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Personal Productivity, Productivity & Lifestyle, Uncategorized

If You Want To Be Successful, You Can’t Be Too Busy To Exercise

“I’m too busy to exercise.”

It is the ultimate excuse. When you are are working crazy hours or running your own business, you’ve got a family to feed and places to go, exercise can easily slide to the back burner. The importance of exercise is pushed into our faces by online articles, social media, and our overachieving marathoning friends all the time. But we’ll need more than that to motivate us to throw our sneakers on and head to the gym.

Study after study about exercise have been conducted, each revealing greater benefits than the last. Some recent discoveries include (but are not limited to):

  • Decreased risk of alzheimers by 50%
  • Strengthened bones and muscles
  • Regulated appetite
  • Decreased risk of diabetes
  • Reduced risk and treatment for dementia
  • Decreased risk of heart disease
  • Decreased risk of stroke by 50%
  • Improved immune system
  • improved blood lipid profile

Apparently impending stroke and heart attack aren’t concrete enough to push the majority of us to the gym. While the benefits of exercise are well-known, a new government study estimates that 80% of Americans are not meeting recommended exercise goals each week. We all know that exercise is helpful, and yet the excuses continue to ring.

“I wish I could exercise, but I’m too busy.”

You may be too busy to exercise if all it means is living a happier, healthier, longer life. However, just remember that the benefits of exercise do not end with weight-loss and personal health.

The truth is, exercise is just as important to mental health and cognitive function as it is to health and physique. Without exercise, you cannot work at peak performance. In fact, so much research about the importance of exercise for productivity has been amassed in the last few years, that entrepreneur.com recently posted an article about how “Exercise isn’t just good for you. Your start up may depend on it.”

You see, exercise gets your blood flowing. Improved blood flow results in your body creating more blood vessels. More blood vessels can then penetrate deeper into tissues, increasing the speed of oxygen flow to the brain. The more oxygen you can get to your brain, the more efficiently your brain works.

John Medina makes a compelling argument for exercise in his book Brain Rules. He says that in over 18 studies of adults, exercisers out-performed couch potatoes in numerous tasks important to good business, such as long-term memory, problem-solving, abstract thinking, and reasoning. It turns out that exercise improves many of the skills you need to be successful.

Wouldn’t it make sense to make the time to exercise if it gives you more time to live and helps you to use your time more efficiently?

To summarize, this actonthis.tv infographic pulls together the link between fitness and career success:

Fitness-Career-Success-Infographic

Life Hacks, Personal Productivity, Productivity & Lifestyle, Uncategorized

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Essentialism

Author: Greg McKeown Publication date: 2014

Publisher: Crown Business

Length: 261

Rating: 5/5

As I pursue a life of maximum productivity, I’ve enjoyed reading as a way to decompress and learn from experts about how to make the most of my time.  One of the best books I’ve read about productivity so far, is Essentialism, by Greg McKeown.

Essentialism is more than just tips for being  productive. It offers a whole new outlook on life, work, and time management. McKeown’s premise is that being incredibly busy is not necessarily a good sign. In fact, a lot of the time we stay so busy doing nonessential stuff that we don’t have time for the things that are truly important to us.

Our current work culture tends to glorify those who seem able to handle a superhuman amount of work. However, just because someone is heading up three projects, starting a freelance business on the side, organizing a local running club, and volunteering as a little league coach doesn’t mean that said person is happy and productive. In fact, less could be more both for work and life. If we can learn to say no to the things that aren’t absolutely essential to us, we will have more time to focus on things that really matter. Essentialism is about doing less better.

One of my favorite parts of the book were the simple illustrations and charts inserted throughout the text. They broke up the pages and made the book fun and easy to read. Though the graphics were simple, the way he was able to represent his points visually was powerful.

essentialism

McKeown didn’t just study essentialism, while writing his book he practiced what he preached. A lot of business related books I read drag on way longer than they should. The actual juice could have been condensed into an 800 word blog post. It is frustrating to have to comb through a lot of unnecessary filler paragraphs to get to the value. Essentialism isn’t like that. I learned something new and was inspired afresh by each chapter and almost every paragraph.

Business, Personal Productivity, Productivity & Lifestyle, Work & Office

10 Things Thomas Edison Taught Us About Productivity

Earlier on the blog I talked about one of our most productive presidents, Thomas Jefferson, and what we can learn from his habits. I am still a firm believer in learning from history and past successes. So today I wanted to discuss possibly one of the most productive people of the 20th century, Thomas Edison.

Whether or not you like Edison as a person (his character and morality have been questioned more and more in recent years), you have to admit that the guy was incredibly productive. Edison received 1093 patents in his lifetime, an all-time record. What is even more amazing? Almost every single one of his patents are tied to commercial successes. Want a sampling of some of the industries Edison influenced? Well, he invented the phonograph and kick-started the recorded music industry which is now worth over 150 billion dollars. He created the company General Electric after inventing a marketable electric light. He experimented with batteries and portable energy. He also invented moving pictures and kick-started iron ore mining, telecommunications, office and copying technology, cement, and electrochemical therapy.

Thomas Edison

How in the world did Edison fit so much creativity and invention into one lifetime? Here are the top 10 principles that he followed:

1. Forget talent, genius is hard work

“Genius is hard work, stick-to-itiveness, and common sense.” – Thomas Edison

Edison claimed that he was not born particularly talented. He was a firm believer in hard work and perseverance. It was character traits and good habits that made him successful, not some sort of genius gene.

What if you just aren’t as creative as him? Edison also claimed that “invention is two percent inspiration and 98 percent perspiration.” Those who knew him claimed he had zero tolerance for lazy people. Never write yourself off because you aren’t as smart or creative as the great successes around you. All you need to be great is hard work.

“There is no substitute for hard work.” – Thomas Edison

2. Stay in touch with your customers

We all know Thomas Edison as America’s great inventor, but some don’t know that he was also a marketing guru. In 1869, Edison invented an electronic vote counter with the ability to greatly reduce the hassle and time it took to vote. To his astonishment, the counter turned out to be a huge flop. Why? Because legislatures didn’t want efficient voting. They wanted time for deliberation and lobbying. From that early failure, Edison realized that his inventions must fix his customer’s real problems, not the problems that he assumed they would have.

“Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success“. – Thomas Edison

He forced himself to refrain for inventing anything purely for the sake of inventing it. Instead, he went out and found real problems people were frustrated with and designed his inventions to solve those problems.

3. Don’t be afraid of naps

Thomas Edison boasted that he slept for only a few hours each night and could work for three days straight. However, his dirty secret lied in an unusual ability to take power naps. Edison was famous for napping anywhere and everywhere. He sometimes napped for up to three hours, multiple times a day! One of his assistants insisted that his “genius for sleep equaled his genius for invention.”

edisonsleeping1

edisonsleeping3

 

edisonsleeping2

This ability to power nap allowed him the flexibility to get into the zone and work for incredibly long periods of time. He could charge up on sleep whenever it was convenient or whenever he needed a creative boost.

“The best thinking has been done in solitude.” – Thomas Edison

4. Remember that failure is your friend

One of Edison’s biggest keys to success was his attitude toward failure. He saw failure as an opportunity to learn something and grow and was never discouraged by it.

“Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.” – Thomas Edison

5. Never give up

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is to try one more time.” – Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was the epitome of perseverance. He claimed to have tried thousands of different filaments before finding a cheap but reliable substance to use for his electric light bulbs.

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison

6. Take Notes

By writing your ideas and thoughts down on paper, you free your cognitive resources to stay focused on the task at hand. To date, five million pages of Edison’s notes have been found and preserved. He used notes for many different purposes. He kept organized files so that he would never have to do the same research twice. He also kept to-do lists and reminders to keep him on task. He also had messy notes filled with mixed up inventions, attempts at poetry and calligraphy, and the occasional new idea. It seems as if he almost used paper as a medium for better expressing the workings of his brain and finding new ways to synthesize ideas.

7. Challenge Assumptions

Thomas Edison endured all of twelve weeks of formal education in his life. Soon after he enrolled in school as a young child, his teacher complained that he was hyperactive and stupid. So Edison’s mother pulled him out and taught him herself at home.

Edison viewed his lack of formal education as a blessing. He said it helped him to be innovative, to challenge assumptions. When tackling a new invention, Edison tested wildly. He often tried (and occasionally succeeded in creating) things that scientists considered impossible.

8. Don’t work alone

One of Edison’s greatest inventions was the method he used to invent. He designed a dream laboratory and filled it with talented men, giving them the freedom to explore their own ideas. He built his space with huge open rooms where people could talk and work. There were no set hours, but all the men worked long and hard and seemed to enjoy it. It was, in a sense, the first research and development lab. Apple and Google both model their headquarters after Edison’s famous wizards park.

A lot of people compare Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. While Tesla was most certainly a brilliant inventor, he did not come near Edison in invention output over his life time. One of the key differences between them was that Tesla insisted on working alone, whereas Edison had the advantage of a team of guys helping him to get more done in less time.

9. Set expectations

Edison was a firm believer in to-do lists. Here is a peek at one he wrote in June of 1888,

thomas edison to do list

 

Cotton picker, new phonograph, electrical piano, that is just a sample from one of Edison’s crazy to do lists. It may seem overly ambitious, but that was just the first page of his list! He had four more pages with over 80 invention ideas scribbled down!

Edison had what he called an “Idea Quota” that required him to invent a minor invention every 10 days and a major invention every 6 months. He is a testament to what human beings are capable of if we don’t settle for low expectations.

“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” – Thomas Edison

It is also possible that his high expectations and specific deadlines were the pressure he needed to get creative juices flowing.

10. Do what you enjoy

“I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.” – Thomas Edison

Edison set high expectations for himself. His friends and family accused him of being a workaholic, and for good reason. However, he didn’t see it that way. He genuinely loved inventing. In fact, he claimed that he really didn’t work at all. He enjoyed everything that he did. So if you want to be successful, find something you are passionate about and pursue it with every ounce of strength in your being.

So you see…

Edison was a power house of creativity and invention. He accomplished an almost unbelievable number of projects in his lifetime. If there is such a thing as being too productive, Edison would be the perfect example. He was so focused on work that his family suffered much. He was not close to any of his children. In fact, one of his son’s used aliases all his life because he felt so disconnected from his father that he did not want to be associated with him.

Not only did Edison’s family suffer, but his employees were overworked, and not always given the credit due to them. Edison was so focused on success and invention, that he became overly competitive and sometimes resorted to shady deals and idea theft to get ahead.

While Edison isn’t a perfect role model (nobody is perfect), no one can deny that he knew a thing or two about getting things done. By taking his mantras and life lessons without his all overly extreme gusto, perhaps we can learn something and push ourselves forward to better productivity.

stress cartoon
Personal Productivity, Productivity & Lifestyle

10 Ways To Reduce Stress And Be More Productive

On Monday, I posted my review of Brain Rules by John Medina on Medium. Today I wanted to discuss one of his topics more in-depth: stress. Medina claims that our brains are designed for short bouts of stress. In fact, research seems to conclude that small amounts of moderate stress can improve performance (think cramming for an exam or preparing for a competition). However, chronic stress, long dull ever-present overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol, can be detrimental. Not only is stress annoying, new research seems to indicate that stress could be physically damaging your brain. The hippocampus is a part of your brain very much connected to learning and memory. It happens to be covered in cortisol sensors, so stress affects your learning a whole lot. According to John Medina, too much cortisol (main stress hormone) can disconnect neural transmitters, stop new neuron creation, and kill brain cells. All those changes can lead to loss of memory and concentration and weaker mathematical and language processing ability.

Also, brains under stress produce more of certain types of cells that you don’t want. Eventually all these changes affect sleep, immune response, and emotional ability. Which is why stress can lead to insomnia, depression and anxiety, and more frequent illness.

But I probably don’t need to quote science and research to convince you that stress is horrid and must be avoided at all costs. With lower cognitive performance and higher risks for all sorts of problems, how can you stay productive while you are stressed? The simple answer is that you can’t. I hope that seeing this research will inspire you to work out the stress factors in your life. To get started, here are ten simple things you can do to instantly reduce stress in your life:

1. Unsubscribe
Unsubscribing from unwanted email lists is an easy way to reduce stress. Every piece of spam is another small weight on your shoulders, and they add up fast. Somehow in life we get subscribed to all sorts of newsletters and mailing lists that we never want to read. Jayson Demers, writing for VentureBeat.com, decided it would reduce a ton of stress in his life if he didn’t have to worry about junk mail. He decided to spend a week unsubscribing from every unimportant email that came into his inbox. Here is what happened:

It was actually quite interesting; for a week, I woke up every morning, excited to check my email, and see what spam it contained, because that meant I could unsubscribe from more email lists. After about a week of unsubscribing to all the random lists my email address had somehow accumulated over the past several years, my inbox is now much more manageable, clean, and doesn’t get hit with new marketing emails once every few minutes throughout the course of my day.

reduce stress zone

2. Tune out
Social media can be a stress factor. From the feeling of having to keep up with all your healthy beautiful friends to the pressure of manicuring your own imagine online, sometimes social media can weigh you down. Set apart times to get away from the hubbub on the internet and relax in the present.

3. Play
Many successful men and women from history have had fantastic hobbies. Steve Jobs played the guitar and Warren Buffet plays the ukulele. Albert Einstein loved sailing while Ayn Rand collected stamps in her spare time. Be it knitting, baking, juggling, or kite-surfing, having a hobby to turn offers you an enjoyable way to decompress.

Hobbies can actually lead to healthy levels of eustress, a positive type of stress that keeps us feeling challenged and excited about life.

4. Cry
Don’t be afraid to cry it out when you need to. Emotional tears release stress hormones, manganese (a mineral linked to stress and anxiety), and other toxins. Basically, crying is like a therapy session for free.

5. Laugh
When the wise man said that laughter doeth good like a medicine, he wasn’t joking. In fact, he was being quite literal. Not only does laughter release stress hormones, it also relaxes muscles, improves blood flow, increases immune cells, and releases endorphins (feel-good hormones). When you are feeling stressed, sometimes the best thing you can do is watch a funny video or call-up your funniest friend.

6. Talk
Notice a theme here? Cry, laugh, talk? Stress is often caused by built up stress hormones caused by bottling up your emotions. If there are things that are bothering you, you need to get them out of your system. So find a trusted friend you can pour out to. Don’t hold it in.

7. Smell
Light a candle or start a mini herb garden on your desk. The part of your brain that helps deal with smell is closely connected to the part of your brain that handles emotions. Some studies seem to indicate that certain smells like lavender and green apple can help to relax your body and reduce stress and anxiety.

8. Move
It may sound cliché, but it is advised often because it works so well. Get off your chair and move! From leisurely walks to high-intensity interval training, almost every form of exercise is linked to stress relief. Movement releases endorphins and acts as a natural meditation technique (as you focus hard on your physical movement, you are forced to take a much-needed break from the worries of life).

9. Thank
Gratitude is now strongly linked to many positive things such as a stronger relationships, cardiovascular health, and less stress. Gratitude pulls you out of negative emotions and offers a fresh start. So don’t save counting your blessings for Thanksgiving Day. Consider starting a gratitude journal or challenge yourself to thank someone each day for something they do that you appreciate.

10. Relax
Don’t let your busy mind overwhelm you. I know, I know, you don’t have time to relax. But then again, you really don’t have time for all the time that stress wastes! Taking time to just close your eyes, get a massage, or listen to music could be beneficial to your productivity.

Your calm mind is the ultimate weapon against your challenges. So relax.
-Bryant McGill

Personal Productivity, Productivity & Lifestyle

10 Reasons why Multitasking is not your friend

In 2015, work projects, family activities, and everyday catastrophes can be overwhelming. Scratch that, life in general can be overwhelming. There is so much to do and so little time. Who can help you with that overwhelming to-do list? Who can help fit more than 24 hours in a day?

“I can!” A funny looking spirit raises his hand and jumps onto your shoulder. “I am multitasking, best friend to the information age!”

It is true, we live in a world in which multitasking seems to have replaced Labrador Retrievers as man’s best friend. With smart phones and internet, it has never been easier to get more than one thing done at a time.

“Think how much more you can fit in a day if you do two things at once!” Multitasking promises to be a salvation to overworked, overly stimulated 2015 humanoids.

Wait a minute! Don’t befriend that little spirit too fast. Multitasking may not be the faithful buddy you thought it was. Almost all friends have secrets, but researchers have been discovering some pretty dirty ones about multitasking. Here are 10 reasons why multitasking may not be a good friend after all:

1. Multitasking doesn’t exist

Recently scientists have been testing and retesting people’s ability to multitask. Turns out, your little buddy may have been a complete fraud all along. What we call multi-tasking isn’t multi-tasking at all. It is actually rapid task-switching.

Psychologists have determined that we cannot actually process two things at once. So when you are writing an email while talking on the phone, you aren’t processing both tasks at one time, instead you are rapidly switching cognitive resources from one task to another.

The research is in and the verdict is out—multitasking doesn’t really exist. Maybe we should save imaginary friends for our kindergarten children.

2. Multitasking wastes your time

So now that we have established that what we think is multi-tasking is actually just rapid task-switching, let’s look at the repercussions. In 2001, researchers Joshua Rubinstein, Jeffrey Evans, and David Meyer conducted studies to test the cost of “mental juggling.” They found that while our brain is fairly efficient at switching (it can take less than a tenth of a second), these wasted points of seconds add up rapidly (because as you “multitask” you are switching so often) and can cost you up to 40% productivity. It takes longer to complete two tasks at once than it does to get into the zone and finish one task at a time.

3. Multitasking encourages mistakes

Erik Altman, a psychologist at Michigan State University, decided to take a look at the effects of short-term distractions on the productivity of his students. He set 300 test subjects to complete basic tasks on the computer. He then distracted them with three-minute phone calls and other short and easy distractions. He found that:

Though the distractions took only three seconds and weren’t difficult tasks, students lost their places or made mistakes twice as often after those distractions as they did without interruptions.

The more you try to multi-task, the more mistakes you will make.

4. Multitasking stresses you out

Multitasking is a myth, an impossible task. And yet we are expected to do it all the time. How does your brain respond to impossible tasks? By releasing adrenaline and other stress-related hormones. These hormones may make you feel pumped or on edge for a little while, but they won’t make what is difficult any easier. Over time, this steady flow of stress hormones can become a hazard to your psychological health.

5. Multitasking steals your memories

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco decided to conduct studies to test the relationship between working memory (short term memory) and multitasking. They asked participants to study a picture of nature, but then abruptly switched to a different image for a few seconds. While their main task was to prove that your ability to refocus after being distracted diminishes with age, they also uncovered interesting relationships between working memory and distractions. One scientist, Adam Gazzaley, says:

The impact of distractions and interruptions reveals the fragility of working memory. This is an important fact to consider, given that we increasingly live in a more demanding, high-interference environment, with a dramatic increase in the accessibility and variety of electronic media and the devices that deliver them, many of which are portable.

In other words, our short term memory may be more fragile than we think. If you are allowing yourself to be distracted, you may be forgetting important information.

6. Multitasking makes you fat

You know that friend that is always challenging you to eat more than you know is healthy? At times you wonder, is it his life goal to make me fat? That is exactly the kind of friend multitasking turns out to be.

For a long time we have blamed television for making us fat because it tends to turn us into lazy couch potatoes who don’t want to exercise. That may still be true, but now scientists say the bigger problem could be that T.V. offers a perfect eating distraction. If you eat while doing something else, you are less likely to feel full and more likely to eat more than necessary.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, not only does distracted eating cause you to eat more at meals (because you feel less full), it also tends to lead to extra eating later on because you don’t have strong memories of what you already ate!

Some say that by simply getting into the habit of mindful (even deliberately slow) eating, you can lose a substantial amount of weight.

7. Multitasking ruins relationships

When you have an acquaintance who is hurting your deepest most important relationships, it is probably time to bid him goodbye. Multitasking may be that buddy you need to lock out.

Human beings crave attention. That means, when you are on a date or playing with your kids, all they really want is for you to focus on them. With smart phones in hand it certainly is tempting to be answering emails, writing tweets, and taking notes during your daughter’s talent show. Think of how much you can get done! However, is it really worth the disappointment your daughter feels when she realizes you don’t care about her enough to put your phone in your pocket for just a few minutes?

Wendy Clark, president of strategic marketing for Coca-Cola in North America, is a very busy woman. However, she has decided to never allow phones at her family dinner table. She says,

We need to set aside some time where we forcibly just stay with each other and create something that is greater than 140 characters.

Researchers at the University of Sussex claim to have shown that when people talk with cell phones nearby, (even if they aren’t using them!) they report less satisfaction and trust in their relationships.

8. Multitasking is fooling you

According to a study at the University of Utah, if you are one of the many people who consider yourself an expert multitasker, that means you are actually quite bad at it. They tested cell phone conversations while driving on people who claim to be expert multitaskers and others who said they don’t often do it. To their surprise, the self-proclaimed experts performed significantly worse than those who didn’t do it often. So those of you who consider yourself better-than-average, take heed!

9. Multitasking could be damaging your brain
In a recent article for Forbes.com, Travis Bradberry claims that multi-tasking actually lowers your IQ. She says,

A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.

Not only can it make you dumber while you are doing it, multitasking may also cause long term damage. New research from the University of Sussex compared MRI scans of people who use multiple devices simultaneously and people who don’t. They found that certain parts of multitasker’s brains were significantly less dense. More research is needed, but it looks like multitasking could actually physically affect your brain.

10. Multitasking is setting you back
In an age of information overload, it is easy to envy those that claim they can accomplish seven things at the same time. However, you may not be missing out on much. According to a New York Times article, researchers at Stanford tried in vain to find the secret benefits and super powers of multitaskers. The more they looked, the more negatives they found.

One lead researcher, Eyal Ophir, said,

We kept looking for multitaskers’ advantages in this study. But we kept finding only disadvantages. We thought multitaskers were very much in control of information. It turns out, they were just getting it all confused.

In the end, it looks like the best friend of 2015 may have a few dirty secrets too big to ignore. If you allow yourself to kiss multitasking goodbye despite the social pressure to embrace it, you will actually find yourself getting more done, getting it done better, and improving your quality of life.