Categories
Energy Exercise Fatigue Focus Productivity

Take a Break and Get Out More

Time to Walk

I like listening to video and audio podcasts when I’m at work. Luckily for me I currently work in an office where I am able to do that without too much hassle from other colleagues and bosses.

I don’t do it all the time, but definitely when I’m getting a little stressed or frustrated with a problem that is seemingly impossible to fix (at that precise moment). Turning my attention towards something else for a brief moment has helped me clear the brain fog and find a solution.

Unfortunately, lately I’ve been staying at my desk for almost the whole day and I’ve found that even though I take a few micro breaks, by the end of the day I’m exhausted.

Work, Work, Work

Having the feeling of being productive is very important to our self esteem and general mental health. But things that are positive, if done to excess, can harm.

I, like you probably do, work in a culture of very productive people in which you don’t want to be seen as a slacker or someone who doesn’t pull their weight; so, to not feel like you are letting the team down you minimise the breaks that you take.

For me that came in the form of not leaving my desk too often and taking micro breaks where I’d check my email, message my friends and family quickly, or just look at what’s trending in the world of entertainment (better known as gossip)!

This was especially true when I had tight deadlines or a heavy work load. In fact I spent more time having micro breaks than I did having “proper” breaks.

At first I thought that it helped me deal with the stress at work, but after a while I began to feel flat and demotivated.

Overloaded

It was becoming clear to me that I wasn’t able to keep the quality of my work consistently high, and that if I noticed, it wouldn’t be long before others did too.

At first I tried turning my phone to flight mode and leaving it in my bag, but I found myself checking news and other interesting websites just as much as I had done whilst being on my phone!

I then doubled down on using the Pomodoro technique to focus on the tasks at hand but that didn’t help when I had difficult or complex issues to solve as I spent more time at my desk working on said problems.

Get Up and Get Out

During one of my intense focused work sessions I caught myself staring out of the window watching people walking by.

It was then that I realised what I needed to do. I grabbed my coat put my EarPods in and went for a ten minute walk in the green a few metres away from my office.

There’s something about being out and about, particularly where there’s a lot of trees or open green space that’s really relaxing. Sometimes I listen to a podcast, music or audio book, and sometimes I just let my mind wander from one thing to the next.

I’ve lost track on the amount of times that I’ve had a good idea come to mind, or realised the solution to a problem, or even just felt more refreshed and awake whilst on these walks.

Where I live it gets dark earlier in winter and there’s less sunlight. Going for outdoor walks either just after lunch or instead of a coffee break have really helped to boost my mood and improve my concentration when getting back to work.

Recap

Nowadays I make a point of taking at least one walking break outside when I can and I’ve found that when I do, I naturally have less breaks where I stare at my phone or monitor.

The act of getting up and going for a walk helps because:

  • I get fresh air
  • I raise my heart rate
  • I get more vitamin D for free
  • I put my mind in a more receptive state allowing me to find alternative trails of thought
  • I can listen to something that helps me switch off for a while

Overall, what’s not to like? If you find yourself in a bit of a rut, maybe try going out for a walk.

Afterword

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.“

Friedrich Nietzsche

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
Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleep Staying Awake Tiredness

Are You Getting Enough?

Make Time For A Nap

The original power booster…

Tim was fed up. He’d been working long intense hours to meet his departments’ end of year deadlines. He also had been putting in extra time on his side hustle as a “gig” driver with an online company to help make ends meet.

Nothing seemed clear to him anymore. Whatever he tried to do to earn a little extra cash didn’t seem to be working. It seemed the harder he tried, the less things worked out for him.

“I just can’t think straight!”, said Tim. Each hour of each day for every week since March just seemed to blur into a weird blob of fuzzy consciousness.

Street Sleeper
Photo by @polylm via Twenty20

Deprived

The fast pace of modern life is causing an ever increasing amount of people to not get enough sleep. Pulling all nighters to complete work or study deadlines as well as worries about their financial situation is causing many to feel stressed and fatigued.

As Tim was finding, being stressed and tired makes it more difficult to think clear enough to find solutions that work, which tends to imply that people are actually making things worse for themselves without realising.

The cost of the frantic pace of modern life is less productivity, a reduction in economic activity, and ultimately your health.

The Health Risks

Tim was displaying the classic early symptoms of sleep deprivation. These include:

  • Constant yawning.
  • A likelihood to fall asleep when inactive (for example falling asleep in a meeting or nodding off whilst driving).
  • Feeling fatigued all day.
  • Irritability.
  • And poor concentration.

More advanced sleep deprivation leads to more advanced symptoms :

  • Uncontrolled bursts of sleep.
  • A weakened immune system.
  • An increased possibility of being obese.
  • Tired drivers are 5 times more likely to have a crash.

Getting Enough

Like most people, Tim knew that he needed to get more sleep. But that wasn’t the problem. He needed a plan to be able to get the sleep that was healthy for him whilst being able to work and get things done.

I gave him some of the articles that I’ve written in the past as well as some one to one advice, but the key is to find what works for you and commit yourself to stick to it.

  • Sleep
    Create a sleep timetable for yourself. Make sure that you set realistic goals, for example most people need from between 6 to 10 hours of sleep (depending on age, weight and other factors), so make sure you take all the factors of your life into account. And make sure that you plan and actually go to bed at the same time every day, and wake up at the same time too.
  • Caffeine
    Again, each person is different. I gave up caffeine completely for a few years, but now use it in passing. If you are going to consume caffeine make sure you don’t have any between 4 to 8 hours before you go to bed. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 15 hours, so again experiment and see what works for you.
  • Breaks
    Where possible, take regular breaks, especially if you are driving or operating heavy machinery. During your breaks try to have at least one 10 – 20 min nap to help refocus your mind. Our Apple Watch app V-CAF, is ideal for letting you know when your alertness is decreasing so that you can optimise your work and breaks to when your body really needs them.
  • Exercise
    Establish a regular exercise routine. Exercise is good for relieving stress and helps boost the quality of your sleep in the evening. It doesn’t have to involve joining a gym. A 20 minute brisk walk is good enough to help improve your blood circulation and the benefits to your sleep are immediate.

Recap

I benefited greatly from the above tips that I’ve outlined for you above, which is why whenever I get the chance to share that information (like I did with Tim), I leap at it.

But, it’s up to you to use them as just reading about them won’t change anything.

To recap:

  • Establish a regular sleep routine and stick to it
  • Reduce or cut out caffeine consumption
  • Take regular breaks whilst working
  • Exercise daily (even if it’s a 20 minute walk)

Afterword

“Fatigue will continue to impact productivity and the number of accidents at home and in the workplace. Sleep deprivation may be the next emerging health issue for both individuals and business.”

Maher, H. (2006). Sleep Deprivation: Are You a Victim?.AAOHN journal : Official journal of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses,54(12),548-548.
Categories
Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake

Power Napper?

Fast Recharge

Super Booster

You may have noticed that we are living in an age of abundance. Never before has it been so easy for people to pass information between each other at such great distances and across multiple timezones.

Depending on where you live there is an abundance of choices on the types of food, clothing and entertainment that you can consume. Even the choices that we can make regarding what we do to make a living have increased (although this too is also changing, but that’s another topic).

But this abundance comes at the cost of something that we humans have been taking for granted since the industrial revolution. Something that is so fundamental to our health and wellbeing that not getting enough of it can be disastrous to ourselves and those around us.

Power Napper
Photo by @readart via Twenty20

Devalued

Sleeps importance has been downplayed for a while now. Popular culture praises those that are willing to sacrifice their sleep in order to make it to the top.

Do a search in your favourite search engine to find “famous people who claim that they only sleep for four hours or less” to find endless results of people that “…all have one thing in common. They sleep less and are all successful in life.”, (an actual quote from one of the results I got back)!

The countless lists of CEOs of the biggest corporations that appear to devalue sleep is also reflected in books and articles detailing how they got to the top with little to no sleep.

Even CEOs of companies that apparently allow for their staff to be able to take a nap at work, don’t do that themselves.

 

Looking the Part

Not surprisingly those that do take a nap at work or nod off whilst working are seen as being lazy or not up to the task. Add to the fact that no one wants to be seen as the slacker, so will happily point to those that appear to be slacking off so as to look more favourable to the boss.

This attitude to tiredness is dangerous and especially so for those that operate heavy machinery or drive for long hours. In an attempt to make deadlines or quotas, people are putting their life and the lives of others at risk.

If you’re feeling tired at work or whilst studying and someone notices, you may have been offered a coffee or told to have a coffee break. Coffee, or caffeine may make you feel more alert in the short term, but you body is actually telling you that you need to stop.

Many of us feel tired in the afternoon, and that’s not just because we’ve had a big lunch. Our circadian cycle typically alerts us that we are starting to slow down and so sleepiness increases. But instead of listening to the warning we reach for a coffee or caffeinated beverages (or caffeine pills, chocolate), to perk ourselves up.

Reclaiming Ourselves

But there is an alternative; having a 10 to 20 minute nap. Instead of taking a coffee break, if possible, find somewhere quiet and take a nap. In the past I’ve used libraries, quiet coffee shops, or during the summer, a green space in a park, to take a nap.

Many researchers are now finding the benefits of a 10 to 20 minute nap may help boost productivity and possibly increase companies revenues.

“During an average work afternoon, a disproportion of the circadian alerting signal to the rising homeostatic sleep pressure occurs, resulting in increased sleepiness and reduced alertness. These factors, along with other impacted cognitive and emotional performance metrics, result in decreased productivity. There is a wealth of evidence that brief daytime naps of 10-20 minutes decrease subjective sleepiness, increase objective alertness, and improve cognitive performance. Daytime napping facilitates creative problem solving and logical reasoning, boosts the capacity for future learning, and consolidates memories. These benefits are not restricted to those experiencing sleep deprivation. Even in well-rested individuals, napping can enhance alertness, performance, and productivity for several hours. Daytime naps also allow for the regulation of emotions, relieve stress, and strengthen immune system function, reducing levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine and normalising levels of interleukin-6 an immune-regulating molecule. Taken together, allowing time to nap during the workday and reap the collective benefits will result in greater productivity and quality output rather than simply pushing through the fatigue, producing sub-standard work.”

Alger, S., Brager, A., Capaldi, V., & , (2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. /SLEEP,/ /42(8),/

Review

I know it’s difficult to take a nap during the day whilst at work or studying, but there are ways around it. Like me, you can find places outside of work to take a nap. If not, then unfortunately it will have to be your car, or book a meeting room for 15 mins and put your head down on the desk.

If you want to boost your productivity then an afternoon nap is well worth it! Napping:

  • Decreases subjective sleepiness
  • Increases objective alertness
  • Improves cognitive performance
  • Facilitates creative problem solving and logical reasoning
  • Boosts the capacity for future learning
  • And enhances productivity for several hours

Afterword

Life is not all about productivity and study. You have to look after your health. Napping is valuable and a great protector of your health:

  • Daytime naps allow for the regulation of emotions
  • Relieve stress
  • Strengthens immune system functioning
  • Reduces levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine
  • And normalises levels of interleukin-6 an immune-regulating molecule
Categories
Energy Exercise Fatigue Focus Lethargy Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

So Tired You Can’t Stay Awake?

Stay Awake, Stay Alert, Stay Focused

The V-CAF app Can Help…

A lot of people that I speak to complain about not having enough time to get things done. Work or study loads are excessive, home life is hectic and there is always something more to do.

“There just isn’t enough hours in a day to get everything done” is a common phrase around these parts. So what do we do? We lengthen the day by cramming more stuff into whatever time is left usually by staying up later and waking up earlier.

Sure in the short term it appears to work, but for many people this has become the norm, and there seems to be more people complaining about feeling tired and lethargic during the day.

Out Of It
Photo by @WR36 via Twenty20

Drowsiness

You don’t do it on purpose, but it sneaks up on you. Being so focussed on the overwhelming amount of tasks that you have to take care of, you get to work on completing what you can to the best of your ability.

More and more time is spent on doing “what needs to be done”, but you start to skip breaks. Perhaps you start eating at your desk or start increasing the amount of coffee and caffeinated sodas that you drink.

Longer hours become the norm. You have less time to switch off after finishing for the day and find it difficult to get to sleep, and when you wake up the next morning, you feel that you could sleep for another couple of hours easily.

Your days become a blur. You are becoming increasingly mentally and / or physically tired. It’s harder to think straight and your work tasks seems to be impossible to do.

 

The True Cost

Unwittingly you have been steadily increasing your sleep debt. It is difficult to notice and as a result very easy to make yourself very tired. Just loosing a couple of hours a sleep per night can have detrimental effects on your brain’s ability to accurately complete tasks and keep focussed.

The cost to your health isn’t good either. Building up a sleep deficiency over time can lead to:

  • An increase in obesity
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • And negative affects on the quality of your life and relationships

And our collective tiredness costs the economy too.

“ 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

Reducing the Debt

Fortunately, the fixes are relatively simple to implement, but they will take discipline to keep up so that you reap the full benefits of being alert and not feeling drowsy during the day.

  • Reduce or Avoid Caffeine
    Caffeine is a stimulant. If used correctly, it can help boost your alertness. But the problem is that it is addictive and people tend to drink too much caffeine. Too much caffeine inhibits your brain’s capability to know when you are tired, and as a result lead to a decrease in the quality of sleep that you get, which in the medium to long term will make you feel worse.
  • Get Enough Sleep and Take Naps
    Everyone is different so it’s difficult to stay exactly how much sleep you need. As a result, most health experts say between 7 to 9 hours sleep is what is needed for the typical adult.
    If possible, take a nap during the day (10-20 mins). Usually after lunch good. Taking a nap has been proven to be beneficial in helping people to concentrate.
  • Take Regular Breaks
    Schedule in breaks to give yourself time rest. The problem is that we can be so focussed on our work that we forget. Speaking for myself, I tend to get tunnel vision whilst working to the exclusion of everything else and as a result miss my breaks. But, since we created V-CAF, which I use daily, my Apple Watch and iPhone notify me as my alertness levels drop, which i then use as a signal to get up and away from my desk for a few minutes.
  • Daily Physical Activity
    A little exercise goes a long way. Just a 15 minute walk during the day helps to improve sleep quality when it’s time for bed. If possible, include exercise in your daily routine. But be sure not to exercise too close to bedtime.

Key Points

Drowsiness affects us all from time to time, but there are things that we can do to reduce it and keep it at a minimum. Try incorporating these tips into your daily routine to help you feel more alert.

  • Reduce or Avoid Caffeine
  • Get Enough Sleep and Take Naps
  • Take Regular Breaks
  • Daily Physical Activity

Afterword

Right now, we are all living through stressful times. Please take the time to look after yourself and try not to worry about what is going on out there in the world.

Focus on the things that you can control. Getting enough quality sleep alone helps to reduce bad moods and can make you feel better. Exercise can also help lift your mood and is good for your heart.

Control these things and you’ll be in a much better position to take on whatever the world throws your way.

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
Alert Energy Fatigue Lethargy Productivity Sleepiness Tension

How Mindfulness Can Boost Your Alertness

Stay Present

Stay Relevant…

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

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

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

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

Unintentional Overloading

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

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

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

Not Being Here

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

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

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

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

Paying Attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Take Aways

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

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

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

Being Mindful

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

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

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

Categories
Fatigue Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

Napping – A Sign of Laziness or Smart Working?

Power Nap To Get Things Done

Rinse, Repeat…

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

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

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

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

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

Being A Slacker

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

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

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

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

Things Aren’t Getting Done

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

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

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

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

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

Visiting The Land of Nod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Points

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

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

Moving On

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

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

Categories
Fatigue Staying Awake Tiredness

Working Through Tiredness

Tiredness, How to Work Through It

If you want to, that is…

Recently I’ve had a lot of work on and noticed that I’ve been feeling more tired than usual.

As a result I’ve felt that my work has been harder than it needs to be and taking longer than expected.

This in turn has made me more frustrated which has effected the quality and efficiency of my work.

Thankfully I recognised what was going on and was able to stop the downward spiral, and decided to write an article about how I was able to turn things around fairly quickly.

Working Through Tiredness
Photo by Joyce Romero @joyceromero on Unsplash, Bali, Indonesia, Caught my friend sleeping while waiting for boarding.

Decreasing Productivity

It can be depressing. You have a deadline to meet or a heavy workload, but feel confident that you can meet your objectives.

Then as you get deeper into your tasks you start to feel a little overwhelmed and find that your efforts aren’t quite hitting the mark.

You increase your efforts but frustration and even a little anger might start to set in. And to top it off you’re feeling exhausted!

Now you’ve reached the tipping point. As you become more drained the likelihood of you making mistakes increase whilst simultaneously decreasing your efficiency.

Working Whilst Tired

It’s been proven that you increase the potential to make mistakes when working during tiredness. So why do so many people do it?

I believe that it’s partially due to people possessing less body awareness nowadays. It’s a similar situation to people not realising that they’re thirsty until it can’t be ignored anymore.

Another responsible factor is overloading. A never ending growing list of responsibilities and tasks lay pressure on the mind and distract you from paying attention to what your body and mind are telling you.

The lack of sensitivity to tiredness may also be linked to the amount of stimulants that are available for us to consume, which has helped to blunt our ability to recognise the tell tale signs that tell us we need to take a break.

If we don’t learn to pay attention to the signals, we are ultimately setting ourselves up for:

  • Stress
  • Nervous breakdowns
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Anxiety

Working Through Tiredness

Just because I’m tired it doesn’t mean I don’t have to hit my targets. It’s a sign that I have to take time management more seriously and make better decisions.

During my last slump I used these strategies to get me over that hump:

  • Prioritised Sleep
    Yep. I planned my waking hours around my sleep. What this meant in practical terms was that I had set times to wake up and go to sleep. No working past at least an hour before I went to bed. For me I set my bed time for 10:00 and woke up around 06:00 every day, including weekends. The idea here was to get back in sync with my circadian rhythm.
  • Exercise
    I’m more of a morning person when it comes to exercise so I did an hours weights and running session soon after waking up. For me I found that it gave me an energy boost and made me feel more alert, so I felt better about the work I had to do for the day. You’ll have to experiment and find a time that works for you, but the aim is to do some exercise every day. Even a ten minute walk helps clear your mind and relax you. It’s a great stress buster and can lift your mood.
  • Eat Whole Foods and Drink Lots of Water
    Nutrient dense food works wonders at boosting your mood and energy. Eat dark green leafy vegetables, grass fed cattle, whole milk, free range eggs and chickens, nuts and berries. These are natures gift and provide you with your basic nutritional needs. I’m vegetarian so where I mention meats, I eat more beans and lentils and do food combining, like rice and beans to get what I need. Again experiment to find what works for you. Don’t forget to drink lots of water throughout the day, and stay away from processed foods as much as possible.
  • Plan Your Work
    I’ve used Scrum and Kanban to plan what work I’ll do for the week ahead. And as usual, I’ve modified them both to fit my needs and style of work. Again, it’s not about the method, but more about the principals behind the method. In this case, it’s kinda like being back at school and having a class schedule so you knew which classes where on what day and where, but in this case it’s for work you need to get done. Planning ahead helps keep you focused on the work that needs to be done and also gives you a concrete indicator on the amount of work that you’ve done and can also help you to adjust where you put your efforts.
  • Take Regular Breaks
    Break up your work sessions into 20-30 minute work periods and make a point focussing only on the work that you have set to do in that time and then take a 5-10 minute break when your current session is done. This is my adjusted version of the Pomodoro technique, so adjust to what fits your concentration spans. In addition to that I also use our tiredness alarm, V-CAF, to let me know that I’m at that point where tiredness will begin to affect my work, so I take a break. It works wonders and I highly recommend it.

Review

Working whilst being tired sucks. Sometimes we just can’t avoid it, but I hope that you at least try some of the tips that I used to get me through my last slump. It’s better than trying to trick yourself into staying awake, and in the long term you’ll feel so much better.

Give these a try:

  • Making sleep a priority
  • Daily exercise
  • Eat healthily and drink lots of water throughout the day
  • Plan your work
  • Take regular breaks whilst working

Afterthought

It looks like a lot to do just to be able to get things done when you are tired, but it’s not that much. For the cost of a little effort every day the rewards will soon pay you back tenfold.

Being tired is a natural part of being alive. Embrace it for what it is and you’ll soon feel like you can do anything, and probably can.

Good Luck