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The price of technology

Technology 2Technology helps increase our personal productivity, provides instantaneous access to information, answers any question we might have, and opens the world to us – everything from and products and education to news and social media. But everything has its price.

According to a January 10, 2009 article in the Toronto Star. Nine children out of ten under the age of two watch TV, some up to 40% of the day – and too much TV for children under the age of two, whether it’s educational or not, might be partially to blame for the tenfold increase in ADHD cases. A study by psychologists at Iowa State also found that kids who exceeded the recommended two hours per day of screen time were one and a half to two times more likely to have attention problems in the classroom.

A survey of 340 business students conducted by researchers at Kennesaw State University, Georgia, revealed that time spent on social networks lowers academic performance. Also the longer a student spends on these online networks, the shorter the students’ attention span. (Source: Globe & Mail, November 12, 2012.)

One third of wired Canadians use Internet-ready digital devices before getting out of bed in the morning, according to an Angus Reid/Vision Critical poll conducted for the Toronto Star and reported in their January 26, 2013 issue. According to research by Nielson, and reported in the book, The end of absence: reclaiming what we’ve lost in a world of constant connection, by Michael Harris, the average teenager now manages upward of 4000 text messages every month.

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). Sleep requirements for those 18 years of age and older are 7 to 9 hours a night.

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. Those who sleep at least seven hours per night are nearly 50% less likely to develop precancerous growths in the colon than those who get less than six hours sleep. (Journal of Cancer, reported in Woman’s World, May 6, 2011.) If you get less than five hours or more than ten hours of sleep, there’s a double mortality rate. (Source: Dr. Michael Breus, author of The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, reported in the May, 2011 issue of Zoomer Magazine.) Inadequate sleep has also been linked to obesity.

In addition to these attention problems, sleep loss and possible health issues, our privacy could be compromised as well. You reveal a lot about yourself by the “likes” you post on Facebook, according to a study of 60,000 volunteers by the University of Cambridge’s Psychometrics Centre. Researchers could predict with varying degrees of accuracy (up to 95%) such things as a person’s sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, IQ and even whether the person smoked or had divorced parents. It seems like marketers may be taking a closer look at social media. The study was published in March, 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The highest price we pay is what we have to give up in order to be spending such a large amount of time on our computers, electronic devices, and the Internet. This could include time with our family, our friends, and even time alone – doing what is important and meaningful to us.

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Increase your word processing efficiency

ComputersIncrease your word processing efficiency by using shortcuts and save precious minutes. Little things mean a lot when it comes to word processing. The more time you spend at the computer, the more it will pay you to become familiar with common – and not so common – shortcuts that could trim hours from your work week.

If you don’t have access to a computer expert or a twelve-year-old child, you may want to enroll in a course or skip through a few books and manuals in order to master the many timesavers.

For example, if you are changing caps to small case by using the drop down menus at the top of the screen, you are wasting time. It’s faster to hold down the Shift key and press F3 with the cursor on the word you want changed. If you want upper and lower case, push the F3 key again. If you change your mind, push it a third time and you’re back to all caps.

If you didn’t know that one, perhaps you don’t realize that you can quickly draw a line the width of the page by typing three hyphens and then pushing Enter. Or that pressing Ctrl 2 will change selected copy from single to double space. Ctrl 1 will produce single space and Ctrl 3 will give you a space and a half.

If you already know these shortcuts, you probably know the others as well, such as pressing Alt 7 after each spelling correction to jump you to the next misspelled word and open the drop down menu of choices or entering today’s date by holding down Alt – Shift – D or clicking on the Help menu at the top of the screen, tapping on the question mark, and using the resulting menu to get further help using Microsoft.

If you are familiar with even half of the various keyboard shortcuts, you’re ahead of most people. It’s claimed that most people utilize less than 10% of a software program’s capabilities. And current software can be further enhanced by using text replacement software where typing a few characters can enter entire paragraphs.

Many word processing shortcuts, such as right clicking on a word to view synonyms or pushing F2 to rename a document or using the Ctrl key and the appropriate letter to highlight, copy, cut, paste or undo may be second nature to you.

But if not, it’s a good investment of time to experiment with your keyboard, glance at the owner’s manual or do a web search. You should be able to shave an hour or more each week simply by speeding up your word processing. And that assumes you are already inputting at a reasonable speed. If not, use voice-activated software and let the computer do the work.

Be sure to look at other time traps. If you frequently search for documents, consider putting a folder on your desktop to house work in progress or frequently accessed documents. Organize your desktop by dragging seldom-used icons into a separate folder and arranging the remaining icons so they can be spotted easily. If you have files that would be better stored in chronological order by day, month or year, add numbers before the titles so they will fall into place. Set up a good filing system for e-mail by topic. Change the headers before filing e-mail if they’re not descriptive enough.

With more time being spent with computers, it is essential that you become more efficient in this area as well.

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Are you addicted to technology?

Addicted to technologyYou know something must be wrong when companies design 12-step programs to tackle email addiction or when psychiatric investigators in South Korea find that 20 percent of Internet-addicted children and teens end up with relatively severe ADHD symptoms or when people report a loss of energy and a sense of depletion after a marathon session with their TV or computer.

We are seduced into buying the latest gadget, and considered to be behind the times if we still use a land line in the office or a paper planner for our planning. TV, itself addictive, glorifies video games, and by 2006, approximately 145 million people were playing video or computer games. By 2013, the average American adult was spending 11hours a day with electronic media according to a recent Nielson study.

Social life is migrating to the Internet, and with online communities consuming so much time, there is less available for offline interpersonal relationships.

Indications are that our social skills are being affected as well as our ability to focus. Some studies indicate that the degree of digital involvement is impacting our academic achievement and reasoning ability as well. There is also a suggestion that all this multitasking leads to attention deficit traits and a loss in working memory.

Physical health is could be affected as well. Video games have been found to increase blood pressure and heart rate and activate the stress response. The more time people spend on digital technology, the less they exercise. Research also indicates that extensive video gaming makes youngsters more aggressive and desensitizes them to violence. There have been at least two documented cases of death occurring while playing video games (both cardiac arrests, and one of them being a 19 year-old.)

Video gaming has also become a popular spectator sport – evidently more popular than the World Series, with 32 million people watching the League of Legends World Championship while about 15 million tuned into the World Series last year. Evidently you become a better gamer if you watch the experts.

Are you addicted? Do you check your email first thing in the morning, even before getting dressed or brushing your teeth? Do you take your BlackBerry to the beach or keep your cell phone turned on in meetings and in church? Do you flip through a hundred or more channels desperately searching for a reason to remain in front of your TV set? When you are walking, is at least one ear blocked most of the time with earphones or an earpiece?

Unlike email, computer games are designed to be addictive, like the slot machines in Las Vegas, and researchers in 2005 found that dopamine levels in players’ brains doubled while they were playing. Dopamine is the hormone associated with mood and feelings of pleasure.

Email can be just as addictive, however, to those individuals who feel that checking email – like pulling the handle on a slot machine – will bring them that much closer to a payoff.

I’m not saying we should throw away our smart phones and turn our backs on technology; but I am saying we should control it. And we should not throw away our paper and pen either. When people ask me whether a BlackBerry is better than a paper planner, I wince. They would never ask me if they should throw away their sink because they bought an electric dishwasher. Both have their uses. We still refuse to wash our vegetables in the electric dishwasher, and I still refuse to do my weekly planning in a iPad since for me, it’s not a good planner.

The next time your partner or friends suggest that you are married to your computer or addicted to email, take heed. There could be some truth in it.

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People are just as user-friendly as computers

People are just as user friendly as computers, and we need people more than we need technology in order to thrive in this digital age of speed. It should never be an either or situation.

Thirty years ago, we tended to blame other people for wasting our time. Excessive socializing, unscheduled interruptions, meetings, and gossip at the water cooler were all common complaints expressed in time management seminars. Fast forward to today, and you don’t hear as much about people wasting our time – at least not in person. Now it’s email, text messages, voice mail, cell phone calls and social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.

Technology has not decreased our time problems as much as it has taken away the human element. And yet research is telling us that strong relationships lengthen your life, boost your immune system and cut the risk of depression.

The higher the quantity and quality of your relationships, the longer you live. Data collected from Brigham Young University showed that people with active social lives were 50% less likely to die of any cause than their non-social counterparts. Low levels of social interaction evidently have the same effects as smoking15 cigarettes a day – and even worse effects than being obese or not exercising.

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. Interaction with people provides greater brain stimulation than watching a computer monitor or TV set.
Research by Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie Mellon University suggests that the more social connections you have, the greater your ability to fight infection. And interaction with people provides greater brain stimulation than a computer monitor or TV set.

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.
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Leaders of the future will be those who can master some of the more useful technology that becomes available while maintaining their interpersonal relationships and people skills. Not only will they be able to work efficiently, they’ll be able to relate to other people, negotiate, gain consensus, close deals, network effectively and motivate and inspire others.

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Are we relying too much on technology?

Limits of techAre we relying too much on technology to do our thinking for us? Is it making us lazy, addicted, uncreative or even sick?

We still don’t know the long-term effects of using technology. For example, research published by Kenneth Hansraj in the National Library of Medicine 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. (The Toronto Star, November 24, 2014)

Known as text neck, this problem is caused by an increase in the weight of the head as it bends forward. The weight on the cervical spine varies from 27 pounds at a 15° angle to 60 pounds at a 60° angle.

What about people sitting at their computers all day? If you’re sitting too long, you can’t be getting much exercise. A February, 2013 Australian survey of over 63,000 middle-aged men found that those who sat for more than four hours a day, were significantly more likely to have chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Is there a danger of becoming addicted to technology? Digital addiction, claims McMaster professor Nick Bontis, is having negative repercussions such as high levels of anxiety if their phones are not nearby. One survey showed that eight in ten smartphone users say they don’t leave home without their device. (The Toronto Star, July 30, 2013.)

My greatest fear is that the functioning of the brain itself may change for the worse. What will be the impact of being spoon-fed everything from problem-solving to navigation? If our GPS tells us turn by turn exactly how to get from point A to point B, will we eventually lose our ability to navigate on our own?

For example, the study of the brains of London taxi drivers in the year 2000 revealed that they had a much larger posterior hippocampus than men with a similar profile, but who did not drive for a living. That part of the hippocampus is responsible for a person’s navigational skills. The plasticity of the brain can work against us as well. If we don’t use it, we lose it.

A headline in the June 29, 2013 issue of the Toronto Star caught my attention: “Is handwriting becoming a lost art?” It was a letter from a concerned reader commenting on a previous article titled Why Johnny can’t sign his name. Evidently, some schools are phasing out cursive writing and teaching kids only to print. After all, that’s what computers do. And aren’t we bent on merging with machines? We not only work with machines, we are frequently controlled by machines.

Just how responsive should we be? “Sorry it took so long to answer, Sam. My cell phone was in the golf cart and I was teeing up my ball before I heard it ring.” Or, “I’m at my mother’s funeral now, Bill. If it can wait, I’ll call you back right after the internment.”

But we’ll become a little more obedient once we lose our tendency to think for ourselves. After all, we need do little of that these days. No need to add or subtract or read or write or look at a map or even remember anything. Computers do that for us.

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How to manage email

emailIf you don’t learn how to manage email, you will soon be controlled by it. Be specific and direct in your e-mails. Never simply ask for their “thoughts” or “suggestions.” Indicate what you think about it or are considering or have already been advised to do, and allow them to select the one that they think is best or an alternative solution. Help them to help you.

Leave no doubt as to the purpose of the email, and action to be taken by the recipient. Include it in the first sentence – or if you can include it in the subject line, that’s even better.

When you have several questions to ask, list them one after the other on separate lines so the recipient won’t miss any. Also, when you receive an email message asking several questions, do likewise, recording your answers in red immediately below each question. But avoid strange fonts and colors. And never use a size smaller than 10 point. Keep the reader in mind.

According to Geraldine Markel, PhD, writing in the February, 2012 issue of Speaker magazine, studies show that dealing with interruptions at work consumes over 2 hours a day – 28% of the workday. A large portion of this time for many people is the result of continually checking email.

People tend to immediately click “Reply” to incoming email messages because it’s quick, easy and convenient to do. But if it results in back-and-forth strings of email messages, it would have been more efficient to have picked up the phone and resolved the issue. Don’t forget that there are other ways to communicate.

Don’t check email continuously throughout the day. If you are in the habit of checking email every 5 or 10 minutes, cut back gradually. Once you have adjusted to that decrease in frequency, cut it down to once every 90 minutes, then every two hours. Aim to get it down to 3 times a day. That could be in the morning, noon and late afternoon.

Handling your email in batches every 90 minutes or so will not only give you time to focus on your priority projects throughout the day, but it will also allow you to spot any multiple messages from the same person, allowing a single reply. You can prioritize all the messages, and quickly delete any spam, ezines or messages not requiring a response.

Timothy Ferriss, in his book The 4-Hour Workweek, claims he checks his email no more than once per week. He insists that any lost orders or other problems are overshadowed by his gain in efficiency. Personally, I wouldn’t go to this extreme. But twice per day does not seem unreasonable. The fewer times you check email, the less time you consume.

Manage your email and chances are your interruptions will decrease, your effectiveness will improve, and there will be little if any negative impact on your clients, associates or friends.

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The limits of technology

Limits of techWhat are the limits of technology?  Technology can reduce the time it takes to launch a new product; but it doesn’t tell us whether the new product should be launched. It may help us write a letter faster; but it doesn’t tell us what do say. It can provide unlimited data, statistics and research in a matter of minutes; but it doesn’t deposit it into our memory banks, sort out the material of specific use or apply the information to our particular situation.

In fact, technology can actually work against us since it can speed us up in the wrong direction. If you are poor at decision-making, speed will only aggravate the situation. If you have the wrong goals, technology will only get you to the wrong place faster. If you are disorganized, it will simply speed up your disorganization.

Technology has been a great assist in the quest for increased productivity. But with it comes the necessity to improve our management and people skills. We must fine-tune our decision-making ability, have a clear vision of where we want to go, and set realistic, meaningful goals. Direction is more important than speed.

In some ways, our quest for increased productivity has backfired. Harvard researchers have determined that talking on cell phones while driving causes 6% of the accidents each year, killing an estimated 2600 people at an annual cost of $43 million.

Multitasking, meant to increase efficiency, has had the opposite effect, decreasing efficiency by as much as 50 percent. And the mass of information available on the Internet has caused analysis paralysis, time loss and stress. A U. K. study reported that 42% of respondents attributed their ill health to information overload. Do a simple Google search on the words information overload and you will have enough reading material to last a lifetime.

The information explosion, technology and increasing demands on our time have changed the way mangers must operate in order to remain competitive. Time, more than ever before, is being recognized as an individual’s most valuable, non-renewable resource. And time management is viewed more as an investment strategy than an efficiency tool. The Law of Diminishing Returns, the Pareto Principle and Parkinson’s Law all take on a new importance in an age where “Not To Do” lists are more meaningful than “To Do” lists.

After conducting time management training for over thirty-five years, I have concluded that there should be a shift in emphasis from efficiency to effectiveness. While they are both important, purpose is more important than procedure, a healthy lifestyle is more important than a hundred time-saving tactics, and attitude is more important than solitude when it comes to increasing personal productivity. Workshop topics should include the theory of time investments, the dangers of multitasking, building stress resistance, and controlling electronic communications.

Time management training should also include survival skills to cope with the smaller work areas, less privacy, increased accessibility, longer working hours and increased demands that have all been precipitated by our continuing quest for increased efficiency.

Self-control is more important than ever as the cost of procrastination becomes greater. Perfectionism, once permissible, is now a major deterrent to success. Effective writing also gains in importance, as email and text messaging becomes the most frequently used methods of business communication.

Time management is more than a tidy desk, an organized file system and efficient work habits. It is a continuing process that integrates technology with managerial and interpersonal skills directed toward a pre-determined goal in a way that maximizes the return on invested time.

Technology is simply one ingredient in this effectiveness mix. It should be understood, used, and controlled. But it should never be allowed to replace common sense, logic and sound management practice. And it requires training in holistic time management as well, which includes almost everything that affects body, mind and spirit.

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Getting things done with internal time management

technologyGetting things done with internal time management involves the mind, while external time management is more concerned with procedures and methods, organizing and other external and environmental factors.

When it comes to getting things done, the brain has a mind of its own. Your intentions are real and your “surface commitments” are sincere: but your actions often conflict with your plans.

For centuries people have been attempting to increase personal productivity through environmental changes, improved work methods and technology. But unless technology can also do the thinking – including planning and organizing – and generate the will-power, self-discipline, impulse control and other human characteristics that are essential to actually getting things done, we will make little progress.

Technology, for example, increases efficiency in methods; but decreases the effectiveness in minds. Improper use of digital technology is like walking up a “down” escalator. The faster the escalator moves downward, the faster we have to move upwards just to stay where we are. Progress remains the same.

The new battlefield for personal productivity is not on the shop floor or in the office cubicle; it’s in the brain. In this digital age of speed, our internal assets such as attention span, self-control, focus, creativity and problem-solving skills are under attack. Internal time management is the process of harnessing the benefits of technology while defusing its negative impact on our cognitive skills, and more effectively using our minds to improve our personal productivity.

These newer tactics are discussed in our holistic time management workshops.

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How technology impacts our lifestyle

tech 2Technology impacts our lifestyle for better or worse. Too much TV for children under the age of two, whether it’s educational or not, might be partially to blame for the tenfold increase in ADHD cases, according to a January 10, 2009 article in the Toronto Star. Nine children out of ten under the age of two watch TV, some up to 40% of the day.

Psychiatric investigators in South Korea found that 20% of Internet-addicted children and teens end up with relatively severe ADHD symptoms. Whether parents use TV as a babysitter or because they feel it is good for the brain, the result, according to scientific evidence, is too much too early. It could be rewiring the brain.

A study by psychologists at Iowa State found that kids who exceeded the recommended two hours per day of screen time were one and a half to two times more likely to have attention problems in the classroom (Toronto Star, July 6, 2010.)

On the other hand, according to an article in the October, 2010 issue of Psychology Today, babies raised among books obtained an average of three years and more schooling than book-free kids, notes an Australian national University study. Study author Joanna Sikora suspects that the offspring of literature-loving parents develop rich vocabularies, which aided cognitive development.

Are we over-dosing on technology? 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. The average American spends 75 hours per year playing video games, according to David Pink in his book, A Whole New Mind.

Mike Byster, in his 2014 book The Power of Forgetting, says the average working professional spends roughly 23% of the workday on email, and glances at the inbox about 36 times an hour. And figures quoted in the book, In Search of Balance by Richard A Swenson, the typical corporate users send and receive about 167 messages daily and will spend 30% of their day creating, organizing, reading and responding to email.

Social networking is now the fourth most popular online activity, ahead of email and behind search engines, general Internet portals such as Yahoo & AOL, and software downloads. The amount of time spent using social networking sites is growing three times the rate of overall Internet usage, according to the February, 2010 issue of Scientific American Mind.

70 million Facebook members in the U.S. spent 233 million hours on the site in April, 2009 – up 28 million hours and 23 million members the previous April. This is a 175% increase in per capita usage. On an individual basis, the most avid users are spending two hours a day on the site while they are at work.

Technology can be a great time-saver, communicator, educator and entertainer; but we must ask ourselves if we are having too much of a good thing. The time at our disposal is limited. And we must be careful not to rob Peter to pay Paul.

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Technology and ADHD

Technology and ADHD, is there a relationship between the two? “ADHD  diagnoses skyrocket in the U.S.,” is the headline of an article appearing in the  April 2, 2013 issue of the Toronto Star. Referring to a report from the New York  Times, the article went on to say that nearly one in five boys of high school age in  the United States are being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It  is estimated that 6.4 million children ages 4 through 17 were diagnosed at some  point in their young lives as having ADHD. This represents a 53% increase in the  past decade.

Of course ADHD is more readily diagnosed nowadays; but it’s interesting how the increase in ADHD parallels the increase in the use of technology, including smart phones, social media, computer games and the Internet. According to Gary Small, UCLA professor of psychiatry, the current explosion of digital technology is not only changing the way we live and communicate, it is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains. A study by psychologists at Iowa State reported in 2010 found that kids who exceeded the recommended two hours per day of screen time were one and a half to two times more likely to have attention problems in the classroom. And psychiatric investigators in South Korea find that 20% of Internet-addicted children and teens end up with relatively severe ADHD symptoms.

Although other reasons have been proposed for the increase in ADHD, including decreasing air quality (as indicated in a February 15, 2014 Toronto Star article titled ‘Neurotoxicants’ hindering brain development in kids) the plasticity of the brain, combined with the incessant bombardment of digital technology and observable changes revealed by functional MRIs, places greater credence on technology being the culprit.

An online poll of over 1000 Canadian adults released by Angus Reid/Vision Critical (Toronto Star, January 26, 2013) revealed that 90% of the respondents believed their smartphones made their lives more convenient. So convenient, evidently, that 30% of them went online before getting out of bed, 31% at the dinner table, 29% in the washroom and 42% before falling asleep at night.

We adults should know that smartphones may seem smart, but they lack intelligence. Why are we so willing to be at the beck and call of an idiot? The Internet leads everywhere, which for the undisciplined means nowhere. Why browse away the hours? Email, computer games and social media are endless, but our time is not. So why do we behave as though we will live forever?

Research shows that the Internet and digital technology can have a negative impact on our ability to learn, focus, pay attention, memorize and relate to others on a personal basis. It also gobbles up our time, encourages busyness and multitasking and stifles creativity.

The futures of our business, personal lives, and our nations do not depend on technology, but on our ability to manage the technology we develop. In my book, Time management in an ADHD world, I review some suggestions for living in harmony with technology by being its master rather than its servant, and coping with our ADHD behaviors.

Harold Taylor’s book Time management in an ADHD world is available from Amazon in Kindle format