Categories
Alert Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Staying Awake

A New Paradigm For Staying Productive

V-CAF The New Productivity Hack

Stay Productive

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

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

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

Stay Productive
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

Full Steam Ahead

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

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

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

Hitting the Wall

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

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

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

Changing Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review

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

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

Afterword

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

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

Categories
Alert Caffeine Energy Focus Productivity

Make Time To Chill

Be Here, Now

Slowly but surely, you will get there

Years ago a friend bought me a fantastic book called, “The Tao of Pooh & The Te of Piglet” to help point out to me that I was loosing “the way” and that I shouldn’t stop trying to get back more in line with it!

The chapter of that book that I was most drawn to and that had the most impact on me (which is probably why I remembered it regarding this post), is titled “Busy Backson”. The general gist of the chapter is that these days we tend to fill our time with stuff that keeps us busy, but that doesn’t amount to much, at the expense of us missing out on experiencing our own lives.

The book has helped me over the years and I think now is as good a time as any to share my thoughts on my favourite chapter and relate, how it’s principles can help you be more energised and excited about each day.

Time To Chill
Photo by @theki.dcreative via Twenty20

Sorry, I’m Too Busy

To me it seems that busyness has become associated with productiveness. When at work, home or studying very few people that I’ve come into contact with would admit to not doing much. I know that there have been times when I didn’t feel like doing much, but rather than say so, have found something to do that makes me look busy.

Even in polite conversation at a social gathering of some sort, when talking with someone (whether that someone be new to you or not), the conversation soon gets to the point where someone usually asks “So what do you do?” or “Have you tried [enter whatever activity or place to travel here]?”.

It is as if we have to justify every waking (and in some cases, unawake) moments. Like we would be instantly punished for saying “Actually, I’m just enjoying being still and listening to the sounds around me”. It’s not that people don’t say such things, it’s just uncommon (especially whilst being at work or school or even social gatherings).

What Am I Missing?

And that’s the problem. It’s become so normal to be constantly busy doing something that it’s almost a bad thing to be bored, daydream, or just stop and do nothing.

It’s true that meditation has become more popular lately, but it also suffers from the “Busy Backson” affliction of showing that you are doing something rather than just doing it because you want to. It’s a bit like the virtue signalling that seems to be popular these days to show that you’re a good and upright type of character, only for the sake of being seen by others so that they can say “Look, there goes a very virtuous person”!

The problem with keeping up appearances is that you eventually slip-up and that it brings unnecessary stress to yourself. Constantly appearing to be busy takes away from your life because you don’t get a chance to appreciate the wonder that is your life.

You can also start to resent life in general, to the point where life becomes one big drag that eventually can be too much to bare.

Claim Your Life Back

“I say, Pooh, why aren’t you busy?” I said.
“Because it’s a nice day,” said Pooh.
“Yes, but—“
“Why ruin it?” he said.
“But you could be doing something Important,” I said.
“I am,” said Pooh.
“Oh? Doing what?”
“Listening,” he said.
“Listening to what?”
“To the birds. And that squirrel over there.”
“What are they saying?” I asked.
“That it’s a nice day,” said Pooh.
“But you knew that already,” I said.
“Yes, but it’s always good to hear that somebody else
thinks so, too,” he replied.
“Well, you could be spending your time getting Educated by
listening to the Radio, instead,” I said.
“That thing?”
“Certainly. How else will you know what’s going on in the
world?” I said.
“By going outside,” said Pooh.
“Er…well…” (Click) “Now just listen to this, Pooh.”
“…thirty thousand people were killed today when five
jumbo airliners collided over downtown Los Angeles…,” the
Radio announced.
“What does that tell you about the world?” asked Pooh.
“Hmmm. You’re right.” (Click)
“What are the birds saying now?” I asked.
“That it’s a nice day,” said Pooh.

Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

I often write about the importance of taking a break every day, especially when working or studying or any endeavour that requires a lot prolonged focussed concentration. I was influenced by the quote above and actively found ways to practically apply it in my daily processes.

Thinking about it, it probably indirectly led to me getting to the point to create our Apple Watch app, V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert. Stepping away from what I’m working on has always been difficult for me, so any process that helps to remind me to take a break is welcome.

After being alerted to take a break, stepping outside works, but so does just stepping away and doing nothing. It’s much like when I go for a walk to clear my mind. Eventually I’m distracted by the sounds around, or how lovely the sky looks, or any number of things going on around me, that just happen to be happening without my interference and independent of me.

It’s at moments like these that I feel at one with the world whilst at the same time appreciating me for being me, regardless of what is going on in my life at that moment.

Review

Benjamin Hoff concludes the “Busy Backson” chapter by highlighting the benefit of appreciating the process above just striving for the goal.

For example, many people want to give up caffeine and get upset when they relapse. They can feel like a failure because they didn’t make their goal. Or if they give up for a certain amount of time, they may feel that they achieved their goal, and then go right back to consuming caffeine.

Instead of focussing on the goal, why not focus on the process. Experiment and find ways to make your process as enjoyable and achievable as possible. If you mess up, no big deal, it’s all part of the process. Learn from it and move on.

It’s a tool that I use in all areas in my life and has made such a big difference.

So, try being like Pooh and appreciate yourself and life and the world in which you find yourself.

Afterword

“Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (and quoted in The Tao of Pooh)
Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Fatigue Lethargy Side Effects Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

How To Stay Awake, Stay Alert

Overcome Tiredness – Use V-CAF

Stay Awake, Stay Alert, Stay Focused

Feeling tired? Finding it difficult to stay alert? Don’t worry you’re in good company, because we all feel like this at some point in the day (at least I do).

Caffeine stopped being as effective in perking me up as my tolerance levels had become very high and I wanted to stop using it due to some of the strange side effects it had on me.

After trying a variety of alternative remedies my colleague and I decided to make an app that would act like caffeine, without the side effects and be virtual.

Our motivation is to help people stay awake and alert when they need to without having to resort to caffeine. In this post we focus on how to use V-CAF Stay Awake, Stay Alert to help you achieve those goals.

Stay Awake Stay Alert
Photo by @LeopoldoMacaya via Twenty20

Tiredness

/ˈtʌɪədnəs/
/noun/
noun: tiredness
1 the state of wishing for sleep or rest; weariness.”tiredness overcame her and she fell into a deep slumber”

Definitions from Oxford Languages

Tiredness affects us all in varying degrees and frequencies, which makes sense since we are all different. But there are times when we don’t want to feel tired and at those times it can , at best be described as a nuisance, at worst a dangerous sign of an underlying health issue.

Eventually we seek ways to get around it, just temporarily, and not enough to affect our health in negative ways. The most common way by far of achieving this goal is by consuming caffeine.

This wonder drug has and is helping to fuel the thoughts and productivity of many around the world and in its most popular form (coffee) as an industry is estimated to be worth more than $100 billion a year.

 

Why Use Caffeine

Caffeine works, so why not use it? In fact many scientific studies highlight the health benefits of caffeine can delay the onset of such devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

But then there are many reports that show prolonged exposure to caffeine can actually induce effects linked to Alzheimer’s. So which is it? The Alzheimer’s Society in the UK with regards to the protective or harmful effects of caffeine state that there is “No definitive answer” Caffeine and dementia | Alzheimer’s Society .

Although I’ve found that caffeine has worked for me in the past, I almost always needed to consume more to get similar levels of awareness or alertness than I did just a short time before.

This lead me to over consume caffeine to the point that my hands started shaking. And if not to that extreme, then to seriously affect the quality of my sleep, leading me to feel more tired as time went on.

Then there’s the withdrawal symptoms which, depending on how long you’ve been consuming caffeine, can range from a slight headache and drowsiness to very unpleasant stomach cramps and migraines.

Techniques That Work

So, what about V-CAF? Can it work just as good as caffeine and how does it work?

There’s only one thing better at keeping you awake rather than caffeine that isn’t illegal and is 100% natural, and that is sleep. Enough good quality sleep. As a result V-CAF doesn’t work against your natural rhythms but with them.

Instead of trying to fight your body, V-CAF works with your body by monitoring your body’s natural rhythms and notifying you when the probability of your alertness levels dropping have increased.

Knowing this you can then use V-CAF to alert you whilst you are engaged in an activity as a natural break cue. Use this time to take a rest then get back to work. Of late, I’ve started napping after I get a notification from V-CAF. Napping helps clear my mind and I feel a lot more focused and productive
for it.

It’s vital that you get rid of any lingering doubts about whether napping is a good use of your time. Instead, remind yourself that naps can make you more alert, improve your reaction time, help you to become more creative, reduce accidents, and put you into a better mood. In fact, you should start to feel guilty if you are not taking a nap during the day.

Wiseman, Richard. Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep (p. 177). Pan Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Just make sure your naps are no longer than 20 minutes to achieve the best results.

If you miss coffee or caffeine then start of by not consuming any after midday. Use V-CAF to notify you when you alertness levels drop and then go for a quick brisk walk outside (which for maximum effect works well after having a nap), and drink plenty of water (on cold days I drink hot water and herbal teas for the warmth).

Summary

V-CAF works by you being actively engaged in using it. That is, when you are notified of the reduction in your alertness levels, do something to help regain your focus.

I outlined taking naps and going for walks, but as I constantly say on this blog, nothing beats a good nights sleep. Make the time and effort to increase the quality of your sleep and keep yourself informed about what’s best for your health.

Afterword

Work less than you think you should. It took me a while to realise there was a point each day when my creativity ran out and I was just producing words – usually lousy ones – for their own sake. And nap: it helps to refresh the brain, at least mine.

Amy Waldman source: https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/nap-quotes
Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Side Effects

Three Helpful Tips On Giving Up Caffeine

Know What Works For You

It’s Your Life…

Want to give up caffeine? I have on a number of times for various reasons. Each attempt to kick the caffeine habit taught me something new about myself and my relationship with caffeine.

I have tried a variety of approaches and detail in this post three of those that I found most useful.

These are not “secret techniques” that I’ve acquired from the powers that be, but rather useful pointers on your own journey of caffeine independence.

Try Giving Coffee A Break
Photo by @adam.barabas via Twenty20

Know Why

For me to do anything of value or substance I need to know why. Back when I was studying for my exams to get into uni and had a bad reaction to consuming too much caffeine, my reason for stopping was that I didn’t want to damage my health.

Later on during a stressful period at work I found that caffeine was no longer helping me to reach my targets and was actually hindering me from working more efficiently.

By understanding the reason why you want to take a particular course of action you increase the chances of success. Know why you want to give up caffeine and write it down. It will come in handy when you get the cravings to read why you’re putting yourself through this uncomfortable experience.

 

Teetotal

Avoiding caffeine totally has worked for me, but I’ve found that it can make things unnecessarily difficult.

That said, when I’ve been in the mood to just get things done, this approach has worked extremely well. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that when I’ve been in that kind of no nonsense mood I also plan better so caffeine abstinence was easier.

When taking this approach I aim for the start to be on weekends (i.e. last caffeinated drink on Thursday afternoon) so that I can get through the worst of the withdrawal symptoms from Friday evening through to Sunday. In case you don’t know what withdrawal symptoms to look out for here’s a list:

  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea
  • Lack of focus
  • Low motivation

Drinking lots of plain hot water has helped me reduce or eliminate the headaches, tiredness and nausea. Doing some light exercise such as going for a walk has helped in refocusing my mind and motivation.

The one downside to this approach is that I’ve found myself eventually returning back to caffeine in some form or another, which can make you feel disappointed and make it harder to give up the next time you decide to.

Reduction

Of late, this approach has been my goto first choice. It doesn’t take too much thought and is very manageable.

Simply note how much caffeine you consume in a day and reduce the amount the following day (by a predefined number). Rinse and repeat.

This works well with substituting techniques because it makes it easier to break established routines without having to think about it too much and without having to rely on willpower alone.

So these days instead of waking up and then making myself a coffee, I drink a glass of water instead (sometimes hot, sometimes cold, depending on the weather). When taking a coffee break, I go for a walk.

It soon adds up to a significant reduction of caffeine consumption and eventually you will not even notice that you are doing it!

Review

Which ever way you decide to give up or reduce the amount of caffeine that you consume, be happy with that choice and work through it.

Caffeine has been getting a bad rap lately (and I don’t think it’s not warranted), but it also has some health benefits for particular groups of people. Have an open mind and be flexible when working out what’s best for you.

Afterword

If you are having difficulty focussing whilst giving up caffeine, or in general, our app V-CAF can help. It’s an Apple Watch app that notifies you when your alertness levels drop so that you can take the appropriate steps to boost your alertness.

It’s available now on the App Store, download it today.

Categories
Caffeine Energy Focus Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

Virtual Caffeine For Your Apple Watch

V-CAF The Game Changer

Take a chance, change your life

There are moments in everyone’s life that are so profound that they can change your life for the better (or worse). When looking back at these points in time it may be easier to see that it was rarely just the moment, but the things that lead up to and after the moment that shape how we perceive these life changing events.

Take for example the first time I heard that Apple were going to make a smart watch. I had an iPhone and a MacBook Pro and didn’t see any reason why I should get one. “Just another gadget” I thought.

But then a trip to New York changed my mind about smart watches…

Before We Set Off

As usual work loads were heavy and time was against me. It was also a very hot summer and people’s tempers were short. I planned to stay home this vacation as it was too exhausting to think about and arranging a trip anywhere.

But then I saw a 4K video of a guy walking around Manhattan which got me thinking. It was just the start of summer so I thought that everything must surely be fully booked.

Then at work I was informed that mandatory holidays had to be taken, it’s now or never I thought, and the next thing I knew the family and I were on a plane to New York.

But What’s It For

New York is an impressive city. A bit too big for my liking but it was a nice change compared to where we were coming from. The sights, sounds and people were all amazing.

The trip also overlapped with my birthday, so my children were trying to figure out what to get me. After some discussion they decided to get me an Apple Watch and told me about it to see what my reaction would be.

At first I argued what the point of it would be as I have an iPhone and a watch already. Isn’t it just going to be more of the same but not as good as either, I asked.

Thankfully, my children don’t listen to me and got me my first Apple Watch. At first I didn’t know what to do with it apart from wear it as a watch. I read some reviews and articles about what apps to get and what could be done with it but didn’t see much there that I was interested in. By the second day of wearing the thing, I found myself modifying all sorts of settings that would help with exercise and concentration.

At the end of the first week I was hooked.

Virtual Caffeine

So it’s about three weeks after our trip and I’m exercising more, getting better sleep and organised almost all aspects of my life via my Apple Watch.

I’m sitting at my desk feeling tired and I colleague tells me that my boss needs to see me. When I see the big man, he tells me that I need a coffee and not to fall asleep at my desk.

It’s at this point that Virtual Caffeine or V-CAF is born. I tell another colleague about it and then we decide to build it and see if we can help people like us who may get tired whilst they are busy from time to time, people that need to stay alert and those of us that don’t want to use caffeine to perk us up throughout the day.

Since then I haven’t looked back.

To Sum Up

An unlikely combination of events can indeed change your life for the better, but you have to be open to them. Thankfully I had my children to push me in a direction that I didn’t know would lead me to help people all over the world.

If you don’t have a smart watch, I would highly recommend that you get one. And if you have an Apple Watch get V-CAF. It may help you just as much as it’s helped others and me.

Afterword

“Sometimes the slightest things change the directions of our lives, the merest breath of a circumstance, a random moment that connects like a meteorite striking the earth. Lives have swivelled and changed direction on the strength of a chance remark.”

Bryce Courtenay

Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Side Effects Staying Awake

Too Much Caffeine?

V-CAF Is The Alternative

Stay Awake Stay Alert Stay Focused

Over the years I found that my tolerance to caffeine had increased. Coffee, tee, caffeine pills and energy drinks weren’t having the same effect they once did.

I found myself having to increase my consumption of caffeine in all of its various forms just to feel normal, and normal meant no headaches and no cravings for a coffee, chocolate or energy drinks.

Eventually I had enough and decided to quit caffeine and get back to feeling like myself. Going through that process felt like pushing a boulder up a steep mountain, but along the way I found some shortcuts and helpful techniques that lessened the discomfort.

Too Much Caffeine
Photo by @Zenchic via Twenty20,

Before Setting Off

Up until I decided to quit caffeine, life seemed hectic, and therefore, always a need for a little pep up. Studying, tests, exams, looking for work, job interviews, on the job learning, deadlines, it never seemed to end.

At each new phase I promised myself that I would either cut down or stop drinking so much caffeine, but there was always something new that would eventually lead to bingeing on whatever caffeine I could find to “get me through this”.

Even after I got the jitters from taking caffeine pills and drinking caffeinated sodas to help me stay awake whilst studying for my university entrance exams, you’d have thought that I would just stay away, but I didn’t.

 

Why

This was the question I asked myself each time I decided to quit and the same question I asked myself when I started to binge. A good friend advised me to give up on the caffeinated drinks and caffeine pills, but didn’t offer any advice on how to do that.

I didn’t think that I had a problem so I didn’t talk to my doctor about it and decided that all I had to do was quit. But here’s the thing. At the time I didn’t realise that my caffeine withdrawal symptoms were actually driving me back to caffeine.

The symptoms include :

  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced Performance
  • Vomiting
  • and Nausea

In the October 15th 1992 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, an article by John R, Hughes, M.D. stated:

“One central feature in most definitions of dependence is that the drug serves as a reinforcer [subjects give the drug to themselves]…
Self administration of caffeine has been demonstrated in several studies in humans. A clinical counterpart to drug reinforcement is the notion of losing control, i.e., being unable to stop using the drug or using the drug despite the knowledge that it is harmful. Unfortunately, we do not know whether caffeine users have difficulty ceasing to use caffeine or whether they continue to consume it despite physicians’ recommendations to stop.”

Hughes, J. (1992). Clinical Importance of Caffeine Withdrawal. /The New England Journal of Medicine,/ /327(16),/ 1160-1161.

Change of Path

So on my journey to lose my caffeine dependency, with many starts and stops, I finally found something that worked. That something wasn’t just one thing but the summation of all the little things that I had done or exposed to that helped me change my perspective and continue to reap the benefits even now.

  • Stop Trying To Give Up Caffeine
    We all know some version of the following. If I tell you to close your eyes and not think of a delicious cup of coffee, the chances are that you are going to picture a cup of coffee. When I decided not to drink caffeine anymore I found myself noticing people all around me drinking my favourite sodas with caffeine and I found that I thought more about caffeine and what I was missing!
    When I finally said I’ll take each passing moment as it is and acknowledged that there was a chance that I would cave in to temptation, I eventually found that I didn’t even notice that I hadn’t had any caffeine substances until someone offered it to me. Now I can occasionally have caffeine in one of its many guises or I can decline, either way it doesn’t faze me.
  • Get Better Sleep
    I still have periods where I don’t get as much sleep as I need, but they are fewer now since I committed myself to get more sleep. But it’s not just quantity, it’s also quality which I strive for now. An easy win in this area is to exercise more and avoid caffeine after lunch.
  • Reducing Stress by Taking More Breaks
    I now without fail take more breaks during the day. I’ve replaced coffee breaks with either short naps, walks outside or water breaks. Before I used to work through until I finished whatever task I had to complete. But now I not only take breaks, I take smart breaks. Whenever working I start our app V-CAF on my Apple Watch and leave it running. When I’m tired or my alertness starts to waiver I get an alert, and it’s at this point that I take a break for 5-10 mins before coming back and starting the next round. The unexpected side effect of this has been to reduce my caffeine intake because I now know when my alertness levels are low, so I can do something about it rather than just automatically reaching for a coffee.

Summary

It ain’t easy to give up a caffeine dependency, but you can make it easier on yourself by:

  • Not focussing on giving up caffeine
  • Increasing the quantity and quality of your sleep
  • Take more smart breaks where possible whilst working, studying or playing

Afterword

Remember to take things at your own pace and gradually if you want to succeed in losing your caffeine addiction. Good Luck 🙂

Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Studying Tiredness

How to Optimise Your Breaks

Feel Better, Get Better Results

Work to your strengths…

Lately I’ve been researching techniques that would help boost my productivity levels but found that I was doing most of the things that the experts recommended.

Now I’m not saying that my productivity levels are low or that they are extremely high, but I wanted to see if there were any efficiencies that I was overlooking that would give me an above average boost compared to the cost of implementing the said efficiency.

And it turns out there was and I was using it already whilst doing this research! So as usual, I’ll outline what it is and how I managed to get that extra boost whilst incorporating it in my existing processes.

Optimize Your Breaks
Photo by @daphneemarie via Twenty20

Hit and Miss

Putting a lot more effort into what you are doing, focussing more, working long hours, these are the usual approaches that many take when trying to improve their performance and increase their output.

Caffeine pills, coffee and energy drinks for others are the “common sense” performance enhancers that have ben used for centuries and people swear by them.

Then there are the many productivity methodologies that essentially get you to plan the work that you are going to do and then systematically work through the list.

But with all these approaches after the initial jump in performance things can start to peter out and productivity can be even worse than before.

Diminishing Returns

All of the above mentioned approaches work, but all have the problem of diminishing results after a period of time, some earlier than others. So let’s identify the problems with each approach, which will then point us in the right direction towards a possible solution.

  • More Effort
    Putting in more effort in the short term can work well, like sprinting towards the finish line in the last few meters of a race. The problem with this approach is that its usually unsustainable. Continuously pushing yourself to your limits inevitably leads to you hitting a wall and becoming burnt out.
  • Stimulants
    For a quick no frills boost then caffeine is the legal stimulant champion. But like all drugs, your tolerance levels increase leading you to need higher levels of caffeine just to get to similar results of alertness as you did when you started using caffeine (and for some people I know, just to feel normal, which is due to the withdrawal symptoms, but that’s for another blog post).
  • Productivity Systems
    Work very well, but people tend to get caught up in the process rather than the actual work that needs to be done. But because you can show a list of tasks and objectives that are met for the day/week/month or cycle you can unconsciously delude yourself into thinking that you are very productive when in fact your productivity is actually based on gaming the system.

Optimisation

So now we have identified the problem, what’s the solution? It’s quite simply to take breaks at the right time. And when you take breaks at the right time whilst using the aforementioned approaches, you’ll find that suddenly things are not such a drag anymore.

Here are the same approaches modified with a few examples of using them whilst taking well timed breaks.

  • More Effort
    By taking well timed breaks throughout the day you give yourself a chance to rest and recoup a little before going back at it.
  • Stimulants
    If you find it too difficult to break the caffeine habit or want an alternative, start by not drinking any caffeine after lunch and as you feel tired throughout the day take a few more 10 min breaks. If you can get a quick nap in (no more than 20 mins), and aim to get to bed by 10pm latest (at least until your current workload isn’t so heavy).
  • Productivity Systems
    The Pomodoro technique mandates that a break should be taken every 20 to 25 minutes throughout your planned day. The problem I’ve found is that more often than not, once I start working I get into the flow and then my focus get’s broken. So I find myself ignoring the timer and continuing to work. But with a flexible timing method things get easier.

And here’s the thing, recently whilst doing some research on this very topic, I found that I when I took breaks (with 10 – 20 minute naps, where possible) when I needed them, as compared to not taking breaks or having set times for breaks, I was able to complete my work faster, with less mistakes and not feeling so drained.

Recap

But, there’s one thing I left out. I cheated. Most people don’t realise when they are tired and because of this many of us work until we become over tired, and that’s the time when people reach for a coffee, feeling miserable and fatigued.

But I however had the advantage of knowing about and using our app V-CAF to alert me when my alertness levels started dropping. I have a vested interest to say this, but it’s true, it worked!

The more I use the app the more I appreciate how my colleague and I felt when we decided to start this blog and build the app, first of all to help us with a need that we had, and then to help other people avoid some of the issues that we’d experienced around caffeine, tiredness and a lack of productivity.

Afterword

“The challenge is to continue the spread of information regarding the wealth of benefits of napping to combat the numerous physical, mental, and financial consequences of fatigue”

Alger, S., Brager, A., Capaldi, V., & , (2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. /SLEEP,/ /42(8),/
Categories
Alert Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Fatigue Focus Insomnia Lethargy Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

When Caffeine Just Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

When Too Much Becomes Too Little

It’s time to change…

During one of our insanely busy work cycles, Darren looked limp and worn down. In our daily meetings he just stared into the distance, occasionally checking his watch.

As time went on I noticed more often than not that some management types would pull him to one side and have what looked to be an intense discussion about something that they felt the need to point out to him.

Then one day Darren came over to me and asked if we could have a quick chat over a coffee. We found a quiet corner, him with a mug of joe in his hand and me with water in mine, and Darren came out bluntly and asked “How do I do it?”

When Coffee Doesnt Do It
Photo by @potochnyi via Twenty20

The Promise

Confused I responded and said something like “Do what?”. The reply I got back shocked me. “You always seem to be with it. It’s rare that I see you getting angry or upset.”.

Now I got where this was going. In the past I’d been fairly stressed out and not working at my best. I looked sleepy and some would come by my desk and tell me to wake up!

Under pressure to perform, I started drinking diet sodas with caffeine to help keep me awake. But before long, I found myself needing more sodas to just feel normal and staying alert became harder.

 

Getting Let Down

It wasn’t long before my increased caffeine consumption started to affect my sleep. Most evenings between 6 and 7 I would go from feeling lethargic to suddenly being hyper alert.

At the time I put it down to finding work boring and that because the evening wasn’t all about work my mood picked up. But as it became normal for me to be wide awake at 3am laying in bed, I knew that something was wrong.

Also, when it was time to wake up I felt like I hadn’t slept. This feeling would continue until about 10ish after I had my first diet soda of the day. But after lunch until I got back home was a struggle.

It became so bad that my manager asked if I had a sleep condition and told me to fix up as other workers were noticing that I would nod off in front of my screen.

As Darren listened to what I was saying he nodded, laughed and said that he remembered those days and in fact a manager had told him to talk to me to find out what I did to turns things around.

What Darren and I appeared to be suffering from was a bad mix of unhealthy sleep practices and a raised tolerance to caffeine. Because caffeine blocks our brain’s adenosine receptors, our body found it difficult to work out if we were tired.

Adenosine is a chemical released by our body throughout the day. As the amount of adenosine builds our tiredness increases which let’s us know that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep.

Caffeine blocks our brain from being able to correctly measure how tired we are and so tricks us into thinking that we are more awake than we really are. To make matters worse, caffeine can stay in our system from between 7 – 15 hours depending on our weight and age.

Because I was drinking so much caffeinated sodas throughout the day I was actively blocking my body from being able to regulate itself which in turn led to me being too awake by bedtime, but tired throughout the day.

A Better Way

I told Darren that I tried a few different approaches, but the best results came from getting more quality sleep and reducing, then removing caffeine from my diet.

  • Avoiding Caffeine
    I stopped drinking caffeine straight away, but it may be best to take it slowly and gradually reduce the amount of caffeine that you consume. This boils down to how bad your withdrawal symptoms are and what is going on in your life at the time.
  • Eating Healthily
    Eat more iron. magnesium, and protein rich foods like beans, nuts, spinach and eggs as a deficiency in any of these can make you feel drained.
  • Staying Hydrated
    Dehydration makes it difficult for you to focus and concentrate, so by being hydrated you can increase your brain’s ability to focus and concentrate whilst reducing drowsiness.
  • Knowing How Tired You Are
    A lot of people are so busy or focused on what they are doing that they don’t realise how tired they are until they make mistakes or are feeling frustrated. By being mindful of how you feel you can train yourself to recognise the tell tale signs of fatigue. Using an app like V-CAF, an Apple Watch app, you can be notified when you are tired so that you can stop and take a natural break before continuing with whatever activity you were engaged in.

Alertness Tips

Darren thanked me for my openness and went on to try some of my tips as well as what he thought would work for him.

And that’s the beauty of being human, we are all similar but unique enough to make it interesting. Darren started to change things around based on his needs and experiences.

My tips are what worked for me, but perhaps you can use them as a base to start from if you ever feel that caffeine isn’t working for you anymore.

  • Avoid Caffeine
  • Eat Healthily
  • Stay Hydrated
  • Know when you are tired

Afterword

Don’t suffer in silence, if you’re in a difficult place, reach out and ask for help. There’s no shame involved. Everybody has times when things aren’t as good as they can be.

Whether we like it or not, we are part of a community, it’s just the way it is. Help your community and they will help you.

Categories
Anxiety Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleep Staying Awake Tiredness

Struggling to Stay Awake During a Long Day?

Listen To What Your Body Is Telling You

If you don’t hear, you will feel

“What!? Another unrealistic deadline? When am I supposed to rest and recover? And what about the quality of the work you’re asking us to produce?” I yelled at my team lead.

I had got to my breaking point and lost control for a brief moment. As I gathered myself together I thought of what had lead up to this point. The past month had been like being in bootcamp.

The mountain of work didn’t seem to be reducing, in fact it felt like there was more added every day. The stressful days and nights spent at my desk seemed to blur into one long day.

Now, with this last deadline, it was too much to take, I could go on no more.

Long Day, Head down on a table
Photo by @Igor_Kostyuk via Twenty20

The Long Day

The stress had taken it’s toll. I was finding it difficult to sleep at night and when I did eventually nod off, when I woke, it felt as though I hadn’t slept. This had the effect of making me feel very irritable and lethargic and made it almost impossible to concentrate whilst working.

My fellow team mates would complain about the same thing. Each of us shared with the other members of the group the strategies that they were using, but the common consensus was that coffee or caffeine was the way to go.

To some people’s amusement and surprise I said no to coffee. “Here’s the martyr!” one guy would mock. It irked me, but I carried on and tried to ignore the taunts.

They drank coffee and some took caffeine pills, whilst I drank water and took regular walking breaks (with the odd nap when I could find a quiet place to snooze, like the local library down the road).

 

Struggling to Make it Through the Day

At the start of our work marathon, those that were inclined to drink coffee seemed to be pulling away. They appeared more alert during our daily meetings and ready to do whatever our bosses told them without question.

But things started to change. I noticed that we were having a lot more discussions about why the work that had been done wasn’t good enough. At first I thought I was lucky because it wasn’t my work, but the drop in quality impacted the whole team.

Those that seemed to be doing well at first and were full of enthusiasm for the unrelenting workloads, started to complain and blame others for their work not been up to par.

Had I not had my own bad experiences of caffeine crashes over a period of time I would of put this all down to stress. But I couldn’t help but notice that some of my colleagues were displaying the symptoms of consuming too much caffeine, such as:

  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • and Depression

Others complained of not being able to sleep (although this may be due to the stress of worrying about making our deadline). Unfortunately for some of them, they found themselves falling asleep at their desks (which management didn’t find very impressive). And as we got closer to the deadline, things became worse.

It was as though a good portion of our team had become possessed, and we couldn’t do anything about it!

Some Useful Options

It wasn’t long before some of our team noticed that I seemed to be unfazed by it all and they began asking questions, indirectly of course. “So why don’t you drink coffee? Is it a religious thing?”, “How do you cope? I couldn’t start the day without coffee!”

I found that I would be answering with the same points over and over again. So I printed them out and put them on my desk. When people asked or brought it up, I would point to it:

  • Avoid Caffeine
    If you find it difficult, start slowly and try reducing the amount you consume. When you feel the withdrawal, although it doesn’t feel like it, know that you are making progress and stick with it. At the end of it all you’ll feel like a completely different person.
  • Eat Healthily
    Eat more iron and magnesium rich foods as a deficiency in either one can make you feel drained. For iron eat spinach and beans; for magnesium, nuts such as cashews and almonds. Eggs are good for protein and are a good source of B vitamins that help turn your food into energy. Eat fruits that are high in vitamin C, like oranges, strawberries, pineapples and kiwis, as they help body fat to be used as energy.
  • Stay Hydrated
    Drink lot’s of water. Dehydration makes it difficult for us to focus and concentrate. Being hydrated helps reduce drowsiness.
  • Know When You Are Tired And Act Accordingly
    Probably the most important point of all. Most of us don’t realise when we are tired and get frustrated when we can’t do more. Coffee (caffeine) only masks the tiredness. And it does so at the expense of your body’s ability to sleep and recover, eventually leading to you become dependent on caffeine to stay awake and then wondering why you can’t sleep when you go to bed at night; all whilst during the day thinking that something is wrong with you when you feel tired.

This is why I lost it with my team lead. There was no consideration for the long term health of our team. I knew that I was tired and couldn’t allow anyone to risk my health over an arbitrary deadline which could have been handled better with proper planning.

In Summary

Although it was a stressful time, I’m glad that we went through it. It showed me that by being consistent I was able to handle a difficult situation without having to resort to a substance to make me feel that I could make it through.

I even helped some people to at least abstain from caffeine for a while and a few said that they felt better and had better sleep then they’ve had in a long time.

And the ace in the hole was that my team lead now considers how we are coping with our current workloads, and although they are still heavy, we now plan how we can spread the load to get things done.

If you’re thinking about giving up caffeine (or want to reduce the amount you consume) then print out the following points to help remind you of what to do when the withdrawal symptoms kick in:

  • Avoid Caffeine
  • Eat Healthily
  • Stay Hydrated
  • Know when you are tired
  • Get better quality sleep

Afterword

Since that period at work, the team has their ups and downs but generally we work better together, or perhaps we have more patience and understanding when dealing with each other.

During these difficult times, I think it would be best if we each showed more patience and understanding towards other people.

A kind word or even a smile goes a long way these days.

Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative

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.