Featured

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.

How Mindfulness Can Boost Your Alertness

Stay Present

Stay Relevant…

A constant annoyance of mine has been the amount of times I get distracted whilst working. It’s not that I can’t focus, but never ending interruptions via messaging, emails or people just talking to me when I’m deeply engrossed in something makes it feel like I’m not making any progress.

Currently I’m working on a project with a lot of people from across the world. Coordination between everyone has to be very tight otherwise we can loose sight of our main goal and risk failing. Me being me, I allowed myself to become sidetracked and as a result missed an important milestone.

My initial response was to blame everyone that distracted me from my project objectives, but a little while later by chance I found an article on mindfulness which helped me change my perspective.

How Mindfulness Can Boost Your Alertness
Photo by Ray Kay,, Ray Kay, @by.raykay

Unintentional Overloading

Whilst reflecting on the situation, I noticed the small things that I had been doing that led me to being distracted. Eager to get ahead and finish as quickly as I could, I hastily jumped straight into the work without first planning a proper strategy to getting the things that needed to be done, done.

This led me to start to ask others about what they thought was needed for getting things done. Whilst it’s good to talk and share ideas, it also tends to lead to a constant “back and forth” style of working, that does work, but not for every single task.

Soon I found myself with a lot of extra tasks added to my workload, some of which had very little to do with achieving our team’s goals.

Not Being Here

The extra tasks started to look like a mountain of pain and I started to focus on what I didn’t want to do rather than what was needed to be done.

Although I was engaging in meetings, email conversations and phone calls, I wasn’t really there. The nagging mountain of pain was always just at the back of my mind, calling out to me, and subtly draining my energy away from the present.

I became more restless and stressed and found it difficult to focus. The deadline was looming and I felt like I had no way of escaping. Then the desperation set in. I started working long hours to try to salvage something but found myself having to explain my actions to everyone around. They sensed that something was wrong, and I knew it too.

It seemed the harder I tried to get things done, nothing was actually done! I was stressed and it was making the situation worse.

Paying Attention

Moments like these can be draining and rob you of your self confidence, but thankfully there are measures that we can take to turn things around and regain control of first ourselves, and then the situation.

One such tool is mindfulness. I think of it as a collection of techniques and ideas that have been proven to help lessen stress and build mental resilience, especially when you’re under pressure.

Mindfulness is the act of being present in the here and now, without the need to judge or label what you are experiencing, but rather being aware of what is going on, around you and inside of yourself.

Luckily for me I had been exposed to some mindfulness techniques via one of my martial arts masters and in this case I started to put it to work as soon as I realised that I was spiralling out of control.

I stopped what I was doing and found a quiet place where I could be alone. I then sat on a chair, set a 10 minute alarm on my watch, and made myself as comfortable as possible, before closing my eyes and concentrating on my breath.

When breathing in I would “breath deep” in the sense that I would push out my belly as I inhaled until I couldn’t any more, and then exhale whilst pulling my belly in to gently push all the air out from my lungs.

Whilst doing this my mind would wonder, and when I caught myself I would bring my attention back to my breathing, without getting angry or judging it in anyway.

Because I was already in crisis mode I was reluctant to take any breaks and tried to carry on. But on one such occasion I was feeling tired and used our app, V-CAF to alert me as I grew even more tired. When the alarm rang, it reminded me to step away and take a break. Bingo, the perfect time to have a quick breathing meditation session!

For the rest of the project I made a point of using V-CAF to notify me to take breaks, which I would use as my meditation breaks. I reaped the benefits of this one change and achieved the rest of my milestones with room to spare.

The Take Aways

The simple act of bringing your attention to your breathing is the perfect exercise for training your mind on being present and aware.

Doing this and other exercises like it will help to build your focus and willpower and make you more aware of what is going on with your body and mind.

Being aware of this helps build your general awareness and therefore make you more alert to your moods and environment.

Being Mindful

It is easy to be overwhelmed by your workloads or stressful situations, but by taking a deep breath and stepping back, you can gain a clearer picture of what is really happening whilst keeping your head.

Deep breathing and other mindfulness techniques can be used to help you regain control of what may seem to be an out of control situation.

Try the breathing meditation the next time you get into a difficult situation and don’t forget to let us know how you got on by leaving a comment below.

Napping – A Sign of Laziness or Smart Working?

Power Nap To Get Things Done

Rinse, Repeat…

Drifting off to sleep at the the most inappropriate times has been something that has plagued me from school. As I got older I thought that things would improve, but sitting in meetings after lunch have proved that wrong.

My initial attempts of trying to use caffeine to keep me awake and alert did work, but soon after heading down that road stopped being so effective, and had side effects on me that I wasn’t too pleased with.

As a result, a work colleague and I decided to put our heads together to build an app that would notify you when your alertness started to decrease and also created this blog to inform others in a similar situation.

But, as our research into this phenomena expanded we found something that consistently appeared to work in boosting people’s productivity levels that was so simple and made sense, that we wondered why society saw it as problem rather than as a cure.

Napping - A Sign of Laziness or Smart Working?
Photo by Rob Christian Crosby, Robert Cross, @robcros

Being A Slacker

Whether in school, college, the workplace or social situations, it’s generally frowned upon to appear to be tired. It gives off a sense of laziness on the part of the poor soul that finds themselves in that situation.

In work and college I found that people were very proud of the fact that they had very little sleep to get things done and would delight in telling me how they just powered through the tiredness to meet deadlines.

It was almost as if they used their tiredness as a badge of pride to show how hard they were working. But unfortunately for them they either didn’t get the grades that they thought they deserved or the quality of the work that they produced was found wanting.

I found this out the hard way by giving in to the brow bashing, and although I had seen the results of this approach on others around me, I complied as I didn’t want to be seen as the slacker, who doesn’t give his all.

Things Aren’t Getting Done

At first I thought that I was managing to keep up with the workloads, the long days and very little rest and sleep, because “Hey I’ve got work to do!”

But as time went on I found it difficult to concentrate, and even simple tasks started to seem like climbing the Matterhorn. My productivity started to go down and I started hating coming into the office.

This is not surprising or uncommon. Recent research suggests that working fatigued has hidden health-related costs that costs the economy billions of dollars each year in lost productivity:

“According to a fatigue cost estimator from the National Safety Council and Brigham and Women’s Sleep Matters Initiative, health-related cost of lost productivity is $136 billion a year. Further, a reported 70% of Americans regularly experience insufficient sleep. Sleep loss, especially in the
presence of underlying sleep disorders, results in reduced workplace productivity and increased absenteeism, health care expenditures, workplace accidents and injuries, and motor vehicle accidents during commutes. “

(2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. SLEEP, 42(8)

Visiting The Land of Nod

After a relatively short time I grew frustrated with this way of working and went back to how I work best and listened to myself and body. When feeling tired I decided to go out to a library near where I worked and have a snooze in a corner somewhere.

I also cut down on how much I ate during lunch, reduced or cut out carbohydrates, ate more protein and got most of the difficult work I could out of the way in the mornings (which happens to be my better time for working). Where possible I moved my meetings to the early afternoon, just after my snooze, so I could be more attentive and contribute more.

Using our app V-CAF helped to let me know when my alertness levels were dropping and I used it as my break alarm, so that I would stop what I’m doing before making any mistakes and allowing me to review what I’d done up to that point.

Also, I would wake up earlier in the mornings and do my daily workout (which is probably why it’s easier to get the difficult work done in the mornings), drink more water and get to bed as early as possible.

I have to say, that after adding these changes into my daily work mode I’ve come to find work fun again, and get more done in shorter periods of time.

Along with recommendations to sleep 7-9 hours at night, daytime naps are being integrated into workplace culture in the world’s largest grossing tech, consulting, media, and retail companies: Google, Uber, Nike, Cisco, Zappos, Huffington Post, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Proctor & Gamble, and Ben & Jerry’s. Not only do these companies encourage workplace naps, but they provide accommodations, such as rooms secluded for the purpose of napping, often equipped with nap pods or beds.

(2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. SLEEP, 42(8)

Key Points

Sometimes we need to take stock of what is best for us rather than following the herd. Taking a 20 minute nap whilst at work is not only good for our productivity, but good for our health and wellbeing too.

  • Working whilst fatigued reduces productivity and has hidden costs to industry.
  • Do your more challenging work in the mornings (if you are a morning person).
  • Eat light, protein rich lunches and drink more water.
  • Move meetings to just after your naps if you can.
  • Take regular breaks whilst working where possible.
  • Get more sleep (between 7 to 9 hours each night).
  • And take a nap (again, where possible). It’s not being lazy and can actually boost the quality of your productivity.

Moving On

Nobody knows you better than you. Learn to listen and trust yourself. Society is usually slow to adapt to each persons needs and wants. If you are feeling tired, try not to plough on like a machine, but take a step back and give yourself a break.

Try it and let us know how you get on in the comments below.

Tea – Is It The Best Drink of the Day?

Caffeine To The Tea

Nothing beats a good cuppa…

I like drinking tea. For quite some time I’ve been drinking mostly herbal teas and occasionally I drink a few black leaved teas and green teas, but this has been a problem.

Although a lot of people point out the benefits of tea, especially its anti carcinogenic properties, tea has a very high caffeine content, which is usually dismissed as being outweighed by all the other benefits. Even to the point that some studies show that there are no harmful effects of drinking caffeine in tea when drunk in reasonable amounts.

But what are reasonable amounts and how much caffeine can I consume before it becomes harmful to me.

Tea - Is It The Best Drink of the Day
Photo by Maresa (@meezsmith)

Tea, Natures Gift

It appears that I’m not the only one who likes to drink tea. According to World Tea News , tea is the most consumed prepared beverage after packaged water!

Tea Consumption Second Only to Packaged Water | World Tea News
Tea Consumption Second Only to Packaged Water | World Tea News

Part of tea’s popularity has been due to the marketing of its health benefits. Most of these stem from catechises and polyphenols which are tea’s main source of antioxidants, and give tea its taste and anti carcinogenic properties.

But what is not widely known is that tea can raise blood pressure, cause palpitations, anxiety and insomnia for some people.

The Gift and The Curse

The source of these symptoms are due to tea containing high levels of caffeine. Although caffeine can be found in many food and drinks, it is mostly consumed in the forms of coffee and tea.

Caffeine is easily absorbed by the body and can reach your brain within 5 minutes of consumption, which has helped increase its popularity as a mild stimulant that is effective in temporarily overcoming drowsiness and fatigue. In addition it has been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease and improved overall immune response.

But this comes at a cost. Caffeine can have many adverse effects such as:

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Osteoporosis

The Alternatives

If you are sensitive to caffeine but enjoy drinking tea, all hope is not lost. There are decaffeinated teas which have a reduced amount of caffeine in them, but from my perspective, unfortunately lack the taste and a lot of the health benefits associated with tea.

There are a few good decaf green teas that I’ve tried but for the most part I don’t bother, (If you know of any good decaf teas, please list them in the comments).

By chance I had a discussion with a family member about a particular herbal tea that I thought had caffeine in it, which they said it didn’t. After going back and forth at each other for a while, they got fed up, went online, and showed me the list of ingredients. Low and behold, no caffeine!

Since then I’ve made it a mission of mine to find good quality herbal teas that taste fantastic and have little or no caffeine in them at all, (Healthista has a list of ten caffeine free teas to get you started, 10 caffeine-free teas for morning energy – TESTED).

As for black and green tea drinkers there is still hope. Apparently there’s a lot of research currently into producing caffeine free tea plants. Traditional farming methods currently take approximately twenty five years to produce a plant which may not be suitable for consumption. As a result alternative methods such as metabolic engineering are being explored and the results look promising.

A Quick Review

So, there’s no real need to give up drinking teas if you don’t want to. I still drink caffeinated teas occasionally, but since finding so many herbal tea alternatives I usually don’t bother.

  • Teas contain antioxidants and other health benefits, but the benefits can be cancelled out by the caffeine content (a build up over time).
  • Decaf teas still contain caffeine and strip away a lot of the healthy antioxidants.
  • There are plenty of good quality herbal alternatives that keep the healthy benefits of tea without compromise.
  • There soon could be metabolically engineered caffeine free teas.

Next Steps

I’m constantly trying out new alternatives and experimenting with what works for me. By keeping an open mind I’ve grown to like drinking tea even more.

I’d suggest that if you like tea and want to reduce or eliminate your caffeine intake, try out a few herbal alternatives, and even the decafs and find what works for you.

Doubt and Caffeine Addiction

Be Bold & Have Faith In Yourself

Believe in yourself…

Soon after finally accepting I had a caffeine addiction and knowing that I had to do something to change the situation, I began to realise just how much hard work it would take me to not only give up drinking caffeine, but even to reduce the amount that I consumed.

Up until then, I thought that caffeine had been a beneficial aid that helped me to get things done and help me to achieve many of my academic and professional goals, so it was hard to accept that I would have to give up the “little cup of miracles” without it impacting my productivity in some shape or fashion.

Doubt and Caffeine Addiction
Photo by Kay Isabedra @kee_says

Dependency

Change is hard at the best of times. Multiply that by 100 when you have a dependency on a substance or behaviour.

Over the years, without fail, when resolving to give up caffeine I’m full of enthusiasm and resolve, but being honest, there’s always a niggling doubt that I won’t be able to do it!

As time goes by, that doubt begins to grow and eventually I give in to temptation, finding ways to justify it to myself 🙁

Robbing You of Confidence

Unfortunately the more you give in the stronger that doubt grows until it potentially stops you from even trying.

Doubt has the power to reduce the levels of your self confidence to a point where you have low self esteem and appear weak and unsure to yourself and others.

Looking back at the times around my attempts to give up caffeine, I also remember that these were some of the most stressful times in my life both professionally and personally.

My lack of trust in myself was causing me and others to second guess my decisions. In fact, I remember a discussion I had with one of my managers at the time who said “If you don’t believe in yourself, who else will”!

Faith

Later on, remembering that discussion, I made the decision to try quitting again, but this time I would try something different. I would learn from my past failed attempts and figure out what I could do differently.

Instead of making it an all or nothing affair, I resolved to take smaller steps over shorter timespans. For example, instead of never having caffeine again, I would go for no caffeine days once or twice a week, and then increase from there until I could do seven days.

Also, if I found myself unintentionally consuming caffeine in any form, as soon as I noticed, I would stop there and then, and continue my abstinence for the day. No getting upset with myself, or judging myself in a negative way, but actually rewarding myself for noticing that I was slipping and continuing anyway.

Steps like these not only helped me to eventually overcome the cravings, but had an unexpected side effect, my faith in myself and abilities began to increase for the first time in years.

Key Points

To me doubt is closely related to fear. In his book, Dune, Frank Herbert addresses overcoming fear through the Litany Against Fear, as recited by the main character Paul Atreides:

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Frank Herbert, Dune

If there is any field of endeavour that will improve you that’s difficult to overcome, and you have doubt in your abilities:

  • Jump In
    The act of starting to try to overcome can lead you to immediately make progress. The longer you dither about whether you should or shouldn’t do something, the greater risk that any doubt you have will grow and affect the outcome of the endeavour negatively.
  • Take Small Steps
    Give yourself small achievable targets at first. It is easier to adjust your approach to an issue when they are manageable. Plus, by having quick wins earlier, you help build confidence and momentum to tackle the inevitable obstacles later on.
  • Don’t Judge
    If you find yourself falling don’t be tough on yourself but rather be thankful for being able to recognise that you did fall and that it’s okay. This will help you to not give up and even give you the motivation to continue trying.

Final Thoughts

Nowadays I can drink a coffee, tea or cola and not feel guilty at all. I no longer have caffeine pangs and I can go for weeks without realising that I haven’t had a coffee. I have confidence that I am in control of my wants.

Don’t let doubt rob you of the confidence to be yourself.

Pause, Stop & Start

Pause, Stop & Start

Three steps to closer to clearer focus…

Life can feel as if it has its own momentum with meetings, timetables, meal times and our list of things to-do can seem endless. We can go weeks, months or years knowing that we are stuck in a rut and need a new direction, change of scene or some type of action that calls us out of our comfort zone. In our minds we carry solutions to problems and sometimes even talk ourselves out of the solution before we have even fully realize them! With so much chatter in our daily lives, we can get lost in the cacophony.

Pause, Stop & Start
Photo by Allie Lehman @alliepal

Call it what you will but the universe always has a way of grabbing our attention and giving us moments to pause. It can be in the form of hearing a few notes to a forgotten song, a smell that reminds us of someone or even a taste that transports us almost instantly to a memory held inside us. Whatever it is, it gives us a moment to pause. Just like seeing amber at the traffic light we make a quick intuitive decision. Slow down and pay attention to what is being communicated or rush on with the belief that it’s too late to stop – regardless. With V-CAF there is a gentle reminder to take care. The beauty of the pause is that we can lead ourselves to the stop. A place not of failure but a chance to check-in with our authentic self and consider whether our actions are from deep within. Sometimes busy is an excuse in disguise. It is not easy but there is joy in connection to purpose and not the ego driven taskmaster of the mind.

In Closing

Many of us as children found amazement and wonder in everything. Try to discover this again and start to see & feel the precious gift of the present moment. There is something to unfold in even the most mundane tasks or surroundings when you start to connect all of your senses and give yourself permission to be fully alive. So next time you have an ‘amber’ moment, decide if you are going in the best direction or take a deep breath and turn onto a new road.

How Caffeine Changed My Life For The Better

V-CAF Article Title

As far back as my student days when trying to pass exams to get into university, caffeine and I have had a love hate relationship.

Caffeine has helped me get through difficult exams, work pressure and setting up home. Each time I’ve used it I’ve said to myself, “Just this last time”.

However, whenever the next “difficult patch” came up, I found myself binging on caffeine in a desperate attempt to stay focused.

How Caffeine Changed My Life For The Better
Photo by Richard Harris, Streets of London

Caffeine the God Send

From when I was around 7 years old I can remember loving drinking cola. I would get overly excited both before and after drinking it and remember the adults getting annoyed at my friends and I as we just couldn’t stop running up and down.

I also remember the adults drinking coffee and someone saying that it was like cola for adults to help them stay awake and get things done. I used to think that there must be something magical about it, however as I got older and had more assignments and exams to pass, I grew to found out what that magic was.

Something Ain’t Right in Paradise

As the work that I had to complete gradually became more challenging, I found myself staying up later just to be able to have enough time to finish my assignments and complete my studies.

Finding it difficult to stay focused on all the work that needed to be done I turned to coffee, colas and eventually caffeine pills. These worked, but what seemed to me like only a few days, I found myself consuming an increasing amount of caffeine in different forms just to be able to feel normal.

Even though some of my close buddies tried to warn me, I eventually got to a point where my hands started shaking uncontrollably. Luckily it wasn’t like a bad case of Parkinson’s disease, but it was enough to scare me into giving up caffeine.

The Turning Point

Years later I was on a job that was very demanding of my time and energy. Over the course of two years consistently working long days and nights as well as having to travel every few weeks between two countries, my body decided enough was enough.

I began feeling sluggish and unmotivated. I even started drinking a zero cola very regularly without thinking about what I was actually doing. But eventually I’d kicked the can as far as I could and found that I was starting to fall asleep at work.

My work colleagues tried to give me hints but eventually our boss took me aside and told me to get myself together. Angry and frustrated at myself I looked for quick fixes to help me save my job. However, what I found was far more valuable and actually helped me to overcome the tiredness to the point where I can now recognise what is going on and take the necessary steps to recover quickly.

Looking Back

Caffeine was the catalyst for my transformation. It helped me to recognise that it wasn’t the caffeine, but rather my approach to work and life that needed to change.

By seeking ways to help me out of a difficult situation, I actually helped myself by finding out what the cause of my tiredness was and reduce its negative effects on my life.

Moving Forward

From that point on I’ve resolved to try to help others who may be going through a similar rough patch in their lives. This blog and our app, V-CAF, are the culmination of our experiences and research into overcoming tiredness without the need for caffeine.

Please help us by sharing and commenting on our blog posts, letting people know about our app and hopefully finding that our efforts are of use to you too.

Increase Productivity Through Consistency

Productivity & Consistency

Consistency Increases Productivity

Recently, during one of my downtime breaks, I found myself reflecting on the times that I’ve felt the most content and satisfied with who I am and where I find myself.

As I thought about the different phases of my life I found that the times when I felt most content compared to those when I didn’t, were when I got involved in activities that required me to put in consistent effort and maintain a certain level of discipline, whilst at the same time being able to track my progress in said activities.

Conversely, the times where I had no direction and seemed to be doing things ad hoc were the time times where I felt most stressed, unsatisfied, and least productive.

As we’ve slowed down a little after our last busy stretch, we discussed how and why this was and wanted to share a little of our discussions with you.

ncrease Productivity Through Consistency
Photo by KRISTINE ISABEDRA, Weekend Brainstorm 7

In a Slump

I, like most people, get fed up from time to time, especially when I’ve got a lot to do, but for whatever reason, I don’t start them; or when I do start them I realise that I have more work than I planned for!

Frustration soon sets in because it either feels like it’s impossible to make any progress or I become overwhelmed and eventually nothing gets done. It only takes a few sessions like that to cause your productivity levels to fall into a slump whilst your dissatisfaction levels reach all time highs.

And, as is the case with these kind of situations, you can find that your lack of progress leads to less productivity which leads into even more lack of progress, and so it goes on.

The Lack of Progress

The feeling of not making any or significant progress whether related to a specific life goal or routine tasks can lead to feelings of despair, helplessness or even depression.

Perceived failure to accomplish a task or reach a goal can reinforce a negative self image which can make it more difficult to start any future projects for fear of failing again.

This compounds the problem because the act of accomplishing a goal or completing a task can help raise your self esteem which can then act as a positive reinforcement mechanism to help fuel your will to complete further goals.

Turning things Around

Fortunately the steps needed to break out of this cycle are relatively simple to start. The trick is continue to use them until they become a habit or part of your being.

  • Divide and Prioritise
    Whatever task you have, look at what the big goal or purpose is and keep this as the higher level or main purpose for the sub task(s).
    Subtask(s) are made up of the smaller tasks that need to be completed in order to complete the higher level goal. Make these subtasks as small, focused and defined as possible.
    The result will be that you have manageable, and more importantly, visible steps towards your goal. Each task completed helps motivate you to do the next one as you come closer to achieving your goal.
  • Do something every day towards your goal
    Make it your number one priority to do something towards your goal every day. This will give your willpower a boost so that it eventually becomes second nature for you to complete the tasks that get you closer to your goal. As you become more proficient your productivity levels will grow and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get things done.
  • Stay Consistent
    Even when you don’t feel like doing your planned tasks for the day, just start. The act of starting can help focus your mind for the task at hand and you may even be surprised at how productive you’ve been when you finally complete your task(s).
    For example, I’m writing this after a long day of training, completing various planned tasks, completing various unplanned other tasks, and feeling like I want to go to bed. However, the consistency bug is in me now and I’m happy with the results so far 😉
    Also, schedule your planned work for the same time every day! I’ve found that by doing this I now naturally find myself just getting on with my tasks without too much pontification.

What We’ve Learned

There’s nothing said in this blog that we don’t already know:

  • Plan, divide and prioritise your goals/tasks
  • Work on your tasks every day
  • Stay consistent

Being productive can help you feel more content with yourself and your life in general, and being content helps to boost your productivity.

Progressing from Here

I don’t think life is all about goals, but they are a useful tool that can help you appreciate life in general. Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , Volume 34 (11): 14 – Nov 1, 2008. Take it easy people…

“There certainly are benefits to thinking of goals at a higher level; these higher level goals are more self-relevant and holistic and give us a sense of direction in our lives. However, when focusing solely on the higher level goal, a person is more vulnerable to the detrimental and amotivating effects of momentary failure. This does not mean we should never look up from what we are doing: There are times when the prize must be referenced, re-examined, or even rejected. However, as a general strategy, it seems that especially during times of difficulty, it is more beneficial to keep your nose to the grindstone.”

Houser-Marko, L., & Sheldon, K. (2008). Eyes on the Prize or Nose to the Grindstone? The Effects of Level of Goal Evaluation on Mood and Motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(11), 1556-1569.

Boost Your Productivity, Focus and Wakefulness

V-CAF watchOS/iOS/macOS

Stay Awake, Stay Alert, Stay Focused

We’ve been a little busy over here at V-CAF. Tight deadlines, issues to fix and increasing demands have been taking their toll for the past few weeks!

Anyways, being that we espouse the virtues of working smart without having to resort to caffeine, I thought I’d share some of the techniques and processes that proved to be invaluable .

In a relatively short amount of time, we accomplished a fair amount (if I may say so myself), and I hope that you’ll find what we’ve done inspirational and more importantly, useful to you.

V-CAF Stay Awake, Stay Alert
Use the Apple Watch app with the Mac desktop app to help keep you awake, alert and focused.

Heavy Workloads

Since the new year I’ve had a ton of work that I’ve been committed to. We had decided to make some major changes to our app V-CAF, which included a new version compatible with macOS desktop and laptops.

Unfortunately at the same time we also had personal commitments that couldn’t be ignored, and would take up a great deal of our time.

My head felt like it was going to explode and at the time I had no idea how we could honour all those commitments.

Decline in Standards

A lot of people faced with tight deadlines tend to power through and force themselves to achieve their goals through thick and thin.

I’ve done this in the past, and although I met most of the goals, I knew that it wasn’t my best work, leaving me feeling flat and exhausted.

Working like this once in a while doesn’t do too much harm, but if it starts to become a regular occurrence both the quality of your work and temperament can suffer.

Quality Wins

So, how did we get through our recent busy spell? By using some of the techniques that I’ve written about in the past, and using some new combinations.

  • Planning Work Ahead of Time
    Before diving straight into the tasks, we planned the order and importance of work that needed to be done. This way we had a clear view of what work should be done and a clear indication of what work had been done so that we could visibly track our progress. Tools such as Kanban or Jira are good for tracking your progress. (both are primarily aimed at software development, but can be adapted to any project or task)
  • Breaking Down Tasks Into 20-25 min Blocks
    Instead of trying to complete everything at once, divide and conquer. Each of the major tasks were broken into smaller sub parts, which had the result of helping us to focus on one specific issue at a time. This helped us to work faster and improve quality. The Pomodoro technique worked wonderfully here – The Pomodoro Tracker — A useful tool for time management based on Pomodoro Technique.!
  • Take A Break When Tired
    It can be hard to stop when you are tired, especially when a deadline approaches. Also most people become so focussed on their work that they don’t realise how tired they are, but working whilst tired leads to an increase in the probability that the quality of your work will diminish. V-CAF, an Apple Watch app, informs you when your alertness decreases and is ideal for helping you stay alert and focused.
  • Get Enough Sleep
    This is the master key to all the other techniques. I don’t know about you, but when I have tight deadlines I tend to work longer hours and cut into my down time, which in turn cuts into my sleep time. Again, once in a while is okay, but constantly working like this for a week can really have a detrimental effect on your productivity.
    Prioritise your sleep. Make time for it and get enough good quality sleep. If you are finding it difficult to sleep (due to stress for example), then try exercising at some point during the day for 30 minutes or more. Exercise has been proven to improve the quality of your sleep almost immediately! Just make sure you don’t exercise within two hours before you plan to go to bed.

In Retrospect

These are the main techniques that I used and they worked well. Not listed are the new combinations that we tried and got very positive results from.

As an example, one of our tasks was to create V-CAF Desktop. We had built desktop applications for other platforms, but this was our first for macOS.

To help us achieve this goal we planned the tasks that would get us to our desired result, and stuck to using V-CAF the watchOS app to keep us from working whilst being overtired. In addition we added another task that was dependant on completing the desktop app which involved using V-CAF desktop to complete the video editing and sourcing tasks.

This allowed for us to test the desktop app in the real world whilst completing another of our tasks. A classic “Two birds, one stone” situation, that helped us boost both our productivity and quality.

Conclusion

Increasing your productivity, focus and wakefulness doesn’t rely on any one special secret technique, but the willingness to experiment and find what works for you.

Before you start your next deadline or goal plan which techniques you’ll try.

Finally, post your tips and the techniques in the comments so that we and other readers can try them out too!

Caffeine, Studies and Your Skin

Experts & Your Choices

Your Life, Your Choices…

Where I live daylight hours are starting to get longer, but most days seem to be overcast, dull and cold, (not the most optimal conditions to be trying to give up caffeine).

During a break I read an article on the pros and cons of drinking coffee, and the question came up if coffee was bad for your skin and concluded that it depends on how you consume it.

Now, given that it’s cloudy, cold and dark around here, and knowing that at least a couple of people have decided to give up coffee and caffeine, I wondered how many people would use an article like this to justify continuing to over consume caffeine in it’s various forms.

Later I read a few studies around this topic and decided to write a brief post on the importance of choosing what’s best for you.

Caffeine, Studies and Your Skin - Choices
Photo by Burst @burst on Unsplash, Lost in the Maze

Which One?

Life seems to be all about choices; the ones we’ve made in the past, our present, and the future. Some are good, some not so much. Either way whatever we choose have consequences, and it’s thoughts about these consequences that can grind us down or help us to make impulse decisions.

Which is why so many of us find it easy to default to what the experts say on what is right or wrong, good or bad. The thing is, that many of the experts can’t agree on anything. One group of experts says one thing is good, only to be contradicted by another group. Which expert is right? (Yet another choice).

Bias and Objectivity

In this scientific age of reason, it is easy to assume that once we have all the facts (or as much of them as we can handle) in front of us, that by using reason and logic we can make a reasonably objective and informed judgement on what is right and what is wrong.

“Well, the science tends to suggest that this is correct”, which is true in a very specific environment, but may not be so in another. Researchers and academics no matter how noble their intentions and rigorous their methodologies are not immune to their biases, which is why they have peer review boards and associations to cross check their findings. Even I admit that I may have a few biases 😉

Knowing this helps us to understand why there can be contradictions in studies that apparently test the same thing.

A Few Pointers

Let’s go back to the article that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. By the time we get to the end of it we have a list of facts that explain away the contradictions regarding caffeine and its effects on your skin:

  • Caffeine may help prevent skin cancer, but drink no more than one to two cups per day of black coffee with no sugar (eating chocolate and drinking sodas don’t help either).
  • Drink high quality coffee and not decaf.
  • You don’t have to drink coffee to get the skin cancer fighting benefits. Apply coffee/caffeine directly to your skin.

So drinking a moderate amount of black coffee a day can help prevent skin cancer (and other cancers). Drinking six plus cups of sweetened or milky coffee can have adverse effects on your health.

If you are trying to give up caffeine, but want the benefits (for your skin at least), rub coffee or caffeine into your skin, you don’t have to eat or drink it!

A Brief Recap

So, truth is in the eye of the beholder. Experts are subject to their own biases just as much as the rest of us.

Understanding this should lead us to cross check and find counter arguments against a particular point of view so that we can try to get a better insight of the topic.

What’s Best for You

Goals are good, they help to motivate us to do better, but I think that there’s a better way to improve that is sustainable and will take us beyond our goals.

Implement systems or processes into our life that will make us improve every day if we so desire. As an example, instead of saying “No more coffee or caffeine for me ever again” how about trying to see how many days you can go without caffeine and give yourself rewards at set milestones to help encourage you to keep going?

A New Beginning

A New Way For A New Year

Don’t Give Up & Be Consistent

It’s been a while since the last article was published, so belated new year’s greetings to you and yours.

During the holiday season a lot of you may have had the time to reflect on the past year and think about how you would like this new year to pan out.

Giving up or reducing the amount of caffeine that you consume is a common goal, and by coincidence a key objective of this blog, so we’ll be looking into sustainable strategies that can help you succeed.

As an added benefit some of the tips that we suggest can be used for your other resolutions or objectives too!

Success - A New Beginning
Success – The result of planning, hard work and luck.

The Typical Approach

Maybe because of tradition, or the fact that so many people are also thinking similar thoughts at around the same time, it seems to be easier to have good intentions about changing an aspect of yourself and proclaiming it to your nearest and dearest.

The first few days or weeks go well, but after a while you start to lose motivation and can eventually stop trying all together!

Never mind, there’s always next year…

Why it Doesn’t Work

It’s not just at New Years that we can fail to keep up with our intentions to do better. Dieting for your summer holidays, starting a new workout routine, giving up or reducing caffeine, or any other big change takes time and a lot of willpower.

At the time when we decide to take on the challenge we tend to be full of willpower and excitement. This is due in part to us focussing on the end goal and seeing ourselves making it to the end, but neglecting to see the hard work it takes to reach that point.

For example, a few years ago when couple of friends of mine and I were training at a gym, someone suggested that we should run a marathon (which was only nine and a half months away, and I’m useless at running long distances).

I’m quite heavy and had never ran a marathon before so I said no straight away. The other two guys said that it would be fun and we can help motivate one another, and eventually got me to reluctantly agree. We even put a forfeit in place for anyone deciding not to follow through.

Unfortunately for my two friends they had to pull out (one had a bad toe and the other a bad back). Luckily for me, the guy that challenged us to do the run had a plan, which I stuck to for dear life.

What Does Work

After completing the marathon I had learnt some very valuable lessons about achieving difficult goals which I’ve applied to other areas of my life and got good results. Here’s a list of the ones that I use regularly.

  • Plan to fail
    Last year I wrote an article about how to plan to beat caffeine addiction – “How to Build a Plan Against Caffeine Addiction”. In it I list some of the strategies you can use to overcome an over-dependency , but the number one strategy is to plan your failures in advance.
    It means exactly what it says. Think of all the excuses and reasons for giving up in advance and plan ways to eliminate them. So if giving up caffeine is your goal, then think of ways to avoid being around coffee, like not having any in your home or not meeting friends in cafes.
  • Pace Yourself
    Take each day as it comes and concentrate on your goal for the day. Doing so helps to focus your energy and attention on the here and now which helps you to overcome any obstacles you may encounter.
  • Track Your Progress
    Keeping a journal about your experiences can help motivate you during the difficult times. Using a tracking app to log your progress also helps by showing you the number of days that you’ve been able to keep going, which you can share with your support group or mentor if you need someone to be accountable to.
  • Have a Mentor or Support Group
    During my marathon preparation having a mentor helped keep me on track and helped me with a plan to achieve my objective, even when my support group wasn’t there.

Choosing a mentor that fits your personality is key. A mentor that knows you well enough to help guide you through the tough times is worth their weight in gold. However, don’t get caught up in trying to find the perfect mentor, nothing beats self motivation. Any good mentor will tell you that.

Review

So, a few short simple points that really work can help you become a miracle worker. The real magic is in planing and being consistent.

  • Don’t rush in but plan
  • Pace yourself
  • Keep a log of your progress
  • If you can, get a mentor or join a support / interest group

Conclusion

Although the new year has already started and you may have broken some of those new year resolutions, don’t quit. If you fail, don’t worry, just jump back on the program.

Learn from your past mistakes, plan accordingly and move on confidently.

close

Found this blog useful? Help us by Following, Sharing and Liking!

ajax-loader