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To Do lists don’t get things done

To DOTo Do lists don’t get things done; people do. I have always maintained that To Do lists are unreliable if you’re expecting them to get things done. They are reminders, but little else.

There is a LinkedIn survey of over 6000 global professionals that found that only 11% actually accomplished all the tasks on their “To Do” lists. Mentioned in the June 15, 2012 edition of the Toronto Globe and Mail, the survey cited e-mail, impromptu meetings and phone calls as major distractions that prevented people from working on their To Do lists.

The real issue here is the fact that 40% of the respondents admitted that they are easily distracted. This has always been the case to some extent; but with technology allowing uninterrupted interruptions and 24/7 connectivity coupled with an expanding workday, the problem has been magnified a hundredfold.

Our brains are being required to accept interruptions as they occur, and my usual recommendations of scheduling important items from your To Do list into your planner, scheduling times for e-mail, adopting focus hours, and working in 90-minute segments, although providing more commitment, are no longer sufficient to ensure maximum effectiveness in the use of time.

We must accept the fact that the battlefield has changed from our workstations to our minds. We must understand how our brain reacts to the new stimulants received from the digital environment, how neuroplasticity effects our reactions, and how we can regain control of our time by regaining control of our brain.

Our greatest asset in getting things done consists of our executive skills, those brain-based skills that help us to focus, sustain attention, ignore distractions, and stick to the task at hand. Ways of strengthening these skills are included in my new publication, A brain’s-eye view of time management, available soon.

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How to have a healthier brain

Healthier brainThe good news, according to statistics, is that we’re living longer. The bad news is that our bodies frequently outlive our brains. Dementia is on the increase. To gain time by living longer and healthier, we must look after our brain as well as our body.

How to have a healthier brain

Physical exercise keeps the blood circulating throughout the brain where we need it most. It also helps to build new brain cells and improves learning and memory. John Ratey and Richard Manning in their 2014 book, Go wild: Free yourself from the afflictions of civilization, concluded “Sedentary behavior causes brain impairment.” An active lifestyle, both physically and mentally, is good for your overall health, including the health of your brain. So keep up a physically active lifestyle.

Lifelong learning, and the constant mental stimulation that it provides, will offset some of the cognitive decline we experience with aging. Avoiding stress where possible, and being able to cope effectively with it when it does occur, will prevent brain cells from being killed. Minimize the hassles in your life.

Social activities of any kind, where you are interacting with others, force you to practice cognitive activities as you carry on conversations.

Diet can help. For example, older people, who get omega-3 fatty acids by eating fish such as salmon and sardines, or take DHA and EPA supplements, are able to slow cognitive decline as well.

The most effective time management strategy I know is to live longer and healthier.

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Holistic time management extends the time in your life

Holistic time managementIt is impossible to manage time; but you can gain more time through holistic time management. As the average age of the population increases, people become less interested in how to get more done in less time and more interested in how to get more time in which to do what they are already doing.

As an example, much has been written on diet when it involves weight control or diabetes or blood pressure or cancer or dozens of other possible afflictions. But until recently we haven’t heard much about maintaining brain health through proper nutrition. The three-pound mass of nerve cells and supporting tissues that we call the brain is so complicated with its 100 billion neurons, or active brain cells, that it is still not fully understood. But it is known that brain health is linked to proper diet as well as the other things such as a physically active lifestyle, stress management and adequate sleep.

There’s a lot of good information on nutrition and lifestyle changes needed for a healthy brain in the book Fantastic Voyage: the Science behind Radical Life Extension by Ray Kurzwell and Terry Grossman. Recently, there have also been many articles appearing in newspapers on “brain diets” as interest in healthy aging increases.

Based on research, foods commonly recommended for healthy brain cells, improved cognitive skills and fending off dreaded Alzheimer’s includes such things as berries, walnuts, leafy greens, fish and the healthier unsaturated fats such as olive oil, flaxseed oil and non-hydrogenated margarine.

But diet is only one of many strategies that will increase your health and well-being. More and more people continue to buy into the idea that the greatest time management strategies of all are those that help you to live longer, healthier and happier. These strategies are covered in the new field of holistic time management.

I offer one-hour teleseminars on holistic time management on a regular basis. Click here for details and to register. These eight areas will be discussed in more detail at our holistic time management teleseminars. The next one is scheduled for Thursday, November 20, 2014 from 8 pm to 9 pm Eastern time. You can learn more about the teleclass or register here

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What is holistic time management?

time-management-adhd

Health-TreeI define holistic time management as “applying the strategies necessary in order to lead a happier, healthier, longer, more productive and fulfilling life.” It encompasses both external and internal time management, as well as health, stress, lifestyle and environmental issues that affect the body, mind and spirit.

Just as holistic medicine treats the whole person, so holistic time management goes beyond the quest for efficiency and looks at all aspects of a person’s life that influences both personal productivity and health and well-being.

The major topics covered in my workshop on holistic time management fall neatly into an acronym, which spells out the word HOLISTIC.

Health. Although time has been touted as your greatest asset, it is really your health that is your greatest asset. And too often, health is being put at risk in order to save time. Health management is the most important component of holistic time management.

Organization. You can still be successful in spite of being disorganized; but it takes greater effort and uses more of the precious commodity called time.

Lifestyle. Next to health, longevity is your greatest ally in managing your time. Living a few extra years in good health beats efficiency hands-down. You not only get more accomplished, you are around longer to enjoy everything that life has to offer.

Internal body time. Overlooked in most traditional time management workshops, working in sync with your biological clock makes life easier and allows you to accomplish more things with less effort. It also recognizes the brain’s role in your concept of time – if you don’t remember something, for you, it didn’t exist.

Spirituality. It takes mind, body, and spirit, working in unison, to produce a long, healthy, happy, productive life. Holistic time management involves the development of all three.

Time use. You can’t ignore traditional ways of managing time efficiently and effectively. Setting goals, planning, scheduling, prioritizing, and focus remain integral parts of holistic time management.

Interpersonal relationships. We do not work or live in isolation. How we interact with others – communicating, networking, delegating, socializing and collaborating – all impact our success in managing our time.

Cognitive skills. As mundane tasks are outsourced, creativity becomes the gold rush of the future. With the advance of technology, effective time management is becoming more mental than physical. We must understand how our brain works, and how we can take advantage of its untapped power to enhance our time and life management skills.

These eight areas will be discussed in more detail at our holistic time management teleseminars. The next one is scheduled for Thursday, November 20, 2014 from 8 pm to 9 pm Eastern time. You can learn more about the teleclass or register here

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Sleep deprivation causes weight gain

ObesityResearch indicates that sleep deprivation causes weight gain and obesity. A CBS “60 Minutes” documentary aired on March 16, 2008, reported that four nights without sufficient deep sleep affects more than just performance, judgment and memory. It also presents a risk factor for diabetes. One of the interviewees commented that diabetes was now an epidemic. In fact sleep researchers were attributing some of the obesity problem being experienced in North America to sleep deprivation. Evidently lack of sleep makes us hungry and we overeat.

Researchers at the University of Chicago discovered that overweight dieters lost over 50 percent more weight when they averaged 7 and a half hours of sleep per night for two weeks than they did when they slept for only 5 hours a night. Too little time sleeping can also make you hungrier during the day.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, also did a carefully controlled study in a laboratory setting where volunteers were closely monitored for three days to determine how much they normally ate and slept. Half of them were then allowed to continue their normal routine for another eight days, while the other half were allowed to sleep only two-thirds of their usual sleep time. Both groups were allowed to eat as much as they wanted.

Results showed that the reduction in sleep led to an increase in food consumption. The sleep-deprived group consumed an average of 549 additional calories on the days after their sleep was cut short compared to when they got their normal rest. Without compensating through additional exercise, this could add an extra pound to their weight in less than a week. It’s interesting that there appears to be two epidemics currently occurring in North America – obesity and sleep-deprivation.

There are plenty of studies that show a relationship between sleep and eating habits. Lack of sleep robs us of self-control and the brain regions required for complex judgments, and decisions become blunted. One study of 13,284 teenagers found that those who slept poorly also made poor decisions.

On the positive side, you can view good sleep habits as a way of controlling your weight and getting the proper amount of sleep at the same time. It’s certainly a lot less painful than most diet programs. As an example, consider the study conducted at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. 32 students kept diaries of how much sleep they got and which foods they ate over a 3-week period. The first week they ate and slept as they usually did; but on the second week they slept an extra two hours a day.

The third week they went back to their normal routine. The students who got an extra two hours of sleep during week two ate nearly 300 calories a day less than in week one. When they returned to their normal sleep-deprived routine, they once again ate more food.

And weight gain isn’t the only consequence of inadequate sleep. John Medina, in his book Brain Rules (2008) has a whole chapter devoted to sleep. He emphasizes that loss of sleep affects learning as well as cognitive skills. He described a study of soldiers operating complex military hardware. A loss of one night’s sleep resulted in a 30% loss of cognitive skill and a corresponding drop in performance.

Don’t sacrifice sleep in order to get more things done. That’s when the new things you have learned are being processed and memories are being organized and stored. Sleepless brains don’t perform well. If you don’t get enough sleep, you become dysfunctional.

Just as the old example of pausing to sharpen the axe will allow you to cut more logs in less time, so will taking time to sleep properly increase your personal productivity.

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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

 

 

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Negative Effects of Stress – and how to reduce them

Negative effects of stress

Although stress can help us in times where extra strength or speed is needed we now live in a society where we are confronted with too much stress. Because of this we also now see the negative effects of stress on both our emotional and physical lives.

Stress can induce the release of cortisol, and excess cortisol impairs function in the prefrontal cortex – an emotional learning center that helps regulate the “executive skills,” including working memory. The overproduction of cortisol was found in seniors who were experiencing memory loss. And it is believed by many neurologists that memory loss experienced by seniors is largely a factor of stress, not age. Prolonged exposure to cortisol has also been shown to shrink the hippocampus by up to 14 percent.

An article in the September, 2014 issue of the Reader’s Digest (A new way of thinking by Philip Preille) reported that a few years ago a major U.S. study confirmed previous findings that high levels of cortisol, when produced for too long, impair mental retention. The alleviating factor is face-to-face contact with others. All evidence reports to social activities – anything from bridge clubs to evening classes, particularly volunteerism – to relieving stress and improving memory. Seniors who double up on their volunteering activities live up to 44% longer than non-volunteers.

Chronic stress kills brain cells and effects memory, so a hassle-free life is a healthier life. In stressful situations, your weakest executive 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. You should re-examine your workload. Simplify if possible. Delegate and outsource. Pace yourself. Too much exertion without breaks taxes the executive skills, including working memory. 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)

Available for Kindle

Although drinking too much coffee has been associated with stress, in moderation it seems to give memory a boost. A brief article in the spring, 2014 issue of Health magazine describes a link between caffeine and memory. Michael Yassa of John Hopkins University asked 60 people to view a series of images of different objects. Then, five minutes later, after receiving either a placebo or 200 milligrams of caffeine, were tested the next day on their ability to recognize images from the day before. More people from the caffeine group recognized that an image was similar to rather than identical with one they had viewed earlier. Separate research published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition also showed that one or two cups of tea a day can boost brain power and athletic performance. This held true for children as well.

Finally, don’t take yourself too seriously. Laughter reduces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, aids immunity, changes mood for the better, helps you think – and improves memory. Sandra Kornblatt, in her book A better brain at any age, also gave an account of how humor during instruction led to increased test scores.

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How our memory works

Memory ImageA simple way of explaining how our memory works  is that we possess two separate memory systems – short-term memory or working memory, and long-term memory. Paying attention and hearing the information properly is usually enough to get it into our short-term memory, and we have no trouble repeating a name when we are first introduced. But unless we make a conscious effort to transfer it to long-term storage, the memory of it soon disappears. That’s why I suggest you repeat the name out loud during introductions, say it silently to yourself several times, and write it down and review it later.

Now assuming you get the information into long term storage you may still have a problem recalling the information at a later date. Just how much of a problem depends on how effectively we memorized the information in the first place and how many handles we have provided in order to pull the information out of our memory bank. The more you know about a person you meet, the more handles you provide. Our mind works through association. The more things you associate with the person’s name, such as the name of his wife, where he works, the type of food he likes, his hobbies, education etc. etc., the more handles you provide. Later when you’re trying to recall the person’s name you can think about the place you met, who introduced you, and the dozen other things that are all connected to his name, and eventually one of these facts will stimulate the recall of his name from long-term memory. Two things experienced together will become associated with each other in our mind.

Perhaps this may be a generalization, but I think women have a better memory for names then men for this reason. They seem to be more genuinely interested in other people. I know when I talk to someone, I don’t ask many questions. I talk about the weather and sports and news stories, but little about the personal life of the individual. But if you had left my wife with someone for five minutes she would know the person’s background, family situation, likes, and dislikes and what she had for dinner the night before.

Available for Kindle

According to Elaine Biech, author of Training for dummies, about 70% of Western culture is a visual-learning culture. This means that while you should involve as many senses as possible when learning new material, the emphasis should be on the visual. You are a big part of the learning process, so don’t simply sit and absorb. Your enthusiasm and physical movement also contribute to the learning process.

Learning that takes place through the senses, according to Biech’s book, is; taste, 1%, touch, 1.5%, scent, 3.5%, aural, 11% and visual, 83%. Research conducted by 3M showed that we process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Our brain can detect images simultaneously but language and text are decoded in a linear, sequential way – taking more time to process. Our brains are wired to respond differently to visuals than to text.

We tend to be good at forgetting non-essentials and instead remember the information we think about often or that has emotional significance to us. According to Ernest Hartmann, professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, mulling over important thoughts activates our dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain region that facilitates memory. The more impressive, vivid and emotional your thought, the more likely you are to remember it.

The above fact will be used when I cover the association method that can be used to remember almost everything. The more you participate physically, mentally and emotionally while memorizing, the easier you will be able to recall the information later. A brain scan study reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience showed that even making gestures as you’re listening heightens activity in the brain’s memory center, activating other cells that wouldn’t normally be involved. It was found that even touching your ear or chin as you learn a new phone number and then touching it again when trying to recall it will activate the additional neural circuits that give you an advantage in recall.

When you recall an event again and again, the first recall will be the most accurate one. It’s more like putting a puzzle together rather than replaying a video. Memories are rebuilt every time that they are accessed and influenced by more recent experiences.

After the 9/11 attacks, for example, psychologists surveyed several hundred subjects about their memories of that day. They then repeated the surveys of the same people one year later. 37% of the details had changed. By 2004, that number was 50%. They had no idea their memories had changed that much.

In my book, Boosting your memory & sharpen your mind, I suggest how you can memorize information so that recall is easy, and a lot more accurate. It’s available for Kindle on Amazon

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Memory is Important for Good Time Management

Memory is important for good time managementJust as time management is vital to the effectiveness of managers, administrators, students, and others, so organizing your mind, memory and recall are equally vital to our personal productivity and success. Memory is important for good time management on many levels. Time wasters such as forgetting vital information at a meeting, having to constantly refer to the same memo or email and having important assignments slip through the cracks can be just as counterproductive as constant interruptions, rush jobs, or changing priorities.

Organizing your thoughts is just as important as organizing your desk. Just as searching your desk and files for lost information can waste an hour or more per day, so can searching your memory for data you thought would be on the tip of your tongue. You must manage mental time as well as external time.

How important is memory? How about this headline from the May 23, 2011 edition of the Toronto Star newspaper: “Toddler dies after being forgotten in hot car.” The reason suggested by the wife of the father who had forgotten to drop off the child at day care on the way to work: “He was distracted while juggling many responsibilities.” And I have read of at least a half-dozen other similar cases in the past few years.

Available for Kindle

Working memory (short-term memory) is critical for keeping information in the mind until you are ready to do something with it. But the brain can only juggle so much information without losing some of it. The prefrontal cortex has its limitations. As David Rock, author of Your brain at work expresses it, “If the processing resources for holding thoughts in mind were equivalent to the value of the coins in your pocket right now, the processing power of the rest of the brain would be roughly equivalent to the entire U.S. economy.”

Studies of pilot errors in fatal airline crashes indicate that problems are rarely due to the pilot not knowing what to do or when do it, but more often due to failures in resuming a task after being interrupted. This is an example of weak working memory.

Thankfully, the results of forgetting are not all tragic. But one scientist, Dr. Zach Hambrick of Michigan State, believes that an individual’s working memory is the deciding factor in determining whether a person is good or great. He found that those with greater working memory capacity outperformed those with lower levels – including those with extensive experience and knowledge of the task being performed.

Available for Kindle

Dr. Hambrick is not the only scientist who thinks there is a link between working memory and general cognitive performance. Some researchers believe it is at the very root of intelligence. Strengthening your working memory ability is important, and neuroscientists feel that it can be strengthened. An article in the May 5, 2011 Toronto Globe and Mail titled “The brain can juggle only so much” by Mark Fenske, co-author of The winner’s brain, claims that practice can improve working memory. He illustrated this by using a computer-based task that requires information to be held in mind while updating it or comparing it to newly presented information. Not only did those involved in the training improve in working memory, but also in concentration and reasoning ability.

Multitasking puts a strain on working memory since it requires you to bring back important pieces of information for each task as you switch back and forth between them. If you do have to switch tasks suddenly, such as attending to an important interruption, take a few seconds to jot down what still needs to be done before moving to the new task.

You can compensate for the distractions of the digital age of speed, increase your ability to quickly memorize and recall information – in addition to exercising the brain. Techniques than can help you do this are covered in my recent book, Boost your memory & sharpen your mind. Check it out.

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We Should Limit our Use of Technology

Holistic Time Management

The Shallows - Nicholas CarrTechnology is a beautiful and wondrous thing. We can shop online, do online banking, send electronic greetings to our family and friends, download music, watch movies on our laptops, dictate to our computers using voice-activated software, and read electronic books on portable handheld devices — among hundreds of other things, most of which were unavailable in our grandparents’ lifetime.

I see nothing wrong with reading e-books or performing any of the above activities with the aid of technology. But we should limit our use of technology. What will happen to us if we stop reading altogether and remain cocooned in our homes, infrequently meet personally with friends and relatives, and spend more time watching movies than interacting with our children.

Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows: what the Internet is doing to our brains, claims he has noticed changes in his own reading. He loses concentration after a page or two, becomes fidgety, loses track of the story line and looks for something else to do.

Available for Kindle

The ability to focus is one of the most critical brain functions according to Barbara Strauch, author of The secret life of the grown-up brain. And this ability depends on the strength of our executive skills, which are currently under attack by the unrelenting impact of both technology and our fast-paced lifestyle.

Multitasking taxes the brain, and gets progressively worse as we age. Have you ever been distracted by a telephone call only to forget what you were going to do before the distraction? The other morning I found myself brushing my teeth with after-shave lotion! (But others might attribute this to senility.) Research indicates you can have several motor programs running simultaneously, such as steering a car, chewing gum and reaching for a cell phone; but you can only focus your conscious attention on one thing according to Shelley Carson, author of Your creative brain, because your brain thinks sequentially.

Available for Kindle

Our lifestyle seems to be changing to one of constant rushing to get more things done, and researchers studying people’s behavior at traffic lights have spotted people combing their hair, applying makeup, eating breakfast cereal, reading newspapers, talking on cell phones and even using laptops. To quote Barton Sparagon of the Meyer Friedman Institute in San Francisco, “Hurrying is a struggle against time — and that’s unhealthy.” And Faith popcorn, author of The popcorn report, claims “Speed-eating has developed into a fine art.”

Cramming more activities into a day causes stress, and stress causes sleeplessness, and lack of sleep causes impatience and the ability to concentrate (among the other ailments mentioned in my brief book, Sleep: a time management strategy.. It’s a vicious circle. Is technology to blame? No, we are to blame. We have allowed technology to manage us rather than the other way around.

Controlling technology and taking action to strengthen our brain-based executive skills, we can not only cope with the rapid increase in technology, information and speed, we can increase our productivity and our ability to manage our time and our lives as well.