Thursday, 28 June 2012

Has computer technology taken over your life?

Using a computer to write about computers is like searching for Google on Google!  But whether we like it or not, computers have invaded our work, homes, schools and life.  When we are suddenly without them, we are incapable of functioning and our stress levels are raised with the concern of losing our lives!  This I recently witnessed when my daughter’s computer “acquired” an operating system error and she thought she had lost her entire 1st and 2nd year University work in a few seconds.

Computer technology has become so much a part of our lives, that we cannot imagine a life without it. Computers serve as efficient data storage systems and excellent information processors. They can store, organize and manage huge amounts of data. Moreover, they operate on incomparable speeds, thus saving us time and effort. True, they are an integral part of our lives. It is said that inventions change the way we live. Computer technology is a classic example of this adage.

Computer technology has evolved in leaps and bounds from the original Abacus to calculators, desktops, laptops, palmtops, PDA’s, iPads, iPhones, etc, etc. They have become smaller and more portable as the years have past.  How has this affected our lives?  Well we can now remain connected to the world at all times.  Family and friends are just a click away! Work is no more location-dependent!  Now is this a good or bad thing?

I personally believe technology is a double edged sword, on one side we have the convenience of being able to have immediate access to information and greater contact with people all over the world.  On the other edge of the sword, technology can become our masters, mobiles that keep us in contact with the world almost non-stop, email that never stops, and so on. Technology brings many good things to our lives, better health care, more convenience, and sometimes an extra minute or two to do something else, but technology can also cause more stress from being connected to work all the time, or when it breaks down! We have to balance our reliance on technology with the other needs of life.

Then there is the pressure on our children wanting the latest technology available and the number of hours they spend indoors playing computer games and missing out on the human interaction achieved by playing sports, etc.

I read a recent article about UK children watching an average of more than 4 ½ hours screen time a day (that is television and internet); 62% of children between 5 and 16 have their own computer and 46% of those have internet access in their own rooms. The survey also found that children regularly use their mobile phones and games consoles to access the internet.  70% of children between 5 and 16 have their own mobile phones and this rises to 97% from the age of 11. 36% of 7 to 10 had Facebook accounts despite the age limit!  The question I ask is, “how is this trend of online interaction going to affect the social interaction of our children in the future?  Are we developing a world of recluses?”

Yet another issue is the peer pressure put on our children to own the latest mobile, computer on the market.  More than one million text messages are sent every day and many people see them as one of the best ways of communicating.  But what happens when a mobile phone becomes more than just another piece of technology? Just a few years ago, we all seemed to manage pretty well without a mobile phone. But now, every child, adult and pensioner seems to have one attached to their ear – or are frantically tapping away writing texts. There’s no doubt mobiles can give us the benefits of immediate communication – it can help juggle family schedules and provide a great reassurance when, for example, a child is late home. But what happens when mobile phones lose their place as a thing of convenience, and become something that can even prompt criminal activity among the children who rely on them so much?

A recent article went on to explain that in extreme cases, some youngsters had been known to steal money from their parents to “feed their habit”, while others had become reclusive from their families and schoolwork had suffered.  Children have become “dependent” on their mobile phones (almost like a comfort blanket). Getting a phone call or text message implies an importance. It boosts self-esteem and self-worth.  This leads to huge peer pressure to have a mobile phone with the latest technology and design.  And the stress of wanting an equal flow of contact can be soul-destroying if it doesn’t materialise.

Having said this however, we shouldn’t forget that mobiles can be great for safety and communication, but we shouldn’t lose parental discipline about using them.

This is not only an issue at home but can also be a problem in the work place with staff wanting the latest technology in the belief that it will make them work better!  Take the iPad for instance; is it a useful business tool or just a nice to have?  I believe in some instances it is a useful business tool; expensive but definitely useful.  But there are many other things that can do the same job.  Yes, it’s convenient access to social media outlets, but can’t laptops and computers and even Smartphone’s do the same thing.  Maybe someday in the future, when iPads are cheaper, this could be a possibility, but for now, I think most companies will be waiting.

So in the end it appears we cannot escape computers, but we can second guess ourselves when choosing to buy one, use one, or suggest the use of one. When you are faced with the decision to add a new program to your home computer, or upgrade to the latest “more improved” technological device - resist. Let computers simply be one detail to your life that makes things just a little bit easier. But remember: When your computer blows up, it shouldn't mean that your life has blown up.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Maintaining & Sustaining Work Productivity

“Forgetfulness is one of the characteristics of genius”.  Now, I am not sure if I heard this on the radio or read it in an article … I forget!  But to me it sounds a lot better than “forgetfulness is a sign of old age”, so I am adopting this sage philosophy.
However, after reading / hearing this comment I went on to think about all the suggestions / myths / scientific research that have been said about how we can increase our memory function and perhaps increase our productivity.

The most common / well known ones being:

  • Breath deep – more air means more oxygen to the brain.
  • Sit up straight – posture affects your thinking process.
  • Sleep better – adults need at least 7 but ideally 8 hours of sleep.  When sleep is restricted to less than 7 hours per night it results in reduced working memory capacity, impaired vigilance, lowered attention span and poor comprehension.
It is apparently very difficult for anyone to learn a new skill or maintain a reliable memory of prospective appointments without adequate sleep. If your memory is unreliable due to lack of sleep, your overall levels of stress increases, which further reduces your ability to remember anything. Be kind to your prefrontal cortex – take a nap. It will help.  

  • Caffeine – which is my personal favourite, but apparently the way I drink it is not good enough.  A new research suggests that a morning cup of coffee has much more forceful effect on the brain if it is taken with sugar!
  • Exercise – long term exercise can boost brainpower.
  • Clean desk – cluttered rooms can contribute to cluttered thinking.  I am a strong advocator of this.
  • Eat fish – it speeds up brain waves and improves concentration.
  • Have a healthy diet – including breakfast which is the most important meal of the day.
  • Drink red wine – another favourite of mine.  It is rich in antioxidants which protect brain cells.  But remember … moderation.
  • Room Temperature – everyone has different preferences (you need to play around with this one to get the ideal).
Now I am sure you have all noticed that a lot gets said about productivity?   We are always keen to squeeze a little bit more out of our day, fighting against all the interruptions and distractions of modern life.  It’s easy to end up struggling much harder than you need to, though, by trying to be productive in the wrong ways, at the wrong times and ending up forgetting the important issues. Working with your body clock and your natural peaks and troughs of energy lets you maximise your productivity all day long.

I have definitely noticed that I am much more productive in the morning and my productivity declines throughout the day -- but the worst is during the middle of the day. Unfortunately most meetings are usually scheduled at lunchtime or towards the end of the day.  I am sure I'm not the only one whose mood is affected by time of day - especially around noon?

I have found some tips to try overcome our dips and lows and to improve our overall productivity.  I hope they help.

  1. Morning Lark or Night Owl?  Firstly, you need to figure out whether or not you are a morning or night person. Given the chance, would you prefer to get up early to finish off some work, or stay up late? I am not sure where I fall here as I find physically I drag in the morning but peak in the afternoon, yet mentally I peak in the morning and drag in the afternoon.  If you can work it out and have any control over your hours, then start earlier (if you’re a lark) or later (if you’re an owl)?
  2. Peaks and troughs of Energy.  Throughout the day we all find that there are regularly times when we focus well – or not! This might seem obvious, but it will really help if you can do harder work – like writing, designing, brainstorming and planning – during your “peak” times. Leave more routine tasks – most emails, phone calls, filing, photocopying, etc – for times when your energy is at a low.  I have noticed in general that these peaks and troughs can also be monitored by day of the week with Friday’s being a very unproductive day for many.
  3. Organize Your Day on Paper, Before Your Day BeginsSpend ten minutes each evening or ten minutes each morning planning your day on paper. Write down your top priorities for the day, and circle the two most important items on your list. Instead of feeling overwhelmed at all the work you must do, focus only on those two items. This is one tool I use daily - I am a compulsive list maker.  Without my lists I am lost and my stress levels rise.
  4. Keep non essential meetings and appointments outside your peak times. (Ie. Doctors appointment.)  Scheduling non essential meetings and appointments at these times would take a big chunk out of your best productive time.
  5. Keep a positive attitude. There’s is nothing more powerful for self-motivation than the right attitude. You cannot choose or control your circumstance, but can choose your attitude towards your circumstances.
  6. Staying productive throughout the day. Even when you’re working with your natural peaks and troughs, it’s still a good idea to do what you can to keep your energy levels up. For most of us, that means following some simple good health practices like: Drink plenty of water, eat sensibly and get sufficient exercise.  And most importantly when taking a break, make it a proper rest.
Oh, and according to a new study, showering during the working day helps employees become more productive and more creative.  I used to go for a run during my lunch breaks and my energy levels were always high in the afternoon.  Now I am not sure if it was the run or the shower that was responsible for this.
Now on a scale from one to ten, one being the least productive and ten being the most productive, how would you rate yourself on productivity during an average work day? And do you have any tips to share on maintaining your productivity?

serious words written down

I have decided in order to keep my fictional, book writing words separate from the more serious, factual words I have created a separate blog site.

So words written down will continue to be my random daily ramblings combined with my attempt at writing a novel and serious words written down will be my work / life related thoughts. This should hopefully clear up the confused jumble I call my brain. Everything in its right compartment – all neat and tidy.

Idiom: Tidy desk, tidy mind
or in this case
Tidy blog, tidy mind.