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The best time management strategy

The best time management strategy is to live longer, healthier and happier. Until now there has been little or no attempt in time management books and training sessions to help a person extend the amount of time at their disposal by extending their lifespan. That is normally a completely different field of study. And yet living longer is the only time management strategy guaranteed to increase the amount of time at your disposal.

Between 20% to 50% of longevity is hereditary; but the rest is lifestyle, attitude, environment and other factors – mostly within our control. Some of the traditional time management recommendations of the past, such as multitasking, working faster and getting up earlier, actually may contribute to a shorter lifespan. And with technology added to the mix, introducing information and interruption overload, and possibly addiction to email, social media, Internet, excessive cell phone use and added stress – lifespan and certainly health span, are under even greater attack.

All aspects of our life – physical, mental, and spiritual – all interrelate when it comes to time management. For example, in my book, Slowing down the speed of life, I show how speed affects everything from multitasking and exercising to sleep, diet, and even our perception of how fast time passes.
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In the “old days”, when I started out as a time management trainer, traditional time management, including such things as to-do lists, quiet hours, and utilizing idle time were aimed at one thing – getting more done in less time.

But times have changed — including technology, the rate of change, and our working environment, the pace of life, and so on. In order to survive and thrive today, we need more than time logs, follow-up files, and time-saving tips. We need holistic time management, which is a relatively new concept.

With your health, strategies that keep you from becoming sick are not the same things that make you healthy. And with your retirement, what keeps you from being poor or destitute and unable to maintain a satisfactory lifestyle, are not the same things that allow you to live a happy, healthy, productive, personally fulfilling life in your senior years.

In your strive to live longer, healthier and happier, it is important to get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise both the body and the brain, develop close relationships, avoid excessive stress and make certain lifestyle changes – in addition to getting organized and practising sound time management principles.
I am writing a series of brief eBooks, available at Amazon.com, to help you do just that. Check out the latest ones at http://amzn.to/1H4OGYP.

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Prioritize in advance

PrioritzePrioritize in advance and you can save a lot of time and grief in the future. And there’s little excuse for not anticipating many of the events that will occur. For instance, you know that the car will eventually run out gas. Similarly, you can bet your bank account will run dry, the copier will run out of paper and the printer will stop working. Planning simply involves recognizing that these events will occur and taking action before they do.

Yet people continue to search for a service station while the gauge is pointing at empty, make a special trip to office supply store when the paper supply runs out, and call a repair person when the equipment breaks down. It’s as though they had never heard of topping up the gas tank at their convenience before it is empty, keeping a minimum quantity of supplies on hand, and having their machines serviced on a regular basis.

Planning is not so much a time management strategy as it is common sense. And most of us have our fair share of common sense. Why is it then that we don’t take the few minutes necessary to plan?

The answer lies somewhere between busyness and procrastination. Most of us are so busy racing from job to job or place to place that we don’t have time to think. When we do think of something that should be done soon, we delay it because we’re too busy at the moment to do anything about it. Unfortunately, when the gas gauge is on empty we’re just as busy as we were when we thought of it earlier – except that now we have the added stress of urgency.

What can we do about it? Well first we have to mentally assign labels of important or unimportant to all the repetitive tasks. Important tasks should never be allowed to become urgent.

If you run out of bread or milk, is it important? No, you can survive for a day or two on crackers and water. If you run out of gas, is that important? You bet it is. Can you imagine the lost time, the cost, the frustration and the inconvenience of being immobilized on a highway, perhaps on the way to an appointment?

Planning includes prioritizing the various tasks, including the repetitive ones. If it`s important do it as quickly as possible. If it`s not important, delay it until you have time to do it. If you never have time to do it, which is likely, that`s fine.

After all, you are getting the important things done. And that`s what time management is all about; getting the important things done.

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There are three types of multitasking

multitaskingAll multitasking is not the same. There are three types of multitasking. By multitasking, I mean the apparent simultaneous performance of two or more tasks. And since research has confirmed that it is impossible for the brain to fully focus on two things at the same time, all multitasking is not the same.

Let’s look at the three types or degrees of multitasking in reducing order of efficiency.

The first and most obvious, ineffective and potentially dangerous form of multitasking, involves physically performing two tasks at the same time, such as talking on a cell phone while driving, or text messaging while walking.

The second type involves working on only one task physically, while thinking about something else, such as planning your day while taking a shower or mentally rehearsing a speech as you collate reports or planning a dinner party while driving or worrying about finances as you iron clothes.

The third type involves what we used to refer to as a “utilizing idle time” — checking e-mail while a report is being printed or making a phone call while clothes are being dried or listening to information on your iPod while getting your hair done in a salon.

Only the first two are true multitasking, while the third one is simply making efficient use of time that might otherwise be wasted. This is not really multitasking and the worst that might forget to retrieve the printed page from the printer or forget to remove your clothes from the dryer.

Further, the seriousness of the second type of multitasking depends on the tasks involved. Daydreaming, while operating a machine or crossing in traffic is dangerous; but listening to the radio while taking a shower is not usually a problem. After all what’s the big deal if you miss the temperature report or forget to shampoo your hair.

In other words all multitasking is not the same, and much of it can be performed without serious consequences. But if you’re ever in doubt, the safest and most efficient thing to do is to err on the side of not multitasking. You can always use the idle time for rest, and relaxation, which most people don’t seem to have enough time for anyway.

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What to feed your brain

Brain foodIf you want to know what to feed your brain you might be interested in knowing which foods in particular have been found to be good for the brain. Proper nutrition can help prevent cognitive decline. For example, blueberries are believed to reduce the risk of age-related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Janet Maccaro, in her book, Brain boosting foods, mentions supplements such as gingko biloba, known for its ability to improve memory and concentration. It is used in Europe to treat dementia.

Avocados are thought to be good for the brain because of their monounsaturated fat, which increases blood flow through the brain and lowers blood pressure, and organ meats because they are high in brain-healthy nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E, K, B12, as well as folic acid.

Egg yolks are rich in choline. A shortage of choline has been linked to insomnia, memory problems, and fatigue. Egg yolks also contain ant-inflammatory omega-3s, as do salmon, herring and sardines. Most nuts are also a source of vitamin E, which protects the brain’s iron from exposure to oxygen. According to a special issue of Newsweek published in October, 2014, 90 percent of Americans overlook vitamin E in their diet.

Any food that reduces high blood pressure or helps the cardiovascular system in any way is good for the brain, since the brain’s blood supply is critical. This includes such foods as oatmeal, brown rice and grain breads.

EPA omega-3 fish oil is also recommended since it keeps the cell membranes in the brain flexible. There is evidence that omega-3 fatty acids – the ones found in many types of fish such as salmon and rainbow trout – slow up cognitive decline and reduces the risk of Alzheimer`s disease.

Researcher Rodney W. Johnson, PhD, claims that chamomile tea, rich in luteolin, is not only relaxing, but also guards you against forgetfulness. He says it works by preventing brain inflammation that contributes to age-related memory lapses. Luteolin is also present in carrots, celery and green peppers.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, RealAge expert and host of a national TV show, recommends five important foods to give your brain a boost:

  • Blueberries, to help shield against harmful processes tied to Alzheimer`s disease and premature aging.
  • Eggs, since they are loaded with selenium, a mineral that could help make your brain years younger.
  • Mustard, because it contains turmeric. He claims that getting just 17 milligrams of it a day (about a teaspoon of mustard) can help genes control the clean-up of cellular waste in the brain.
  • Salmon, since it is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, including the type thought to have the most anti-aging effects on the brain.
  • Kale, since getting at least three servings a day of these leafy greens high in carotenoids and flavonoids can slow mental decline associated with aging.

Drinking water may also sharpen your recall skills according to research conducted at University of East London. The UK researchers believe that bringing water into an exam room can raise students’ marks. Studies indicated that those who drank water while writing exams outperformed those who didn’t. In one study the scores averaged 4.8% better. One explanation is that students are in a mild state of dehydration when taking exams and it is corrected by drinking water.

Skipping breakfast is a not a good idea. Studies have shown that children and adults who skip breakfast do not perform well on tests at school or tasks at work.

Obesity leads to high blood pressure, which lowers cognitive function so watch your weight as well. A study published in the journal Neurology showed that people who are obese in middle age have almost 4 times the risk of developing dementia later in life than those of normal weight.

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Exercise your brain

Brain exerciseYou can exercise your brain and keep your brain active as well as strengthen neural connections by learning new skills. You might start by doing everyday tasks differently. Use your left hand to control the computer mouse (if you’re right-handed), or to brush your teeth.

Exercising your brain – even without moving from your chair – could reap physical benefits. Cleveland Clinic Foundation research has indicated that just thinking about exercising a muscle will strengthen that muscle.

In stressful situations, your weakest skills fail first and become more pronounced. Fatigue and information overload tend to weaken them further. Avoiding, releasing or being able to manage stress is important. Also you should re-examine your workload. Keep organized, plan, and allocate your time to things of importance. Simplify if possible. Delegate and outsource. Pace yourself. Too much exertion without breaks taxes the executive skills. In fact studies have shown that people who exert themselves mentally, such as resisting the temptation to eat chocolate or whatever, gave up on problems sooner when presented with them immediately afterwards. (Scientific American Mind, May/June, 2011)

Many of these skills have to do with self-discipline and that definitely can be improved through practice. For example turn down desert once in a while, or second cup of coffee. Give up your favorite TV program or sporting event and so on. You could have a glass of water instead of a milkshake and resist that chocolate bar after golf.

Neuroscience has proven that the more you use a circuit in the brain, the stronger it becomes. The reverse is also true, so don’t relinquish all your tasks to a computer. Training your memory, creative writing or any skill can be strengthened through practice. But variety seems to be the key. Improving one executive skill does not necessarily improve all the others. Doing crossword puzzles only increases your ability to do crossword puzzles. And this is true for most computer games as well.

There are exceptions, however. Physical exercise, for instance, stimulates the creation of new neurons not confined to the region of the hippocampus that stores new memories. Art Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that a year of exercise can give a seventy-year-old the connectivity of a thirty-year old. Harvard researchers have linked aerobic exercise with improvements in food choices and the ability to resist temptation. They feel it may inspire healthier choices by altering structures in our brains that deal with regulation and impulse control while also making us happier and calmer. This could account for weight loss in addition to the calories you burn through exercise.

Other activities such as meditation and certain video games can change brain structure so that brain processes are more efficient. Meditation has been shown to have a positive effect on the immune system and cardiovascular function as well as the brain. In one study, those who meditated showed less activity in the brain area associated with negative emotions such as anger and anxiety and more activity those areas associated with optimism and confidence.

And learning a second language can sharpen many of the executive skills. Ellen Bialystok of York University in Canada found that the workout the brain gets in bilingualism carries over to improve such skills as problem solving and attention switching.

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An easy way to set goals

GoalsIf you want an easy way to set goals stop thinking of it as some structured process that takes a lot of work. It doesn’t have to be any more structured than keeping a “To Do” list. And you don’t have to be afraid of losing the spontaneity and flexibility of simply “going with the flow.”

All you have to do is formalize something you have been doing all your life without really being aware of it. As a child, had you ever set your mind on getting a new bicycle, for instance? If so, not only did you have a specific goal in mind, you probably had an action plan as well. It may have been to earn the required sum of money by getting a paper route, or saving your allowances or methodically harassing your parents until they finally broke down and bought it for you. You may even have had a deadline date in mind. You wanted it in the summer so you could it show off to Jane down the street.

Buying a car or a house, visiting Disney World, going on a cruise, or simply spending a weekend with friends all require the basics of goal-setting. You decide what you want, when you want it, and establish an action plan in order to get it.

All the other characteristics of goals are self-evident. It stands to reason that they must be specific so you will know how much money you will need in order to buy the bicycle you want, and you also know your goal is realistic since you have already thought of several ways you can get the necessary money.

There’s nothing mysterious, complicated or difficult about setting goals. Yet less than five percent of the population claims they actually have personal goals in writing. Why?

It’s probably because we tend to resist change. We’re a little afraid of anything we don’t fully understand. We crave simplicity. That’s one reason we are feeling the stress of this digital age of speed where everything is changing so quickly

Accept the fact that goal-setting is not something new to be learned and mastered, but something old that should be used more fully. Goal-setting has been in use ever since Eve spotted that juicy fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And for good or evil, goal-setting does get results.

Sure there are time management experts promoting SMART goals – saying they should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-framed. And that they should be what you want and not what other people want for you, and that you shouldn’t have too many goals, and that they should be compatible with one another, and they should cover all areas of your life and they must be in writing ….. Ignore all that.

Instead, simply decide what you want and when you want it, write that date in your planner (Yes, I said write, because a paper planner works best), and then flip back the pages of your planner to today’s date, and schedule blocks of time each week to work on your goal. You are actually scheduling appointments with yourself to work on those things you want. When you see the deadline date getting close, simply schedule more time each week. Or simply continue past the deadline.

After all, if it takes a few weeks longer than expected, who cares? Jane down the street will still be impressed.

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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 power of purpose

PurposeI have seen the power of purpose in action where a dying person stayed alive long enough to see a loved one or witness an event. But I’ve yet to hear of one case where a person lived longer because they didn’t want to die. It is not fear that motivates us; it is purpose.

Comedian George Burns for many years claimed he was booked to perform in the Palladian in London when he turned 100. Perhaps that had something to do with his living into his 100th year. Clarify your purpose, set goals that will lead you in that direction, work on those goals each week – and you have a greater chance of leading a long happy, fulfilled life.

Having a sense of purpose in life not only allows us to set goals compatible with our personal values, it also allows us to retain a positive self-image even if we don’t achieve them. Purpose addresses what we are as opposed to what we do.

It is said that the chemicals in our body, on today’s market, would probably amount to about $3.00. Thinking in these terms, we’re not worth much. But based on the number of atoms within each person, the human body could generate enough atomic energy to be valued at $85 billion!

Skip Ross, in his book, Say Yes to Your Potential, asks this question: “Just what are you really worth, not in dollars, but in personal power?” He feels we are all geniuses, created by God and equipped with certain talents and individuality. But most of these abilities lie untapped.

Albert Einstein was quoted as saying the average person uses 2 percent of his intellectual capacity. Using more of our potential, and directing our skills and talents towards a worthy purpose, would not only make an impact on the world, but would do wonders for our self-esteem.

You could fail to achieve a goal; but it’s difficult to fail a purpose. A purpose is a reason for living. As Robert Ringer, author of several books, including Winning through intimidation and Looking out for #1 feels that man’s real purpose is not to achieve goals, but to constantly strive towards them. He provides another benefit of having a purpose in life when he quotes Victor Frankl: “If there is a reason for happiness, happiness ensues. It is a side effect of having a purpose, a meaning to life.”

“A life purpose encompasses all of your goals,” claims writer and seminar leader Sybil Stanton.” And since it’s your purpose that determines your goals, you don’t fall apart when your goals do.”

This makes sense. But where does the purpose come from? How do we develop a purpose in life? Stanton, in her book, The 25-hour woman , suggests you think of a scenario like this. You are celebrating your 80th birthday when you are approached by a publisher who wants to print your autobiography. Right away he needs a title for your life story. What will you suggest? “Naming your autobiography is a start to nailing down your purpose. The title you ascribe to your life has something to say about what you count most important and, therefore, what you are living for.”

Your purpose may be condensed into a brief sentence or take up a whole paragraph; but it will express your aim in life. It could be as simple as the one developed by a psychiatric nurse in one of Sybil Stanton’s seminars: “Learning to love and express love in all aspects of my life.”

Goals can be thwarted by a sudden change in your employment, health, or family situation; but your purpose remains constant. To quote Stanton, “Imagine yourself luxuriating in an exquisite estate, surrounded by a loving family and a host of servants. Then think of living in a refugee camp, subject to squalor and starvation. If you can realize your purpose in both places, you have something worth living for.”

Activities should be derived from your purpose, not the reverse. And yet many people, convinced that happiness and fulfillment depend upon setting and achieving goals within the work environment, become so engrossed in their profession that work becomes their reason for living. Their status, friendships, self-esteem and identity are all connected with their position at work. When that connection is severed their life collapses.

Ironically, the things that most people count as important in their lives are not the things they are remembered for –if they are remembered at all. Bob Shank, author of Total Life Management uses an interesting exercise in his seminars. He asks people to jot down the names of the greatest people in history (e.g., Joan of Arc Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein), then to note the one thing that distinguishes them as great. Seldom do these things relate to their material possessions, incomes, hobbies, travels or recreational preferences. Most of them had a single-minded purpose to which they dedicated their lives.

To quote Shank, “The great men and women of history were not great because of what they owned or earned, but rather for what they gave their lives to accomplish.”

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How to run effective meetings

To run effective meetings, you must control both the length of the meeting and the meeting itself. One executive claims she spends about six hours per day in meetings. Regardless of whether you spend one hour or six hours each day, there is considerable time savings to be realized by running meetings effectively, and keeping them brief. If you want to know how to run effective meetings, here is a summary of the most important things to keep in mind when calling a meeting.

Invite only those who are essential to the success of the meeting. Forget protocol, pecking order or business etiquette. If people are unlikely to contribute to or benefit from the meeting, don’t include them. Try to keep the total number of attendees below 8 people.

Plan the meeting in advance. Go beyond outlining an agenda; actually anticipate which topics will generate the most discussion, disagreement and time loss. Leave the contentious issues until the end – when most people will be anxious to leave. Put the priority items that will generate the least discussion near the start of the meeting. Allocate time limits to each agenda item.

Start on time. Don’t make exceptions. If the boss arrives late, explain to him or her that you are now on item 2 or 3. Don’t apologize for being prompt and efficient. Resist the urge to summarize the progress to date for every late arrival. If they ask, tell them you’ll update them after the meeting.

Make notes at every meeting and encourage others to do likewise. Record decisions reached, actions required, individuals responsible for the various actions and the expected completion dates. Review this information at the end of the meeting to ensure that everyone is clear as to his or her responsibilities.

Don’t waste the group’s time on an individual’s responsibilities. If you have made a group decision and provided input, assign the action to someone and leave it with him or her. If a few people have some strong feelings about how something should be done, ask them to submit the suggestions in writing to the person to whom you have delegated the job.

Always take a few minutes after every meeting to evaluate how it went. Jot down what you will do next time to improve the process. Continually strive to reduce the time loss and increase the value of every meeting you attend.

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How to listen effectively

ListenNot knowing how to listen effectively can waste time, cause stress, and generate costly communication problems. But there’s more to effective listening than meets the ear. It’s hard work. It requires an active participation in the communication process. It takes effort and practice.

It requires that we break habits that have been forming since childhood. One such habit is interrupting the speaker. Many of us are impatient. Some of us can’t even stand pauses. We want to rush in with more words. Even when we’re not speaking, we’re not necessarily listening. We’re rehearsing what we’re going to say, once it’s our turn.

Don’t be a passive listener. Be an active listener. Lean forward to demonstrate your interest in the speaker. Establish eye contact. Resist the temptation to let your eyes wander or glance at your watch. Devote full attention to the speaker. If you’re genuinely interested in people, listening is a lot easier.

We can speak at about 125 words per minute but we can listen at least four times as fast. With all this spare time to kill, our mind wanders, daydreams, goes on little mental excursions, and by the time it returns we have missed something. Reluctant to admit we were not listening, we guess – and frequently misinterpret what was said.

The secret is to stay with the speaker, and use the spare time by reviewing and summarizing what is being said. Listen between the lines, observe those non-verbal gestures, and evaluate the points being made, but stick with the speaker. Resist the urge to interrupt or to start formulating your own reply. Listening is a skill that can be developed through practice. And it can also save time.