Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

Wow…just realizing that the last I wrote was 29th May! I’m so bad at this…if I’m one of those bloggers making a living through their blog, I would have starved by now. It’s just that time really does fly. After 29th May, I had gone off on a hiking trip in Japan, then July came around and I was zombified trying to adjust to school starting again then there was National Day, Teachers’ Day, the national elections and here we are in the middle of September. If your time also has wings like mine, I’m thinking some of you must be reeling in shock that promos is merely 2 weeks away or that the JC2s will be graduating 3 weeks from now!

Which is why I guess books on boosting productivity are usually the best selling ones like Peter Bregman’s 18 minutes. One of the most common ways students try to make up for lost time is to multitask like crazy. One student once told me she listens to audio books on Geography while working on her Math equations. She figured that even if she finds it hard to do both, maybe there’s a passive osmosis effect happening and her brain will absorb the Geography stuff anyway. Maybe you don’t do something quite so insane but you find it quite common to be working on your assignments while listening to music, searching for cat videos on youtube, replying to whatsapp messages, eating Mcdonalds and shaking your leg all at the same time…or at least you think you are accomplishing them all at the same time.

In recent times, scientists have discovered that multitasking is a myth and that we humans aren’t as good at doing many things at one time as we think we are. When we think we are ‘multitasking’, we are in actual fact, switch tasking or background tasking. What this means is that when we are doing more than one thing at a time (say listening to lecture and checking instagram), our brain switches between these two tasks in a rapid fire way. Brain scientists have found that it is virtually impossible to be doing two things simultaneously with the exception of physical tasks that we find automatic (say walking and talking at the same time). The cost of constant switch tasking is that we end up spending more time on completing a task than if we were to focus on just one thing at a time. The quality of the work also suffers and we ultimately end up less productive than ever. Check out this video by Dave Crenshaw and do ‘The Myth of Multitasking Test’ to experience this for yourself!

Here’s me when I tried it out. The 2nd attempt looks like $%@ indeed. FullSizeRender

The science behind this is that similar tasks (like texting, doing assignments and listening to lectures) compete to use the same part of the brain and research shows that people can attend to only ONE cognitive task at a time. So the bottom line is this: if you want to boost your productivity, cut down on your multitasking. We might think we are saving time by multitasking, but in reality, brain science has shown that you are just wasting time and you are probably better off focusing on the task at hand singularly.

One student recently told me that she realized when she just buckles down and do her work without being distracted by her phone, youtube or music, she hammered out her math assignment real fast. Piece of cake. Something to think about. Here’s a clip from Ellen on multitasking to keep you entertained. Hopefully you won’t be watching this while doing your work. 🙂

Alot of you by now will know that I’m a brain geek. I like to look at how different things (especially lack of sleep as my major obsession) affect the workings of our brain. So yesterday, I was listening to this fascinating podcast by the guy who created the website ‘your brain on porn‘ and how he approached the effects of porn not on a moral or religious perspective, but just purely on neurological science. He’s got a ted talk too which is supposedly very popular but I didn’t really like some of the things he said on the ted talk so I’m not posting it here. But you can click through to his website if you’re interested.

Then as I clicked through to related sites, I came across this very short, succinct yet insightful youtube video that explains the seeking nature of our brain and how we are susceptible to being compulsive clickers, clicking from one thing on the internet, to the next, to the next, forever being distracted by something and finding it very hard to focus on something for a longer period of time. Which really reminded me of a student I was talking to in the earlier part of the year. I remember she labelled herself as a compulsive procrastinator. She knows that A levels is coming and she has tons of stuff that she has to take note of, memorize and apply but she just keeps finding herself clicking from video to video on youtube. And if she successfully managed to steer away from youtube, she then finds herself clicking from one interesting article to the next on huffington, or checking twitter and facebook to see if there’s something interesting going on there and before she knows it it’s 1am and she remembered the school counsellor’s blog post that talked about importance of sleep, so she goes to sleep and then wake up feeling guilty and lousy cos she didn’t do any of the work she set out to do and the cycle continues.

Probably something alot of you may find familiar. Me too. I was so fascinated by this topic I clicked from article to article, and then found this youtube video and thought I should click through to their other videos and then found a video on violent behaviors of panda….okay just the last bit is completely made up.

So what do we do about this? According to this article on how the internet is a supernormal stimuli, awareness is a really good start. When we’re aware that our brain is a compulsive seeker of new information, we can pause and choose whether to cave in to the temptations or to regulate and over-ride them, especially if you have national exams on the line. And as it comes to building awareness, the .b mindfulness course I’m hoping to teach to more students at YJC in 2015 would probably help with that as well (fingers crossed).

Productivity is one of the words that start with P that I hear students talk ALOT about. The other is procrastination. Funny how they both start with P and are 5 syllables but take exact opposite meanings. Especially with exams and deadlines round every corner, the question as to how we can increase our productivity levels become all the more pertinent.

People have written ENTIRE BOOKS on this subject which is why the more I researched, the more I procrastinated writing about productivity because it’s not easy to condense it into one (or a few) straightforward and simple blog post. Guess all that reading hasn’t helped me become more productive seeing that the last post I wrote was way back in May! I think I have the over-thinking over-planning and under-executing disease.

Anyways! Back to my main point. I think there are about 4 or 5 possible ways in which we can all level up on our productivity and you may not like some of the things that I’m going to say but after scouring the literature on productivity, one thing that EVERYBODY talks about is the effect of sleep deprivation on productivity levels.

It’s one of those chicken and egg thing. You’re feeling you had an unproductive day so you sleep less to make up for it and then the sleep deprivation leads to you being even less productive the next day, so you sacrifice more sleep etc etc. I honestly feel bad telling students to sleep more. I do. I know you guys have so so much work to do, notes to revise, papers to go through that sleep can really be a premium that many students feel they can’t afford. But I also believe in science. And science is telling us that chronic sleep deprivation leads to deficits in short-term memory, ability to focus and be on task, processing speed etc and these are just the cognitive functions that suffer. There’s a whole bunch of other scary stuff that scientists talked about like how sleep deprivation gives you a 55% higher risk of obesity, screws with your metabolic system, increases your risk for diabetes and coronary heart diseases etc etc. But to me, it’s the cognitive deficits that I worry about because you guys need those cognitive functions to be tip top going into the exam hall. 

Some of you may be thinking, ‘but I feel great when I sleep less! it’s when I sleep more that I feel all tired and lousy’. I’m not sure I have a complete explanation for this. It could be the adrenaline or the increased levels of cortisol that is artificially propping you up when you sleep less, and then when you do allow yourself to sleep more your body literally crashes cos the exhaustion has really accumulated.

I won’t belabor the point and if you like you can look at some of the previous posts I’ve written on this subject here, here and here

One really concrete thing that you can do today though (if you’re feeling super motivated to do something about your sleep after reading this) is to reduce your exposure to artificial light before your bed time. Some people think ‘well I’ll read my ipad until I feel sleepy’. The problem though is that the blue light from our gadgets acts like caffeine on our nervous system and directly stimulates the cortex which keeps us artificially propped up and awake when we really ought to be feeling sleepy. It also interferes with the secretion of melatonin which as we all know is essential to the quality of our sleep. I experimented with this on myself the past couple of weeks (I don’t sell stuff I haven’t tried myself). So the last 2 weeks I started by putting all my gadgets away by 8.30pm and read a book instead. In the past I would only get sleepy around 10pm (I know…still very early by your standards). Now? I can barely make it past 9.15pm and my book isn’t that terribly boring either. I also slept deeper and had less vivid dreams and felt more rested the next day. 

Now that I have even more sleep, I’m feeling more productive so in the next couple of weeks I’m gonna try and put up a few more posts on other stuff that will help you to level up on your productivity.