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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

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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.