Categories
Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Tiredness

Time, Technology and Your Tiredness

Know When to Stop

Stay Alert, Stay Focused

To me, one of the weirdest things that we experience is time. Whenever I’m bored or doing something that I don’t want to (like being in a pointless meeting, or stuck in an uninteresting class at school), time seems to move extremely slow, and I’m amazed how five minutes can feel like thirty.

In contrast, when I’m really engaged in what I’m doing time flies. I lose track of time and feel disappointed when it’s time to stop, and again find myself amazed that two hours have past when they only felt like twenty minutes!

I’ve read lots of books and endless online videos about this phenomena, and ultimately they all tend to agree that time is subjective, fair enough. But what about how we are affected by our subjective experiences of time passing?

Something that I’ve noticed in myself, is that the feeling of tiredness is always there, it’s just felt at different stages. When I’m bored I usually feel sleepy and find it difficult to focus on what is being said or the task that needs to be completed. When I’m fully engrossed in a task or presentation, I feel full of energy and feel like I can keep going without stopping, but soon after I finish it feels like everything is moving in slow motion and I suddenly notice how drained I feel.

So what is going on?

Time - Technology - Tiredness
Photo by @criene via Twenty20

No Time

People want to get something out of their time and their lives. It is all about getting a lot done, and to be done with it so that one can move on to something else…
The constant reorganisation of workplaces (now an unquestioned norm of a modern organisation) implies that we are in a state of change all the time. The goal of efficiency means, without exception, an increase of intensity at work. In short, more has to be done in less time.

Widerberg, K. (2006). Embodying Modern Times. Time & Society, 15(1), 105-120.

It is an unfortunate fact of life these days that there is an increasing expectation for us to perform at ever increasing levels of productivity. Very few of us have a standard work or study week. This unpredictability makes it difficult for us to effectively plan the amount of time that we spend working or studying.

Even with having the ability to work from home, we may find that we actually spend more time working than we would have if we were in the office (although, I prefer working from home). Wherever we work or study, many of us can find that we are unable to switch off completely and as a result find it difficult to relax and be fully engaged in our own lives.

Whether our professions allow us to work remotely or not, our work loads are increasing and we can feel that we don’t have enough time to get things done. The pressure to perform can keep us fully engaged whilst working or studying without us realising that we are wearing ourselves down.

The early signs of our increasing tiredness include feeling irritated and finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate whilst at work, and feeling burnt out but unable to get adequate rest when at home.

 

Unable to Stop

“I like the job, it is self-developing and the technical development has its way. Everybody has mobile phones, home computers, and Internet, and that goes for me as well. This increased activity is what we live for, it is our daily bread and it has its costs. When I come home my work day is not over. I do notice that it wears you down, especially when you have not had a holiday for some time”.

Widerberg, K. (2006). Embodying Modern Times. /Time & Society,/ /15(1),/ 105-120.

Our inability to switch off after working or studying is worrying. Without being able to completely switch off we set ourselves at more risk of suffering from various health issues, one of which is inadequate sleep.

Unfortunately, it is difficult for us to notice when we are worn down, a situation which is made increasingly difficult to acknowledge due to the normalisation of overworking.

When it is normal to have too much to do, it is likely that it is also normal to be tired and worn out, and to have bodily symptoms. Aches in the back, neck, head, stomach, and joints, and sleeping problems seem to have become too common to be worth talking about. That is just the way it is, it seems, for all of us.

Widerberg, K. (2006). Embodying Modern Times. Time & Society, 15(1), 105-120.

This is a worrying situation to be in as most of us don’t realise the dangers that we are volunteering ourselves for. Jagdish Khubchandani and James H. Price in their article “Short Sleep Duration in Working American Adults, 2010 – 2018” highlight that sleep problems aren’t acknowledged as a major health concern and explain the associated mental and physical illnesses that we can expect if this issue isn’t addressed (see below):

  • Loss of productivity
  • Premature mortality
  • Increased risk of type-2 diabetes
  • Strokes
  • Hypertension risks
  • Increased risk of coronary heart disease
  • Anxiety
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Workplace absenteeism
  • Presenteeism (low work performance)
  • Unstable moods
  • And suicidal ideation

Time and Technology

Knowing that it so easy to lose track of time and have a sense of how tired we actually are is easy, but what can we do about it?

Improving sleep hygiene goes a long way to help correct a lot of the issues, and some of the steps that you can take to help yourself are:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time daily. This helps your body’s circadian rhythm adjust to your sleeping routine.
  • Get between seven to eight hours of good quality sleep. Both quality and quantity are important to help you feel refreshed and rested when you wake up.
  • Exercise regularly. It helps with improving your health and helps improve the quality of your sleep.
  • Get outside more and get plenty of bright daylight.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco as they reduce the quality of your sleep.

The things that you can do to help yourself whilst working/studying are:

  • Take regular breaks whilst working. Use the Pomodoro technique (or any other productivity process) to help set specific blocks of time for you to work. Once the block is complete, take a five to ten minute break, then start again. Working this way helps to keep you focused and reduces the risk of you working whilst tired.
  • Work no more than forty hours a week. Organise your work so that you can have enough rest when you’ve finished working for the day without having to continuously work long hours.
  • Use technology to help you keep alert. Our Apple Watch app, V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, helps you keep track of your tiredness by notifying you when your tiredness increases. Using it whilst working will help to let you know when your body says it needs to take a break, helping you to be more efficient and productive.
  • After finishing work, go for a walk before coming home. It can help to de-stress you and help you relax and switch off from thinking about what you did that day, and how you’re going to deal with tomorrow.

Decide what your priorities are. If your health is important to you then take the necessary measures that you need to, to protect yourself. Same goes for your family and work life. Make a list of what is important to your quality of life and stick to it as best you can.

Review

Ultimately what I’m saying in this post is to make time for yourself. It’s easy for me to tell you not to obsess over work/studying and to take it in your stride, but I know it isn’t easy to do at all.

Whether you find yourself getting bored and that makes you tired, or you overwork and don’t realise how tired you are, be aware of what your body is telling you and step back when you need to.

Afterword

“If someone asks you how to write your name, would you bark out each letter? And if they get angry, would you then return the anger? Wouldn’t you rather gently spell out each letter for them? So then, remember in life that your duties are the sum of individual acts. Pay attention to each of these as you do your duty . . . just methodically complete your task.”

Marcus Aurelius , Meditations, 6.26, source: A Stoic Guide To Workplace Peace Of Mind
Categories
Energy Fatigue Focus Irritability Lethargy Productivity Sleep Tension

Wanted: A Fully Rested You!

Work Hard, Rest Harder

Be The Real You..

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

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

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

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

Productivity Sucks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Frustrating Grind

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

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

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

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

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

A Rested You

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

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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

Afterword

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

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

How Do You Become More Focused And Productive?

Start By Getting Out More

Small steps, one after the other…

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

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

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

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

The Blame Game

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

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

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

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

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

Serena Poon, Leveraging Mindful Practices To Maximize Productivity

 

Not Paying Attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reversing The Trend

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

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

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

Review

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

Afterword

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

Charlotte Eriksson, You’re Doing Just Fine .

Categories
Energy Exercise Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleepiness Tiredness

How to Get Going

Or How to Get Things Done

Start now, worry later

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

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

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

Lets Get Going
Photo by @betobordoy via Twenty20

The Struggle

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

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

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

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

The Risk

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

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

What is already known about this topic


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


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


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

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

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

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

The lack of good quality sleep can be linked to:

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

And may increase the risk of:

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

Steps to Take

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

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

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

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

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

Review

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

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

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

Afterword

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

Steve Jobs

Categories
Alert Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Staying Awake

A New Paradigm For Staying Productive

V-CAF The New Productivity Hack

Stay Productive

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

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

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

Stay Productive
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

Full Steam Ahead

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

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

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

Hitting the Wall

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

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

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

Changing Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review

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

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

Afterword

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

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

Categories
Alert Energy Exercise Focus Productivity Study Studying

How to Stay Focused In Three Easy Steps

As Easy As One, Two, Three

Just start…

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

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

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

Stay Focused
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

The Draining

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

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

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

Guilt and Competing Interests

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

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

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

Overcoming

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep deprivation – Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

Afterword

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

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

Time to Rest and Refocus

Life Doesn’t Have to be so Complicated

Keep it simple…

These days I seem to have more to do than ever. Tight deadlines, keeping in touch with family and friends whilst trying to complete my personal study and fitness goals all take their toll.

And it’s at times like these that you can easily lose track of time and forget to take time out. I was reminded of this fact when I found myself struggling to stay on track for a deadline. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t solve this particular issue which I found increasingly frustrating.

As my mind started wandering I found my self thinking about the complications of life that seemed to be making it impossible to get what I needed done. Then I looked at my Apple Watch and a solution struck me.

Time To Sleep
Photo by @alexcroes via Twenty20

Side Tracked

It’s one thing knowing what to do, and another to actually do it. Especially when you find yourself under pressure to get things done. I normally make the time to take time out throughout the day, just to keep me sane.

But in these very interesting times, it is easy to start with the intention of doing one thing but find yourself sidetracked by what seems to be more pressing and urgent at that moment.

For some things this is no big deal but I let things slide just a bit too long and I felt it! Tasks that I would normally sail through became quite challenging and took longer than expected.

Lose of Focus

I didn’t realise that I wasn’t focussing on the main issue but focusing on symptoms. So, unfortunately, I started doing stuff that dealt with the immediate problems.

Not getting the results I expected made me even more angry and frustrated than I was in the first place, which eventually made me feel like just giving up and quitting.

It was during one of those frustration tantrums that I stepped outside for a walk to help clear my mind. It was late but the air was cool and crisp and had the effect of immediately picking me up. I started noticing my surroundings, the smokers on the corner, the slight frost on the floor, and how quiet things were.

My mind began to wander and I realised that time was getting on so I glanced at my watch to see how long I’d been out. And there it was, on my Apple Watch’s face the subtle answer to why I hadn’t bee able to focus.

The Complication Solution

A watch complication is any function that exists in addition to telling time (displaying hours, minutes and seconds) on a timepiece. These watch complications enable special functions that are performed and displayed on the watch to enhance or simplify your life.

Wixon Jewelers, Learn about Watch Complications & Timepieces | Wixon Jewelers

In a previous release of V-CAF we enabled the Apple Watch complication feature. One of the team suggested that we needed a visual cue that would also double as an easy access button to launch V-CAF.

So when I saw the V-CAF coffee cup icon on my Apple Watch’s face (as seen in the bottom corner of this articles photo) I realised that I’d been so busy that I’d forgot to start the app which would have alerted me to my ever decreasing alertness levels.

Being aware of my alertness levels in the past allowed me to adjust accordingly and helped increase my productivity. When I got back to my tasks I launched V-CAF and took breaks when alerted to. When I got home, aware of my tiredness, I got to bed earlier. Did it make a difference? I think it did. “Simplified my life indeed!”

Apple Watches have the ability for you to customise your watch face, using complications. The Apple Watch comes with its own standard complications but it also allows you to use third party app’s complications if the app supports them.

V-CAF supports complications and it’s very straight forward to enable and use.

  1. Open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.
  2. Tap the My Watch tab.
  3. Under the My Faces section scroll through the different watch faces that are installed on your Apple Watch and select a face that is compatible with complications (you can find out which faces are compatible by tapping on a watch face and looking under the Complications section. If the options under this tab are enabled, you can add custom complications to this style).
  4. After you have tapped the watch face that you want to add the V-CAF complication to, select where you want it displayed (i.e. “Top Left”, “Middle”, “Bottom Left” etc) by tapping on the appropriate selection.
  5. Scroll through the list of apps and features until you find V-CAF and tap on it.
  6. Click “Click as current Watch Face” if it isn’t set as your watch’s current face.

Once there when you look at your watch face you’ll see that you now have easy access to Launch V-CAF without having to scroll through the Watch’s app selection grid or list.

And you may find, like I did, it’s a good visual reminder to start V-CAF whilst you are working, studying or any situation where you need to stay awake and alert.

Recap

It’s easy to forget to do the things that need to be done when you are busy, so try to find ways to remind yourself what needs to be done. In my case it was as simple as putting the icon of our app on my watch’s face that helped solve the underlying problem to my focussing issues.

Afterword

“Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.”

Aesop
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