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Improving group brainstorming

Alex Osborn came up with the brainstorming technique back in the late 1940s, and a set of guidelines that we followed for decades. Basically, it involved a group of people blurting out ideas, no matter how ridiculous, without fear of intimidating guffaws, prejudgment or negative reaction of any sort. Through the process of association, one idea, no matter how ridiculous by normal standards, may lead to another and eventually to a perfectly workable idea, which may never have been uncovered by traditional thought processes.

It was thought that the rapid fire thoughts in a successful brainstorming session would seem to come directly from our creative right brain before our logical left brain had a chance to put a damper on them. And it seemed reasonable that more ideas would come from a group of people than from brainstorming alone.

But more recent research has revealed that both the belief that groups came up with more ideas than individuals, and the belief that criticism or even questioning ideas during the brainstorming session would be counterproductive, are both wrong.

Jonah Lehrer, in his book, Imagine: how creativity works, goes so far as to say that brainstorming in a group, rather than unleash the potential of the group, actually suppresses it, and makes each individual less creative. He believes that the only way to maximize group creativity is to encourage a candid discussion of mistakes.

A study in Psychological Science also found that group decision-making makes people more likely to reject outside information.

According to an article by Evangelia G. Chrysikou, originally appearing in the July/August, 2012 issue of Scientific American Mind, and included in the 2017 special collector’s edition of Scientific American Mind on creativity, “group brainstorming is beneficial only after you have come up with a few solutions for a complex problem on your own.”

Shelley Carson, author of the book, Your creative brain, agrees, saying that research on brainstorming yields more quality ideas when individuals brainstorm alone and then have their best ideas evaluated by a group. It is believed that even though the brainstorming process is supposed to be nonjudgmental, individuals may be wary of shouting out ideas that their superiors might think are foolish.

A newer technique called brainwriting has each member of the group generating from 3 to 5 ideas written on an index card and passed anonymously to a spokesperson who then introduces the ideas to the group for further exploration.

Julia Cameron, author of the book, The artist’s way, agrees that dominant people tend to do most of the talking and groups inhibit a lot of creative expression. She has had a brainstorming team work together for five minutes, then work individually for five minutes, and then come together again for the final five minutes. She says it boosts group creativity – with twice as many ideas generated than staying together as a team for the full 15 minutes. She attributes this improvement to the fact that everyone has an opportunity to work on the problem individually.

There is more information on brainstorming and other techniques of creative thinking  in my eBook, Creativity in action, soon to be published by Bookboon.com.

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Is there no such thing as an objective decision?

The amygdala area of the brain is known to generate feelings. It is the emotional part of the brain, generating such responses as fear and desire.

The prefrontal cortex, sometimes referred to as a manager, houses the executive functions and is considered the thinking part of the brain. You might expect it to be the decision-maker.

And it is. But it works in conjunction with the more intuitive amygdala, which draws on past experiences and feelings to influence the decision. After receiving input from the amygdala and other brain areas, the resulting decision may not appear so logical if you consider only the facts relevant to the situation in question.

According to John Lehrer, in his book, How we decide, the prefrontal cortex is linked to just about every brain area, and considers all feedback before making a decision. But no decision can be completely objective – at least not as far as other people are concerned – since we all have our own realities, values, beliefs and past experiences.

Probably more areas of the brain are involved in the decision-making process than even the neuroscientists are aware of. And perhaps without mirror neurons, which reside in many parts of the brain and help us to emphasize with one another, we would never agree on anything.

As Jonah Lehrer, author of How we decide, says, “Intuition isn’t a miraculous cure all. Sometimes the feelings can lead us astray and causes us to make all sorts of predictable mistakes.” He goes on to say that the “reptilian brain” is fighting the frontal lobes.

When it comes to decisions, sometimes the emotional part of the brain can take charge. It has been shown, for instance, that we can react to the presence of an unseen snake fractions of a second before we are even conscious of its presence. The brain’s priority seems to be to minimize danger and to maximize reward.

Since few, if any of us, have had similar past experiences, it is unlikely that we would all agree on a decision made by a group. As Charles Jacobs says in his book, Management rewired, “if we use logic to influence people unconsciously driven by emotion, we probably aren’t going to be very successful in getting them to embrace our point of view.”

According to a Canadian press article appearing in the March 23, 2017 issue of Telegraphjournal.com, emotion colors the meaning we give to things. This supports the opinion of Princeton political scientist Larry Bartel, who was quoted in Jonah Lehrer’s book as saying that voters invent facts or ignore facts so they can rationalize decisions they’ve already made.

If I am reading the brain research correctly it would appear as though we should try to avoid snap decisions on important issues, allowing the executive center of our brain to moderate emotional impulses. It would also appear that we should involve other people with different experiences in our decision-making process to compensate for our own biases. And we should go so far as to seek out different points of view. But when instant decisions are critical, such in the case of a wall about to collapse, trust your instincts. After all, that part of the brain is programmed for survival, and you have to survive if you want to make more decisions in the future.

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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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Improving performance with office greenery.

office-greenery-3

We are all aware of the benefits of walking; but it has been shown that a 40 minute walk in a forest results in lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol then an equivalent walk in the laboratory – plus improved mood and feelings of vigour. It also lowers blood pressure, and improves sleep.

There is little doubt that trees, plants, grass and other vegetation affects us both physically and mentally. In order to increase performance of students and workers alike, Ratey and Manning, in their book Go wild, recommend designing buildings with greenways, open space, landscaping and potted plants. And as reported in an issue of Scientific American Mind (January February, 2015), even staring at pictures of outdoor scenes has been linked to pain relief, stress recovery and mood improvement.

A more recent issue of Scientific American Mind (May June, 2016), linked exposure to natural settings with many health benefits, from reduced rates of depression to increased immune functioning. For example, patients in hospital rooms with a window view require less pain medication and spend less time in the hospital. Recent studies found that urban green spaces, such as plants and gardens, also improve cognitive development.

An old clipping on the environment that I found buried in my files from some 20 years ago, and attributed to the National Wildlife Foundation, claimed that one large sugar maple can remove as much airborne lead as the city’s cars emit by burning 1000 gallons of gasoline. City planners in Los Angeles had said that by the year 2000, trees would remove some 200 tons of dust and smoke from the region’s air each day. I have no way of checking the accuracy of that prediction; but one article I came across recently states that according to the U.S. Forest Service, the trees around the world removed about one third of fossil fuel emissions annually between 1990 and 2007.

Mounting research suggests that city living is not conducive to mental or physical health. A July, 2012 issue of chatelaine.com suggested we’re more disconnected with nature than ever – exchanging outdoor activities for playing video games or using social media indoors. An item in the March 17, 2016 issue of telegraphJournal.com reported that on a global scale, it is estimated that the transportation sector is responsible for approximately 5.8 million deaths per year: 3.2 million from physical inactivity; 1.3 million from vehicle related collisions; and 1.3 million from outdoor pollution. And a string of studies from all over the world suggest that common air pollutants such as black carbon, particulate matter and ozone can negatively affect vocabulary, reaction times, and even overall intelligence, according to a report in the November/December, 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind.

In an older blog article I talked about my decision to move my office to the condo’s solarium, add plenty of greenery on the balcony visible from my desk, take advantage of natural lighting, and even hang a picture or two of scenery. I did find an improvement in my overall mood and productivity, although that was an extremely subjective observation. There are other things I could have done as well, which I will mention in my next blog. But last month I went the extra mile – or more accurately 1500 miles – and moved to Sussex, New Brunswick.

Thanks to the digital world in which we live, the move (from a business viewpoint) was seamless. And after almost a lifetime spent in the city of Toronto, I expect the impact on my well-being and productivity to be quite significant. I’ll report my findings in a few months.

In the meantime, I will continue to review some other suggestions for improving productivity without having to move to the country.

Next blog article: Can colours actually improve your performance?

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How your work environment can impact productivity.

Office environment

Your environment definitely affects your actions, and in turn, your productivity. This holds true in situations other than work. For example, if you use a larger spoon or a larger plate, you will eat more, hospital patients with a window view need less medication and heal faster, and children who live closer to a fast food outlet are usually more obese.

Consider the impact of nature, whether in the form of green space, gardens or parks, on the health and well-being of individuals. According to the June, 2016 issue of Scientific American Mind, “exposure to natural settings has been linked with a vast array of human benefits, from reduced rates of depression to increased immune functioning.”

Recent studies have found that urban green spaces improve cognitive development in children, and those close to park land had better memory development, attentiveness and creativity.

As for productivity in an office environment, potted plants, white noise, music, natural lighting, air circulation, physical organization, windows facing the outside world, the ability to feed off the energy of others, and even a cheerful office decor with scenic pictures on the walls can increase productivity as well as improve mood and personal well-being.

Take plants for example. Based on recent research, it might appear as though your ideal office environment would be a forest with plenty of vegetation surrounding your desk and a trout stream gurgling its way past you. Unfortunately that discounts the blackflies, mosquitoes, gusty winds, darkened sky, and the noise of trains, tractors and thunderstorms in the distance.

Convert your house plants to office plants.

But in choosing our office and decor, we should not overlook the possibility of merging more with nature. The more we gravitate toward the cities and hole up in our offices, the more we withdraw from nature and its largely unrecognized or unappreciated benefits. Studies have shown that the presence of potted plants, for example, improves productivity, creativity, performance and learning ability. In the case of schools, the presence of plants improved scores in mathematics spelling and science between 10% and 14%.

Researchers have also found that plants act as vacuum cleaners removing pollution from the air. Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants in both home and offices has been linked to anxiety, depression, irritability, fatigue and short and long-term cognitive decline among other afflictions.

One study involved new computers, which had been shown to give off chemicals into the air. When a batch of new computers were hidden behind a divider, cognitive testing showed it reduced performance and increased errors by those workers closest to the hidden computers.

Plants not only give off oxygen, they are able to absorb environmental chemicals and transport them to the soil, rendering them less harmful. NASA used plants to keep their astronauts healthy while working in enclosed places constructed of synthetic materials. Potted plants have reduced indoor pollutants by at least 75%.

A few years ago I moved my home condo office from a windowless room that used to be a dining room to the solarium where I am surrounded by two walls of glass and access to the balcony. I bought plants for the balcony, complete with window boxes. I have a table and chairs there where I do a lot of my writing and have a view of treetops from my ninth floor condo.

It is not my highest performance area. That’s a local coffee shop, which I referred to in my blog a couple of weeks ago – “Are you going to work or working on the go?” It’s important to add a little variety to your workplace. It gets you moving, which in another key to productivity in the office. I will discuss this in my next blog article.

Next blog article: Motion sickness beats death by sitting.

 

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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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Who is calling the shots, you or your computer?

Don't let technology high-jack your brain.
Don’t let technology high-jack your brain.

In today’s work environment our brain is on constant alert – both the reactive core brain, and the frontal lobes, which are constantly called upon to make decisions, choices, as well as plan our day minute by minute. At the same time, we play nursemaid to technology and its own set of demands. This is not only stressful, but drains our energy and throws our natural body rhythms out of sync. Trouble sleeping, anxiety, fatigue and even depression could ensue.

Bombarded by digital messages, cell phone calls, artificial light from computer screens and handheld devices, the working environment is generally not user-friendly, and not conducive to improved productivity. If we allow our environment to control us, incessantly distracting us from our priority tasks, interrupting our train of thought and kidnapping our minds for minutes at a time as we respond to emails or instant messages, we will never regain the productivity of the past.

Sure technology itself is synonymous with increased productivity; but it’s the computers that are productive, while we are used as “go-fers” at their beck and call. Computers are efficient to the nth degree; but without the creativity and thinking power of the human brain, they will never be able to manage companies, let alone a family or a personal life.

Yet the human brain is frequently being relegated to making service calls to keep technology humming. There is little time left for creative thinking, problem-solving or planning. And what little time is left is being utilized by tired and sometimes exhausted brains that are no longer working on all cylinders.

No wonder the emphasis these days is on the development of artificial intelligence. Ours is being rapidly dissipated. Already we are seldom required to add or subtract, spell or even write – activities that enhance our brain power in one way or another.

What I am proposing is to take control of our working environment – including the technology – so that we can establish a pattern of working that not only increases our personal productivity, but maintains a healthy, energized brain and body.

I have written enough articles in the past about the negative impact of technology on our brains and bodies – enough at least to attract criticism as being anti-technology. (Which is not true since I use technology daily to maintain a high level of personal productivity.) I do not criticize technology itself, but our use of it. Technology should not dictate when or where we check email or receive phone calls or the extent to which we participate in social media and so on. Those are our decisions to make.

But we have taken the path of least resistance and forfeited these responsibilities, allowing technology to hijack the more primitive parts of our brain and developing self-defeating habits that keep us from realizing our full potential. That’s not surprising considering the amount of personal energy required to make decisions, muster willpower and take charge. It’s imperative that we manage our energy as well.

In the next few articles I will give some suggestions as to how you might manage your environment to increase personal productivity and well-being. It will include more than just the control of technology; it will cover everything from the location of your desk and working area to the addition of plants and natural lighting. The most critical change of course will be the way you interact with technology. Technology is a driving force; but don’t let it drive you. Get a good seven hours or more sleep each night this week. Be sure to eat properly and keep up with your daily exercise. You will need all the energy you can get in order to take back the control that is rightfully yours.

Next blog article: Are you going to work or working on the go?

 

 

 

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Effective time management requires making wise choices.

Choices

Researchers have claimed we get a dopamine rush whenever we capture a Pokemon creature or receive favourable news in an email message or see our name mentioned in a Facebook or Twitter post.

This carrot and stick approach motivates us to enter deeper into the technology trap until we become helplessly addicted to the highs we get. But a shot of the “feel-good” hormone called dopamine is a poor exchange for the time and productivity that we sacrifice in order to get it.

Take the latest fad or phenomenon (depending on how it turns out) of the augmented virtual reality game called Pokemon Go. In its defence, I will admit that it at least it gets people active – although reports of walking along subway tracks and playing the game while riding a bicycle are not exactly safe exercises. Walking through the city, cemeteries, and museums and even off-limits military bases catching virtual creatures might be a lot of fun. But it’s the degree to which we are drawn into these fantasies that concern me. Pokemon Go was launched on July 6, 2016, and one week later had about 21 million users.

Did all these people, who already were spending more time on this game (about 33 minutes a day) than they spend on Facebook (about 25 minutes a day) really make a conscious decision to get involved? Or were they so conditioned by the lure of technology that it was an automatic response?

In the July 18, 2016 issue of Toronto Star, the game developer CEO was quoted as saying, “The game itself is intended to facilitate the real-life stuff.” I’m not sure what’s wrong with the real life stuff as it is; but much of it is being ignored in the process. Who is looking after the store, the schoolwork or the family? Games make real life easier, but not better.

According to a list of facts gleaned from the Internet, 6 of 7 billion people have a mobile device, 4.5 billion have a toilet, and 4.2 billion have a toothbrush. Perhaps we should spend less time playing Pokemon Go and more time making toilets and toothbrushes.

Whether it’s email, instant messaging, Facebook or Pokemon Go, I reiterate what I said in a previous blog, “Everything in moderation.”

We should spend more time honing our willpower and self-control so we can spend less time on virtual reality. What we think about and focus on is what we become. It’s easier to dunk a donut into a cup of coffee in the morning than to cook oatmeal; but it’s not better for you.

Effective time management has been defined as making good choices. Are you choosing wisely?

Next blog article: Who is calling the shots, you or your computer?

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Stop trying so hard to save time.

saving time

Focus on what you would like to accomplish rather than attempting to practice all those time management and organizing ideas that come your way, which may or may not have any relevance to your situation or the goals that you are attempting to achieve. This is not to say you should work inefficiently; but the focus should be on getting the important things done.

Your brain – specifically the prefrontal cortex – uses a lot of energy in the process of evaluating, making decisions, and applying time management and organizing ideas, which may not actually save much time. If there’s an obvious big one that would revolutionize the way you work, by all means grab it; but don’t waste valuable energy that is needed for the variety of priorities and goal-related activities that will impact your future.

This focus on doing something positive consumes less mental energy and lends itself to the brain’s goal-directed orientation. Your brain generates from 10 to 23 watts of power when you’re awake – enough to turn on a lightbulb. But you must conserve as much of this energy as possible so you can cope with the day’s activities.

Schwartz and Gladding claim in their book, You are not your brain, “When you learn to focus your attention in positive, beneficial ways, you actually require your brain to support those actions and habits.”

It’s easy to fall in love with orderliness, efficiency and speed to the point where they become the objectives rather than the means – costly objectives when it comes to the consumption of energy.

Time management and personal organization are tools, like your desk, laptop and software that enable you to achieve goals in a timely manner. Don’t allow them to become procrastination tools that occupy your time and thus delay your achievements.

If you continually focus on goals, you will soon discover the most efficient and effective ways of accomplishing them. When you win at sports or in life, there are no points for having the most organized locker. Let time management and organizing be tools that help you achieve your goals, and not goals in themselves.

I won’t go so far as to say energy management should replace time management as a few books and articles seem to suggest; but I do believe that energy is a critical, frequently ignored resource that must also be managed. And it should be taken into consideration before applying any new time management strategies.

Crossing off items on a To Do list can become a goal in itself instead of a way of achieving your goals. Keeping organized can become an obsession in itself rather than a way to become more productive. And attempting to apply every time management suggestion that comes along can actually become a time waster in itself.

Keep your goals in mind. Focus on the results you want to obtain. Don’t let the medium become the message.