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Productivity maybe . . . but for what purpose?

Productivity maybe . . . but for what purpose?

Why choices about what to do with the time and effort you save are more critical

    One reasonable definition of increased personal productivity is creating the ability to do more with less effort and in a shorter time. Nothing wrong with that — at least until you ask what you will do with the time and effort you have saved.

    Not so many years ago, many people — including governments and businesses — thought that a rapid increase in individual and corporate productivity would lead to an explosion of leisure time; that we would all be working only two or three days each week, with the rest earmarked for leisure. There were concerns about how people would spend all this free time, and whether it would produce fresh possibilities for businesses, or some kind of social unrest.

    We know now, of course, that it didn’t happen. Far from working less, people are working even longer hours, despite all the increases in productivity over the past few decades.

    Why didn’t it happen?

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    I think the answer lies in the question that I started with: what do you do with the time and effort saved by increasing your productivity? Do you spend it; and, if you do, what do you buy?

    That question remains critical for all of us.

    The rise of consumer-driven economies . . .

    One way of spending the time and effort saved by greater productivity, of course, is to produce still more. That’s become the orthodox approach. As productivity rises, you don’t allow employees to work less, you use the effort freed by improving processes and systems to add to production. By this definition, for an organization to be more productive means to increase output indefinitely; preferably reducing unit costs at the same time. In personal terms, it means doing more and more and increasing your earnings as a result.

    Where is all this extra production to go? People must buy it to keep the whole cycle in place. That’s what has produced a society in which people work longer and harder in order to buy more; and an economy that depends on this process continuing — even increasing. If growth is driven by consumption, consumption must increase — not just by increasing overall wealth, but by encouraging all of us to buy more and more, regardless of need.

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    Of course, one way to speed up the process is to make credit as easy as possible, so that mere income no longer limits what people can buy. We’re seeing the result of that answer today, and it isn’t very comfortable.

    . . . increases the need for consumption-driven individuals

    At an individual level, the same process drives those who work long hours to increase their income; then spend it on consumer goods and expensive, designer labels. In many cases, the possession of the latest, flashiest, and most expensive product becomes an end in itself: a display of personal power and success, much like a peacock spreading its magnificent tail to demonstrate dominance. It has to be this way, since all the time allocated to working and earning leaves no time for spending money on vacations or leisure time or anything that cannot be purchased in an instant.

    Easy credit allowed such people to leverage their spending power, running up huge debts in the process. Some did it for display, others as a means to earn still more by riding on the back of the explosion in house prices. Then still more people copied them, especially by buying real estate, whether as a home or an investment.

    For a while, they were all the darlings of the economy: the driving force behind boom times for corporations and shareholders. Now things have gone wrong, there are fears that, by stopping such manic spending, consumers will drive world economies into a painful recession. If people don’t consume, companies can’t produce, and the entire cycle comes to a halt.

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    It’s all about choice

    Let’s bring this down to the personal level. Suppose you increase your own productivity, either by using one of the many techniques available or just by becoming more focused and better organized. You can now do what you used to do in less time and with less effort.

    What will you do with the “savings?”

    • You can “spend” them — by working just as much, or more, and increasing your monetary earnings. You will then have more cash, but still less time to enjoy it: the typical position of most people today. This answer honors the notion built into the Puritan Work Ethic that idleness causes moral hazards and work is good in itself. It’s what the US economy has become dependent upon.
    • You can spend them on leisure. You can keep your output (and probably your earnings) at the same level and devote the extra time to something else, whether that’s pleasure, volunteer activities, family time, or simply hanging out and enjoying life. Some people will label you as idle and lazy, but you don’t have to accept either description. Your choice will, however, depress activity in any consumer-based economy — and the earnings of a good many corporations as a result.
    • You can save them. Yes, you can “bank” your extra time — even invest it.

    How do you do this? By allocating the time to something that will bring you “interest” in terms of future increases in earnings, productivity, or enjoyment.

    This something is called learning. Time spent on learning will improve your ability to do whatever you choose in the future. It’s the equivalent of a corporation using productivity savings to finance research and development that will itself result in new products and fresh ways to become still more productive.

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    That won’t help the consumer sector of the economy in the short-term, but it will boost long-term creativity and add to activity in the education sector. It will also likely improve the chances of the nation leading the next wave of economic activity, based on products that haven’t yet been invented.

    Think about it carefully

    The choice of how we spend our productivity savings is crucial for the way we will live in the future, both at the personal level and for society as a whole. It’s worth taking some time to think about it quite carefully.

    As with all savings, there will always be people eager to take what you have and use it for their own short-term gain. My strong suggestion is that you hold on and make your own decision. As today’s financial woes have shown, jumping into simple answers and spending productivity gains right away can leave you with an almighty hangover.

    Photo credit: Artful Scribe at Morguefile.com

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    Last Updated on September 20, 2018

    8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

    8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

    You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

    Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

    When you train your brain, you will:

    • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
    • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
    • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

    So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

    1. Work your memory

    Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

    When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

    If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

    The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

    Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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    Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

    What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

    For example, say you just met someone new:

    “Hi, my name is George”

    Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

    Got it? Good.

    2. Do something different repeatedly

    By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

    Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

    It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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    And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

    But how does this apply to your life right now?

    Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

    Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

    Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

    So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

    You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

    That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

    3. Learn something new

    It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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    For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

    Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

    You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

    4. Follow a brain training program

    The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

    5. Work your body

    You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

    Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

    Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

    Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

    6. Spend time with your loved ones

    If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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    If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

    I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

    7. Avoid crossword puzzles

    Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

    Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

    Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

    8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

    Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

    When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

    So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

    The bottom line

    Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

    Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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