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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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Managing your brain, part 5.

Procrastinating brain

Reducing procrastination requires help from your brain

When we think of procrastination, we visualize someone rushing like crazy to get things done on time – risking mistakes, getting less than satisfactory results, and suffering undue stress and discomfort. But rushing to meet deadlines after delaying your start time is not the worst scenario. A much worse outcome results from delaying tasks that have no deadlines.

Leaving things to the last minute causes stress for sure; but it’s usually dissipated quite harmlessly when you eventually complete the task on time. And unfortunately many people even leave things until the last minute intentionally, thinking they work faster and better with an adrenaline rush, which simply isn’t true.

But the biggest problem occurs when there is no last minute. For instance, you may have life goals with no deadlines. You may want to write a book when you get time, or take a trip to Europe or revise your business brochure, organize your office and so on. If there are no deadlines, it doesn’t matter when you start – and quite often you never do. In this scenario the costs are horrendous – in terms of unfulfilled dreams, low self-esteem, a lack-luster life, and so on.

Recommendations abound on how to stop procrastinating, such as setting deadlines on all tasks, breaking the longer tasks into smaller increments, scheduling time for the tasks in your planner, setting reminder alarms on your iPhone, and working in a clutter-free environment. All are helpful; especially for those of us who have weak executive skills such as task initiation and response inhibition. These skills are required in order to avoid procrastination.

Children are especially prone to procrastination because their weak executive skills – those brain-based skills that mainly reside in the prefrontal cortex, take about twenty years to fully develop. The marshmallow experiments demonstrated this back in the sixties. A group of four-year olds were given a marshmallow and promised another if they could wait 20 minutes before eating the first one. Some children could wait but most could not. The researchers then followed the progress of each child into adolescence, and demonstrated that those with the greater ability to wait were better adjusted and more dependable and scored an average of 210 points higher on a scholastic aptitude test. Those who gave into temptation early on were more likely to be lonely, easily frustrated and stubborn. They didn’t cope well with stress and stayed clear of challenges. Yale University later conducted research on adults and found similar results.

The executive skills that are needed in order to wait for the greater reward include task initiation and response inhibition. It may explain why we tend to procrastinate on distasteful or overwhelming tasks and work instead on those brief and pleasant tasks, even though they may be less important. When we procrastinate, we are frequently putting off what we want most in order to get what we want at the moment.

But how were some of the few four-year-olds, who all had weak executive skills (since these skills were not yet fully developed) able to resist temptation and wait for the second marshmallow? Well, in examining the tapes many years later, researchers noticed that those children used strategies that allowed them to resist temptation – strategies that we could use ourselves in order to manage ourselves more effectively.  They all changed their environment in some way to offset their natural inclination to devour the marshmallow right away. Some put the marshmallow out of sight by sitting under the table or by facing away from the marshmallow. Others sang a song or hummed a tune, focusing their attention on something other than the marshmallow. They did something to avoid having to face the temptation.

So the suggestions normally given, such as reducing distractions and temptations by turning off your cell phone while working on a project, removing distracting photos or memorabilia and working for shorter periods of time before taking a break tend to compensate somewhat for weak executive skills.

But as adults, to be most effective in getting things done promptly and on time, we must maintain strong executive skills. And this includes continually exercising both physically and mentally, maintaining a healthy diet, getting adequate sleep, and balancing high-tech with high-touch, all of which are discussed in more detail in my ebook, Strengthen your brain’s executive skills, published by Bookboon.com.

Self-discipline is the rejection of instant gratification in favor of something better – a higher and more rewarding goal. Once you have written down your goals and blocked off times in your planner to work on them, you have a greater reason to resist the temptation to go wherever your impulses take you. The more you resist temptation, the easier it becomes.

Walter Mischel, in his book, The Marshmallow Test, suggests there is a limit to how much self-control we can exert before fatigue takes over, so don’t overwhelm yourself with too many goals. It took about 20 years for your executive skills to develop so it will take more than a few weeks to strengthen them.

Avoid goals that don’t excite you or you will be more vulnerable to digital distractions and the lack of mindfulness. Telling other people about your specific goals and making commitments rather than just voicing intentions have been known to help as well.

In my next blog I will discuss how to develop greater willpower.

Note: Books referenced in this article:

Mischel, Walter. The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-control. Little, Brown, 2014. Print.

Taylor, Harold. Strengthen your brain’s executive skills: Denmark: Bookboon.com, 2016

 

 

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Managing your brain, part 4

Biological clock

Tell your brain what you want.

How do you develop a positive attitude? Feed your brain positive information. Studies in neuroscience prove that we can change our brains just by thinking. One example is the placebo effect. It’s not the sugar pill or saline solution that does the healing; it your belief that it will cure you that actually prompts the healing.

According to Joe Dispenza, in his book, Evolve your brain, “what we think about, and where we focus our attention is what we neurologically become.”

Your brain already has fixed beliefs and habits formed over a lifetime of experiences and environmental influences. If the result is negativity, you can change this by managing your brain. If “you” were your brain, this would be impossible since you would already have your “mind” made up.

But as mentioned in a previous article, you are not your brain. You are “the mind within the brain,” as the title of A. David Redish’s book suggests. “You,” (including your consciousness) are your mind. It resides within the prefrontal cortex of the brain according to Joe Dispenza, and whether it is without substance (perhaps being energy) is yet to be determined.

But one thing is certain. You are able, through focused thought, to change the neurological make up of your brain and make physiological changes to your body.

The key is focused thinking. That’s why meditation helps. Joe Dispenza, in in his book, You are the placebo, mentions that the most difficult part of mentally healing his six broken vertebrae was a continual loss of attention. He believes we spend too much attention and energy thinking about what we don’t want, instead of what we do want.

So when you feed your brain with those positive thoughts mentioned in my last blog article (part 3 of this series) accept the fact that it may be difficult concentrating on what you want; but you will become more focused with practice.

Not only can your mind influence your brain and your brain influence your body, your body can influence your brain as well. Sian Beilock, in her book, How the body knows it’s mind, explains how Botox injected into frown wrinkles can help cure depression. It not only eliminates the frown lines, but also the ability to frown. Botox contains a neurotoxin that paralyzes muscles in which it is injected. Physicians believe that not being able to express negative emotions reduces negative feelings.

We have probably all experienced a situation where our mood was changed when forced to laugh. It’s hard to be angry when you’re smiling. And it has been shown that smiling while immersing your hand in ice water reduces the stress and lessens the pain.

There is a definite connection between body and brain that we can use to alter our mood, attitude and behaviour. This will in turn impact our time, our health, and our lives.

Note: books referenced in this article include:

Beilock, Sian. How the Body Knows Its Mind: The Surprising Power of the Physical Environment to Influence How You Think and Feel. New York: Atria, 2015. Print.

Dispenza, Joe. You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2014. Print.

Dispenza, Joe. Evolve Your Brain: The Science of Changing Your Mind. Dearfield, FL: Health Communications, 2007. Print.

Redish, A. David. The Mind within the Brain: How We Make Decisions and How Those Decisions Go Wrong. New York: Oxford UP, 2013. Print.

 

 

 

 

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Managing your brain, part 1

Manage your brain

Brain research provides the missing link to effective management.

Effective management over the years has involved managing people, managing time, managing energy, managing stress and managing technology. I have studied and written books and articles on all of these topics.

But now that we are learning more and more about the workings of our brains from the researchers, neurologists, physicians and surgeons, we realize that to be truly effective at work and life we must also manage our brains. Such behaviors as procrastination, perfectionism, impulsiveness and lack of concentration all originate in our brain. So we must be able to train our brains in order to succeed.

Dr. Theo Tsaousides, in his book, Brain blocks: overcoming the seven barriers to success, claims that how we think and what we do starts and ends in the brain. The brain is the most sophisticated computer in the world, preprogrammed to look after our basic needs automatically – from our body temperature and breathing to digestion and sleeping. But we can also add our own programs – anything from self-discipline and focus to flexibility and persistence.

Dr. Mike Dow, in his book, The brain fog fix, claims that bad dietary and lifestyle habits are disrupting our brain chemistry and increasing the risk of dementia and obesity. The brain also needs adequate sleep, exercise and downtime in order to function efficiently and remain healthy. So brain maintenance is a basic requirement before even attempting to manage it. But manage it we can if we accept the fact that the conscious mind cannot only control how we think and behave, but even instruct our genes to behave in new ways.

If you have doubts, read the books, You are the placebo, by Joe Dispenza, and The brain’s way of healing, by Norman Doidge. There are plenty of examples of people who completely healed themselves without the use of medication and performed other feats using the power of their minds. If you can heal yourself, you certainly are able to increase your focus, resist impulsiveness, ignore distractions and break bad habits.

In future blogs I will offer more specific suggestions on how you might do this. In the meantime, here are a few books I recommend that you read.

Bowden, Mark. Tame the Primitive Brain: 28 Ways in 28 Days to Manage the Most Impulsive Behaviors at Work. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2013. Print.

Dispenza, Joe. You Are the Placebo: Making Your Mind Matter. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, 2014. Print.

Doidge, Norman. The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity. New York: Viking, 2015. Print.

Dow, Mike. Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim Your Focus, Memory, and Joy in Just 3 Weeks. S.l.: Hay House, 2016. Print.

Tsaousides, Theo. Brainblocks: Overcoming the 7 Hidden Barriers to Success. New York City: Prentice Hall, 2015. Print.