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Improving performance with office greenery.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next blog article: Can colours actually improve your performance?

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Wisdom does not devalue with time


Never judge a book by its birthdate

 In one of my articles I mentioned my love of books and my tendency to hang onto them. I have been criticized more than once for citing time management reference books that were over ten years old – as though ideas had a “Best before” date. Let me refer you to a few “old” ideas that have just as much relevance today.

The oldest time management book in my now dwindling library, How to live on 24 hours a day, was published in 1910. The author Arnold Bennett reminds us of an important fact of life that time can often be used to produce money; but money can never be used to produce time. Since we tend to waste or squander time, Bennett urges us to claim 90 minutes a day for at least 3 days per week, and to use that time for self-improvement. It’s hard to argue that such advice is outdated – for we have the same 24 hours a day in 2013 that Bennett had over 100 years ago

Skipping to 1947, and the book published that year, The Technique of Getting Things Done, author Donald Laird voiced the same opinion as most modern time management experts when it comes to tackling the unpleasant tasks first. “He does not dread the next task for the unpleasant task is behind him.” He also emphasized the importance of self-discipline in getting started on any task: “The beginning is the chief point of resistance in any task – this is when one’s full will power needs to be turned on.”

In his 1957 book, How to enjoy work & get more done, O.A. Battista made the observation that we are most likely to lose our health at the peak of our career when our future looks the brightest, prompting this warning “There are two major dangers about which you must always be vigilant because they are likely to be held against you: overwork & overweight.” Those two hazards are still in the news today, and one of the major concerns is that obesity is becoming an epidemic.

How outdated is Robert Updegraff’s 1958 book (All the time you need) where he decries the conventional approach of business people of reading their morning mail (now email) before taking up the important business of the day? To quote, “The freshest hour or two of the day is consumed in routine activities instead of with concerns which might mean much in accomplishment and purpose.”

Joseph Cooper, in his 1962 book, How to get more done in less time, addressing working environments and distractions, makes a statement that bests any year 2015 suggestions on how to be productive in a chaotic environment:” If you are highly motivated to get on with your work, it is amazing how much of the outside world you can shut out of your mind.” The relatively recent “Gorilla Experiments” described in the 2009 book by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, The Invisible Gorilla, proves beyond a doubt the truth in that statement.

Even the original version of my 1981 book, Making Time Work for You, contains ideas that cause me to think, “I don’t do that anymore. I should have a more structured “time policy.”

Never judge a book by its birthdate.


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Life is a trade-off


You can’t have everything; but you can have anything

It’s a life of trade-offs.  If you pay someone to cut the grass while you work late at the office, you’re trading one job for another.  If you’re paid overtime, you might come out ahead in the trade. If you pay someone to babysit the kids while you go on a business trip, you are again trading one activity for another. You may or may not come out ahead, depending on the frequency of the trades and how you value the two activities.

To barter effectively, you must be aware of your values. Don’t trade indiscriminately.  Determine what is important to you in life and prioritize those tasks or activities.  If something is important to you and you don’t have the time to spend on it, ask yourself what you could trade for it.  Is it really important to spend more time with the family? Perhaps you can trade money for it by taking a lower paid job with fewer hours.  Or trade recreation for it by giving up a few TV programs, computer games or time on the Internet.

Is it important to be physically fit?  Perhaps you can trade a few dinner meetings, some newspapers, a magazine or two for the time it takes to walk every morning.  Is money really important to you? Perhaps you can trade some personal time or travel time, or social activities for a part-time job.

It’s a life of trade-offs. You cannot create more time; there are only 24 hours in a day.  And it’s being completely used up already.  Sure, you can manage your time better, become more efficient, and do things faster.  But there’s a limit to how efficient you can become – even with the help of technology. The important thing to realize is that you have complete control over the use of your time.  It’s a case of sacrificing something of lesser value in order to spend the time on something more meaningful.

Time management experts will never be able to do it for you. You are the only expert there is when it comes to deciding what is important to you.  And you are the only one who really knows what it is you can give up. Sometimes the sacrifice doesn’t have to be too great. You might be able to give up shuffling papers, being indecisive, procrastinating, daydreaming and all those other timewasters that time management experts talk about.  But you’ll never eliminate them completely. And the amount of time you save may actually be negli­gible.

The real payoff is in the trade-offs.  Large chunks of time can be released by simply deciding that some things are not all that important when compared to those things that can be achieved or experienced in the same amount of time.

Want to write a book? Travel around the world? Become a lawyer, doctor or an expert in a specific discipline? Want to be president of your company? Fluent in two or three languages? A leader of your country? Want to be a successful entrepreneur? A super parent? Missionary? Prayer warrior? Million­aire? Decide what it is you really want. Then decide what you are willing to trade in order to get it.  You can’t have everything.

But you can have anything.