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Weekly Mind Bender

In a school, three rings of a bell indicate recess time. Most of the students try to get from their classroom to the schoolyard before the third ring of the bell.  There is a ten-second interval between each ring.

If two seconds are used to store their books, how much time is available to reach the schoolyard before the third bell rings?

18 seconds

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Top Time Management Strategies to Increase Productivity

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Meat Loaf says it best: “if you are only killing time it will kill you right back.” How true.

As we all try to cram more into our days, weeks, and nights we are creating unsustainable expectations for ourselves and for those that rely on each of us to get stuff done. In a previous post, Time “Savers” that Could Kill You, I offered my opinion on what I would consider dangerous and potentially life-threatening “time savers” that seem to be becoming commonplace in our manically productive world. Sleep deprivation, texting or emailing when driving, fast food and avoiding exercise were all on my list.

With that aside, I would now like to share the seemingly effective strategies I personally try to utilize for managing and maximizing time. But to be clear, I don’t have a degree or certificate in time management from any reputable institution. I am just a busy working mom of four kids who has been able to stay fit, get a Master’s degree, and run a business all because I can get lots done in a day. I have also read numerous books on productivity, health, happiness and personal development and have been able to incorporate many of the strategies I have read and learned into my world. So, here are what I would call my “tricks of the trade”…

  1. I prioritize.  What are your time priorities? If you answer “clearing my inbox, answering and responding to calls, getting projects done” then you have not looked at your life from the proverbial 30,000 feet. You are missing the big picture. Personally, my priorities (in order) are my health, my family, my career, and my personal development (yes, health comes first – without this the others are jeopardized!). So, my time spent always aligns with those. My health time includes sleeping, preparing healthy meals and exercising. My family time includes all that is involved in being a mother, wife, daughter, sister, cousin, grandchild, etc. My career is all that I do to manage my clients and business. And my personal development includes many of my social relationships, reading books and attending school, conferences and workshops. I make sure that every day includes at least one activity under each domain and recognize that some weeks my time shifts between these unevenly, but that in the next week I will find a way to correct course. Nothing I ever do under any of these priorities can be considered a “waste of time” as that would put me in a negative mindset (i.e. having to take a day off to manage a sick kid is never met with angst – “sick kid” falls under the family priority). Having set and firm priorities allows me to dictate how to schedule my time ensuring the right balance over a day, week and month between the four pillars of my life.
  2. I live in the non-urgent but important quadrant.  I love Stephen Covey’s thoughts on time management from the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. Consider that if everything on your list is “urgent and important” you are doing something wrong and have not planned your time properly. While urgent things may creep into our day, ultimately being proactive and planning effectively means that you can focus on important things and manage these before URGENT happens. To balance my priorities I ensure that nothing “unimportant” lands on my desk or in my schedule. After all, I just don’t have time for “unimportant.”
  3. I am proactive.  Being reactive is a time waster. When we “react” we enter a different head-space, are required to shift our focus from the events of the day to something unplanned, and often spend more time picking up the pieces than we would if things didn’t crumble in the first place. Do you have a warning light on in your car? Get it into the shop before you are stranded at the side of the road spending hours dealing with roadside assistance and not having access to a vehicle. Or better yet, schedule your car for regular maintenance to keep it running smoothly. Feeling sluggish or unwell? Take a day off to recharge, make some changes to your routines, or get into your doctor before you enter full-blown illness. Taking one day off to feel better is more effective than the week you will need when the illness spreads.
  4. I use technology wisely.  Technology is a tool, but it is also a trap. My phone has a few productive apps but no games. Personally, “playing video games” does not align with my priorities as these have nothing to do with my health, family, career or personal development. I also don’t use my phone to conduct business – more to just be informed about it. Trying to conduct business on a smartphone often leads to errors in typing, autocorrect, and changes the response to something shorter, even curt. I would prefer to respond on my computer or make a phone call versus emailing on a device. I also don’t watch TV – unless it involves a family movie or show we can all enjoy together. Technology for me is an information tool for my business, and an “in the moment” way to communicate, but otherwise I think use of those gadgets are a waste of time, not the opposite.
  5. I plan ahead.  Proper planning is always an effective use of time. Leaving your home to realize your meeting is thirty minutes farther away than you expected, driving somewhere to realize you forgot something, going to the grocery store without a list, arriving to a meeting without reviewing the agenda beforehand, or cramming your Powerpoint the night before are all signs of poor planning. In our personal lives being unprepared wastes time and money, in our professional lives these jeopardize our professional reputation. Make time in your schedule to proactively manage your “to do’s.”
  6. I know myself.  Are you in tune with your capacity? Personally, I know my limits and recognize when I work best. For example, I am most effective at writing (reports, documents, blogs, etc) in the morning. From 8am to noon I can fly through written tasks quickly. After noon, my focus wanes and it is easier for me to work on emails and calls as these require more short-term attention. This is how I try to structure my workdays. I also know things that I am good at, struggle with, and those things that I have taken on before with poor outcomes. Knowing this helps me to stay in my strengths as this is where I am most effective.
  7. I use lists.  In “The Art of Stress Free Productivity” and even “The Four Hour Workweek” both authors suggested that each day should start with a list of the top 3-5 things that need to be done that day. No exceptions. I find this strategy exceptionally helpful and each morning, or even the night before, I write a short list of “to do’s” and enjoy crossing things off as I accomplish them. Sometimes the list is separated by “personal, kids, work” etc. to match my priorities. And if I find myself wandering from my list to other tasks (i.e. my email inbox), having this in front of me grounds me back to the tasks that need to come first.
  8. I take notes when reading.  When I read educational or development books I always have a notepad and pen with me. Why? Because to read a book about personal development and to not take away or implement any of the strategies after makes reading a waste of time. If there is information I can benefit from, I want to capture that in a place where I can incorporate it into my life and review it later. This optimizes my reading time and self-development priority.
  9. I manage my energy levels.  Maximizing my energy levels maximizes my productivity. I do this by eating well, sleeping well, managing stress, and exercising.
  10. I delegate.  To effectively delegate you need to look at the resources available to you and determine who might be able to take some of the responsibility and run with it. If you know you don’t have time to take on a new project, say no, or figure out who you can enlist to support you in getting the job done.
  11. I practice self-discipline.  It is easy to be distracted, coerced, or tempted by other, maybe more fun, but usually less productive, tasks. That phone conversation with a friend, google wandering, checking Facebook, that lengthy lunch. While these may ultimately align with your priorities, the things you are neglecting during your productive hiatus will only work to move things from “important” to “urgent” in no time. Self-discipline allows you to firmly focus on the tasks on your “to-do” list versus those other enjoyable activities that might sway you in a less productive direction. So, get the “to dos” done first before being pulled in other directions.

Do you have other time maximizing ideas? I would love to hear them.

Originally posted August 2014

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Beat Bullying with a Little Help From OT

Despite a huge focus on kindness, acceptance, and belonging, bullying still exists.  Young children, adolescents and even adults who find themselves being bullied by their peers often struggle through these traumatic experiences.  When it comes to “beating bullying” OT can help!  Occupational Therapists in South Africa who founded BullyBusters recently presented their helpful methods at the World Federation of Occupational Therapists conference in Cape Town.  Learn more about BullyBusters and their top tips to both bully-proof yourself and to overcome bullying if you’re already a victim in the following article.

Parent 24:  Practical tips on how to deal with bullying, the OT way

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O-Tip of the Week: Let it Go

Our O-Tip of the week series delivers valuable “OT-Approved Life Hacks” to provide you with simple and helpful solutions for living. 

For the month of September, a month of back to school and back to reality, our O-Tip series will provide you with OT-approved ways to put the focus back on you.  This week’s O-Tip can help you learn to put the past behind you in order to have a bright future.

Remember this:  “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.” (author unknown.)  Check out these 40 Ways to Let go of the Past and Leave it Behind You care of Self Development Secrets.

 

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Time “Savers” that Could Kill You

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I have been asked a few times to write a blog on time management. While I don’t profess to be an expert in this, people often do ask me how I “fit it all in” and my answer is always “I have learned how to effectively manage my time”. What still surprises me though is those people that have not yet shifted their focus to “managing time”, but instead try to “save time” or wish there was just more of it. For me, that thinking is disillusioned. We can’t find or get more time – time is constant. What we need to focus on then is using the time we have optimally and in line with our priorities. This takes insight and self-discipline to accomplish, and in a future blog I will speak to some of my personal strategies here.

But before I do that, I wanted to start with the list of “time savers” that I don’t endorse. Ones that I feel are, in the extreme, life-threatening and yet have become staples, patterns and habits by many, bragged about by some, and only work to help people shove more stuff into their already hectic schedule without forcing them to realize the real problem is prioritizing. So, here is the list of the time savers that I feel could kill:

Sleep Less. I will admit that I have previously considered cutting a few hours of my zzz so I could steal a few more hours of “productive” time. This is not an uncommon thought. Many people speak openly, or even brag, about how they “worked until 5am” or “only got a few hours of sleep last night cramming to meet a deadline”. Entrepreneurs are the worst. Our minds don’t tend to shut off and you will often find us emailing in the late hours or very early mornings. However, evidence continues to mount that “adequate sleep” is one of the key predictors of health and happiness, and the age-old 7-8 hours per night still applies as a recommended dosage. Even napping is now being encouraged as a way to shut off the mind and to cognitively and physically reboot mid-day (I keep my naps to 20 minutes to not interrupt my sleep cycle). What research is showing is that inadequate sleep actually worsens brain capacity, making people less productive. So, the time you gain from sleeping less you then lose (and then some) in productivity. I would rather sleep thanks! Thus, stop thinking that sleeping is a hindrance to your ability to get things done. Reducing your zzz will only be a detriment to your health in the long run.

Texting or Emailing when Driving. Illegal or not, this is still happening and now texting and driving is the leading cause of motor vehicle accidents and deaths. STOP IT (yes, I am yelling at you guilty folks). Newsflash: the only thing you should be doing when driving is, well, driving. If we are talking about time management here, then think about the time you could lose from making this mistake. Lost work time while you are recovering from an accident. Loss of career if you can never return to work due to a disability. Lost productive time when you are dragged into a lawsuit when you cause a collision and are sued as a result (worse if you are driving a company car and take your employer down with you). Lost ability to emotionally manage when you know you caused another person’s (maybe someone in your own car) injury or death. The list goes on. And remember too that if you are emailing or texting when driving – what is the nature of the message anyway? Short and curt, fraught with spelling errors, auto-correct problems, or even those catastrophic email errors that are caused from forwarding the wrong message to the wrong person or “replying to all” when you meant to reply. There are both health and reputational risks from texting or emailing when driving and thus the time it might “save” you could cost you everything. The solution? If you have to multi-task driving with communication, use the phone with a hands-free device. Then at least your eyes are still on the road.

Fast Food. I need to preface my comments here with the reality that I was raised in a fast food family. This was our business and I worked in our restaurant chain from when I was 13 to 19. So, believe me, I get the appeal of fatty and good tasting food that is provided quickly. But this too is killing us. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many other chronic illnesses are caused by poor dietary habits. Yet, people continue to think that using the drive-through will save them time. My experience with “fast food” is that it is rarely fast (just time your drive-through and walk-in experiences) and some of what is served is not even really food. Processed, frozen, overcooked, stale, loaded with additives and preservatives. Yummy. Also consider that when eating “out” people tend to overeat and consume significantly more calories than if they ate at home or prepared a snack before they left. Several years ago I used to love to grab a Tim Horton’s before my first client of the day. After all, I would be in the car for 30-60 minutes and drinking my tea was an enjoyable beginning to my morning. Then I became cognizant of the time I was spending in line. 5-10 minutes per morning was 25-50 minutes per week of just “waiting”. Not to mention the accumulating cost of some hot water in a paper cup with a tea bag. So, I decided to go “Tim’s Free”. It was liberating. I could (and still do) drive by Tim Horton’s and smile at the drive-through line while I drink my home-made tea that takes me 1 minute to make and costs a nickel. While I still understand that “fast food” is a treat, and can be used as such, I will argue that too many people who proclaim to be “so busy” actually waste time waiting for crappy food. The solution? Have some ready-made meals or snacks in the fridge and grab these on your way out the door. Put them in a cooler bag, or store them in your work fridge. Forgoing the fast-food habit will save you time, calories, and ultimately your health.

“No Time” to Exercise. This one drives me batty. So many people claim to “not have the time” to exercise despite the ample evidence proving that exercise is a #1 predictor of health. This “no time” excuse needs to stop. We all have the same amount of time in a day, so the reality is that people don’t MAKE the time, or this is just not a priority. That is not a judgment. If exercise is not a priority then people can just admit this and stop using “time” as the shield. Personally, I believe that the time spent exercising pays itself forward in productivity. Reduced stress, more energy, increased mood, better time management, improved ability to prioritize, and of course all this on top of the fact that this could lengthen life. Avoiding exercise to “save time” is a fallacy. I don’t buy it. Personally, I think I qualify as “busy” but still exercise 1-2 hours daily. So people need to be honest with themselves, their priorities and recognize that avoiding exercise to “save time” could have the opposite effect.

In the end, consider your “time savers” and project these over the next 10 years. What will that look like for you? Don’t wait to suffer the consequences of sleep deprivation, a car accident, a health issue from poor eating habits, or physical decline from a neglected body to realize that being productive at the cost of your health is not productive at all.

Originally posted July 2014

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Helpful Spinal Cord Injury Resources

Are you a healthcare professional looking for research and resources about spinal cord injury?  Are you a non-professional looking to learn more about spinal cord injury to assist yourself or someone you care about?  Visit the Spinal Cord Injury Research Evidence Community (SCIRE) website– a wonderful resource for anything and everything Spinal Cord Injury.

Spinal Cord Injury Research Evidence Community (SCIRE)

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O-Tip of the Week: Take a Break!

Our O-Tip of the week series delivers valuable “OT-Approved Life Hacks” to provide you with simple and helpful solutions for living. 

For the month of September, a month of back to school and back to reality, our O-Tip series will provide you with OT-approved ways to put the focus back on you.  This week’s O-Tip can help to improve your mental health in a matter of a few minutes each day.

Though working through lunch or breaks sometimes seems like it could help you get more done, it actually is counterintuitive.  Breaks are necessary and can help to boost mental health and productivity, especially in the workplace.  However, breaks aren’t just for the office, but for household activities as well.  Some great ways to make the most of this break to boost your mood include:

  • Taking a walk
  • Heading outside for a breath of fresh air
  • Conversing with co-workers (non-work related)
  • Reading a book
  • Meditating
  • Stretching
  • Desk-ercising (try these fun ideas to work out at work)
  • Doing something artistic or creative (try bringing a relaxation colouring book and some pencil crayons in your work bag)

Remember it’s important that we take frequent breaks to reduce stress, improve focus and to take care of ourselves.

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Weekly Mind Bender

Mr. Black, Mr. Brown and Mr. Green are eating at a restaurant.
Each is wearing a coloured tie.  The ties are black, brown and green in colour.

Suddenly the man wearing the green tie says :
“Did you notice that our ties are the same colour as our names but no one is wearing a tie similar to his name?”  “Strange, indeed,” says Mr. Black.

Question:  What colour tie was each man wearing ?

Mr. Black = brown,
Mr. Brown = green,
Mr. Green = black

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Let’s Talk About Sex… and Education

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

Sexuality is an integral part of being human and is another one of those concepts that exists on a spectrum.  It contains with it physical, emotional, social, behavioral and relational elements that impact us all at various levels and times in our lives.  As an occupational therapist, I have had many conversations with clients about changes in sexual activity post-disability, injury or trauma.  Some of these conversations are as simple as “sex is the last thing on my mind” to “I would just like to sleep beside my spouse again”…to “do you have any resources or devices you can suggest to help me re-engage sexually”…

It was in 2000 when, during my OT training, we had a lecture designed to educate and inform us about adaptive sexuality and sexual activity.  The lecturer was perfect – he was a social worker, openly gay, and owned a retail store for adult intimacy items.  He was very knowledgeable about the topic of adaptive sexuality, counselled people at his store, and the topic clearly did not make him at all uncomfortable.  But that was not true of our class.  Soon after he started his lecture and produced some adaptive items that his clients have found helpful, half of our class got up and left (in fairness, he told us all if the topic made us uncomfortable he would not be offended if we left).  I was amazed and disappointed at the same time.  Here we were, in the process of being trained to help people function in all areas of life after disability, and some members of my class were not open to learning about this.  I guess that explains why the spectrum exists – because we all have various levels of comfort with such a vulnerable, intrusive and often “taboo” topic.  

Fast forward almost 20 years to the first weeks of school, I can understand the current debate in Ontario over the topic of sex and sex education and fully appreciate both sides of the argument.  But as a parent of four teenage girls, I must ask: “what is best for the kids”?  Well, that answer too will be complicated – for some, it will be best for them to learn from their parents and for others, the school will do a better job of educating them in a way that is respectful, honest, inclusive and forthcoming.  What I think we don’t want as parents, educators, or as a society, is for kids to “figure it out on their own” and turn to the internet and social media to get answers to their important questions.  As we all know, the internet contains a lot of harmful images, video, and opinions that could negatively impact them if they go looking.

Of greatest concern, however, is the mental health of the kids who have thoughts, feelings, emotions or experiences with sexuality that are unconventional, confusing, violating or just plain scary.  If these kids are not given the proper channels, at home or school, to talk and sort-through, understand, cope with and manage these, how will they adjust?  We know kids today are increasingly anxious and depressed, we know suicidal ideation and risk is high in youth, so how can we best support them?  I personally don’t think that is through undermining research that tells us these conversations need to happen, or by resurrecting outdated anything that we know is obsolete to appease those (like half of my OT class) who find these topics, and the evolution of sexuality over the last 20 years, uncomfortable.  Kids are smart and instinctive – if adults are fighting over this, the entire concept of helping them through the many phases of sexual development may become something they won’t allow any caring and responsible adult to be a part of.  That would be a poor outcome for us all.