Don’t waste the group’s time on one person’s responsibilities.

If you have made a group decision and provided input, assign the action to one person, not several. If a few people have strong feelings as to how something should be done, ask them to submit the suggestions in writing to the person who will be taking action.

Always take a few minutes after every meeting to evaluate how it went.

Jot down what you will do next time to improve the process. Continually strive to reduce the time loss and increase the value of every meeting you manage.

 

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An office is for working and a bed is for sleeping.

 

woman-working-on-bed

In past blogs we have covered productivity boosters – everything from an organized office and reduced distractions to color schemes and office greenery. But there are productivity killers as well, and one of them is using your bed instead of your well-organized office desk to get work done.

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. 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.

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 proving to be neither efficient nor healthy.

The authors of the book, Neuroscience for leadership, published in 2016, even claim that we should not be sleeping with our smart phones or other handheld devices next to us due to the effects of Wi-Fi and 3G or 4G signals on our brain waves.

A study of over 200 students at the University of Rhode Island found they were losing

an average of 45 minutes of sleep each week because of their cell phones. (Source: Toronto Globe & Mail, November 22, 2011). We should be getting from 6 to 8 hours of sleep each night, although this does vary from person to person. 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.

Research reinforces the belief that insufficient sleep can precipitate stress disorders and other ailments. 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.

Brain science research conducted as recently as 2012 studied how the brain cleans itself of toxic waste byproducts while we sleep. Failing to get enough sleep may prevent the brain from being able to remove these it neurotoxins which could have an influence on disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

A bed is for sleeping, a kitchen table is for eating, and an office is for working. Confuse the three and both your personal productivity and your health will probably suffer.

 

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The power of music at work

music

I’m not sure whether music soothes the savage beast, but I am convinced in the power of music to soothe our body mind and spirit. According to an article in the May/June, 2014 issue of Scientific American Mind, a study at our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge discovered that ambient music therapy had a positive effect on recovery after surgery. It improved pain management and decreased the negative effects of environmental noise. The same article reported that exercising in rhythm with music uses less energy.

A column on health by Dr. Anthony Komaroff, appearing in the March 15, 2016 issue of TelegraphJournal.com, claimed that controlled clinical trials of people having various surgeries revealed that those who listened to music before their procedures had reduced anxiety and a reduced need for sedatives. Further, those who listen to music before the procedure had reduced anxiety and a reduced need for sedatives. Those who listened to music in the operating room reported less discomfort during their procedures.

Music has been found to reduce the side effects of cancer therapy and the anxiety associated with chemotherapy. It helps relieve depression and improves the quality of life for dementia patients. Most of us have probably experienced how music can recall memories from the past, and how residents in nursing homes have been able to sing the words of songs even though they may have little recollection of anything else.

Jo Marchant, in her 2016 book, Cure: A journey into the science of mind over body, mentions someone who listened to his favorite songs because it put him into a calm, thoughtful frame of mind. She also describes an interesting case involving the role of music in the placebo effect.

There appears to be a link between music and our brain-based executive function, and Sylvain Morino, a scientist with the Rotman Research Institute, was able to produce a 14-point increase in IQ in preschoolers by exposing them to a computerized music program for 20 days.

Background music in the office can also increase creativity and improve reasoning skills. Sound itself is not necessarily a distraction. It can enhance learning and higher brain function and even improve memory performance. Background music, especially classical, has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and even help focus attention and improve concentration.

So from a holistic time management standpoint, it might be wise to experiment with different types of music to relieve stress and increase personal productivity. There are websites that can offer free background music on your computer while you work. AccuRadio is one that has over 50 genres including classical, blues, contemporary, Christian, country, and dance. You might check it out at Accuradio.com. I find that soft music, without any words to distract me, works best.

In his book, This is your brain on music, Daniel Levinson says that for most of human history, music making was as natural an activity as breathing and walking, and some of the oldest physical artifacts found in human excavation sites are musical instruments.

We also know that white noise and offices in the ambient noise of coffee shops have been used for many years as a positive environment for creative thinking and performance. Music can motivate, reduce fatigue, and make both exercise and boring jobs feel more like leisure and less like work.

Perhaps, in the business world, music’s time has come.

 

 

 

 

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Increasing your commitment to get things done.

Taylor Day Planner

taylor-planner-960x437

Research has discovered that deciding in advance when you will do something increases your commitment to do it. Adding something to a weekly list of things to do – even though they are only intentions – is better than simply being aware that something has to be done. But even more effective is to choose the specific time during the week that you plan to do something, and then block off that time in your planner as an “appointment with yourself.” Then you have a true commitment to get it done.

The problem is that you probably have more things to do during the week than you have the time in which to do them, plus you also can expect a series of unplanned interruptions and crises to disrupt your commitment even more.

The solution to these problems is not to throw up your hands and refuse to schedule anything for fear of having to postpone it, but rather to limit the number of tasks and activities that you schedule in your planner in any particular week. Most people underestimate the actual time it takes to complete a task. So allowing up to 50% more time than you think the task will take is not unreasonable.

Of course that will leave even less time to get everything done. So don’t plan to get everything done. Choose only the most important items – giving priority to those that are urgent as well as important.

Don’t block off all the available time in your work week. Block off anywhere from 20% to 80% of the available time, depending on the nature of your job. This not only allows for real crises and emergencies that are even more important than those you have already scheduled; it also allows time in the same week to reschedule any original priorities that may have had to be displaced in the process.

Assuming that only about half the available time in a workweek has been blocked off for appointments with yourself to get the really important things done, you may also be forced to schedule some of the jobs up to two weeks or more into the future. This makes it easier to make decisions when asked to commit time to work on additional tasks or to attend unplanned events or whatever. We tend to think we will have more time in the future than we have now. This simply is not true. The easiest way to say no is to have a reason to say no – by seeing future commitments already scheduled in your planner.

What about all the tasks that are not considered top priorities, but still have to be done? Add those to your To Do list; but make sure the list is a part of your planner, not a separate sheet of paper or electronic device. Your planner should list your goals, personal policies, To Do list and your actual schedule for the next week or more. These items are worked on during those snippets of time still remaining after having completed the scheduled tasks, and after any emergencies, and additional urgent priorities that cropped up during the week had been handled. If there is no such time left over, you must adjust the amount of time being allowed for the individual tasks or lower the percentage of your total week being allocated to current tasks.

Here is a summary of the essentials of effective planning using a planning calendar.

  1. Remember that items on a To Do list represent your intentions; but time actually blocked off in your planner to work on these items represent your commitment to get them done.
  2. Trying to focus on any project or task for too long a period of time depletes your energy, decreases efficiency, makes you more prone to error, and increases the likelihood of interruptions. Work on longer projects in blocks of time of 90 minutes or less with breaks in between.
  3. Always allow more time than you think the task will take to allow for any interruptions. You can use any time left over to work on your To Do list items.
  4. Don’t schedule your whole week. How many items you schedule depends on the nature of your job and your experience to date. If in doubt, test this strategy by scheduling only one or two items initially. If successful, gradually increase the number.
  5. Schedule time for only your top priorities, with the more urgent ones scheduled earlier in the week. Everything else can be added to your To Do list and crossed off when they’re done. But don’t spend time on To Do items if there are scheduled priority items still to be done.
  6. Only reschedule your priorities if items of even greater importance and urgency crop up in the meantime. Never postpone items simply because they can be delayed. Be prepared to say no. Have as much respect for your time as you have for other people’s time.
  7. Schedule both business-related and family and personal items in the same planner to avoid any conflicts. At the end of the year your planner will look like a journal your activities and accomplishments.

If you feel comfortable using a paper planner, take a look at the Taylor Planner described at taylorintime.com. It has the features needed to maintain control of your time by making commits to get things done.

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The power of social relationships

 

friendships

According to Matthew Lieberman, in his book Social: why our brains are wired to connect, research shows that our brains are wired to connect with other people. And people with a close friend at work are more productive and more innovative.

It goes beyond the workplace. 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.

Research published in the February, 2008 Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, showed that daily social contacts may boost brain power and cognitive abilities. In a University of Michigan study of 3500 people, it was revealed that more time spent chatting with friends was associated with higher scores on memory tests. Research also shows that one of the most effective ways of neutralizing the negative effects of stress is to have social networks.

In her 2016 book, Cure: a journey into the science of mind over body, Jo Marchant emphasizes the power of friendships – even to the point of extending your lifespan. She referred to an older study of residents of Tecumseh, Southeast Michigan, showing those people reporting fewer social relationships and activities were about twice as likely to die over the next decade. Social isolation is a health hazard. An article in the September October, 2012 issue of Psychology Today claimed that the strength of your friendship is as critical for your health as the lifestyle choices you make.

Even the presence of other people seem to have a positive effect on your mood and productivity. You may find that when you work among others at a coffee shop for instance, you can feed off their energy – without the concomitant interruptions. Even the background noise of a coffee shop has been shown to increase creativity. So if your work involves working alone in an office, a periodic “work break” at a coffee shop might be a productivity booster. It is also an enjoyable change of pace – and David Rock, in his book, Your brain at work, suggests that insights occur more frequently the more relaxed and happy you are.

Dr. Mike Dow, in his book The brain fog fix, says human beings have an innate need to feel supported, connected and loved. He further states that loneliness and anxiety go hand-in-hand and that there is a link between loneliness and depression. It is no wonder that the amount of time spent using social networking sites is growing three times the rate of overall Internet usage. It does help combat loneliness.  However, online communication doesn’t have the emotional support of personal one-on-one relationships, and more time spent on social media could leave less time for personal interaction. According to Susan Greenfield, in her book, Mind Change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains, we used to spend six hours a day in face-to face interaction and four hours a day on electronic media. By 2007 this proportion had reversed, with nearly eight hours spent socializing on social media and only two and a half hours spent in face-to-face social interaction.

For optimum health and well-being, as well as for personal performance, it would appear that we should cultivate social relationships both at and away from work.

 

 

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Have a purpose when using technology.

technology

Technology should be used as a tool, not a pastime. As a tool, it can increase efficiency and free up time for priorities, including leisure, and improve quality and performance. As a pastime, it can waste time, displace priorities, precipitate stress and quicken the pace of life.

Technologies that offer few lasting or significant benefits, such as the Pokémon Go craze, die a natural death. For example, it took less than two weeks for Pokémon Go to capture about 45 million users. But it only took the same amount of time to level off and decline to less than 30 million users. Still a time consumer, it does not have the potential of negatively impacting your time – and life – as much is the more useful technologies such as email and texting.

Email revolutionized written communications. The leap from snail mail to electronic communications wiped out the problems of distance and time, providing instant communications around the world. Unfortunately its ease-of-use immediately expanded its frequency to the point that unnecessary and unwanted communications negated the time saved by its speed.

It’s not a new phenomenon. Long ago, washing machines used only a fraction of the time being taken to do laundry by hand. But its ease-of-use encouraged more frequent washings, and combined with the increase in the number of items we purchased, negated most of the time savings. Just as the time saved by faster cars is negated by longer distances travelled, greater traffic, construction and gridlock, so the even greater speed of instant messages was offset by its frequency of use.

This results in little increase in personal productivity; but does result in a faster and more stressful level of working. And although email and instant messaging may have little net gain in productivity, social media such as Facebook and Twitter could result in an actual reduction in productivity since it is being used more as a pastime than a tool. So called “friends” and “followers” you may never meet in person can consume hours a day. For example, the average time currently being spent by Facebook users is about 25 minutes a day. Social media should be used as tools not simply pastimes. You can promote your business, network, solve problems, provide reciprocal help to others and even cultivate real friendships when used as tools. The key is to have a purpose in using the technology, other than simply spending time on it.

Electronic communications should be used deliberately and less frequently – with set times to check and respond, and policies on when to close shop and when to open for business.

Technology is not something to be avoided or feared. It can increase your personal productivity as well as your enjoyment of life by speeding up the mundane and providing opportunities for both physical and mental activity. Even some of the electronic games can provide relaxation while improving working memory and cognitive skills.

It is for both the young and the old. Imagine being able to deposit checks without leaving your home, using the transfers to send money to your grandchildren, and purchasing books online that are instantly transferred to your iPad or laptop in electronic format.

I personally love being able to dictate articles to my laptop using voice activated software, and taking the drudgery away from making up bibliographies with the help of bibme.org. A Google search will access specific information instantly. Spell check is automatic. Definitions, synonyms and so on are at my fingertips. What a great world we live in.

Just as having a purpose in life motivates you to get up in the morning, takes you over the rough spots, and brings fulfillment, so having a purpose in using technology will increase your personal productivity, make your job easier, and free up time for those things you really love to do.

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Can colors actually improve your performance?

office-colors

In my last blog article I mentioned that the presence of potted plants in offices improves productivity, creativity, performance and learning ability. One of the reasons given was that plants and trees act as vacuum cleaners, absorbing the indoor pollutants that have been linked to anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue and cognitive decline.

But that’s not the whole answer. If it were, why is it that that people with windows facing the outside world are more productive, healthier, and maintain a higher level of concentration than people with windowless offices? And why did researchers find that the more green space that residents can see out their windows, the less aggression and violence they reported at home? And why did researchers find that university students with mostly natural views from their dormitory windows score better on tests of working memory and concentration than college students who lived in the same dorm but with views of other buildings?

We have a definite link with nature, and the human brain is influenced by our environment – what we see, smell, hear and feel. The book, How the body knows its mind, by Sion Beilock reported that city dwellers are at a 20% increase risk for developing anxiety disorders and a 40% increased risk for mood disorders compared with people who live in less populated areas. And in the book, Your brain on nature, by Selhub and Logan, the authors state that research has shown that emotions of pleasure and happiness are elevated with an increase of tree density – even in urban settings.

It’s more than simply pollution at play. Japanese researchers have noted increases in the number of natural killer cells and increases in the amount of intracellular anticancer proteins after spending time in a forest. And natural chemicals secreted by evergreen trees have been associated with improvements in the activity of the frontline immune defenders.

And what about the impact of the various colors on our mood and performance? Is it a coincidence that blue and green – the colors most frequently found in nature – have also been found to be the most effective in stimulating personal productivity? Selhub and Logan point out in their book that recent studies show that the blue portion of the light spectrum stimulates the areas of the brain that involve attention and memory. Blue enriched light has been shown to improve mood, performance, alertness, irritability and evening fatigue. Blue is known as an excellent color for productivity as well as having a calming effect on employees. It stimulates the mind and increases productivity. Ravi Mehta, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, believes that a blue background screen on your computer also improves performance when working on a creative tasks, while a red background is better with more detailed oriented tasks.

Green has also been associated with calm and well-being. One study found that 95% of the university students questioned associated the colour with positive emotions. Deep greens can excite and motivate staff. Melanie Feltham, social media community manager at Upwork, claims we feel at ease in blue and green rooms because of their relationship to nature.

You may want to experiment with colors. A national survey of 1000 office workers found blue to be their preferred hue. One researcher suggested a mixture of blue-green with accents of motivating soft red. Some workers are more productive in rooms painted in bright colors while others find it overwhelming.

It has been suggested that you use a lighter color on your desk since reducing the amount of contrast between your computer screen and desk will reduce eyestrain. Alternatively, you could use a large blotter or desk calendar.

Avoid beige or white. A University of Texas study found that grey, beige or white offices induced feelings of sadness and depression – especially in women. Yellow can give you a burst of energy; but it can cause irritability and induce fatigue faster. Red tends to increase heart rate and blood pressure and should probably be used only to draw attention to something – like stop signs, fire hydrants or fire engines.

It would appear that sticking to the colors found in nature – blue skies, blue water, green trees, green grass and fields – is the best choice for efficiency, focus and a lower stress level.

It’s hard to improve on nature.