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Be smart when using your smartphone.

Years ago we were warned about the dangers of using a cell phone while driving. One recent article reported that about one quarter of car accidents in the U.S. are caused by texting and talking on the phone while driving.

Then it became obvious that the increase in screen use and digital technology in general was impacting our ability to focus. People were becoming more easily distracted, ADHD symptoms appeared to be increasing, some of us were becoming addicted to email and/or the Internet, and evidence seemed to suggest we are becoming less empathetic, more shallow in our thinking, and more open to health problems such as obesity and heart disease.

Soon there were indications of physical problems emerging as a result of overuse of digital technology as well. The first of these to become evident was carpal tunnel syndrome and many of us have already made adjustments with the way we use our mouse, position the hand, and support our wrist.

But research published by Kenneth Hansraj in the National Library of Medicine, and reported in the Toronto Star, November 24, 2014, indicates that bending your neck over a smart phone for hours a day could lead to early wear and tear on the spine, degeneration and even surgery. And smartphone users spend an average of 2 to 4 hours a day hunched over, reading e-mails, sending texts or checking the social media sites.  

Known as text neck, this problem is caused by an increase in the weight of the head as it bends forward. The average human head weighs between 10 and 12 pounds, according to an article by Adam Popescu in the January 25, 2018 issue of the New York Times. The weight on the cervical spine varies from 27 pounds at a 15° angle to 60 pounds at a 60° angle according to Kenneth Hanrai’s research mentioned earlier.

Since posture is known to affect mood, behavior, personal energy and memory in addition to the physiological impact mentioned above, the way we are tethered to our smartphones can cause even more problems.

Adam Popescu, introduces the antisocial aspect of smartphones in his article by asking us to observe how much time passes the next time we’re sitting among a group of friends before someone grabs their phone to look at it. This antisocial behavior is bound to negatively impact friendships as well as the effectiveness of communications. And yet, according to the Pew Research Center, 75% of Americans feel their use of a smartphone doesn’t impact their ability to pay attention in a group setting.

This denial is even more disturbing. I shudder to think of the negative impact this could have on important business meetings or family life.

We’re at the point where over half the world’s population owns a smartphone and the Internet has surpassed the 4 billion mark. And many of us are quick to adopt a new technology, regardless of its merit, for fear of being left behind.

It’s more important than ever that we control the use of our smartphone – or any other electronic device – so that it remains a useful tool to increase efficiency and does not become an addiction that negatively impacts our physical, emotional and mental well-being.

 

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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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5 Reasons a hardcopy paper day planner is better than an electronic one (iPad, iPhone, android, tablet, etc.)

paper-planner-vs-ipad

paper-planner-vs-ipad

Is an electronic planner as good as a paper planner?

In the age of the gadget there’s really no limit to what your device can do. And though it can do a lot there’s a lot it doesn’t do well. And that brings us to the title of this article – is your device a good planning tool? Here are 5 reasons how a paper planner is better than your device.

  1. Speed

  2. Bet you weren’t expecting that one!
    But think about it, I can flip my planner open to today’s date before you even get your device out of its case. Not to mention you have to turn it on, enter a password, find the app, launch it etc. And before you’ve done all this I have already scheduled my appointment and closed my planner. A paper planner is designed to do one thing, plan. And it does it very well! Which brings us to the next point…

  3. The best tool for the job

  4. You can use the handle of a screwdriver to bang in a nail, but why would you?
    When you open your planner it’s for one purpose only, to plan. You are either looking at the week and making mental assessments of what’s coming up, what’s important, what’s left to do or you are scheduling upcoming events and tasks. The short story, you’re planning. When you turn on your device you are bombarded with distractions, email notifications, Facebook alerts and a hundred other possible ways to get lost in the digital abyss. One false move and you are lost for an hour falling further and further down the rabbit hole! If you want to bang in a nail, use a hammer!

  5. Field of Vision

  6. Seeing a plan in full gives you a clear idea of how you will get from A to B.
    Have you ever Googled an address and clicked on the map only to be shown the exact location as an intersection on a map?! You then spend the next few seconds zooming out and out and out… ah that’s where it is! When you look at a planner on a device (and I don’t care if it’s a 6.6 x 9.4 inch iPad screen) you never seem to get the whole picture. You’re always swiping, pinching and scrolling to try and get the best view. Not so with a paper planner. You open it, and you have a complete view of your week complete with your tasks, priorities and schedule. A good paper planner will open up to the equivalent of a 15” computer monitor!

  7. Memory

  8. A good memory is more effective than a bad one!
    It’s well accepted and backed by research that writing things down helps commit them to memory. And being able to mentally envision your schedule and tasks helps keep them in mind. You may argue that typing them into a device achieves the same thing; but in fact this is not true. Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA studied college students in classrooms where some used laptops and others traditional notebooks for taking class notes, and guess what they discovered? Yep, the note-takers scored higher on the test, understood and recalled more.

  9. Custom fit

  10. Planning is 90% personality
    Although every planner comes off the printing press identical the similarities stop when it reaches your hand. The way you use sticky notes and color coding, the highlighting and personal notes all reflect you and you as an individual. Your planner becomes a creative footprint of who you are as a person and how you plan to get where you’re going – your way. And the best planning system is one that you adapt yourself to work for you. A paper planner gives you the flexibility to mold it into your own personal planning system without the limitations of some app programmed by computer experts rather than designed by planning professionals.

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Work: not a place to go to, but a state of mind

work-state-of-mind

work-state-of-mind

Are we witnessing the end of personal time?

We have become a mobile society with fewer people working in 9 to 5 offices, and many people working at home, on the road or sharing a desk with others. One of my past clients consisted of case managers who seldom visited a centralized office. They were all equipped with laptops and did their administrative work onsite at their client’s place, in their cars or at home.

Even those who work in offices have blurred starting and ending times. Nearly a third of all employees in the U.S. work on a flexible schedule and have at least some say in when their work begins and ends according to the book, The Secret Pulse of Time, by Stefan Klein. The Families and Work Institute reported that over 40% of workers are able to select their start and quit times within a range of core operating hours set by employers. And according to the Department of Labor, nearly 29 million employees start their workday between 4:30 a.m. and 7:29 a.m.

A documentary on TV indicated that women created the demand for workplace flexibility, but men have now joined them full force. Some companies are changing the way they do business both to accommodate demands for a satisfying work/life balance, and to handle the shrinking talent pool as baby boomers retire. The challenge has been to abolish the time clock, yet increase productivity. Other factors have influenced the trend towards a more flexible workweek, including the increase in morning traffic, customer demands, working parents, family priorities and of course the electronic wireless communication devices, laptops and other portable office equipment.

The number of people who work at home is increasing. According to one website, an estimated 23.5 million employed Americans worked from home during business hours at least one day per month. Work is no longer a place where you go to get things done. It could be your kitchen, a library, your car or even a coffee shop. Coffee shops are opening earlier. Many are equipped with wireless Internet. Cars are more conducive to eating on the run with specialty stores sell modular work stations that fit in the passenger seat.

There are some advantages of the increase in work flexibility for both employees and employers. For someone with child care or elder care needs, for instance, it can be helpful. Employers get more of the day and week covered to meet client demands.

And there are some advantages to working at home, in the car or at a coffee shop. In many cases there is less clutter, and no memorabilia such as trophies or family photographs to distract you. There are usually fewer interruptions, no water cooler gossip or morning sports updates. No bottlenecks at working stations, copiers or in the boardroom.

But with today’s technology, you are connected 24 hours a day, tethered to a smartphone or other electronic device, and able to send and receive text messages as you move from one location to the other. And for many people, their handheld devices are no farther away than the bedside table as they sleep at night.

We don’t know how digital technologies are affecting our brains; but we do know that they can become addictive, interfere with our personal relationships, and in some cases affect our health and well-being. Susan Greenfield, in her 2015 book, Mind Change: How digital technologies are leaving their mark on our brains, indicates that technologies have their price.

It would be wise to keep up to date on the possible harm, as well of the benefits of this digital age of speed – and to wade carefully into the waters of technology without becoming fully immersed.

 

 

 

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The single most effective strategy for managing email

Email management strategies

Email management strategies

Is it the end of personal time?

The single most effective strategy for handling email is to control it and not allow it to control you. Personal life coach Valorie Burton, author of How Did I Get So Busy (Broadway Books, 2007) relates the story of a woman who sleeps with her BlackBerry. Her reason? If she gets an idea in the middle of the night, she can email it before she forgets.

That’s not such an uncommon story. Stefan Klein, in his book The Secret Pulse of Time (Marlowe & Company, 2007) talks about the constant stream of emails that prevent us from finishing our projects. He cites an AOL study that indicated people are addicted to email. Three quarters of all Americans spend more than an hour a day on it. 41% of those questioned retrieve their email first thing in the morning even before brushing their teeth – and almost as many admit to getting out of bed at night to check their email. 4% even read their email on their laptops while seated on the toilet!

One of my own clients told me that he was proud of the fact that he could reach any of his managers at any time – even if it were midnight Sunday – because the company had issued BlackBerrys to all the managers.

Valorie Burton referred to a Wall Street Journal article titles “BlackBerry Orphans” that discussed how these gadgets intrude on families and how children are feeling neglected.

Email is one of the reasons that work is no longer a place but a state of mind. It’s also one of the culprits in an out-of-balance life. And it contributes to the number one time problem as we will soon see as well.

It’s not email itself, but our lack of control. People check it from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night. That is, if they don’t sleep with it! And it frequently takes them on tangents, checking recommended websites, reading attachments, responding to queries and keeping them from working on their priority projects. Some people even have bells and whistles that tell them another email has arrived so they won’t miss another distraction.

If you want to gain control, set up a time and a procedure for handling email. Don’t allow it to control your day. You might check email twice per day, for instance – more frequently if your company’s success depends on a quick response to emails. Checking your email every ten minutes or so is both costly and time consuming.

Timothy Ferriss, author of the book, The 4-Hour Workweek, published in 2007 by Crown Publishing, 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.

It’s not generally a good idea to check email first thing in the morning. You could easily get distracted from your plan. Make sure you get your top priority done first. We recommend you schedule one or more priority tasks each morning and not check your email until about 11:30. You could check it again about 3:30 in the afternoon. You might want to turn off the automatic send/receive option so that email doesn’t pop up in your inbox the moment you sign on. Email programs seem to be designed to control us rather than the other way around.

I encourage everyone to at least give it a try. Check your email twice per day for at least a couple of days and then assess the impact on your business. I’m sure most people have experienced a computer crash or an Internet access problem or a vacation when accessing email was impossible, and yet have survived the experience with no earth-shattering problems.

When you do check your email, make sure that you have enough time to dispense with all the email messages in your inbox. You might want to allow a half hour for instance every time you check your email. Either delete it, forward it to someone else for reply, file it, answer it, move it to an action file or To Do list, or (if it warrants it) schedule time in your planner to take the necessary action before replying. It’s a similar process you would use with paper. Handle it only once where possible and never leave it in the inbox.

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Remove the filters and have a clear view of life

lens-filters

lens-filters

After my cataract surgery I saw things more clearly. At least I thought I did. But it was only from the perspective of clearly viewing objects like road signs and eye charts. Those things weren’t fuzzy anymore.

Many of us have fuzzy thinking or reasoning or decision-making because our reality is seen through filters as murky as cataracts, remove the filters and have a clear view of life. For example, if someone tells you a certain restaurant is terrible – with poor service and tasteless food – the comment tends to influence your own experience at that restaurant. You view your own experience through the filter of another person’s judgment.

Similarly, you may hear part truths from others when you receive news secondhand, distortions of the facts when someone passes on information from the Internet, or when you receive someone else’s interpretation of an event they may have witnessed.

Filters can be formed by other people, your own past experiences, impressions formed in childhood, the environment, the media or whatever. But we owe it to ourselves to see life as clearly as possible.

This involves accepting the comments of others as their opinions; but finding out for yourself whether that restaurant is really so bad or whether a person is actually conceited or if the information from Wikipedia was reported accurately.

Of course, many things have to be accepted at face value. For instance, you’re not going to return to a burning house to confirm that the gas tank is really about to explode.

But where people’s reputations or character are at stake, your own decisions about to be affected, relationships in peril or your own reputation threatened, you will want to do the research yourself by viewing situations with your own eyes and not simply filtered through the eyes of others.

In cases where you cannot check the veracity of something you read, at least check the original source. If you are a trainer or speaker or consultant or writer, and other people rely on the information you pass along, it is particularly important to check your sources.

I have been guilty in the past of passing along erroneous information simply because it appeared in an article or book or newsletter. For example, the infamous Yale study that supposedly showed that written goals vastly increased earnings, the research attributed to Maxwell Maltz that indicated it takes 21 days to form a habit, and the faulty interpretation of Mehrabian’s work on the importance words, facial expressions and the way words are spoken when communicating.

As technology and research methods become more sophisticated, older research findings may be proven inaccurate or incomplete. We have no control over that. But we do have control over reporting facts as they are, and not as others may see them.

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Where are you focusing your attention?

Multitasking

Multitasking

Can technology actually waste time?

Regardless of what people may say about their priorities and what they value most, it is where they focus their attention that reveals whether they are really ‘walking their talk.’

Whether inadvertently or not, the Internet and social media such as Twitter and Facebook may be consuming their lives, where are you focusing your attention? Their so-called priorities, goals and dreams are being put on hold to a time in the future that may never materialize.

As Marshall McLuhan warned us in the 1960s, the medium is the message. We may have started sending tweets or posting to Facebook or writing a blog with an end result in mind – whether it were to promote a seminar, sell product, or whatever. But we soon became captivated by the medium, and feel compelled to continue daily or weekly tweets or posts for the sake of tweeting and posting – with no particular objective in mind.

We may have originally used technology to save time; but over the years it has become a time consumer – with insufficient value from much of it to warrant such an expensive input of time and energy.

Time is life – and a life well lived does not necessarily include a large portion of it being dedicated to surfing the net, accessing YouTube videos, posting tweets and providing Facebook friends with play-by-play updates of our every move.

Social media, like TV or anything else, is fine in moderation. So spending an hour a day online is probably not excessive – especially when it includes useful information that will be put to good use. And TV is great for news and entertainment.

But five hours a day watching TV is a little much, and even 40 minutes a day of social media may be excessive – especially since it reduces the time and energy available for real, live, human interaction.