Categories
Focus Productivity Uncategorized

How To Recover When You Are Down

Pay Attention to the Signs You’re Given

Slow down, take it easy…

Hello all! It’s been six weeks since I got a chance to write a blog post. A lot has been happening over here @ V-CAF and we would like to apologise for not posting.

This post is going to be a little different but hopefully still useful and relevant to you. I’ll be telling you a bit more about why we’ve been away for so long and what to expect going forward.

I was going to write down a day by day journal to post to the blog to show the specific steps that we took to overcome the various difficulties, but because there was so much going on I decided to focus on one thing at a time and do things properly.

The underlying message of this post is to not fret when things don’t go the way you planned and to take your time and seek out the silver lining that may benefit you and others.

Hosting Problems

Our previous host had problems early on when we first signed up with them. They were hacked and all their clients data was held to ransom. As you could imagine we and their other clients were very worried about what this meant for our visitors, and some left straight away.

We discussed the issue with the hosts and decided to wait it out as we believed that they would take the necessary steps to make sure that our data was safe and that they would help us to better achieve V-CAF’s website goals.

Then in mid October our hosts services went down in Europe (where our server was located). There was no warning or email notification. Luckily, I was in the process of doing some site maintenance after paying for new services with our host and saw that there was a problem.

This time we went to the hosts community site to find out what was going on and what we found was terrible. Many European hosted sites were down and had no access to their data.

As we were only using our previous host for hosting our blog and website we took the decision to look for a new host and start the migration process. As we didn’t have the latest version of our changes locally, this process lasted an age.

Development Problems

Unfortunately for us our hosting problems would impact our app development process as we were mid cycle of developing new improvements to V-CAF on top of our previous improvement releases that we timed with Apple’s release of iOS 15 and watchOS 8.

As you may or may not know, we are a small team so resources had to be pulled from development to help with the hosting issues which was keeping us very busy, to say the least.

The new features that we were planning were taking longer than expected due to a bug we found in the development framework which lead to us having conversations with Apple to figure a way around them.

And because problems like to come in threes, we also had personal commitments and issues that also had an impact on how much time we could dedicate to development and fixing the hosting issue.

The New Way Ahead

Thankfully, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Data on the website is almost 100% restored. Our new hosts have been extremely helpful with getting us back up and running and things are not just back to normal, but better and faster.

Thanks hosting team 🤩

There are new changes coming for V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert. As I’m writing this we are waiting for Apple to approve the changes so the new version of the app will be out hopefully at some point this week!

If you’ve got this far into the post, thank you and we want to share the major change that we made to the app with you…

V-CAF is now free to download! When the new release is out, download the iOS version of the app, and then using Apple’s Watch App, download the watchOS version.

You get 3 free launches of the app on the watchOS version after which if you like it please click the upgrade button to do a one time Lifetime access In-App purchase. Click the upgrade button on the iOS version of V-CAF to upgrade both the iOS and watchOS versions and make sure that your Apple Watch is on and that V-CAF is running.

If you bought the app in a previous release, please click the Restore button under the Settings tab on the iOS version of the app, and again make sure that your Apple Watch is on and the watchOS version of V-CAF is running.

If you have any problems please contact us at:
info@v-caf.org

Review

As the picture in this blog post states “Slow Down” seemed to be the message that all these incidents were telling us.

Thankfully the rest of the V-CAF team also picked up on that theme and we slowed down, didn’t panic, and only did what needed to be done on the things that we could work on to get back and go past where we were before.

We hope that you take the opportunity to try out the new release of V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert and that you find it useful for your productivity needs.

Afterword

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson
Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Energy Focus Insomnia Productivity Sleep

How To Out Smart Your Tiredness

Your Apple Watch, V-CAF & You

Stay awake and alert…

I had some urgent work to get done and time was against me. Caught between a rock and a hard place I decided to power on and resorted to coffee to help me beat the tiredness.

This was before my abstinence from caffeine and I’d always used some form of caffeine to get me through the tough times. Unfortunately on this occasion my coffee didn’t seem to help. “No problem, I’ll just drink more”, I thought. But by now more meant having my sixth espresso (with a teaspoon of sugar).

Sure enough it seemed to work for a little while but soon after I felt even more tired, so I decided to stop for the night and continue in the morning. Bad idea! I went to bed and couldn’t get to fall asleep even though I felt exhausted. At first I thought it was due to the work that I still had to finish, but at some point near sunrise I realised that it must of been all the coffee I had!

I knew it was not going to be a pleasant day ahead.

Out Smart Your Tiredness
Photo by @mkolchanov via Twenty20

The Old Path

Getting out of bed and feeling tired, I did what most people do and reached for the coffee to start off the day. And as I’ve said many times before, coffee (or more specifically, caffeine) works, just not the way that most people think.

Caffeine works by interlocking with your adenosine receptors which has the effect of blocking their ability to respond to the adenosine levels in your brain. Your body produces adenosine throughout the day and high levels of adenosine activate your adenosine receptors to indicate to your brain that your tiredness levels are increasing.

Caffeine manipulates your adenosine receptors to make you feel more alert than you actually are, which many people confuse with gaining more energy when in fact they have the same amount of energy and tiredness as they did before consuming caffeine. Caffeine is so good at blocking adenosine that its effects can last up to twelve hours.

Knowing what I know now I feel duped that I thought caffeine would help me get through the day! My plan was to drink a cup of coffee whenever I felt tired so that I could concentrate in short bursts and get things done. It had worked in the past, so I didn’t think that it wouldn’t work now, especially after a night of not being able to sleep well due to the amount of coffee that I’d drunk throughout the last couple of days.

Unfortunately I didn’t count on my caffeine tolerance levels increasing and just when I needed the caffeine fix the most, it didn’t make me feel alert or able to concentrate any better than before!

Dead End

What You Should Know about Caffeine states: “Caffeine does not accumulate in the bloodstream or body and is normally excreted within several hours following consumption.” In fact, only about 1 percent of caffeine is excreted. The remaining 99 percent must be detoxified by the liver, and the removal of the resulting metabolites is a slow and difficult process. In Chapter 3, you will learn that it can take up to twelve hours to detoxify a single cup of coffee. In fact, the matter of accumulation has never been resolved. Evidence suggests that it may take up to seven days to decaffeinate the blood of habitual coffee drinkers. Plus, it can take three weeks or more for the body’s levels of stress hormones to return to normal. If that’s not accumulation, what is?

Cherniske, Stephen Snehan . Caffeine Blues (pp. 20-21). Grand Central Publishing.

To compensate for my apparent lack of alertness I had a few more cups of coffee and a cola. After a short while, although I didn’t feel great and clear headed, I felt better than I had before, but not for long. After about forty minutes I felt tired again and wanted more caffeine.

What I didn’t know then was that my body’s caffeine tolerance had increased significantly so I would need to consume much more caffeine just to get to the point where I felt normal. To make matters worse, when you become dependent on caffeine to keep you awake and functioning, the act of not consuming caffeine for a brief period can induce withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of concentration
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea

Although annoying, caffeine withdrawal symptoms for some people can pass quite quickly (a couple of days), but for others it can take weeks.

In my case I started to feel extremely tired and found it difficult to concentrate. I knew that I wouldn’t get any work done so I decided to take the rest of the day off and recover at home. Luckily it was the weekend so I decided to keep away from caffeine, and during the day get outside and go for walks, and get to bed by 10pm during the evenings.

I felt lazy for most of the weekend and decided to do the very minimal that I could around the house and I didn’t go out too much (mostly to the shops to get food and supplies). I dozed off a lot and didn’t eat much, but by Sunday I found that my head felt clearer and I wasn’t feeling so irritable.

I decided that the following week I would keep away from caffeine and get to bed on time. Caffeine did help, but only briefly.

Work Smarter

These days I rarely drink coffee and although I do enjoy a caffeinated cold beverage once in a while, I don’t depend on caffeine to help me to focus or concentrate.

Instead I make it a daily priority to get to bed at roughly the same time every night (including during holidays), getting good quality sleep as well as getting enough sleep, exercising daily and eating more healthy.

Taking these steps alone has helped me more than overcome my caffeine dependance and I believe increased my level of productivity as well. Doing this has also helped me concentrate so that the quality of my work improved too.

In addition I manage my tiredness levels better than I did in the past and as I like gadgets, use my iPhone and Apple Watch to help me. In particular I regularly use our app V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert throughout the day to inform me of when my alertness is dropping so that I can do something to wake myself up.

In other articles I’ve mentioned how I useV-CAF to notify me when it’s time to take a break, and where I can (usually in the afternoon after lunch), I either have a 20 minute nap or go for a walk or stretch and do some light exercises (for example my martial arts forms) to help reengage my mind with my body. I’ve found that after taking a quality relaxing break, when I get back to my desk, things just flow and work gets done quicker.

Review

Since the industrial age caffeine has been the go to drug of choice to help us with our alertness and overcoming tiredness. Although caffeine appears to work, in the long run our minds and bodies pay the price in disrupted sleep, caffeine dependancy and risking intoxication due to harmful chemicals found in coffee.

To date, over 700 volatile substances in coffee have been identified, including more than 200 acids and an incredible array of alcohols, aromatic compounds, carbonyl compounds, esters, hydrocarbons, heterocyclic compounds, and terpenoids. Nonvolatile substances in coffee include caffeine and other purines, glycosides, lipids, melanoidins, caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid. And that’s just the stuff that’s supposed to be there. Coffee often contains a raft of pesticide residues and other contaminants such as nitrosamines, solvents, and mycotoxins. These carry well-defined health risks, and some are carcinogenic.

Cherniske, Stephen Snehan . Caffeine Blues (p. 16). Grand Central Publishing.

Thankfully there are alternatives that are far less harmful and work with our bodies such as diet, exercise and sleep. There are also smart devices such as the Apple iPhone and Apple Watch that coupled with apps such as “V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert” can be used to help you manage your tiredness levels and get more out of the day.

Afterword

The deception has been well coordinated by an industry whose goal is quite simple: to get as much caffeine into your body as possible. If the caffeine industry can accomplish that, they have you as a customer for life. They know caffeine saps your natural sense of vitality, leaving you dependent on their products to get through the day. They know that you actually crave their products and, more importantly, that you suffer when you don’t consume them. It’s a marketing dream, and it’s legal. No wonder more and more companies are jumping on the caffeine bandwagon, churning out products from specialized coffees and teas to “herbal” caffeinated energy pills, caffeine-laced fruit beverages, “supercharged” soft drinks, caffeinated beer, and even caffeinated bottled water.

Cherniske, Stephen Snehan . Caffeine Blues (p. 4). Grand Central Publishing.

Categories
Energy Focus Productivity Sleepiness Studying Tiredness

Protecting The Quality of Your Work

Protecting Your Quality of Life

Self first, then others

Working or studying for long hours goes hand in hand with working hard and being productive. I’ve worked at many firms that believe this to be true. If the business owners or senior management spend a lot of time at work the chances are that their employees and subordinates will do the same in order to be seen in a favourable light.

Unfortunately for many firms where this is the case, staff turnover is often high and morale isn’t as good as it could be. Eventually even the quality of work begins to suffer and productivity decreases. In an effort to reverse the trend, managers can demand more from their teams who already feel that they are giving all that they can.

Academics and students don’t do much better. As the pressure to compete with other departments and institutions for research bursaries increases, the need to produce favourable results can lead to people working extremely long days, seven days a week which eventually affects the quality of the research and study in a negative way.

Trying to suggest to such people to spend less time working is often met with derision or dismissed as not being realistic. “If I don’t put the hours in how will the work get done”, is a response I used to give back to anyone that dared mention cutting back on the hours spent at work, whilst having to do more tasks.

But what if our assumptions about putting more time in at work are wrong and may in fact be the reason why we have to put more hours in?

Protect Yourself
Photo by @AZ.BLT via Twenty20

Quantity and Effort

Let me start off by saying that I’m not opposed to working long hours per se, but my past experiences of working long hours and the results I achieved led me down the path of investigating if there was a better way of getting things done apart from spending all my waking hours trying to figure out how to finish my task on time.

In many professions long hours are a cultural norm (take junior doctors for example), and anyone challenging the status quo tend to be seen in an unfavourable manner that often can effect their career prospects. Those that complain can be made to seem weak and not up to the task of getting things done, which is all well and good, but can have a chilling effect on anyone who might have a better solution to just throwing more hours at a problem.

Another motivating tactic that is often used to get people to work longer and so increase productivity is to pay more money or overtime. This seems fair as your time and effort is being compensated for, but what about your health and family time? Again, there’s nothing wrong with working long hours but you have to take into account all aspects of your life (unless you live to work).

And full disclosure here, I regularly work long hours, but have found ways to manage that with my family and personal life. Working long hours from time to time I believe is acceptable, but what I don’t like is that it soon starts to be seen as the norm and exploited as such.

Grinding Ourselves Down

Perhaps a better question may be “What is the cost of working fatigued?” 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.

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

When working long hours becomes the norm, that’s when the negative effects on work start to take hold. Working long hours for short periods of time is okay and is needed from time to time to get things done due to an unforeseen oversight or event.

Prolonged overworking leads to work fatigue and stress which can have negative effects on your health and wellbeing. Work fatigue is negative for both employee and employer or company.

Employees presenting high levels of work fatigue displayed lower job satisfaction, psychological health, physical health, and organisational commitment, coupled with accrued turnover intentions and difficulties to relax after work. Work fatigue is damaging both psychologically and physically, leading to less efficient work recovery, negative work attitudes and health-related difficulties.

Blais, A., Gillet, N., Houle, S., Comeau, C., & Morin, A. (2020). Work Fatigue Profiles: Nature, Implications, and Associations With Psychological Empowerment.Frontiers in Psychology,11,

So how do you know if you are suffering from work fatigue? Here’s a list of signs to lookout for:

  • Constantly yawning
  • Falling asleep when sitting still
  • Feeling tired throughout the day
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Feeling tired when waking up in the morning
  • Unmotivated to go to work and/or finish tasks
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches

Preventative Measures

I mentioned earlier that I also regularly work long hours and have found ways that help me reduce the effects of doing so on my health and personal life.

At first it may seem easier said than done, but by being consistent and working through these steps (and those that you find for yourself, that work for you) you’ll find that you’ll be able to maintain a high level of work whilst at the same time feeling like you have more energy.

Let’s get to it, in no particular order, here are some tips that you may find helpful in reducing the effects of working long hours over a prolonged period of time.

Give Purpose or Meaning to What You Do

  • Where does your current profession fit into the bigger plan for your life? Does it align with your life’s goals?
  • Figure out what are the implications of your current task for you, your team and/or company.
  • Figure out which is more important to you, your life or your work life and reorganise as needed (I’m not suggesting that you walk out of your job because the quality of your life is more important! For example if your home life is more important, then start to organise your work life around your personal life if that is possible. If not, then figure out how to make it so).

Look After Your Health

  • Although your employer (even if you are self employed) may try to make things at work as comfortable as they can for you, don’t neglect your own health.
  • Take regular breaks whilst at work (every 25 – 30 mins) where you get up and walk around.
  • If your job permits, after lunch have a 10 – 20 minute nap to help refocus your mind, relieve any tiredness and give you a quick boost in your energy levels without having to resort to caffeine.
  • Take regular exercise
  • Get outside more (maybe during one of your scheduled breaks throughout the day). Getting daylight to your skin and eyes helps regulate your circadian rhythm which in turn will help improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals and smoking before going to bed.
  • Go to bed at regular times and get between 7 – 10 hours of sleep per night (even on weekends and holidays).

Review

There is constant pressure to perform well at work and whilst studying. Some people assume that spending many hours working or studying is time well spent. Unfortunately due to no fault of their own, they are ignorant to the fact that it doesn’t work.

Schools, workplaces and cultural norms reinforce this misguided path as the logical common sense way to achieve great results. It is further reinforced by the “Captains of Industry” who often are cited as having little time for sleep.

Scientific studies are continually updating their findings regarding work fatigue and it currently seems to be clear that working long hours over a long period of time increases the chances of suffering from work fatigue and stress which can negatively affect health and quality of work.

Afterword

Sleep deprivation, in some populations, is still considered a point of pride and a reflection of toughness. However, this argument is based largely in ignorance and companies are beginning a movement to counteract it. 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.

Alger, S., Brager, A., Capaldi, V., & , (2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. SLEEP, 42(8),
Categories
Alert Energy Focus Productivity

Know the Optimal Time to Take a Break

Make Time For Yourself

You Deserve It…

The other day I was talking to a colleague about how currently there seems to be so much more to do. We went back and forth with anecdotes that confirmed how we felt and just as I felt my motivation spiralling downwards, my colleague happily exclaimed how thankful that he was going to be on holiday for two weeks.

With glee in his voice he told me to “enjoy holding the fort”, and wished me luck! Unfortunately for me, I still had two months to wait before my holiday, and cursed myself for not booking it sooner. Sulking looking at my screen I thought about the time that I don’t spend prioritising breaks that suit me when I work, particularly during the work day and both planned and unplanned vacations.

I scolded myself for letting things get to this point and then realised that lately I hadn’t been following my own advice, and became more focused on the amount of work rather than organising the work around the time that I had to complete it!

I stopped sulking and started to dig through my journal and past articles that I’d posted to see what I could do to get myself back in balance.

Know the optimal time to take a break
Photo by @johnlmc via Twenty20

Unbalanced Work

Work life balance is a mantra that has been espoused by the corporate world for a while now. Many companies make a point of letting potential new recruits know that they actively encourage and support a more healthy balance between private and work life.

In my time working with various institutions, I’ve had more than my fair share of emails, bulletins and workshops to help guide me to that elusive goal of a perfectly balanced professional and family life. Managers and team leads have encouraged me to take time off, and to be fair, some have been really supportive and understanding.

So why is it that with all this encouragement and support, that people find themselves feeling overloaded and overworked?

Possible reasons include:

  • Not wanting to let your colleagues, team or company down
  • Increasing workloads
  • Overly demanding bosses/managers
  • Bullying
  • and stress

Whatever the cause, the end result is that you can skip daily breaks and vacations for the “greater good” of the project or deadline. And when you are under pressure to get things done, work breaks can be easily overlooked.

 

No Play, Low Pay

We live in a time when professionals take fewer vacations than ever before and businesses are generally leaner, tending toward high productivity at the expense of flexibility. It’s hard to find a “convenient” time to get away, and when you do the stress of re-entry and catching up can wear you back down in almost no time.

Americans seem to be among the worst of professional workers around the world for leaving hard-earned vacation time on the table. Depending on which one of the many surveys you can read on this subject, something like 50% of American workers use less than their allotted vacation time…
Most of those same surveys also cite higher stress levels for people who do not take time off, and worse, some indicate that long-term career prospects are worse for people who cannot pull themselves away from the office or lab.

Atwood, S. (2015). Take a Break ‐ You Deserve It. Information Display, 31(4), 2-35.

I once worked at a firm where it was expected that you worked long days (12 – 16 hours) and weekends continuously for months. Knowing what I know now, I realise that this way of working was bordering on the cruel and abusive, but to keep us working and motivated we were told that we were the elites in our industry, the go getters, and by enduring work like that, were destined to be industry leaders in our fields.

Life was a blur. I couldn’t think clearly and as a result made more mistakes than necessary. This had knock on effects for the rest of the team, so I felt guilty and would work longer to help fix the mistakes that were caused by the tiredness I felt because of the long hours that we were working. And so it went on.

That was an extreme case but many people figure that productive work equals long hours, but in fact the opposite is true. The longer the hours you work, the more likely you are to make errors and reduce the quality of your work.

Furthermore, you open yourself up to stress and burn-out, which in their early phases, rather than impress your colleagues and bosses, can make them see you as incapable, lazy or needy. Eventually this can lead you to being overlooked for promotion and could even cost you your job (as well as your health and well being).

Some of the signs that you may be heading towards burnout include:

  • Not going to work or not getting out of bed
  • Losing interest in work that used to be exciting and interesting
  • Not meeting your basic needs – eating, exercising and family time
  • Making more mistakes than usual at work
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Being short tempered, intolerant or overly sensitive with colleagues
  • Catching illnesses more often
  • Not sleeping well
  • Feelings of low confidence

    source: Powell, K. (2017). Work–life balance: Break or burn out. Nature, 545(7654), 375-377.

Regular Breaks

A break from work is a period in the course of a workday during which employees shift their attention away from current tasks. A micro-break is a short break from work that lasts a few minutes and that is informal and less structured than, for example, a lunch break.

Employees initiate a micro-break themselves or deliberately decide to join a micro-break initiated by others.

Micro-breaks can encompass various kinds of activities, including, for example looking out the window, checking in with a favourite colleague, or going for a short walk.

Bosch, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2019). Should I Take a Break? A Daily Reconstruction Study on Predicting Micro-Breaks at Work. International Journal of Stress Management, 26(4), 378-388.

When going over my old notes about taking breaks I found that the most important thing about them, was to actually take them. In the past I’ve set up routines and work processes like using the Pomodoro or Kanban techniques where I work in 25 minute blocks with a 3 to 5 minute break between blocks. Although it works, when I’m really busy I sometimes forget to set the timer or turn the break alarms off without going on a break!

This is a big no no, and I was guilty of doing that more often than not. To get around that issue I now use our app V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert. It’s an Apple Watch app that is simple to use. I just press the V-CAF icon on my Apple Watch, choose the icon which best captures how I’m feeling and it starts monitoring my tiredness levels ready to notify me when my alertness decreases. I use it as my reminder to go for a break, which nowadays is a mixture between going for a quick walk outside, stretching and moving around, or having a quick 10-20 minute nap away from my desk.

As a consultant, I found it very difficult to take holidays as it meant that I would not only have to catch up with all the work that wasn’t being done whilst I was away, I also didn’t get paid for my vacations. To get around this I soon learnt that I needed to charge enough to cover my vacation times and book my vacations well in advance, so that I could organise my work around them.

If you’re an employee, don’t leave it until you feel like you can’t work another day, plan realistically for the times that suits you (and your family, if that’s a concern) best. And whilst on vacation, cut all ties with your place of work. That means, no looking at emails, or social media and taking calls. Be unreachable. Recently a colleague of mine was on holiday and he was called back in for an emergency in the office. Luckily for the bosses he was still in the country, unlucky for my friend, he had to explain to his wife and family why he was going back into work during their holiday (not a nice situation, I can tell you). Let me just say, nobody can reach him when he’s on holiday or over the weekend since that incident!

As a side benefit of taking regular breaks you’ll get a better sense of the best times that you work. During your workdays, plan your most difficult tasks around the times when you are most alert and productive, and routine work that doesn’t take too much brain power for when you’re less alert.

Review

Ultimately, you have to listen to what your body is telling you and not force yourself to work longer than is optimal for you and your productivity.

It won’t be easy to just change everything all at once, so take small steps and progressively move towards achieving a work-life balance that suits your health and wellbeing best.

Afterword

A micro-brake offers individuals the possibility to reward themselves with an activity they like, such as texting with their friends or enjoying their favourite tea. Because activities individuals are fond of have a remunerating character, micro-breaks possess the potential to provide small but immediate rewards during the workday.
Such rewards may help recover affective-motivational resources that were depleted while working.

Bosch, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2019). Should I Take a Break? A Daily Reconstruction Study on Predicting Micro-Breaks at Work. International Journal of Stress Management, 26(4), 378-388.
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.”