Categories
Caffeine Staying Awake Tiredness

Tired of Being Tired – Coffee Anyone?

We’re Tired of Being Tired!

Virtual Caffeine and What It Can Do For You And Your Tiredness

For years I found myself falling asleep at the most inopportune times. During college lectures, whilst attending very interesting corporate meetings, and when having to complete tasks that I wasn’t enthusiastic about!

Each time, I found that I needed more caffeine, in any of its various forms, to get that woke feeling whilst its effects lasted shorter the more I used it.

Tired of being tired!
Photo by Kyle Glenn @kyleglenn on Unsplash, I snapped this self-portrait while setting up the studio for a portrait shoot.

What We Are Going To Do About It

Tired of my tiredness, I found other poor souls that wanted to change this sad state of affairs and we came up with V-CAF. A solution to consuming ever-increasing amounts of coffee and caffeine, without the diminishing returns.

What Is V-CAF?

V-CAF is an Apple Watch app that subtly notifies you when you are tired or about to fall asleep. We see it as a digital alternative to caffeine and / or coffee with none of the side effects that are associated with increased caffeine consumption. And unlike coffee or caffeine pills, you only pay once. You get to use it for life for the cost of a cup of coffee or thereabouts!

So What’s This Blog About Then?

V-CAF The Blog is a resource that we created to help inform people about tiredness, sleep related issues such as sleep deprivation and insomnia, and caffeine. It is a collection of our experiences and information that we have found useful related to anything to do with staying awake and tiredness.

We hope that you will find it informative and useful.

Categories
Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Studying

Combating Tiredness In A World That Never Sleeps

How do you feel?

Change the way you play the game…

Tiredness whilst working affects us all at some point, and it affects some more than others. When talking with colleagues the quick solution tends to be to consume more caffeine.

Although this works in the immediate short term, over longer periods the efficacy of caffeine to keep us feeling awake starts to reduce, and so typically we consume more.

When it comes to sleep hygiene (especially at the work or study place), there seems to be a high level of ignorance as to the long and short term effects of tiredness on our health and productivity.

In recent years there has been a push by corporations to help employees and students deal with the increasing demands of work loads and performance targets, but not much on actioning strategies that address sleep related issues.

So what can you do as an individual to address these issues?

Work vs Sleep

Increased work and study loads, as well as an increase in online activity (games, social media, news sites and special interest sites, to name a few), as well as pressure to spend time with family and/or friends have made it difficult to maintain healthy sleep practices over a long period of time.

Whether studying or working, the default strategy for most is to increase the amount of time they spend working. At first glance it seems intuitive and seems to be corroborated in studies such as “Just do it! Study time increases mathematical achievement scores for grade 4-10 students in a large longitudinal cross-country study”:

These results support the idea that students, in particular low-performing students, can boost their academic abilities to upper levels when increasing their study time.

Spitzer, M. (2021). Just do it! Study time increases mathematical achievement scores for grade 4-10 students in a large longitudinal cross-country study.European Journal of Psychology of Education,OnlineFirst,1-15.

However, as we shall see later, quantity doesn’t always out do quality, and a little deeper reading into the above study alludes to the fact that “seeking out the right answer is the first step to get it right”. But most take it on the surface level and equate time spent doing something as equal to time spent doing the right thing.

Unfortunately if spending more time to solve a problem is the only tool that we have to solve our work and study load problems, we soon find that we never have enough time to get things done, whilst at the same time increasing the stress levels we expose ourselves to.

The need for 24-hour a day operations in developed countries has increased the likelihood that workers will experience fatigue, sleepiness, and decreased performance sills as part of their daily lives. Evidence also suggest that the more one works, the less time the person sleeps, even on days off.

Pilcher, J., & Morris, D. (2020). Sleep and Organizational Behavior: Implications for Workplace Productivity and Safety.Frontiers in Psychology,11,

 

Is It Worth It?

Fatigue affects our basic cognitive functions which decreases our job and safety performance. In the long-term, fatigue has both health and economic consequences.

National Safety Council

Working more when we are tired will usually not get us the results that we want and can increase the risk of us suffering from any of the following:

  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Irritability
  • Reduced immune defence reaction

Further research suggests that our cognitive abilities decline when working whilst we are tired, making it harder to complete simple tasks and to focus. We become slower, make more errors and the quality of our work reduces, which implies that we’ll have to spend more time to correct the mistakes that we made when were tired (or in other words, spend more time working).

What You Can Do

Knowing this, the best thing that you can do is take action. One of the first things to do is to learn what you can and then implement what you know. The article and research paper that helped me to write this article is excellent and has a wealth of information for individuals as well as companies and can be found here:

Sleep and Organizational Behavior: Implications for Workplace Productivity and Safety

And here are few more tips to help get you started:

  • Sleep
    Make your sleep your priority. Don’t sacrifice your sleep for productivity gains or family/social reasons (where you can). Quantity and quality are equally important so try to get between 7-9 hours of quality sleep (by avoiding alcohol, and not consuming caffeine past midday). Exercising (even a 20 minute walk counts), also helps improve the quality of your sleep. Also, go to bed and wake up at the same times regularly, so that your circadian rhythm can adjust accordingly, which also helps improve the quality of your sleep.
  • Working hours
    Generally speaking working more than 50 hours a week, or 10 hours a day can be very taxing and tiring, so where possible adjust your work schedule to reduce the amount of tiredness that you experience. Avoid early starts and late finishes as you’ll be working against your body’s natural waking and sleeping cycle, which in turn increases the likelihood that you’ll exhaust yourself. Shift workers should try not to work too many late shifts in a row and should speak to their employers about arranging their work schedules so that they have enough time to recover after completing a series of night shifts, early morning shifts, rotating shifts or irregular shifts.
  • Rest Breaks
    Take regular work breaks and try to formalise them where you can. Breaks are excellent because they give you a chance to step away and where possible take a nap, which reduces the chances of you micro sleeping on the job. Scheduling in just a 10 minute break every 50 minutes can make a world of difference. In Sleep and Organizational Behavior: Implications for Workplace Productivity and Safety, June J. Pilcher and Drew M. Morris highlight that wearables, (smart electronic devices such as a smart watch or fitness tracker), may play an important role in health promotion programs, whereby teams can be set up to help monitor and encourage participants to move more whilst at work. Apps such as V-CAF (an Apple Watch app) take this step further by notifying users when their alertness levels are dropping, thereby informing them of the need to take a break automatically.
  • Long commutes
    Workers that have a long commute to work also increase the likelihood of tiredness and fatigue as the time spent traveling is time that they don’t spend resting, but at the same time adds to the length of their already long day. Where possible, cut your commute times down by arranging to work from home or changing location. If you travel by public transport, when you can take a quick snooze. It’s far from ideal but it’s better than nothing.
  • Stressful and/or monotonous jobs
    Physically and mentally demanding jobs are the most difficult to fix. Unless you can find alternative employment, there isn’t much room for you to change things. This is where all of the above stated points come into their own as you will have to incorporate them all into your daily routines to help mitigate the risks to your health. If you are an employee, you can talk to your employer or HR department to see what steps they can take to help you whilst you’re at work. If you’re self employed, then you’ll have to organise your work process around what’s best for your health, which can be quite challenging, but well worth the effort. Use the suggestions above (and throughout this blog) to help you.

Review

In a world where it appears as though there is never ending increasing competition with decreasing alternative opportunities, it is easy to fall into the cycle of working for longer hours per day, whilst cutting the amount of time you get to recover and sleep.

Although not perfect, by trying some of the above strategies and finding out more about how a lack of sleep can effect the quality of your health, study, work and family life, you can take some positive action to help yourself cope better.

  • Sleep – more quality and quantity
  • Working hours – no more than 50 hours a week, 10 hours a day, and not starting too early, or working too late
  • Rest breaks – take at least a 10 minute break for every 50 minutes at work. If possible have a nap
  • Long commutes – avoid them where possible
  • Demanding jobs – restructure your work process where possible

Afterword

“Do each day all that can be done that day. You don’t need to overwork or to rush blindly into your work trying to do the greatest possible number of things in the shortest possible time. Don’t try to do tomorrow’s or next week’s work today. It’s not the number of things you do, but the quality, the efficiency of each separate action that count. To achieve this “habit of success,” you need only to focus on the most important tasks and succeed in each small task of each day.”

Earl Nightingale, How to Completely Change Your Life in 30 Seconds source: Earl Nightingale quote: Do each day all that can be done that day…
Categories
Alert Caffeine Productivity Study Studying

What We Do And Thank You

Hold Onto The Power Within You

We’ve had a few technical difficulties this past couple of weeks that quite frankly, pushed us near to breaking point. And as the saying goes, “it never rains, but pours”, we’ve also had a myriad of personal issues to deal with.

It’s at times like these that your will to carry on can start to falter, and you ask the question if it is really worth carrying on anymore.

In a previous article I wrote about the importance of writing down your purpose or motivation for doing something, and luckily for us at V-CAF we had that to remind us about what we are supposed to be doing and why.

Capturing The Essence of What We Do
Photo by @deivitt via Twenty20

Why

I, most probably like you, want to be successful with what I do. I want to be successful in having a positive impact on people’s lives, hopefully helping them to achieve their own goals in their own way.

Whilst studying for my A-Levels all those years ago I pushed myself too hard so as to successfully pass my exams, but at the cost to my health. To stay awake and alert so that I could study everything that I could, I consumed too much caffeine (in tablet and liquid forms) for six months to the point where my hands couldn’t stop shaking.

The lesson I took away from that incident was that my health is more important than any perceived external goal. Without my health, there are no externals, just internal misery and pain.

Since then I’ve used many alternative approaches to the problem of having a heavy work or study load which have helped me (and by extension, the rest of the team at V-CAF), to be more productive and overcome many difficult hurdles.

As a way of saying thank you back to those that I’ve learned from and the situations I’ve experienced throughout my life, a colleague and I came up with the idea of sharing our collective knowledge with regards to increasing alertness and wakefulness naturally without the aid of stimulants.

What

In our numerous discussions we came up with the idea of creating this blog that would inform people of the dangers of relying on stimulants to increase your perceived productivity, and apparent boost in energy.

We also thought that it would be good if we could epitomise this worthy goal in a program or software package that would let people know when they are at the limits of their alertness, so that they wouldn’t need to resort to consuming stimulants to force themselves to stay awake.

Although we both agreed that this would be something worthwhile to work on, we both knew that the path ahead would be long and difficult. Anyways as evidenced by you reading this post, we started down this path wondering where it would take us.

How

So, more than two years ago we designed and developed this blog and the V-CAF Apple Watch app. Neither of us had done anything quite like this before and both of us were excited and eager to start.

As we had a lot to do, we started building the app, whilst in parallel we formed the company and sorted out the hosting for the blog and setting up the structures of our processes.

Many of the lessons we’ve learnt along the way are the foundation for many of the articles on this blog. We’ve learnt by doing and getting on. When the watch app was complete, we tested it on ourselves, using it as we started to make the iPhone and macOS versions of the app, and I used the watch app whilst doing work on the blog (something I still do to this day).

Review

The picture used in this article (see above), encapsulates what we are trying to do. To capture the moment of the setting of our energy and alertness levels so that a user of our app can take the appropriate actions necessary to replenish themselves and then start again, if need be.

Along the way we’ve had many difficulties and trials to overcome and sometimes we’ve failed to make our targets. On behalf of the team at V-CAF, I apologise.

As stated in the introduction, recently I came very close to giving up. But looking back to where we were, compared to what we’ve done today, and all the people we’ve helped along the way, all I can say is thank you.

Afterword

“Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it – turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself – so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal.”

Marcus Aurelius source: 20 Stoic Quotes On Handling Adversity
Categories
Anxiety Productivity Tension

5 Hacks That Combat Work Related Stress.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Away from your desk…

Most businesses need to be profitable in order to survive. Whether we are an employee or self employed, the level of our productivity is either directly or indirectly linked to the ability of the business to create profits.

What this translates into in our real world experiences is that our productivity is more than likely being measured and assessed to calculate our effects on the bottom line.

Work performance measuring can lead to an increase in the amount of pressure that we feel which ultimately can have detrimental effects on our performance and therefore reduce our productivity levels.

In these challenging times there’s even more need for the worker to think out of the box and come up with solutions that will help restore their confidence in their ability to meet their work demands without harming their health and wellbeing.

Loss of Productivity

Scores from PSS (Perceived Stress Scale) and the HWQ (Health and Work Questionnaire), appeared to be inversely correlated; higher stress scores were associated significantly with lower productivity scores.
This negative association was… especially strong for work satisfaction.

Bui, T., Zackula, R., Dugan, K., & Ablah, E. (2021). Workplace Stress and Productivity: A Cross-Sectional Study.Kansas Journal of Medicine,14,42-45.

It can seem to come from nowhere. You’ve been focused on your work and getting things done, but for some reason you either seem unable to produce anything or the quality of your work is far less than you expect from yourself. How did that happen?

Work pressure usually doesn’t hit you all at once, but gradually. Work deadlines, heavy workloads and performance targets all take their toll. There’s also your life outside of work, which may also indirectly contribute to your work pressure.

And then there’s the fact that everybody’s response to pressure at work is different. What you may perceive as a challenge may be perceived by a colleague as a major stressor. It’s telling, when even the scientific and legal arenas can’t even agree on what stress is and how to legally define it.

Regardless of the debate on what is or is not stressful, your lack of productivity can itself be a major cause of stress which further compounds the problem.

 

Stress

Although it’s difficult to define a universal definition of what stress is or isn’t, there are signs that you should be aware of that can help you determine whether or not you or someone you know are stressed. By being able to identify these signs, you can help relieve the pressure by taking the necessary steps to correct the situation. We built V-CAF precisely for this reason.

Not all of the signs are in of themselves confirmation of stress, but if your productivity is falling and the symptoms appear regularly, then they may be good indicators that you need to take a step back and contemplate what you observe, and possibly consult your medical advisor.

Some of the physical signs of stress include but are not limited to:

  • Fatigue
  • Tension headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Backpain
  • High blood pressure and
  • Sweaty palms

Non physical signs include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Helplessness
  • Depression
  • Frustration
  • Indecisiveness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Behaving out of character

During difficult social, political and economic times, it can be hard to ask for help, but where possible, speak to your counsellor or medical advisor, (or even someone you can trust). Ignoring the situation doesn’t help and exposure to persistent stressful environments can have both negative shot and long term effects on your health.

Strategies

By acknowledging that you are stressed, you have taken a very big step in the right direction to address the issue. The next step is to speak with your boss/manager and discuss the issues that are causing you stress. This isn’t always possible (especially if your boss isn’t known for being understanding, or if you work for yourself), so the next best thing is to take steps that will help you relieve the pressure you feel at work. (I would also state that if your employer doesn’t display any empathy towards the situation, that it might be a sign to start looking for a new job. You only live once, and being in a miserable work environment not only affects you, but your work colleagues, friends and family, let alone the damage you are doing to your self esteem and health).

So, in no particular order of relevance, here is a list of 5 things that you can do to help relieve stress at work:

  • Prevention
    Understand and know what causes you to be stressed. Write them down, make a list and then list the things that you can do to avoid meeting these situations when you are at work.
    Also have a backup plan for when you do meet them (which will happen once in a while). If you are stuck keep reading on and use some the tactics outline below to help construct your plan.
  • Exercise
    One of the most overlooked stress busting tools available to us all is exercise. A build up of tension usually accompanies stress. By exercising, we help to release tension in our body. And it doesn’t have to be a full body workout either (although those help too). A 10 to 25 minute brisk walk is just enough effort to get your heart pumping harder, and you breathing in deeper to make a difference.
  • Eat well
    Reduce or avoid eating processed foods where possible and eat good whole foods. The general rule of thumb is that if it walks, flies, crawls or grows from the earth, and doesn’t have heaps of processed ingredients added to them, then you’re good to go.
    So why not processed foods? Processed foods contain a lot of refined sugar which spikes your insulin levels causing you to have “sugar highs” and crashes throughout the day, making it more difficult for you to concentrate on your work.
  • Good quality sleep
    Make sure you get enough sleep every night, of the highest quality. How do you do that? Eat well, exercise and go to bed at regular times daily. Also make sure you’re not overly warm and avoid alcohol.
  • Avoid alcohol
    Yep. I mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again. Although not harmful in moderation, alcohol interferes with your sleeping pattern and the following hangover does nothing for your concentration and productivity levels. Even a relatively small amount of alcohol consumed the night before can have adverse effects on your productivity the next day.
  • Manage workload
    List and prioritise the work that needs to be completed, for the week, day and in some cases by the hour. Discuss this with work colleagues and your boss so that you can organise your work in such a way as to eliminate any bottlenecks that can lead to frustration.
    Using process like Scrum, Agile and Kanban can help improve both individual and team productivity in a more efficient and stress free manner. I’ve used (and still use) all of them in varying degrees and find that without them work would be very difficult.
  • Take regular breaks away from your workplace
    The usual mantra of this blog, and for good reason too. Taking a break away from your desk (by going for a walk, or meditation , and taking a nap), can actually increase your focussing and memory powers. Don’t just keep pushing on forward regardless, take the time to be nice to yourself and then come back to your work. I get tunnel vision whilst at work and get very frustrated when working whilst being tired and don’t realise it. Tools such as V-CAF help by notifying you when your alertness levels drop, to take a break.
  • Positive outlook
    Difficult to do in the moment when you are stressed, but keeping a positive frame of mind helps you to overcome the stress that you will inevitably experience. This is why in point one (Prevention) we said that you should write down what to do if you find yourself in a stressful situation. If you have this you can be reminded to be positive because you have the answer and know what to do. Plus being prepared helps you to have a positive outlook as you consciously know that you have a plan.

Review

I can’t count it seems. But I hope that you take heed of my advice and also go and do some more research for yourself and experiment with what works for you.

If you are stressed and feel too overwhelmed to cope, make a point of scheduling an appointment with your doctor or medical advisor immediately, as it may be a sign of something more serious.

Finally I leave you with the list of the main points outlined in this post.

  • Prevention
  • Exercise
  • Eat well
  • Good quality sleep
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Manage workload
  • Take regular breaks away from your workplace
  • Positive outlook

Afterword

“ Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. ”

Epictetus, source: Daily Stoic
Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Productivity Staying Awake

Need to Stay Awake?

Never Mind Only Another 8 Hours to Go!

Stay Alert, Stay Focussed

Unpleasant doesn’t go far enough to describe the feeling of being so tired that you want to sleep, but at the same time also needing to stay awake! It’s such a horrible experience that sleep deprivation is recognised as a form of inhumane treatment:

“/These methods, sometimes termed “disorientation” or “ sensory deprivation“ techniques, were not used in any cases other than the fourteen so indicated above. It emerges from the Commission’s establishment of the facts that the techniques consisted of …wall-standing; hooding; subjection to noise; deprivation of sleep; deprivation of food and drink./

/147. In its report, the Commission expressed the opinion….(iv) unanimously, that the combined use of the five techniques in the cases before it constituted a practice of inhuman treatment and of torture in breach of Article 3 (art. 3); (v) unanimously, that violations of Article 3 (art. 3) occurred by inhuman, and in two cases degrading, treatment”/

Stress and duress, Sensory deprivation techniques comprised torture , Stress and duress – Wikipedia

In an earlier post I questioned why you would want to do this to yourself. One popular reason is because of work or study commitments and in this post I’ll explain a few tips and techniques to help you get through a “must stay awake” session.

Please keep in mind, these are short term solutions and not meant to be used regularly. Many of the techniques suggested can put undue stress on your body and have long term health implications.

Tired? Never Mind Only Another 8 Hours To Go!
Photo by @Jennyrsmith via Twenty20

Caffeine – The Go To Stimulant of Choice

The most consumed stimulant on plant Earth, caffeine is the clear winner when it comes to consuming something to help us stay awake and alert. Sure there are other stimulants that work, but nothing is as popular and accepted as harmless as caffeine.

Research and personal experiences seem to be in line with this assumption. For example, when I was studying for exams, or had a very tight work schedule, I used caffeine to keep me alert and get me through the tiredness.

In an article for Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, Volume 20 by Andrew P. Smith titled, Caffeine at work, Andrew confirmed that:

“The results from the first study showed that those who consumed higher levels of caffeine reported significantly greater increases in alertness over the working day and a significantly smaller slowing of reaction time. The results from the second study demonstrated significant associations between caffeine consumption and fewer cognitive failures and accidents at work. After controlling for possible confounding factors it was found that higher caffeine consumption was associated with about half the risk of frequent/very frequent cognitive failures and a similar reduction in risk for accidents at work.”
“Overall, the results from the three analyses show that caffeine consumption may have benefits for performance and safety at work”

Smith, A. (2005). Caffeine at work. /Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental,/ /20(6),/ 441-445.

Stimulants

Overextended owner-operators regularly drove up to eighteen hours a day and often were “not out of their clothes for a week at a time.” The Safety Council elaborated on the variety of methods truckers used to stay alert. Beyond the conventional reliance on caffeine in all its forms, commercial haulers turned to seemingly anything smelling or tasting foul enough to jar their exhausted senses

Derickson, Alan. Dangerously Sleepy (p. 114). University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc..

The problem with stimulants is that there can be a tendency to overly rely on them to get us through the tiredness. This in turn leads to us needing bigger dosages to achieve the same wakeful results, to the point where we need the stimulant to just function normally.

And then there’s the fact that consuming caffeine doesn’t actually make you perform better, but does just enough to get through the difficult patches. Combining regular caffeine consumption with sleep deprivation can lead to some dangerous but not unexpected results.

The consequences of this behaviour were always bad. After several days of short sleep, drivers experienced hallucinations. They manifested plain evidence of shift work sleep disorder, nodding off during conversations or while carrying out routine tasks in terminals. One wasted man had the good fortune to have a helper accompanying him to advise him when he tried to park his rig in the middle of the road. Others had worse luck. Numerous collisions involving sleepy haulers came to light. In one case, the operator ignored a crossing signal and drove into the side of a moving train.

Derickson, Alan. Dangerously Sleepy (p. 115). University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Alternatives

What are the alternatives given that most of us at some point will have to work, study or look after someone whilst being extremely tired? If it’s just a short term (one to three days) stretch, then consuming no more than 400mg of caffeine within a 24 hour period can help. But if you want to avoid caffeine then the answer given by a Sailor that took part in a study to examine the factors that influence serving sailors may provide us with a good place to start.

“If I don’t have a good rest at night then I’m going to be groggy and angry… I was actually getting more work done after I actually took a nap or slept. I realised I was making a lot of mistakes (when sleep deprived), too. When we switched to that (napping), my mood got better. My work quality got better”.

Schmied, E.A., Harrison, E.M., Dell’Acqua, R.G., Perez, V.G., Glickman, .G., & Hurtado, S.L. (0020). A Qualitative Examination of Factors That Influence Sleep Among Shipboard Sailors. /Military Medicine,/ /AdvanceArticle,/ 1-1.
  • Nap
    Whether you are working late or through the night, or during the day, if you are feeling tired, take a nap. Not only will you feel better but a 20 minute nap can help you be more focussed and productive, boosting the quality of your work.

“Current evidence suggests that taking naps of ~ 20 min decreases the sleep pressure”

Murillo-Rodríguez, E., Yamamoto, T., Monteiro, D., Budde, H., Rocha, N., Cid, L., Teixeira, D., Telles-Correia, D., Veras, A., Machado, S., Imperatori, C., & Torterolo, P. (2020). Assessing the Management of Excessive Daytime Sleepiness by Napping Benefits. /Sleep and Vigilance,/ /4(2),/ 117-123.
  • Get up and Move
    Stretch and go for a walk. By getting your heart pumping and body moving you help yourself become more alert compared to just sitting down. To increase the benefit of both your exercise and napping, go for a quick brisk walk then have a 20 minute nap!

“Sleep leads to the enhancement of memory, and physical exercise also improves memory along with beneficial effects on sleep quality…”
“Our results demonstrate that short-term exercise and a nap improve recognition memory over a nap or exercise alone.”

Mograss, .M., Crosetta, .M., Abi-Jaoude, .J., Frolova, .E., Robertson, E.M., Pepin, .V., & Dang-Vu, T.T. (2020). Exercising before a nap benefits memory better than napping or exercising alone. /SLEEP,/ /43(9),/
  • Tiredness Indicators
    When tired it can be difficult to acknowledge just how tired you are. The stress of work or study related issues mixed with tiredness can be motivation enough to just plough on until you get what you need to do, done. Unfortunately this can lead to the detriment of the quality of the work that you put out, and may be dangerous. By the time you are reaching for caffeine, it’s already way past when you should have stopped and taken a break. Luckily there are tools like our app V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, that can alert you to when your alertness levels drop so that you can get up and walk before taking a nap. A simple to use Apple Watch app that works with your body to alert you when you’re tired, V-CAF is available on the app store now.

Review

Caffeine works but should not be used to keep you awake for prolonged periods (one to three days at a time only) and you should limit your consumption to between 200mg and 400mg of caffeine per 24 hour period.

When tired, take regular exercise breaks and naps to help relieve the build up of tiredness and to help get a quick boost to your focus and mental abilities.

Track how tired you are and be alerted to take regular breaks rather than just grinding your way through.

But the best tip of all, when you can get as much good quality sleep as possible!

Stay safe 🙃

Afterword

“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago”

Friedrich Nietzsche, source: When We Are Tired, We Are Attacked by Ideas We Conquered Long Ago – Quote Investigator

Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Energy Headaches Irritability Lethargy Side Effects Tiredness

What Are You Waiting For?

There’s No Time Like the Present

Do something…

Depending on the circumstance, it’s usually good advice to wait and see how things play out before making a decision on whether to act or not. However, when it comes to your health it can be dangerous.

If you are one of the many people that find that you can’t start the day or concentrate without having your daily dose of caffeine, then you may be suffering from a caffeine dependency.

You may have tried to kick the habit but suffered from hangover like symptoms or you may of unconsciously found yourself eating or drinking something with caffeine in it. Unfortunately it can take a lot of willpower to overcome the habit, but with the right approach you can do it.

What Are You Waiting For
Photo by @shells via Twenty20

Procrastination

It’s difficult to give up something that you don’t even realise that you have a dependency on. Friends, family or work colleagues may point out that you seem to drink a lot of coffee or tea but you think nothing of it.

Besides, you could quit at any time you want, and it’s not that difficult you tell yourself. But when you’ve tried to abstain for a day or two, you found that although you were able to complete the challenge, you also didn’t feel so great. Maybe you had a headache or were suffering from flu like symptoms, but you put it down to just being run down or tired.

Because the level of caffeine dependency is specific to each person, many dismiss it as just an internet fad, or urban myth, but there is a growing segment of the population who are not only dependant on caffeine to get through the day, but also suffer from the withdrawal symptoms of giving up caffeine.

This can make people more reluctant to give up their daily dosage and find reasons why they should in fact not quit caffeine. To be fair, as a healthy adult, if you consume less than 400mg per day, you should be okay. The problem then lies with keeping track of how much caffeine you consume across different food stuffs and beverages..

Polyphenol compounds in tea may offer heat health benefits at intakes greater than four cups per day. Coffee is also a source of polyphonous, but is higher in caffeine.
Tea and coffee can make a positive contribution to hydration when caffeine intakes remain below 400mg/day. This equates to eight cups of tea or five cups of instant coffee if no other dietary sources of caffeine are consumed.

Ruxton, C. (2009). Health aspects of caffeine: benefits and risks. /Nursing Standard,/ /24(9),/ 41-48.

Why Quit?

“If caffeine is actually good for my health, why should I give it up?” It is true that caffeine is beneficial to health but at specific dosages. Throughout a typical day it is very easy to lose track of how much of anything you consume.

Although I’m not a medical researcher or practitioner, many of the research papers and documents that I’ve read tend to not take into account people’s actual daily lives, and work within a specified recommended daily amount, as opposed to studying what people actually consume within a day. This is very difficult to do and it is reasonable that within controlled tests that they stay within the upper and lower bounds of what is deemed to be safe.

Unfortunately for us, unless we measure and keep track of everything that we consume daily, we can unknowingly easily consume far above the recommend daily limits and place ourselves in harms way.

Our body’s will tend to let us know that something isn’t right, but unless we are sensitive and aware of what those signs are we can miss them entirely. For example, if you are regular caffeine consumer and suffer from any of the following, you may be consuming more than the daily recommend amount of caffeine in your diet:

  • Anxiousness
  • Poor sleep
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hearburn

Numerous studies have shown that caffeine-dependent people sooner or later step away from their habit. According to one study, the most prevalent out of twenty reasons to quit reported by former coffee drinkers was to seek escape from the distressing disturbances of the central nervous system. Nearly four out of ten caffeine addicts quit for this reason alone. Central nervous system disorders have been proven, time and time again, to be caused by the caffeine in beverages, food products, and tablets. More and more former caffeine addicts are citing improved health as their reason to quit.

Kushner, Marina. The Truth About Caffeine (p. 152). SCR Books.

What You Can Do

If you have come to the conclusion that you want to give up caffeine, then this is a good place to start. Having purpose backing your decision will help you through the difficult stages of quitting caffeine as you have reasoned with yourself that this is the correct course of action to take. Write it down and have it within easy reach before you start.

Prepare yourself beforehand for the withdrawal symptoms by knowing what to expect. Everyone is different but there are some common symptoms to look out for.

  • Headaches
    This is the main reason why many caffeine dependency related advisors suggest that you start your detox on a weekend (usually, starting Friday). Caffeine withdrawal headaches are easily solved, by consuming caffeine, but that defeats the purpose of this exercise. I found that sleeping more and drinking lots of water helped. Experiment to find out what works for you.
  • Tiredness
    Again, another reason for starting to quit at the weekend is that you can feel extremely tired. This is due to the clearing up of your adenosine receptors as your caffeine levels start to reduce. Caffeine inhibits the receptors from identifying how tired you are, so by reducing your caffeine levels your body knows how tired you really are.
  • Depression
  • Nervousness
  • Upset stomach
  • Irritability
  • Tension
  • Nausea

Once you start your caffeine detox I would suggest that you get comfy, drink alternative caffeine free beverages and eat caffeine free food that you like.

As the days go on the withdrawal symptoms get better and at some point you’ll start to feel more awake and full of energy. But, as everyone is different, these stages occur at different times depending on your age, size and gender.

The key thing is to persevere. If you find yourself flagging, refer back to the reasons why you are quitting that you wrote down before starting and know that in a relatively short amount of time you’ll be through the tough times.

Review

When it comes to giving up caffeine, we all are different. Some prefer to gradually ease themselves into it, other jump in cold turkey.

Whichever way you decide to start quitting, the most important thing is that you have resolved to start.

Good luck

Afterword

“Good. Coffee is good for you. It’s the caffeine in it. Caffeine, we are here. Caffeine puts a man on her horse and a woman in his grave.”

Ernest Hemingway, source: Quote by Ernest Hemingway: “Good. Coffee is good for you. It’s the caffeine…”
Categories
Focus Productivity

How Do You Become More Focused And Productive?

Start By Getting Out More

Small steps, one after the other…

Being focused and being productive go hand in hand, so when people’s productivity begins to wane it usually has something to do with losing focus. Unfortunately these days it’s very easy to be distracted as there are a myriad of ways to unintentionally reduce our levels of concentration.

Social media and smart phones are the usual suspects that routinely get blamed for the apparent decrease in attention spans and there is a lot of research that seems to validate this point. But if this is the case then why do people who don’t use smart phones regularly also find it difficult to focus?

On a surface level it makes sense to blame this lack of attention on our digital gadgets, but looking deeper into how to increase one’s concentration skills I found that there’s more to it than just packing away your smart phone.

Get With It And Get Out
Photo by @kristin12 via Twenty20

The Blame Game

Doing a search for “smart phones attention span” brings back a lot of headlines that imply that our smart phone usage is responsible for the decrease in people’s ability to focus as well as they used to.

As a result, parents, teachers and some employers restrict the use of smart phones in an attempt to stop the apparent rise in the loss of focus and concentration skills.

However, anecdotally I’ve found that these measures don’t help but can actually make things worse. Rather than turning focus onto a particular activity, restricting phone usage can make people focus on the fact that they don’t have access to their device and make it harder for them to concentrate.

Then there’s the fact that some smart phone usage can actually help productivity. In my case, I listen to music or binaural beats which help me from time to time to zone out and concentrate on what I’m doing.

Listening to binaural beats has been found to have real benefits for increased focus, attention, cognition and memory. You can find binaural beats playlists for productivity on Spotify or YouTube. Binaural beats require headphones because the frequency is created from a difference in inputs between your ears.

Serena Poon, Leveraging Mindful Practices To Maximize Productivity

 

Not Paying Attention

Also note that people that are “glued to their phones” seem to be very focused on whatever they are doing on their devices. It’s common to see people fully engrossed in activities on their devices, to the point that they can forget that other people are around them.

Clearly this doesn’t sit well with the view that people are distracted and have shorter attention spans, if the same said users spend a lot of time using their devices. So is the problem the gadgets and the apps running on them or is it something else?

To improve our focus and productivity we have to then figure out what it means to lose our ability to concentrate. Classic signs include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Increased fidgeting
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Being unable to complete tasks
  • Carelessness
  • Unable to think clearly

By noticing how addicted someone is to their devices is missing the point of what is causing a loss of focus and therefore productivity. Although excessive interaction with smart phones may be part of the problem, it is not “the root” problem.

Although I haven’t found any research papers that prove this hypothesis directly, there may be a link between the rise of sleep disorders and anxiety with the loss of concentration and the reduction in productivity levels.

In fact, in earlier blog posts we highlight how being tired robs you of achieving your optimal levels and the cost of sleep disorders for an economy.

“ Insomnia may be responsible for over $63 billion in absenteeism and presenteeism, and accidents and errors by people suffering from insomnia may result in an additional $31 billion lost annually. A recent report estimates that undiagnosed sleep apnea in the U.S. costs society $150 billion each year. The RAND Corporation has estimated that collectively, costs attributable to sleep deficiency in the U.S. exceeded $410 billion dollars in 2015, equivalent to 2.28% of gross domestic product.”

Calculating the Cost of Poor Sleep – Methodology, Nation Safety Council

Reversing The Trend

There are a lot of recommendations on what society and legislators should do to combat this problem, but thankfully you don’t have to wait for them to get around to solving this issue.

As a responsible individual you can implement some very straightforward lifestyle changes that eventually will increase your ability to focus and hopefully get you back on track.

  • Work with your circadian rhythm
    Sounds complicated but it’s not. Make sure you get to bed to give yourself enough time to rest and have a deep sleep. In general your body starts to slow down between 9pm and 11pm. Get to bed between those hours and by 2am – 3am your body should be in the quality deep part of sleep (REM or rapid eye movement). From 7am – 8am your body starts to wake up and get ready for the day. By making you bed and wake up times routine, you train your body to get the most out of your nights sleep.
  • Get outside more
    Get as much daylight as is possible throughout the day. This helps your body to realise that you are awake and active (especially if you are moving or exercising) and helps you to sleep better throughout the night, as well as giving your body enough time to generate vitamin D directly from the sun.
  • Avoid stimulants as much as possible
    Make a point of avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol as although they may give you a temporary boost, in the long term they are detrimental to your concentration and productivity levels.

Review

Finally to answer the question of this post, to be more focused and productive, eat well, sleep better and get outside more.

Afterword

“Go outside. Don’t tell anyone and don’t bring your phone. Start walking and keep walking until you no longer know the road like the palm of your hand, because we walk the same roads day in and day out, to the bus and back home and we cease to see. We walk in our sleep and teach our muscles to work without thinking and I dare you to walk where you have not yet walked and I dare you to notice. Don’t try to get anything out of it, because you won’t. Don’t try to make use of it, because you can’t. And that’s the point. Just walk, see, sit down if you like. And be. Just be, whatever you are with whatever you have, and realise that that is enough to be happy.
There’s a whole world out there, right outside your window. You’d be a fool to miss it.”

Charlotte Eriksson, You’re Doing Just Fine .

Categories
Lethargy Productivity Studying Tension

Get Yourself Together

Take a step back and see where you are

One step back…

Unfortunately there are times in our lives when we just feel overwhelmed and find it difficult to sort out what we should be doing. No clear path to the road of order presents itself and we can be left a little befuddled.

At the same time it’s not uncommon to find ourselves being pulled in many different directions, all as important as the other, whether it be study life, work life balance issues or family. It easy in hindsight to realise that you should take a step back and take some time to assess where you are and what you should do, but when you’re deep in the thick of it, nothing looks straightforward.

But we shouldn’t fret as there are things that we can do to help lift the fog and clear the way for us to get back on track, so let’s dive in and figure them out.

Get Yourself Together
Photo by @kristin12 via Twenty20

The Descending Mist

Another assumption within the Effort-Reward Imbalance model points to over-commitment leading to sustained stress reactions…

Over-committed people exaggerate their efforts beyond levels usually considered appropriate, a behaviour also discussed in the personality-centred approaches of burnout.

Jenull, B., & Wiedermann, W. (2015). The Different Facets of Work Stress. /Journal of Applied Gerontology,/ /34(7),/ 823-843.

Loosing track of where you are is easy to do. The way that we work and/or study tends to encourage us to have tunnel vision and focus exclusively on what we have to do; and working this way helps to get things done.

However, these days we are increasingly finding ourselves having to multitask or focus on multiple things at once, just to keep up with the ever increasing demands for more productivity, better grades, or moving up the corporate or social ladder.

In addition, it can be very difficult to say no to the increased workloads as we may feel that this would affect our chances of promotion or put us at a disadvantage to our competition.

As the pressure builds we try to put more effort in and double down on a failing strategy unable to clearly see a way out of this mess. All we can do at this point is hope that our efforts are not in vain and that eventually we’ll make it through.

 

No Clear Way Out

However, before we know it, we are swamped with things to do and don’t have enough time or energy to get them done, with no clear way out of the mess we find ourselves in.

It’s at this point when we can find ourselves in a “danger zone” without even realising it; by unintentionally placing excessive pressure and demands on ourselves, we are actually stressing ourselves out and find that even the simplest things can overwhelm us.

And as I stated earlier, because we are so focussed on getting through what needs to be done, we can overlook some of the tell tale signs that tell us we are stressed and therefore miss an opportunity to take the appropriate actions needed to relieve the pressure. Some of these indicators include:

  • Feeling tense
  • Increased anger and/or frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low morale
  • Decrease in productivity
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disturbed or impaired sleep
  • Increased consumption of stimulants (caffeine or alcohol for example)
  • Over eating

Clarity

Now that we have made the link between feeling overwhelmed and stress and the negative effects that being stressed can have on your health and quality of life, what can we do to reduce or even better prevent the build up of stress in our lives?

  • Work / Study for reasonable hours
    It’s tempting to put in more hours in “the grind” trying to get things done than is actually possible, so set a target for your productive times during a stint and divide your day into productive things to be done and other tasks that need to be done.
    This leads me onto a side issue that has been in the software development world for years regarding how many hours per day you are actually doing productive work vs. meetings and non productive work. There are those among us (me being one of them) that believe that at best you can’t get more than five hours of truly productive work consistently per day. There are exceptions, but they don’t tend to last so long. In fact there’s a post by Joel Spolsky from 2002 where he mentions:

“What drives me crazy is that ever since my first job I’ve realized that as a developer, I usually average about two or three hours a day of productive coding. When I had a summer internship at Microsoft, a fellow intern told me he was actually only going into work from 12 to 5 every day. Five hours, minus lunch, and his team /loved/ him because he still managed to get a lot more done than average. I’ve found the same thing to be true.”

Joel Spolsky, founder of Trello, and Glitch, CEO of Stack Overflow from 2010-2019, Fire And Motion – Joel on Software

Please note I’m not saying that you should only work 4 or 5 hours a day, but rather that you should work out what works for you and get the majority of what needs to be done in that time. Throwing more hours at a problem usually doesn’t solve it!

  • Keep Family/Friends time or down time sacred
    Don’t sacrifice time for yourself and/or family and friends (or if you feel you have to, keep it at a minimum). To increase the quality (and perhaps quantity) of your life, a balanced work / social life is key. Although family and friends time can have their own stresses, the act of taking time out from an area and spending it in another can be all that is needed to lift our spirits (think, a change is as good as a rest).
  • Manage your workloads
    As with making sure you work within reasonable hours, managing your work takes it one step further. Make it a point to as best as you can organise the work that needs to be done, and where possible try not to overlap two or three demanding tasks with each other. If your work loads are out of your control, let your employer or manager know that it might be better to reorganise your workload so that you can be more productive. If you don’t ask you don’t get, so why not mention it to them (they’re human too).
  • Value yourself and the work/studying that you do
    By taking the time to truly know and appreciate yourself you’ll be less likely to abuse yourself with unreasonable demands and will eventually appreciate that your efforts are valuable. Doing this will eventually increase the quality of your output and productivity because you now work with value and purpose, which in turn will reduce the stress that you feel as you’ll be enjoying what you are doing.

Review

In summary, get yourself together by reducing the amount of stress that you subject yourself to. This starts by changing your attitude towards yourself and the things that you have to do. Taking the time to organise yourself to make this happen is your responsibility and ultimately you get the reward for the effort that you put in.

Just don’t stress about it 😉

Afterword

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

Cooper, C. (2003). Stress prevention in the police. /Occupational Medicine,/ /53(4),/ 244-245.

Categories
Energy Exercise Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleepiness Tiredness

How to Get Going

Or How to Get Things Done

Start now, worry later

Sometimes I find it difficult to start getting things done. It is annoying, because I either know what needs to be done, or what I want to do, but just lack the enthusiasm or motivation to do it.

Then there’s the times when I get things going but seem to run out of steam. It seems to take ever increasing amounts of effort just to carry on. It feels like my batteries are running on low and nothing I tried seemed to make any difference.

Eventually I found a link between my daytime sleepiness and the amount of work that I could get done. Slowly but surely, by addressing the factors that were causing me to be tired I was able to turn things around and reduce the amount of times when I just couldn’t get started.

Lets Get Going
Photo by @betobordoy via Twenty20

The Struggle

If you’re anything like me or experienced finding it difficult to get started then you know how frustrating it can be, whether it’s a task that you don’t look forward to or something that you need to get done, but just don’t know how to start.

The more you ponder on it the harder it becomes to get it done. Your mind can be caught in a loop of thinking about starting, not knowing where to start, then choosing to start and then wondering if you’ve started in the right place or not. Followed by stopping and then starting again, and so it continues.

Do this a couple of times and then just the thought of having to think about starting starts to make you feel drained and unmotivated to continue, which of course is not going to help you finish what you haven’t fully started.

It’s at these moments that I find myself yawning and feeling tired and wanting to go to sleep. But, here’s the thing; are you feeling tired because of trying to start the task or is the task hard to start because you are tired?

The Risk

When looking over my notes from the past when I’ve been at my most productive, a common factor that kept coming up was that I felt energised and it was as if I was fully charged, so much so that I found it difficult to stop and slow down. But whenever I was struggling to work I felt more tired than usual.

Researchers have known for a long time that daytime tiredness reduces your work efficiency and accuracy and may be either an indicator or cause of other health issues.

What is already known about this topic


– Excessive daytime sleepiness is a risk factor for various physical and mental disorders.


– Excessive daytime sleepiness is associated with low productivity, various traffic and industrial accidents caused by impaired attentiveness/judgement, tiredness, and low morale.


– In addiction to having adverse effects on an individual’s health and social life, excessive daytime sleepiness is a critical social and economic problem.

Suzuki, K., Ohida, T., Kaneita, Y., Yokoyama, E., & Uchiyama, M. (2005). Daytime sleepiness, sleep habits and occupational accidents among hospital nurses. /Journal of Advanced Nursing,/ /52(4),/

I decided to note how I felt as well as the quality and quantity of the sleep I was getting during my work stints to see if there was any link between that and how difficult I found it to get my work started and finished.

Over time it became increasingly obvious to me that the periods where my sleep had been disturbed or cut short seemed to match up with the quality of my work and how easy I found it to get things done. In one instance I noted that my motivation was extremely low and coincided with a period where I didn’t get much sleep due to some personal issues.

The lack of good quality sleep can be linked to:

  • Difficulty focussing
  • Reduced motivation
  • Inhibited problem solving skills
  • Confusion
  • Bad memory
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty communicating

And may increase the risk of:

  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • And obesity

Steps to Take

If you’ve been following this blog you’ll start to realise that there’s a common theme here… insure that you consistently have enough quality and quantity of sleep.

I would be as bold to state that by taking your sleep, diet and exercise seriously you will greatly improve not just your productivity but quality (and in some cases quantity of life).

And when I say seriously I don’t mean stern and hard, I mean that you prioritise those areas in your life, without getting stressed and obsessive about them. Approach everything with balance.

As a result of my study and writing for this blog, here are some of the processes that I’ve found helpful in getting me over the hump of starting to get going.

  • Note the purpose of what you want to achieve
    It greatly helps to know why you are doing something. By explicitly stating what you want to achieve you help give your mind focus to getting those things done.
  • Just Do Something
    Paralysis by analysis was a common theme that was being banded around when I was at university and the best lecturers let us know that we should start the assignments as soon as we received them. Why? Well it turns out that sometimes the best way to tackle something is to just do something and see what happens. Don’t get caught up in your mind getting stuck in a loop about what, then if. The act of doing something opens up your mind to getting on with the work no matter what. Now tie this point to the one above and you’ll be doing something with purpose which in turn will help you to focus on getting things done.
  • Make sure you are well rested
    I’ve mentioned this above and say it again, good quality sleep, not just quantity. Make sure you get enough of both. If you are close to a deadline or it’s difficult to get enough rest, remember the first two points and do something with purpose and take it from there. The best thing to do is to make sure that you get to bed on time to get enough good quality rest.

Review

I’ve found that the difficulty in getting started is usually down to me being tired or run down and not realising it. Overthinking starting is also an issue for me and that alone can drain my motivation.

What has helped me in the past and now is to:

  • Explicitly state what I want to achieve
  • Start anyway, and fix things that need to be fixed once I’ve got something done
  • And to get as much quality rest as I can possibly get

Afterword

“That’s been one of my mantras – focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

Steve Jobs

Categories
Alert Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Staying Awake

A New Paradigm For Staying Productive

V-CAF The New Productivity Hack

Stay Productive

It would be an understatement to say that in the past I found it challenging to stay consistently productive and hitting all my objectives. Not that I’ve magically got to this fantastical place and that now I’m some sort of productivity god that can’t be stopped.

No, presently where I find myself is a considerably better place than I was but there is always room for improvement. It was a long hard slog to get here and it can sometimes feel daunting thinking about just how much more I need to do to be at my optimal, let alone knowing if it is even possible to get to such a place.

Which brings us nicely to the theme of this post, productivity and what I’ve used to help improve my productivity. Along the way there’s been a lot of trial and error, but the good thing is that by experimenting and having deep thoughts about how I could improve it, led to the creation of our Apple Watch app, V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert.

Stay Productive
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

Full Steam Ahead

For most of my life it feels like I’ve been chasing deadlines or targets. In school it was to get good grades, in work it was to progress my career or earn more cash. I rarely took the time to think about why I’d chosen this approach, I just got on with it.

And I wasn’t the only one. Most people around me in the different environments that I’ve found myself in also had a similar approach. Whenever I felt in a reflective mood, usually after just making a deadline, I would speak with colleagues who all had their own way of dealing with productivity issues, which funnily enough were just variations on a few common themes.

Make lists, prioritise tasks, drink coffee, give yourself enough time, are some of the usual suspects that keep coming up. And although they all work to a degree, to me, none of them dealt with the actual underlying issue and all wouldn’t work as well as expected at a certain point.

Hitting the Wall

Prioritising tasks help and this is something that I just do. I’d organise my work in order of importance and away I’d go. I definitely recommend organising your tasks, but not to spend too much time doing it. And then there’s the fact that even though I’ve organised my work, there’s always (without fail), something else that comes up that forces me to have to reorganise and spend more time not actually doing the work, but doing the work around the work.

Drinking coffee has and still does work, but not in a sustainable way. When I was feeling tired and demotivated to get things done, then having a coffee would help perk me up. Things would get done, but only for a short period of time before I needed another shot of caffeine to get me through to the next dip. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a coffee once in a while, but to use it as a crutch to increase productivity just doesn’t work. The most obvious reason is that the more coffee (or caffeine) that you drink the more your body increases it’s tolerance to the drug leading you to need more of it to get the same productivity results.

Then there’s the addiction aspect. Many people feel that they can give up caffeine at the drop of a hat and don’t believe that they are addicted. I was one of those people until I actually tried to go without it for a while. That was quite an experience, I can tell you. Trying to give up caffeine can effect your productivity too as the withdrawal effects can make you feel terrible but you’d put it down to tiredness or not feeling well. Either way, I didn’t want my productivity to be dependent on the amount of a substance that I’d consume.

Changing Perspectives

So, what to do? What actually works? I tried numerous workflows and found that the Pomodoro Technique worked well when using Kanban (lean process management) and helped with giving me clear timeframes and slots to complete work. Giving myself more time to get things done and prioritising work did help, but something else was missing.

Then, during a break, I was walking in a park and enjoying the green when I realised that I was looking outside of myself for a solution to an internal problem. Earlier that day my boss had spoken about me looking tired and falling asleep at my desk. The problem was that I was working long hours and cutting into my down time before going to sleep and then waking up early to try and get as many hours as possible to throw at the problem.

What I needed was to step back and get more rest in order to get things done properly. As soon as I got back to my desk I started looking for information on sleep, productivity and daytime tiredness. It became something of an obsession for me as I started finding that when I started implementing the information that things got better. Productivity picked up and I felt much less stressed and more content with my work.

I began getting better quality sleep, exercising more, eating better and taking more breaks whilst at work. Whilst monitoring my mood and the amount of work that got done I started to realise that this was the missing component that was needed to sustainably maintain my level of productivity.

But being the stubborn kind of guy that I am, I found myself sometimes working through my breaks and not stepping away. When I did this, my stress levels went up and my productivity went down! Speaking with a colleague about this we came up with the idea to make an app that unlike any work flow process, actually worked with your body to help optimise work slots around your alertness levels.

That led us to create V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, an Apple Watch app, which is now available on iOS and macOS, that notifies you when your alertness levels are decreasing so that you can stop and revitalise yourself before your decreasing alertness affects your work. Over the last few years I’ve been using it daily and it feels like it was the last secret missing key for me to unlock my productivity potential.

Review

If you’re feeling that your productivity levels aren’t what they should be or feeling tired and lethargic, take the time to change your sleeping, eating and exercising habits.

I know that it can seem difficult, but anything of value has a difficulty factor attached to it. It’s easy to look for a quick fix to a solution but by actually paying the price of going through and overcoming a difficulty you will be paid back no end.

Afterword

“The associated annual economic costs due to lost productivity for the entire work population at the participating companies were estimated to be $54 million (~$1967/employee). Our findings highlight the potential for the improved detection and treatment of sleep disturbances to significantly improve workplace safety and productivity and reduce the associated economic costs.

Mark R. Rosekind, PhD, Kevin B. Gregory, BS, Melissa M. Mallis, PhD, Summer L. Brandt, MA, Brian Seal, PhD, and Debra Lerner, PhD, The Cost of Poor Sleep: Workplace Productivity Loss and Associated Costs, 2010; p.97

Categories
Alert Energy Exercise Focus Productivity Study Studying

How to Stay Focused In Three Easy Steps

As Easy As One, Two, Three

Just start…

There are a thousand and one different things competing for our attention at any given moment. Most of the time we naturally block out all that noise and tune in to what we turn our attention to.

But sometimes it can be really difficult to focus on something that we should or want to focus on. Likewise there are times when we don’t or shouldn’t focus on a particular thing but we nevertheless find it extremely difficult to not turn our attention to it.

I’ve tried various ways to help get my mind focussed on what I need to whilst putting aside issues that are more of a distraction rather than a must do, and in this post I’ll share three ways that have helped me to improve my focus.

Stay Focused
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

The Draining

Competing priorities are a daily occurrence to me. Family, work, study and personal health are all vying for centre stage in my mind. When I’ve been busy in the past I’ve just gone with the issue that’s more pressing at the time!

For example, if I have a work deadline that has to be done by Friday and it’s Thursday evening, then getting things done around the house will have to wait until Saturday. But if I also have to do the shopping on Saturday because the cupboards are bare, then shopping takes priority over the household chores.

Unfortunately whilst doing one thing my mind would partially be on having to figure out what I have to do next, which in turn takes focus away from what I’m doing, causing me to take longer than I would have if I’d just focused on what I’m doing at the moment.

Guilt and Competing Interests

At some point I would find myself doing a half hearted job, not feeling good about it and then rushing to get the next thing done. This would weigh on my mind and eventually I’d come to a grinding halt and do nothing or just feel so tired that I’d might as well do nothing.

Part of the problem is that by not prioritising what needs to be done and listing them down (either on paper or electronically) I was adding more stress than I needed to myself every day and then wondering why I wasn’t feeling as productive as I could have been.

Another part of the problem was due to feeling tired. A lot of the time I found that when I felt the most lethargic I would tend to procrastinate more than usual before starting a task. All the time I spent delaying starting would make me feel guilty and that eventually would make me feel more tired, which made it more difficult for me to start.

Overcoming

Being as stubborn as I am, it took for some subtle changes to be forced upon me for me to realise that without too much effort I could feel better and think clearer with more focus!

Had I listened I wouldn’t of had to feel. My lack of focus wasn’t just a focussing problem, but rather a warning from my body to change how I went about things.

These are the relatively easy steps I had to take to get my focus back on track:

  • Consistently have 7-9 hours of quality sleep.
    Sleep is a basic human need. As you know we need it to function “normally”. The problem is that we can undervalue just how much we need a good nights sleep; especially whilst studying or working. For many, (including myself), it becomes one of the first things that we sacrifice in order to reach our objectives.

Nicole Bieske, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International Australia, has stated the opinion of her organization thus: “At the very least, sleep deprivation is cruel, inhumane and degrading. If used for prolonged periods of time it is torture.”

Sleep deprivation – Wikipedia

So why do this to ourselves? Be nice to yourself, and get more sleep. I did, and I believe that doing this was a significant factor in improving my focus.

  • Enjoy a healthy lifestyle
    Eating healthly, moderate exercise and reducing your stress are all helpful ways to improve your focus. How? Directly and indirectly by helping you to sleep better and by making your body more resilient. For example just a 20 minute walk can aid with improving your sleep quality, whilst at the same time improving your blood circulation, which also aids concentration and keeping you alert.
  • Take a break when you are tired

I know when I am getting sleepy
MYTH.
People are very poor judges of how tired they are. As a result, they often drive when they are drowsy, and struggle through the day not realizing that they are far from their best.

Wiseman, Richard. Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep (pp. 294-295). Pan Macmillan.

Be aware and look out for the classic signs of tiredness – lack of motivation, tiredness, difficulty concentrating. The difficulty here is being aware of these tell tale signs. Thankfully our Apple Watch app, V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, notifies you at the times when your alertness levels are decreasing, so that you can concentrate on getting on with the task at hand. Since using the app I’ve found it invaluable in helping me to know when I’m not focussing at my best. When the alarm goes off, I take that as a cue to have a break (usually, I take napping breaks, or go for a walk), after which I feel more energised and ready to continue from where I left off.

Summary

Your lack of focus may be due to being tired and/or overworked and not realising it. It’s one of the many signs your body sends you to warn you to change what you are doing.

Take note of how much sleep that you are getting, if you are exercising regularly enough and eating healthily.

And also remember to take regular breaks when you feel yourself getting overly tired.

Afterword

“If you don’t get enough sleep then you’ll struggle to concentrate, become accident-prone, lack willpower, and become less productive. Worse still, you will increase your chances of becoming overweight, having a heart attack, and dying early.”

Wiseman, Richard. Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep (p. 295). Pan Macmillan.”