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Be smart when using your smartphone.

Years ago we were warned about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving. One recent article reported that about one quarter of car accidents in the U.S. are caused by texting and talking on the phone while driving.

Then it became obvious that the increase in screen use and digital technology in general was impacting our ability to focus. People were becoming more easily distracted, ADHD symptoms appeared to be increasing, some of us were becoming addicted to email and/or the Internet, and evidence seemed to suggest we are becoming less empathetic, more shallow in our thinking, and more open to health problems such as obesity and heart disease.

Soon there were indications of physical problems emerging as a result of overuse of digital technology as well. The first of these to become evident was carpal tunnel syndrome and many of us have already made adjustments with the way we use our mouse, position the hand, and support our wrist.

But research published by Kenneth Hansraj in the National Library of Medicine, and reported in the Toronto Star, November 24, 2014, indicates that bending your neck over a smart phone for hours a day could lead to early wear and tear on the spine, degeneration and even surgery. And smartphone users spend an average of 2 to 4 hours a day hunched over, reading e-mails, sending texts or checking the social media sites.  

Known as text neck, this problem is caused by an increase in the weight of the head as it bends forward. The average human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, according to an article by Adam Popescu in the January 25, 2018 issue of the New York Times. The weight on the cervical spine varies from 27 pounds at a 15° angle to 60 pounds at a 60° angle according to Kenneth Hanrai’s research mentioned earlier.

Since posture is known to affect mood, behavior, personal energy and memory in addition to the physiological impact mentioned above, the way we are tethered to our smartphones can cause even more problems.

Adam Popescu, introduces the antisocial aspect of smartphones in his article by asking us to observe how much time passes the next time we’re sitting among a group of friends before someone grabs their phone to look at it. This antisocial behavior is bound to negatively impact friendships as well as the effectiveness of communications. And yet, according to the Pew Research Center, 75% of Americans feel their use of a smartphone doesn’t impact their ability to pay attention in a group setting.

This denial is even more disturbing. I shudder to think of the negative impact this could have on important business meetings or family life.

We’re at the point where over half the world’s population owns a smartphone and the Internet has surpassed the 4 billion mark. And many of us are quick to adopt a new technology, regardless of its merit, for fear of being left behind.

It’s more important than ever that we control the use of our smartphone – or any other electronic device – so that it remains a useful tool to increase efficiency and does not become an addiction that negatively impacts our physical, emotional and mental well-being.

 

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The tortoise and the hare – more than just a fable?

High-touch

Balancing high-tech and high-touch.

Research shows that things left undone cause stress. And an expanding to do list, which never seems to empty, is a constant reminder of all the things left undone – important or otherwise. This is true whether it is a hardcopy or electronic list.

If we had only today’s work to contend with – and had closure at the end of each day – we wouldn’t experience the anxiety that so many people are experiencing. This is especially true in today’s environment where we seem to have an endless series of things to do.

To add to our woes, prioritizing is more difficult, since priorities often change on a daily basis. It’s virtually impossible to list things in order of priority and have them stay that way.

One executive mentioned online that he had solved this problem by switching back to something he had used as a child – a pen and notepad. He felt it gave him more control than the various apps he had tried. And he can jot down the things he has to do on a daily basis.

He is not the only one who feels more comfortable and more in control using paper. The Caveman Principle, as explained by Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City College and City University of New York, says that given a choice between high-tech and high-touch, we opt for high-touch every time. For example, would you rather see a celebrity performer sing at a concert or watch a DVD of the same performance? Or how about a live sporting even vs. a re-run on TV?

Balancing high-tech with high- touch can strengthen our brain-based “executive skills, and technology writer Danny O’Brien, who interviewed top achievers, found one thing in common that may account for their increased productivity. They all used some sort low-tech tool, such as a written “To Do” list or a plain paper pad.

Writing down your “to do” list on paper frees up working memory, allows time to evaluate their importance, and provides a motivational sense of accomplishment as your cross off each item.

Mikael Cho, cofounder of Crew, said in an article on the Internet, “The separation from the digital space (where I do most of my work) to the physical, helped me feel less overwhelmed.”

Physically writing things down also increases your focus on what you are doing at the time, avoids mental multitasking, and helps you to make a better decisions when selecting the priorities for each day.

Here’s an example that I noted in Thomas Friedman’s latest (2016) book, Thank you for being late. Eric Teller, CEO of Google’s X research and development lab, could not be more high-tech. It seems to be in his genes. His paternal grandfather designed the hydrogen bomb and his maternal grandfather, an economist, won a Nobel Prize. Yet, when explaining Moore’s law and the accelerating rate of change of science and technology, “Teller began by taking out a small yellow 3M notepad” and “drew a graph with the Y axis labeled ‘rate of change’ and the X axis labeled ‘time.’…..”

You could hardly call a 3M notepad high-tech, and yet it was definitely more convenient and faster than whipping out his iPhone and activating a graph app. And probably more effective in getting his point across.

Don’t be embarrassed if you still use a paper planner or scratch pad or sticky notes. Paper has not become obsolete. In fact we recently designed a “scratch pad on steroids” that allows you to quickly jot down ideas, notes from emails or phone calls, record your day’s priorities and To Do’s make notes and reminders and so on. It’s called a “Daily Priority Pad,” comes in two sizes, and you can check it out at our website, www.taylorintime.com.

There’s another reason we should be balancing high-tech with high-touch. It became obvious when reading The Glass cage: automation and us, (2014) by Nicholas Carr. Evidently on January 4, 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration released a one-page safety alert for operators to all U.S. airlines and other commercial air carriers encouraging operators to promote manual flight operations when appropriate. To quote from Carr’s book: “The FAA had collected evidence, from crash investigations, incident reports, and cockpit studies, indicating that pilots had become too dependent on autopilots and other computerized systems. Overuse of flight automation, the agency warned, could ‘lead to degradation of the pilot’s ability to quickly recover the aircraft from an undesired state.’ It could, in blunter terms, put a plane and its passengers in jeopardy. The alert concluded with a recommendation that airlines, as a matter of operational policy, instruct pilots to spend less time flying on autopilot and more time flying by hand.”

This could apply to all of us. As we rely more and more on technology, will skills such as cursive writing, basic math, problem solving and even creative thinking slowly diminish?

Balancing high-tech with high touch can help strengthen our executive skills, those brain-based skills such as the ability to concentrate, focus and keep things in short-term memory. After all, the goal of technology was to increase productivity, not to eliminate paperwork.

Using a paper planner and writing down my “To Do” list serves to ground me in reality. I can touch it and feel it and see my scheduled projects for the week the moment I open my planner. Writing down an appointment solidifies that meeting in my mind, while dictating it to a handheld device makes little impact, little commitment, and little chance I will even recall it the next morning.

A pen in hand generates focus, attention, commitment, and a “do it now” mindset – something many of us lack. Written down, a name or number stays in working memory longer and has a greater chance of making it into long-term memory for later recall.

Similarly, I prefer to make handwritten notes while on the telephone, write notes on an “Action Sheet” in meetings, and, heaven forbid, even write personal notes on hardcopy birthday cards and send them by snail mail.

There is a place for digital devices. I do own an iPad, an iPhone and a laptop. And like many people I do online banking, use e-transfers, make calls with Skype, shop online, have a PayPal account, participate in social media, and correspond by email. But I also use a paper planner and a hard copy follow-up file system, a telephone log booklet, paper checklists, note pads, sticky notes as well as read hard copy books. Paperwork adds structure to my life.

Because we live in a digital age of speed, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I handwrite all my books and articles before dictating my handwritten material to my computer using voice-activated software. But I quickly regain my self-esteem when I recall the story of the tortoise and the hare. The objective was clearly not to run the fastest, but to win the race.

 

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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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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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Get maximum results with minimum effort.

Put your digital “To do” list in writing.

priority-pad

By minimum effort, I don’t mean you should not concentrate fully on the task at hand; but rather that you should complete the task with a minimum expenditure of energy. Being disorganized consumes energy, multitasking consumes energy, constantly being distracted consumes energy, and working solely from a digital “To do” list consumes energy.

A digital list of “things to do” on your computer or laptop can becomes long and unmanageable, with a mixture of priority and less important and trivial items – some of which must be done immediately and others later on, sometimes even months into the future.

This tends to increase your anxiety level, serves as a distraction, and wastes time as you constantly scan the items to decide which ones to work on each day. These situations consume energy that otherwise could be spent on priority tasks.

You can manage your “To do” list more effectively by separating it from your computer workstation as a handwritten list. Then you can choose a few of the most important items and record them in your planner or Daily Priority Pad, crossing them off your master list as you do so.

It’s important that you don’t choose too many items to get done in a day. Plan for only four or five hours of productive work each day, allowing up to 50% more time than you think the tasks will take. The balance of the work day will be filled by unplanned, yet important and urgent, tasks and activities that inevitably occur.

One advantage of a planning calendar over the Daily Priority Pad is that you can actually schedule a block of time for each task and have a visual view of the times that are still available for other work.

Writing down your “To do” list on paper frees up working memory, sensitizes your mind to the items to be done, allows time to evaluate their importance, and provides a motivational sense of accomplishment as you cross off each item.

Mikael Cho, cofounder of Crew, claimed that “the separation from the digital space (where I do most of my work) to the physical, helped me feel less overwhelmed.”

Physically writing things down also increases your focus on what you are doing at the time, avoids mental multitasking, and helps you to make better decisions when selecting the priorities for each day.

I personally use the “To Do” sections (referred to as “Weekly action items”) in my Taylor Planner since this allows me to assign items to specific weeks. The Daily Priority Pad (for those who don’t necessarily use a paper planner) allows you to assign them to specific days. I recommend you use whatever system works best for you.

If you’re unfamiliar with our Daily Priority Pad or Taylor Planner, you can get a description of each at taylorintime.com.

A weakness of all planning calendars, whether hard copy or electronic, is that they allow you to schedule and/or list more work than you can possibly get done. We probably all know that we should not attempt more than we can get done in any given day; because to do so causes anxiety and stress and makes us more vulnerable to distractions and inattentiveness. And when you have more to do in a week than you can possibly get done, priorities frequently take a back seat to quantity as you play catch-up.

One solution to the problem would be to take one day at a time, listing only those priorities and urgent items that could reasonably be done in a day. However it is difficult to know what comprises a day’s work.

When determining a day’s work, take into consideration the length of your working day, the interruptions that you anticipate, and the type of activities you will be involved in – and always allow up to 50% more time that you estimate your activities will take.

The Daily Priority Pad helps you to limit the essential priorities, important tasks and urgent activities to those that can be done in one day. This one-day-at-a-time approach allows greater focus, facilitates the changing priorities that occur during the week, helps you to quickly learn from experience what a day’s work really is, and frees your mind from those items that need only be addressed at a later date.

The Daily Priority Pad can be used either in conjunction with or independent of an annual planner. When used with an annual planner, such as the Taylor Planner with a week at a glance format, each page in the Daily Priority Pad is the day’s action plan distilled from the broader weekly plan outlined in your planner.

When used independently, normally by those individuals unable to realistically schedule activities as far as a week in advance, it replaces the annual planner. This short-range planning tool is needed in today’s working environment where the time between planning and action is becoming shorter each year, and in which the choices available to us are increasing exponentially.

The Daily Priority Pad retains the priority and “To do” sections of the Taylor Planner, while limiting scheduled activities to a few appointments – either with others or yourself, and a “Notes” section for additional information or journaling.

When scheduling your time, I recommend you work on 90-day goals, during 90-minute work sessions scheduled up to 90 hours in advance. I will explain this “triple 90” approach in my next blog article.

Next blog article: Using the “triple 90” method to get the important things done on time.

 

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A little self-discipline goes a long way

Brain power 3

Many of us have allowed the demands of technology to bypass our minds and go directly to our core brains. Your core brain doesn’t think on its own: it simply reacts according to past programming, even answering the smart phone when it rings, responding immediately to text messages as they arrive, and interrupting work in progress to check email messages as though they were priorities.

Your mind is capable of curbing impulses to react, changing time wasting or dangerous habits, and giving directions to your brain. The mind’s ability to change the brain is referred to as self-directed neuroplasticity, and is now considered to be a scientific fact – with plenty of research to back it up.

Use your mind to rid yourself of destructive habits

If you can believe that the mind is separate from the brain, you can break bad habits and replace them with more productive ones using the following five-step plan.

  1. Identify the brain messages that got you into the habit in the first place and evaluate them with your mind. (For example, perhaps at one time it seemed essential to check email about every five minutes, but no longer makes sense.)
  2. Direct your attention to the new action you prefer – the one that meets your personal values and that would be healthier and more productive for you. (For example, to check email first thing in the morning and then only after every 90-minute work session.)
  3. Use your “won’t power” the next time you have the urge to act out the habitual behaviour, and instead, act out the new behaviour you have determined is more reasonable and more proactive. (Say no to yourself when you have that mental itch to check your email before it’s time to do so.)
  4. Use your “willpower” to act out the replacing behaviour – even though the urge is still there to do otherwise. This requires mindfulness and focus on your part. Neurologists seem to agree that every time you make a conscious effort to practice willpower, your willpower becomes stronger.
  5. Focus on the new behaviour. The more you focus and follow through with the new behaviour, the sooner this new behaviour becomes the new habit. The old habit will fade from disuse.

The reason this works is that by acting out a new behaviour again and again, you are re-wiring your current neurons to form a new circuit.

Of course it takes willpower to focus on what’s important and ignore the many environmental distractions. And since willpower consumes energy, you must get plenty of sleep, eat well, avoid stress as much is possible and avoid long work sessions beyond the recommended 90 minutes. You may further assist your mind by scheduling in the mornings those tasks that require deep thinking, problem solving and creativity. Your energy is generally higher in the morning. (That’s why people seldom break from their healthy diets early in the day; but grab snacks and cheat on their diets before bedtime.)

Your mind has the power to manage your brain.

You are your mind. You have the power to decide what is important and what is not; what should be done and what should be delayed or abandoned; which behaviours should be changed and which ones should be retained. Once you really believe that, you are in control of your life.

As Mark Bowden explains in his book, Tame the primitive brain, our core brain perceives any change as a threat until proven otherwise. It doesn’t “think” as such, but simply receives information from the senses and relies on the thinking part of the brain, (which I choose to refer to as the mind) to evaluate the situation and prescribe the appropriate course of action. But if we (our minds) are under constant stress, with an overload of information, responsibilities and tasks and a limited supply of energy and time, we are too busy playing “Rushing roulette” (as mentioned in my last blog) to respond quickly. In these situations, our primitive or core brain takes over and checks the email, responds to the text messages or answers the vibrating cell phone in order to counter the perceived threat. It is programmed to ensure our physical survival. Action is the default response whether it’s appropriate for that particular situation or not.

In effect, we are allowing technology, our environment, and others to hijack our brain and torpedo our personal productivity. That’s why we must get organized, introduce structure into our lives, put boundaries on our workday, prioritize on an ongoing basis, and accept the fact that we cannot do everything ourselves. It is essential that we manage our brain as well as our environment, technology, health, energy, and time.

You can make it easier to exert willpower, focus, and goal-directed persistence, in spite of distractions, by managing your physical environment as well – as we will discuss in next week’s blog.

Next blog article: How your work environment can impact productivity.

 

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Are you going to work or working on the go?

mobileworker

For some people an office is still a physical place of work such as a fully equipped room, a cubicle or a desk in a fixed location. But for more and more people, the office is their digital handheld device, which goes with them wherever they go. They feel it’s no longer necessary – or in some cases they no longer have the opportunity – to have a specific place of work. And many no longer have a hardcopy planner, paper documents and files, a landline telephone and regular face-to-face interactions with others.

For these people, work is no longer a place to go to, but a state of mind. There is no limit to the length of a workday. The 9-to-5 day is being replaced by the 24-hour day. There is no beginning or end to work – just as there is no single location where the bulk of the work gets done.

In days gone by, when we all had structure in our lives, we scheduled breaks, lunch hours, and time to rejuvenate. When he did work at home, it was said to be “on our own time.” Normally, the time after 5 PM was spent at home with family and friends or going to a ball game or for a walk in the park or kicking a soccer ball with the next-door neighbour’s kids.

And in spite of spending two thirds of our time away from the job, we managed to build successful businesses, drive nice cars, and maintain a decent level of productivity.

I’m not saying the old way of working was better, only different. We increased productivity in those days by taking time management seriously and utilizing most of the working portion of the days getting the important things done. This required that we set goals, establish policies and procedures, increase efficiency, focus on priorities and learn when to say no. We had to overcome both procrastination and perfectionism, cooperate with our coworkers, and generate new ideas through team effort. We did not work in isolation. The result was quite astounding considering that we had limited technology and limited time.

Just think what today’s workers could accomplish with today’s technology, flexibility and unlimited access to information if they were also able to add structure to their lives, control the technology, and work efficiently in this ever changing environment.

Different times require different strategies. So the next few articles may apply more to those millions of mobile workers who either work on the move or at least partially work from home.

The June, 2016 issue of Mindful magazine mentioned that an estimated 105 million people will be “mobile workers” by 2020, getting their work done with flexible office situations. And a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey found that 24% of all workers work at home at least part of the day.

How does one stay productive in an environment that may change from week to week or even day-to-day? Well to start, we can apply those time-tested strategies that will still work regardless of the environment. These would include setting specific goals for the week, developing personal policies or guidelines, planning our week, and making specific commitments as opposed to simply working from “to do” lists. Many of these strategies have been lost as we scurry to keep up with the quickening pace of life.

We have been playing “rushing” roulette, gambling that the next email opened might not be a waste of time. So quickly check your email in the morning if you feel less stressed doing so, and then limit yourself to 90 minute intervals throughout the rest of the day.

You could add additional structure to your week by selecting at least one high-performance work area where you are more self-disciplined and focused, and spend at least part of each day there.

Your high-performance area is a place where you have the most energy and get your best ideas. This could be a coffee shop or a room at home or a table on the patio. For instance, I like to spend a good hour and a half working on priority tasks at a coffee shop immediately following a brief walk. Being a morning person, I am most mentally alert and creative at that time. Also the coffee shop is well lit with natural lighting and a soothing hum that tends to mask noises and encourage creativity. This is not meant to be a coffee break but rather a work break – free from text messages, email or phone calls. So turn off or silence your devices while working in your high-performance area..

Once we add structure to our lives, most of the other strategies become easier to apply. I suggest the following order:

  1. Set boundaries for your workday. It doesn’t have to be 9 to 5 but be specific. For many people this currently varies greatly from day-to-day – even extending into weekends, family time and vacation time. Structure is essential because if you have 24 hours to complete your priority tasks, it may take 24 hours to do so. So define your workday.
  2. After deciding in advance what your workday will be, roughly allocate time for the important projects, tasks and activities that are currently on your plate. This requires the use of a planner or other tool that matches your style. I prefer a hardcopy planner in which I block of times for the important activities – both discrete tasks and ongoing projects. Block out project times at least a week or two in advance.
  3. Develop routines and habits for those ongoing important repetitive activities that you have identified. This conserves energy, saves time, and makes it easier to get things done on time.

These steps, which seem to represent old ways of doing things, may seem impossible in today’s environment. But I hope to prove to you in future blog articles that it is possible if you make a few tweaks to the way you currently do things.

Next blog article: A little self-discipline goes a long way.

 

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“Everything in moderation” includes email and augmented reality games.

moderation and extreme judgment on blackboard

There are obvious signs that smart phones are being used in excess. For instance, as reported in the June, 2016 issue of Mindful magazine, a one-ton, 20 foot sculpture outside Salisbury Cathedral had to be moved because too many people walked into it while staring at their cell phones. And as pointed out in an Associated Press article appearing in the July 2, 2016 issue of TelegraphJournal.com, online smart phone use alone averages an hour and 39 minutes a day – more than double what it was two years ago.

Pokemon Go is the latest game that draws people to their smart phones. The July 18, 2016 business section of the Toronto Star ran several articles on this latest rage that has people walking the city streets and into lampposts in a search of virtual Pokemon characters. According to one research firm, it has been downloaded 15 million times already, and people spend an average of 33 minutes a day playing the game.

There are consequences for compulsive use of smart phones besides the tendency to walk into statues or into the path of vehicles. The summer, 2016 issue of Scientific American Mind mentioned a 2014 study that sixth grade campers who spent five days without electronics were better at reading human emotions. And a study published in the 2015 issue of Pediatrics found that children who sleep near a small screen get an average of 21 fewer minutes of sleep without gadgets in their rooms.

The hundreds of reports on the negative aspects of excessive cell phone and email use may be overkill – and perhaps even misleading. But everything has a cost. In Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, he mentions the case of Tom Cochran, who in 2012 gathered company-wide statistics on time spent waiting and answering emails by his company’s employees. Combining time spent with wages paid, he calculated that his company, Atlantic Media, was spending over $1 million a year to pay people to process emails.

There is little doubt that more time than necessary is being spent checking email. I believe it has replaced meetings as the one greatest single source of wasted time in business, and in many cases it may be used to avoid doing real work.

Reducing time spent on email will not only save money, it may offer other advantages as well. Cal Newport also describes in his book how one team at the Boston Consulting Group took one day a week free of any connectivity inside or outside the company. As a result, the consultants experienced more enjoyment in their work, better communication among themselves, more learning, and a better product delivered to the client.

When it comes to email, Pokemon Go or whatever the latest time-draining electronic activity happens to be when this article is posted, “everything in moderation” is good advice.

Everything comes at a cost.

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Important decisions are best made off-line.

is (1)

According to Gayatri Devi, author of A Calm Brain (Plume, 2012), your core brain has the ability to quickly and accurately read and respond to the emotions of others. Your rational frontal lobes may be fooled by polite laughter or phony tears or any false display of emotions; but your core brain is much harder to deceive.

True emotions are picked up by the core brain from the other person’s cluster of cells that Harvard neuroscientist Clifford Saper calls “pattern generators.” If someone’s laughs are genuine, for instance, there is a pattern of telltale signs, including crinkling of muscles around the eyes, certain throat sounds and widening of the mouth, which reveal the laughter is genuine.

That’s why face-to-face interactions are much better than online relationships in order for the core brain to do its job. So if you are negotiating an important deal, meeting with a prospective client or engaging in an online romance, it’s wise to go back to the basics. Good old-fashioned face to face encounters, whether business or personal, should never be completely abandoned.

The prefrontal cortex, with its executive function and its skills in logic and planning has been getting a lot of press in the scientific journals these days. But the core brain, frequently referred to as the reptilian or primitive brain, not only controls the bodily functions that keep you alive and healthy, it also senses danger before your highly developed frontal lobes are even aware of it.

For instance, Mark Bowden in his book, Tame the primitive brain, explains that the primitive or core brain can pick up the heat of a hotplate before you actually touch it. In fact, before the core brain even gets the message, a reflex action is prompted by the spinal cord that causes your hand to jerk away. So thinking part of your brain isn’t the first one to get the message. That’s the core brain insuring your survival.

However, the core brain uses the senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch – and responds accordingly – a knee jerk reaction that sends a message of caution to the thinking part of your brain.

When interacting with other people, information is gathered from such things as body language, tone and voice reflection as well as the words spoken. Corresponding via email or social media or chat rooms is fine when things of little consequence are discussed. But it will never replace personal one-on-one interaction when decisions of importance are to be made.

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Managing your brain, part 12

Email

Always check email in the morning.

My apologies to Julie Morgenstern, for the contradiction to her excellent book’s title, “Never check email in the morning,” but I am now convinced this is not the best strategy.

For years I have been telling people that checking email first thing in the morning would sidetrack them and send them on tangents, answering trivial messages and keeping them from the priorities of the day. And this made sense if you had planned to start on a priority project first thing in the morning. Email is addictive; you do want to check it every few minutes – like shoving one more coin into a casino slot machine hoping this one would result in a reward.

But after learning more about our brain, how it operates, and its impact on our productivity, I’ve changed my mind.

Most people have an irresistible urge to check email before they even get to work – sometimes before they even get dressed in the morning. After all, it’s been 10 hours or more since they last checked it. The world is on different time zones, and they could have won the Irish sweepstakes or had a new book accepted by a foreign publisher. The boss could’ve sent an urgent request, a relative could have died during the night or maybe there is a lucrative job offer awaiting them.

Blame it on this new technology, but the point is, it requires strong willpower and much personal energy to resist the urge to check email and to buckle down to work on that important, but not always delightful, first priority of the day.

Resisting temptation, mustering willpower and ignoring your inbox consumes a lot of energy. But assuming you are able to do it, how productive would you actually be during the rest of the morning? In fact, studies described in Scientific American Mind (May/June, 2011) have shown that people who exert themselves mentally, such as resisting the temptation to check email or whatever, gave up on problems sooner when presented with them immediately afterwards.

We are by nature, curious. This puts us into a mental multitasking mode, thinking about what might be awaiting us in the inbox while trying to concentrate on our priority task. And we now know that things left undone create anxiety and stress, which in themselves are known energy consumers and productivity killers. David Levinson, in his book, “The organized mind,” says the awareness of an email waiting to be answered, for example, can reduce our IQ by 10 points.

The mental energy consumed by exercising willpower is on a par with that required to make decisions or solve problems. Look at the impact this was shown to have had on parole boards. Prisoners who came before the board in the early morning were granted parole 70% of the time while those appearing in the late afternoon were granted parole less than 10% of the time. This wasn’t a case of being more productive and mentally alert in the morning; but simply showed the effect of decision-making fatigue on the part of the board members.

The energy loss and mental fatigue needed to resist that morning peek at email would negatively impact your performance for the rest of the day. On the other hand, very little energy would be consumed by spending a half hour on something you really wanted to do. So why not satisfy your curiosity and give your mood a lift by quickly checking your email before starting your first scheduled priority task?

In 15 minutes you could probably delete, forward and give two-minute responses to most of those email messages, leaving only those that require more work. Leaving them in your inbox rather than moving them to a folder for later action is easier and faster. Simply jot a reminder to yourself in your planner or daily priority pad.

This new strategy is working great for me. I actually allow about 30 minutes to check email each morning and start on my first scheduled 90-minute module of uninterrupted time by 9 AM. And yes, I have plenty of energy left for the rest of the day since I work from a home office with no stressful commute.

By working on a project no longer than 90 minutes before quickly checking email again, you are setting your brain at ease, and able to easily focus on that 90-minute work session. After all, four or five email checks during a full day is not excessive. And if you always allow more time for a priority task than you think it will take, you should have time to spare anyway.

So give your brain a break. It works hard for you day and night and certainly deserves one.