A few years ago, I self-published a book called How to grow older without growing old to suggest a set of new time management strategies for seniors that I referred to in other books as holistic time management. I define holistic time management as “applying the strategies necessary to lead a happier, healthier, longer and more productive and fulfilling life.”
Nearly 40 years earlier, along with other time management experts, I had been preaching efficiency and effectiveness and organization and multitasking and a whole bevy of techniques to help people get more done in less time.
And there’s nothing wrong with that, except for multitasking, because they help improve personal productivity. But they can also distract you from the most important strategy of all, and that is to maintain or improve your health. Time is an important resource; but without your health, you are unable to make effective use of whatever time you happen to have left.
I only smartened up about 15 years ago. Wisdom is supposed to come with age; but sometimes just age comes with age. What finally triggered my paradigm shift was an old book titled How to add two years to your life or something to that effect. The premise was that if you could save five minutes here and 10 minutes there by being more efficient in doing things, in an average working life, you could get the equivalent of two more years of work done.
It suddenly dawned on me, “This is crazy. Why not just live two years longer? That way, even if you failed to improve your current efficiency at all, you would still get two years of extra work done. Not only that, but you would be alive for an extra two years to enjoy whatever life had to offer!”
But here’s the surprising part. When I started paying attention to the research findings, and extended my sleep time, started exercising on a regular basis, surrounded myself with plants, moved my home office to the solarium with natural lighting – I found my personal productivity and energy level increased. I became healthier, happier, and more productive.
We have yet to see about the living longer part; but as an octogenarian in my late eighties, I am still actively employed in semi-retirement. About eight years ago I started writing e-books for a publisher in Denmark, such as Sleep: a time management strategy, Internal time management – slowing down the speed of life, The impact of working environment on personal productivity, Managing your energy for maximum productivity and optimal health, Strengthen your brain’s executive skills, and so on. They were all topics covered in holistic time management. Then, about five years ago, I moved from Toronto, a large Canadian city, to a small town in rural New Brunswick called Sussex with a population of about 4000 people. I had also read the information on the health benefits of country living. I rented an apartment bordering on a small park next to a school. I added activities such as fishing, picking wild blueberries and attending friendship club meetings and community suppers to replace the time saved in commuting, sitting in traffic tie-ups and waiting in line-ups. At that time the average commute time in Toronto was 80 minutes. My personal productivity – and health – continued to improve. I wrote over 10 e-books and one hardcover book during that first year – in addition to my other involvements – so there is no doubt about the productivity increase. I now have 38 books accepted by the same publisher.
My blood pressure also dropped 10 points, my psoriasis disappeared, as did the arthritis in my hands. Much of this could have been due to the placebo effect – where expecting a change makes it happen – but who cares? The placebo effect changes your body physiologically anyway, and frequently outperforms the drugs being tested. I believe the difference is stress level had an impact as well.
Let me summarize a few of the more important strategies that I found can boost productivity as well as health and well-being. These strategies are much easier to practice in a rural setting. They were all discussed in my book, How to grow older without growing old, which is basically a book about how to live longer.
Sleep: Sleep is one of the most important predictors of how long you will live. (As important as whether you smoke, exercise, or have high blood pressure.) Insufficient sleep slows reasoning ability as well as logical thinking and reaction time. I find 7 hours (up from less than 6) seems adequate.
Nature: Exposure to nature has many health benefits, including reduced rates of depression and increased immune functioning as well as an increase in creativity, performance and learning ability. Plants give off oxygen, and they also absorb pollution from the air.
Sunlight: Natural lighting from the sun is another part of nature that can affect your health as well as your personal performance. It improves cognitive performance, alertness, and mood. Studies have shown that sunlight also improve sleep, which has an impact on our daytime energy and productivity.
Country living: Mounting research suggests that city living is not conducive to mental or physical health. City dwellers are at a 20% increased risk for developing anxiety disorders and a 40% increased risk for mood disorders compared with people who live in less populated areas.
Relationships: Socializing keeps your cells from aging too fast. Research indicates the more social contacts you have, the greater your ability to fight infection. People with active social lives are 50% less likely to die of any cause than their non-social counterparts.
Exercise: Exercising increases blood circulation to the brain. The brain is only 2% by weight of the body but consumes 20% to 25% of the oxygenated glucose and other nutrients carried by the circulatory system. Exercise reduces the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Stress reduction: Stress makes dementia worse, and cortisol impairs function in the prefrontal cortex and lowers the immune system functioning. Stress is reduced by socializing, volunteering, walking, meditation, mindfulness, exercise, nature walks, listening to music – all of which are plentiful in my current environment.
Slower pace: There is little doubt that a slower pace, both at work and away from work, reduces stress and anxiety and conserves energy. There are also less incidents of error and forgetfulness, and a tendency to make better decisions.
There are other things that can impact your health, longevity, and personal productivity, such as music, diet, colours, spirituality – and even hugging and a more moderate use of available technology. I included these and a few others in my book. But you get the idea. Environmental factors and lifestyle can have an even greater impact on personal productivity than traditional time management strategies.
And it is healthier to boot. The book, How to grow older without growing old is available in either paperback or downloadable PDF at my website.