Categories
Energy Fatigue Focus Irritability Lethargy Productivity Sleep Tension

Wanted: A Fully Rested You!

Work Hard, Rest Harder

Be The Real You..

Lately, I’ve not felt at my best. I’ve had plenty to do, and just got on my grind to get things done, but ultimately it didn’t feel like my best work. It’s my bread and butter stuff, not my groundbreaking exciting work.

In contrast, when I’m in “the zone” work just flows. New ideas seem to come effortlessly, new connections between different ideas are clearer to see, and generally I just feel energised.

The other day, I just decided to stop and think about the differences between the two conditions flow and grind. I looked at old journal entries during both conditions and found that the major issue that stood out between the two, is that in one state I was well rested and the other not so much. I’ll leave you to guess which state corresponded to each experience.

After reacquainting myself with what I already know, which is a good exercise to do by the way, I wanted to write a post that I would come back to, to help me remember that a fully rested me is the best me to produce my best work. It’s obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said. I hope that you find this post as useful as I intend it to be for me.

Productivity Sucks

Why are you working so hard? Is it because you are full of energy and ideas and just ready to unleash it, or is it because you have expectations to meet or goals to achieve?

Regardless of your reasons, you can get caught up in what you are doing and unwittingly neglect the rest that you need to continue producing high quality work. Working long hours, not taking enough breaks and cutting into your sleep can become habitual, just because your self talk says things like “I’ll go on a break in a minute” or “I’ll do it this time and catch up on my sleep after I finish what I’m doing”.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with working hard, it can be difficult for some of us to break away from what we are doing because of a compulsion to want to do better, do more, and achieve higher. Worryingly, this approach is increasingly becoming the accepted way to work or study, and the rise of hustle culture is not helping.

The pressure to succeed can be heightened for some people due to the proliferation of images and stories that seem to validate that working harder than your competition will ultimately lead to success, implying that if you’re not successful, it’s because you didn’t work hard enough.

It is not uncommon for people to feel guilty for taking a break whilst at work, even though they are entitled to it, or for working long hours so as to show that they are not just working, but over working because they are overachievers.

A 34-year-old tax attorney was admitted to the medical services with a complaint of chest pain. Four months earlier, he had noted the onset of leg pains, followed a month later by constant substernal and left-sided chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, and tremor…

It was estimated that for at least three years he had worked 80 to 100 hours per week. He took no vacations and seldom took any weekends or days off…

The patient described himself as someone who had to “rely on hard work rather than brains”…

He feared being in a position where he would be dependent on anyone else and believed that he had to accept all work that was referred to him, or he might never get any more.

Rhoads, J. (1977). Overwork. /JAMA,/ /237(24),/ 2615-2618.

The Frustrating Grind

Continually working long hard hours eventually leads to diminishing returns and can be harmful to your health. I have found that it can be difficult to realise that by spending more time working rather than stopping to take a break and making sure that I get enough rest (sleep and recreation), that it is actually taking me longer to get work done and reducing the quality of the work that I do.

The really annoying thing for me is that it’s usually when I take a step back from what I’m doing that I realise I’m reducing my efficiency by working longer instead of smarter. Sometimes people can tell you that you need to take it easy and slow down, but it’s difficult to acknowledge when your main priority becomes your work.

But, as the saying goes, if you don’t hear you must feel, and your body will give you warning signs that will increase in seriousness if you don’t stop and listen to what your body is telling you. Look out for the following signs of being overworked:

  • Increase in fatigue
  • Depression
  • Inability to sleep
  • Irritability
  • Loss of libido
  • Inability to feel pleasure in normally pleasurable activities (anhedonia)
  • Anxiety
  • Diminished concentration
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Memory impairment
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Headaches
  • Chest pains
  • Confusion
  • Crying
  • Excessive smoking
  • General aches and pains
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath

source: Rhoads, J. (1977). Overwork. /JAMA,/ /237(24),/ 2615-2618.

A Rested You

If you are feeling overworked and stressed you may first want to seek professional help from your medical practitioner of choice. Don’t hesitate or say that it’s not that serious; delaying seeking professional advice can be costly, and after reading some of the case studies in a study by John M. Rhoads, MD that was published in 1977 (which was the major study I referenced when writing this post), I would strongly advise that you do. There may be other underlying issues that if addressed, at the very least will help in addressing some of your overworking issues.

There are some things that you can do by yourself to address the issue apart from the obvious of not working so long:

  • Set limits to how long you work per day, and don’t work on weekends. It is important that you stick to these rules, no exceptions. But start off small. Eventually work towards a 40 hour week if you work 50, or 50 hours if you work more than 60. Don’t jump all in, remember this is a change that you will keep up for the rest of your working life.
  • Rethink your attitude towards work and the time that you spend there. For example, does your family or social life suffer because you are constantly working? You may need help with this one, so don’t feel afraid to speak to a councillor or someone you can trust about this.
  • Make a point of going on vacation (even if your vacation is to stay local, but do no work or work related activities)!
  • Schedule for recreation time. Find out what you like to do (apart from work – no cheating), and make time to do it. Join a club or do a team sport that takes you away from the working environment, and demands just enough attention so that you have to go regularly to improve and practice at home (for me that is doing a martial art, which helps me to get rid of tension and helps with my breathing, focus and concentration skills in life and work in general).

Review

Resist the urge to work for longer than you need to. Redirect the energy you spend working long hours to organising your work life around actually living.

Stick to your work hours (9-5 Monday to Friday for example) and take regular breaks throughout your working day.

Schedule time for yourself and family/friends so that you avoid becoming one dimensional and have interests outside of work.

But ultimately, reconnect with yourself and be true to you.

Afterword

Many persons are able to work equally long hours without becoming ill. Those who become ill are those who ignore their body’s signals for rest, recuperation, and recreation.
One must keep in mind that people differ individually in their amounts of available energy, recuperative powers, and in enjoyment of work

Rhoads, J. (1977). Overwork. /JAMA,/ /237(24),/ 2615-2618.
Categories
Productivity Sleep

No Time For Sleep!?

You’d Better Get Yourself Some

Boost your sleep, boost your productivity…

There are times in our life when we find that we have too much to do and something has to give. Until a few years ago, that something that gave was my sleep!

Play hard, work hard was my mantra, and I certainly did that! So whenever I had a tight deadline or too much to get done, I would just stay up and work late and then wake up early and continue where I left off.

This worked out great for a short while but came back to bite me in a big way later on. And I’m not unique it this respect. According to a number of studies, an increasing amount of us are getting less sleep now than we did 10 years ago.

Nobody knows why this is the case but we do know that the medium to short term effects on our lives personally, and the cost to society as a whole, are too high a price to pay.

Time To Get Ready, checking a watch during the evening
Photo by @chrisramsay.feedback via Twenty20

Duration and Quality Decrease

Compared to 2010, the odds of short sleep duration were statistically significantly higher in 2018 despite adjusting for demographic characteristics (25% higher) and occupational characteristics (22% higher). In 2018, the highest levels of short sleep duration were found for the following categories of jobs: protective service and military (50%), healthcare support occupations (45%), transport and material moving (41%), and production occupations (41%).

Khubchandani, J., & Price, J. (2020). Short Sleep Duration in Working American Adults, 2010–2018. /Journal of Community Health,/ /45(2),/ 219-227.

There’s no getting around it, we need enough good quality sleep; but the pressures of life, work and/or studying may all be contributing to us not getting the sleep that we need.

Research has found that there may be a link between stress and a decrease in the amount of hours that we spend sleeping. People suffering from stress often find it difficult to get to sleep, or discover that they often wake up during the night and by the time it gets to the morning, still feel tired.

Then there are those of us who, due to economic reasons, work late or night shifts. This is extremely difficult to do as we have to fighting against our own body clock, which is telling us to go to sleep. Once the night shift is finished, sleeping through the day may help catch up on some of our sleep, but the quality and quantity is often reduced, which often means returning to work not fully rested.

Risking Your Health

Almost a third of working adults in the U.S. get inadequate quantities of sleep. Most likely, those who work long hours, engage in changing shifts, or those in high stress professions that have minimal control over their work and life schedules are at risk of short sleep duration and the subsequent social, physical and mental health consequences of sleep problems.

Khubchandani, J., & Price, J. (2020). Short Sleep Duration in Working American Adults, 2010–2018. /Journal of Community Health,/ /45(2),/ 219-227.

By not getting enough sleep, you are putting your health and well being at risk. I know it’s difficult, and I used to just push through the tiredness to meet my deadlines, and because I did it often I thought I was doing well. It was only when colleagues pointed out that some of my work wasn’t up to my usual standard that I took a step back to see what was going on.

When you are stressed, tired and under pressure, it is easy to miss the tell tale signs that your body is giving you, trying to warn you that you need to stop and take a break.

Continuing to work when you’re not fully rested makes working more difficult and can be dangerous to you and potentially others. Tiredness often makes things worse as it impairs our ability to think clearly and slows down our cognitive abilities.

It’s logical to assume that if we can’t think as clearly as we can when we are fully awake, then our productivity will also suffer when we are tired. Tiredness also increases the likelihood that we will make more errors at work, which can be costly for our business or employer as well as to you.

The cost to your health cannot be overlooked. Just by not getting more than 7 hours of good quality sleep you are more likely to suffer from the following chronic diseases than those who sleep 7 hours or more (per 24 hour period):

What You Can Do

The simple answer, get more good quality sleep; but I know from personal experience that it’s not so straight forward. Work, study or life pressures make it difficult for us to do what we know is best for us.

So, what to do?

  • Sleep
    • Go to sleep and wake up at regular times
    • Don’t work past 9pm if you can
    • Avoid consuming caffeine past midday (or better yet, give it up)
    • Make your bedroom as dark as possible
    • Don’t read, watch tv or take gadgets to bed
    • Keep your bedroom as quiet as possible
    • Make sure you are cool in bed
  • Whilst Awake (during the day, usually)
    • Take regular nap breaks (but no more than 20 mins max)
    • Do more exercise during the day, (use at least two breaks a day for walking outside or stretching – even a 10 minute walk can help improve your sleep at night)
    • Keep yourself mentally active throughout the day (keep your mind busy and stimulated)
    • Eat healthier foods (fruits, vegetables, non processed meats, eggs, butter, etc) rather than processed foods with lots of sugar and salt added to them
    • Know when you are tired (it helps to head to bed when you are actually tired, rather than just because of a schedule. Also knowing when your tired throughout the day can help you time your nap breaks strategically, which in turn helps your focus and productivity – see what we say about this topic in the review)
  • Shift workers
    • Where possible, explain to your employer the benefits of a well rested employee and ask for more considerate shift planning (for example no back to back shift working – one week late shift, the next week early shift)
    • Have regular health checks to make sure that you’re not stressing your body to its limits and risking a chronic illness.

Review

It’s easy to overlook when we are tired and as a result put ourselves at risk from chronic diseases and mental health issues. Our health is primarily our responsibility and as a result, it would be wise for us to prioritise our sleep and exercise before our work (but this is easier said than done).

Which brings me to the issue of knowing when you are tired. We developed V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert(an Apple Watch app) to help you know when your tiredness levels are increasing so that you can take the appropriate actions necessary to either wake yourself up, or to take a break. V-CAF also links to your iPhone and iMac or Apple Laptop so that you can be notified when your alertness levels are dropping.

I hope that the points that have been highlighted in this post will be useful to you in your personal and professional life, if so, please comment below.

Thanks 🙂

Afterword

“Sleep is an investment in the energy you need to be effective tomorrow.”

Tom Roth, source: https://everydaypower.com/sleep-quotes/
Categories
Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Study Studying Tiredness

Do You Really Know When You Are Tired?

How Tired Are You Really?

You wake up, get ready for the day ahead, make it through the day and then finally back to bed. But how much thought do you give to whether or not you are fully refreshed after sleeping, and how that affects your waking hours?

It’s typical for people to have a coffee or some other stimulant to kick off the day, and then consume more caffeine throughout the day just to feel normal and to help you get through the difficult parts of the day; or to help your focus/alertness when tackling a particularly challenging problem.

Another strategy is just to power on through the tiredness just to get things done, which can be very frustrating and increase the difficulty levels by a factor of 10!

There is a relatively simple alternative to the above described approaches, but unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t even aware that they could benefit from using it. One reason may be that most of us don’t realise how tired we are and how our tiredness is affecting our effectiveness, health and sense of well being.

Check Yourself, checking v-caf on an apple watch
Photo by @criene via Twenty20

Unaware of Poor Sleep

How we spend our time is important. We cannot get a refund on our time and it’s the basis of how our economic system works. We exchange time for currency and exchange currency for things that save us time.

With that in mind it becomes a bit clearer as to why we are spending less time sleeping. Time spent working, or studying to improve our value to potential employers or customers is commonly understood as being time well spent. The increasing hours that we put into earning or potentially increasing our earning power equates to the possibility of less time spent working later. But nothing is without its cost.

The extra time and effort spent at work means less time spent on ourselves to do the things that we want to. Time spent with family, friends or in leisure is sacrificed for the greater good. But, with modern technologies such as the internet, social media and on demand streaming entertainment, it can appear to us that we have access to new leisure and communication avenues that make up for the old analogue ones that we lost.

These new pursuits can soak up our free time like a sponge to water, and before we know it we are going to bed later or not fully relaxed. We then sacrifice our sleep without even realising it and can do this for years.

Lifestyle factors such as excessive electronics use, smoking, alcohol consumption, and lack of physical activity contribute to low sleep duration.

Ojile, J. (2018). Everyone Sleeps!—(Poorly) or Not Enough: Sleep as a Priority and Vital Sign. American Journal of Health Promotion, 32(7), 1635-1639. source: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0890117118790621b

The Sleep Health Foundation lists some of the common reasons why people don’t sleep enough here, but here’s a summary of their main points:

  • Taking sleep for granted
  • Too much caffeine, alcohol and sleeping tablets
  • Shift work
  • Jet lag
  • Eating and drinking late
  • Failing to wind down before bed
  • Stress
  • Sleep disorders
  • Drug side effects

But these aren’t the only causes, just an example. The most important thing to take away is that most of us take our sleep for granted and don’t realise the effects on our ability to work efficiently and the effects on our health.

Health Implications

Good sleep allows us to recover physical and mental resources for the next day. Good sleep is needed for workers in any occupation…

LEE, S., GONZALEZ, B., & SMALL, B. (2020). My job impacts my sleep: signs and symptoms of insomnia among healthcare workers. Industrial Health,59(2),86-98. source: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/indhealth/59/2/59_2020-0191/_pdf

Although it is known that a good nights sleep improves our performance and feeling of contentment, by not being aware of our poor sleep hygiene habits we expose ourselves to a variety of chronic diseases:

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Obesity
  • Depression

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into more detail on each point with regards to sleep and sleep disorders and can be found here CDC – Sleep and Chronic Disease – Sleep and Sleep Disorders.

So what are the tell tale signs that we may not have the best sleep hygiene habits?

  • Still feeling tired and unrested after waking up
  • Unable to fall asleep
  • Disturbed sleep or waking up regularly during the night
  • Stress and frustration during the day
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Inappropriate nodding off

Raising Awareness

The first and most practical thing that you can do is to get enough good quality sleep. Quality is as and may be more important than quantity for reducing the risk of tiredness during the day.

So how do you get good quality sleep? Joseph Ojile, MD, FCCP, DABSM suggests:

  • Keep a consistent bedtime, even on weekends.
  • Remove cell phones (tablets, TVs) in the bedroom.
  • Avoid caffeine after 4:00PM.
  • Don’t have nicotine or alcohol within 2 hours of bedtime.
  • Limit daytime naps to 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Consume only a very light snack before bed.
  • Get early morning sunlight.

    Ojile, J. (2018). Everyone Sleeps!—(Poorly) or Not Enough: Sleep as a Priority and Vital Sign. /American Journal of Health Promotion,/ /32(7),/ 1635-1639.

Review

Most people don’t know that they are tired and as a result struggle through the day, hoping that it goes quickly enough so that they don’t feel too drained to appreciate their leisure time.

As tends to be the case these days, quick fixes such as consuming stimulants to increase alertness is now normal, whilst going to bed at a regular time, exercising and eating healthy are seen as a chore.

However, through greater awareness of the risks to our health because of bad sleep hygiene, we can improve the likelihood of improving our quality of life.

Afterword

“Of course no general conclusion can be drawn from these limited data; but so far as their indication goes they tend to show that in the evaluation of sleep and its correlation with psycho-physical activities, barometric and environmental conditions, one of the prime considerations is the quality of sleep and not its amount. The amount is doubtless highly important when certain limits are transgressed, but within these limits we believe the central consideration is /quality/ and not /quantity/…”

Rowe, E. (1911). The hygiene of sleep. /Psychological Review,/ /18(6),/ 425-432.
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.