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
Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Focus Productivity Relapse Staying Awake Study Studying Tiredness

How Caffeine Changed My Life For The Better

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining

Just don’t get too wet…

As far back as my student days when trying to pass exams to get into university, caffeine and I have had a love hate relationship.

Caffeine has helped me get through difficult exams, work pressure and setting up home. Each time I’ve used it I’ve said to myself, “Just this last time”.

However, whenever the next “difficult patch” came up, I found myself binging on caffeine in a desperate attempt to stay focused.

How Caffeine Changed My Life For The Better
Photo by Richard Harris, Streets of London

Caffeine the God Send

From when I was around 7 years old I can remember loving drinking cola. I would get overly excited both before and after drinking it and remember the adults getting annoyed at my friends and I as we just couldn’t stop running up and down.

I also remember the adults drinking coffee and someone saying that it was like cola for adults to help them stay awake and get things done. I used to think that there must be something magical about it, however as I got older and had more assignments and exams to pass, I grew to found out what that magic was.

Something Ain’t Right in Paradise

As the work that I had to complete gradually became more challenging, I found myself staying up later just to be able to have enough time to finish my assignments and complete my studies.

Finding it difficult to stay focused on all the work that needed to be done I turned to coffee, colas and eventually caffeine pills. These worked, but what seemed to me like only a few days, I found myself consuming an increasing amount of caffeine in different forms just to be able to feel normal.

Even though some of my close buddies tried to warn me, I eventually got to a point where my hands started shaking uncontrollably. Luckily it wasn’t like a bad case of Parkinson’s disease, but it was enough to scare me into giving up caffeine.

The Turning Point

Years later I was on a job that was very demanding of my time and energy. Over the course of two years consistently working long days and nights as well as having to travel every few weeks between two countries, my body decided enough was enough.

I began feeling sluggish and unmotivated. I even started drinking a zero cola very regularly without thinking about what I was actually doing. But eventually I’d kicked the can as far as I could and found that I was starting to fall asleep at work.

My work colleagues tried to give me hints but eventually our boss took me aside and told me to get myself together. Angry and frustrated at myself I looked for quick fixes to help me save my job. However, what I found was far more valuable and actually helped me to overcome the tiredness to the point where I can now recognise what is going on and take the necessary steps to recover quickly.

Looking Back

Caffeine was the catalyst for my transformation. It helped me to recognise that it wasn’t the caffeine, but rather my approach to work and life that needed to change.

By seeking ways to help me out of a difficult situation, I actually helped myself by finding out what the cause of my tiredness was and reduce its negative effects on my life.

Moving Forward

From that point on I’ve resolved to try to help others who may be going through a similar rough patch in their lives. This blog and our app, V-CAF, are the culmination of our experiences and research into overcoming tiredness without the need for caffeine.

Please help us by sharing and commenting on our blog posts, letting people know about our app and hopefully finding that our efforts are of use to you too.

Categories
Alert Caffeine Focus Productivity Staying Awake Study Studying

Coffee vs Tea for Studying

Choose Your Poison

Study This Study About Studying

In the past when studying for exams or to learn a new subject at work, I resorted to coffee and/or caffeine pills to keep me alert.

Some colleagues used to tell me to drink tea as it does less harm to your body than coffee. Others swore that coffee is the best at keeping you alert and getting the job done, and did I know “that green tea contains more caffeine than coffee?”

After looking at the little research that’s out there, I figured out what was best for me and outline how I came to that conclusion in this article.

Coffee or Tea? Which One Is Better?
Photo by Dan Preindl @preindl on Unsplash, Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, Australia

Depending on Coffee or Tea for Alertness

For a lot of people, drinking coffee or tea helps them feel more alert and therefore more productive whilst working. 

Whenever I had a difficult subject to study for, or was feeling tired, I would instinctively go for a cup of coffee, which once drunk, made me feel that I could get the work done. 

For others, like my friend Jason, tea was the way to go. He felt that he didn’t get such a fast caffeine high, and therefore caffeine low as when he drunk coffee, whilst still feeling more alert than he did before he drunk his tea. “Each to their own”, I used to reply.

I now think that Jason might have been onto something. Although tea contains more caffeine than coffee in its dry form, once brewed, coffee has significantly more caffeine than tea (depending on the types of tea and coffee being compared).

Further, according to TeaClass.com:

“The high levels of antioxidants found in tea slow the absorption of caffeine – this results in a gentler increase of the chemical in the system and a longer period of alertness with no crash at the end.”

The Truth About Caffeine

Jason was right and I was wrong. Better switch over to drinking tea to get more productive, right?

Is Drinking Either Coffee or Tea the Solution?

The thing is, is that both coffee and tea contain caffeine; a stimulant that tricks your brain into thinking that it’s not as tired as it really is, and as a result makes you think that you are more alert and productive.

Back to feelings. Many confuse the feeling of alertness that caffeine induces to be a sign of the potential for increased productivity and enhanced mental performance. Unfortunately, just like how caffeine tricks the brain into thinking that it is less tired than it really is, this enhanced productivity is also a delusion.

“While caffeine benefits motor performance and tolerance develops to its tendency to increase anxiety/jitteriness, tolerance to its effects on sleepiness means that frequent consumption fails to enhance mental alertness and mental performance.”

Rogers, Peter, Susan Heatherley, Emma Mullings, and Jessica Smith. “Faster but not smarter: effects of caffeine and caffeine withdrawal on alertness and performance.” Psychopharmacology 226.2 (2013): 229-240.

So, What Works?

Getting more quality sleep works best, hands down. The benefits of regular, good quality sleep are so numerous, I’ll have to write a separate article detailing them.

In the meantime, here are some tips that you can use to help your study/work be more effective:

  • Get into Rhythm 
    Organize your life to match your body’s circadian rhythm. Wake up at around 7am (melatonin stops being released by this time).
    Do your most important work between 10am and 12pm.
    Between 12pm-2pm is usually when we have our midafternoon crash, so avoid difficult work during this time.
    Our body hits peak energy around 6:30pm so if you’re still working start to slowly wind down your efforts.
    Resist the temptation to pull an all-nighter, and try to get to bed around 10pm.
  • Drink Water
    Keeping yourself hydrated will help keep you alert whilst keeping fatigue and tiredness at bay and reducing the risk of headaches and poor concentration.
  • Take Regular Breaks
    When you feel yourself getting fatigued, take a break and get up and move around. 
    The reality is, is that most people don’t realize when they are tired until they are so tired that it can’t be ignored! V-CAF is an Apple Watch app that subtly notifies you to move around and take a natural break when your body says that you are tired.
  • Exercise
    Take the time to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. It could be as simple as a 25-30 minute walk each day or walking upstairs instead of taking the elevator. Exercise helps improve your focus and concentration as well as increasing the quality of your sleep. And the effects can be felt immediately. 

Review

If you have to choose between coffee and tea to help keep you awake, then I would suggest tea. However, I think this is a false dichotomy. The third option is to avoid caffeine and make lifestyle changes that in the long term benefit your health as well as your productivity.

Some of these choices include:

  • Get into your body’s circadian rhythm.
  • Drink more water
  • Take Regular Breaks and use a tool such as V-CAF that subtly notifies you to move around and take a natural break.
  • Exercise regularly.

Conclusion

Study and work goals are important parts of our lives, but not the only part.

One of the most fundamental parts of our lives is sleep. By sacrificing our sleep, we are damaging all other parts of our lives.

Knowing that a single night of sleep deprivation can decrease our cognitive performance by 30%, does it really make sense to reduce the amount of time we spend sleeping to get more studying/work done?

Categories
Focus Productivity Study Studying

How to Beat Tiredness, Stay Awake, Stay Productive

Beating Tiredness, Staying Awake, Staying Productive

That’s what we do…

Recently I’ve been working long hours and not getting enough rest. Even though I know better, I’ve just pushed through.

My deadlines were tight and something had to give. Unfortunately it’s been my sleep. 

As sleep wasn’t an option I had to find quick fixes that worked for the short term without being too harmful to my long-term health goals.

Let me share them with you.

Trying to beat tiredness, trying to stay awake and trying to stay productive
Photo by Tim Gouw @punttim on Unsplash Full focus at a coffee shop

When Sleep Is Not An Option

There are times when getting any qualitative sleep is just not possible. Whatever the cause the reduced amount of sleep that we get eventually makes us feel tired.

The best option is to get more sleep. But when we can’t what should we do? 

The Problems With Not Getting Enough Sleep

Not getting enough sleep is a sure fire way to kill your productivity! 

Sleep loss equals loss of productivity:

And it seems that more people are willing to concede that tiredness is affecting their productivity at work:

Tiredness and fatigue epidemic is affecting employee work productivity

Quick Stay Awake Fixes

Okay, so what can one do? I found the following tips helpful, but the number one fix is to get more quality sleep and schedule your work priorities appropriately!

  • Take a break every 20 – 25 minutes
    Step away from your desk, go for a walk or talk to a colleague.
  • Work standing up
    if you have a desk that can raise then great. If not, work leaning on a cabinet or raised coffee bar
  • Use a gadget
    Set the alarm on your smart phone to alert you every so often, or if you have an Apple Watch use an app like V-CAF . It senses when you’re likely to fall asleep and alerts you automatically
  • Drink coffee or an energy drink
    Just be careful you don’t have too many and stay under the 400mg limit (or 3 to 4 cups of coffee per day)
  • Drink water
    By keeping your brain hydrated you help reduce the effects of tiredness and increase your ability to focus

Review

Hopefully these tips will help you be more productive when you are feeling tired and have a tight deadline.

Don’t forget:

  • Make sure you have a short break every 20-25 minutes
  • Work standing up
  • Use gadgets and apps like V-CAF to alert you when you’re most likely to fall asleep.
  • Don’t drink too much coffee, but have some non the less
  • Drink water to help you focus 

Be More Productive

Thank you for reading this article.

But what’s more important is that you take the steps to prioritize organizing your sleep patterns so that you get more qualitative sleep.

In the meantime I hope that you find my suggestions useful.

Categories
Focus Productivity Sleep Staying Awake Study Studying Tiredness

Beat Tiredness, Study Better

Beat Tiredness, Study Better

Or, how to pass your exams without messing with your health…

Do you have a test coming up soon? Need to learn a new procedure or technique quickly for a deadline? 

If so and you are feeling tired then this article is for you. Having to study or learn something new whilst tired is a sure fire way to kill the enjoyment of what you are learning.

The team and I have come up with some tips to help you deal with the tiredness part and get you ready and primed to study more efficiently and productively.

Beat tiredness, study better
Photo by Andrew Neil @andrewtneel on Unsplash Green Joe’s Coffee Company, Greensboro, United States, There is no substitute for hard work. ― Thomas A. Edison

Tired of Studying

It can be difficult to motivate yourself to study especially if you have a heavy workload. The tendency for many is to delay until the last possible moment and then do the best we can with the time left.

For some students the pressure of having to pass an exam can contribute to feeling overwhelmed and burnt out before you really get a chance to study in depth.

Then add to the fact that the simple act of studying can make you feel tired no matter what you do, and you can end up feeling down and deflated at best, at worst depressed and stressed.

Working Harder Doesn’t Mean Working Better

Knuckling down and getting on with the work can help but grinding the work out doesn’t guarantee that you will get the most out of your time spent studying.

Tiredness not only affects your mood in negative ways but can also be detrimental to the effectiveness of your study.

Tiredness decreases your ability to:

  • Perform basic mental activities 
  • Focus
  • Be diligent
  • Alertness
  • Memory recall

All of which are essential for successful study.

Tiredness Hacks

Once you know that you have a test start to plan immediately. Start to make changes to your daily routines that take into account your sleep and study schedule.

Incorporate the following tips into your routine:

  • Try getting to sleep by 10pm.
    Your body naturally gets ready to sleep by releasing melatonin between 9pm and 10pm.

  • Wake up around 7am.
    Melatonin stops being released at around 7am, which allows your body to be at peak alertness at 10am.

  • Most people don’t realize that tiredness is likely affecting their brain long before they notice.
    Humans are notorious for being unable to assess their true tiredness levels. 
    Pilcher, J. J., and Huffcutt, A. I. (1996). Effects of sleep deprivation on performance: a meta-analysis. Sleep: Journal of Sleep Research & Sleep Medicine, 19(4), 318.

    Using apps like V-CAF alert you to when you are most likely to be tired so that you can take the appropriate actions needed to wake up, be alert and re-focus.
  • Avoid doing your most difficult studying between 12pm and 2pm, which is typically when most people have their mid afternoon crash. 

  • Break your study periods into shorter time spans.
    For example use tools like The Pomodoro Technique or Forest to help focus on the task at hand. The default time span is 20-25 minutes.

  • Use caffeine sparingly.
    The more you consume caffeine the greater your tolerance to its effects, so the more you need to consume. Plus caffeine interferes with your sleep cycle, so beware.

Review

Hopefully you now have a better understanding of the role that sleep plays in the effectiveness of your study strategies.

Sleep is a major component of your ability to study effectively, which will enhance whatever other methods you use to do your actual study.

Once again, our sleep strategies:

  • Get to bed by 10pm.
  • Wake up around 7am.
  • Know when you’re tired and adjust accordingly using apps such as V-CAF .
  • Avoid doing difficult work between 12pm and 2pm.
  • Break up your study periods using tools like The Pomodoro Technique or Forest .
  • Use caffeine sparingly.

Conclusion

Tiredness like any obstacle on the road to success, is there to be overcome and make you stronger and smarter.

Regularly use these techniques to help you study and learn better, but also to increase the quality of your life and moods.

Categories
Caffeine Focus Productivity Safety Side Effects Study Studying

Caffeine Pills for Energy?

Do Caffeine Pills Give You Energy?

I want to know…

I have had a mixed relationship with caffeine pills. I used them quite a bit whilst studying, and although they worked, I was shocked at the effect they had on me.

Since then I haven’t touched them, but continued to use caffeinated drinks until fairly recently. My issue at the time was with understanding what I was risking by consuming more than the recommended amount of caffeine in one day over a relatively long period of time.

In this article I’ll highlight how easy it is to over consume caffeine and look at strategies that can help us to stay within the safe zone.

Energy in a pill
Photo by Dmitry Bayer @dmitrybayer on Unsplash

Unaware of the Limits

A lot of people, like me whilst I was studying, don’t keep tabs on how much caffeine they ingest.

Going over 400mg per day of caffeine is easily done. Two cans of an energy drink, or four cups of coffee is not that much. Especially when you are focused on completing a work assignment or studying.

Even more so if you enjoy eating chocolate, or have to take a headache pill, both of which contain caffeine.

Caffeine is even in chewing gum and candy.

Potential Dangers

Taking caffeine supplements further increase the risk of over consumption. Many dietary supplements and caffeine tablets contain higher levels of caffeine than food or drinks.

Typical side effects of normal caffeine consumption can be:

  • Increased alertness
  • Irritability
  • Higher body temperature
  • Dehydration
  • Headache
  • Increased heart rate

Beware of these signs if you think you have gone over the limit:

  • Irregular heart beat
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Confusion

Alternatives and Reduction Strategies

Where possible, for the sake of your long term health and wellbeing reduce, or completely stop your ingestion of stimulants that trick your body into releasing chemicals to keep you awake.

Here are some guidelines that colleagues have suggested to me in the past and have worked:

  • When taking caffeine pills, don’t drink beverages that contain caffeine, and stick to the recommended dosage on the side of the bottle.
  • Drink water to rehydrate. It will help your mind focus better and help get more oxygen and blood circulating around your brain.
  • Know when you are feeling tired by using an alarm. V-CAF was and still is a game changer for me. It’s an Apple Watch app that notifies you when you are most likely to be tired or nodding off. I use it to let me know when I’m tired or have reduced focus so that I can take measures that wake me up, whilst avoiding caffeine.
  • Get up and take a walk. Very simple, but it works every time.

Review

Caffeine pills don’t so much give you energy but rather trick your brain and body into thinking that you must have energy.

Whilst the effects of taking them can be immediate, the long-term effects on your body leave a lot to be desired.

Try these action points to help reduce or even stop your dependency on caffeine to help you stay awake and focused:

  • Reduce the amount of caffeine you ingest when taking caffeine pills
  • Drink more water.
  • Know when you are tired, and take the appropriate actions.
    (Use V-CAF to help alert you to when you are tired).
  • Move about, get up and walk.

Now You Know

Hopefully you now are more aware of how easy it is to over consume caffeine.

Stay focused, stay alert and stay safe.

Categories
Caffeine Focus Side Effects Staying Awake Study Studying

How Can I Stay Awake Whilst Studying?

I Can’t Stay Awake Whilst Studying

Just do it…

Struggling to stay awake and focused whilst studying? Finding that energy drinks aren’t helping? Do caffeine pills make you irritable?

Like most people I tried remedies in a box or can to help me stay awake when I had an important test to do, but found that I was even more distracted and less motivated to study.

Over the years I’ve found various quick fixes and tricks that have helped me and may help you too.

Trying to stay awake
Photo by Mayastar on Flickr Barfi hangover, My Friend Penny after she has had a Barfi…Side effect

Too Tired To Study

The problem for most of us when studying is that we are more likely to sacrifice sleep, especially as the date for the exam or test gets closer.

The temptation to cram in as much time as possible is very difficult to overcome, and may lead us to seek stimulants to wake us up.

And to compound the problem, our tired mental state may stop us from doing the things that we need to that would help us achieve our study goals.

Tiredness Reduces Your Studying Efficiency

I hate having to study when I’m tired. Everything seems to take that much more effort and the results don’t seem to justify the action.

Sleep deprivation reduces our mental performance. It reduces our attention and memory as well as our decision making.

Being tired also reduces our ability to understand our study material and increases the likelihood of us struggling during the actual test or exam.
Cari Gillen‐O’Neel, Virginia W. Huynh, Andrew J. Fuligni

Plan For Success

Success takes planning. Don’t fail to plan enough quality sleep into your revision cycle. 

It seems obvious because it is. Sleep is the best tool you can use to help you be able to study for an exam.

The following tricks are quick fixes, to get you through those difficult patches, but remember nothing beats sleep when it comes to preparing your mind to study.

  • Drink plenty of water
    Hydrate yourself and feel better. Water helps keep your brain focused and alert.
  • Make sure you’re eating healthy
    Eat natural. Think – whatever crawls, flies or comes out the earth or water. A healthy balance of good fats, carbohydrates and protein. Not processed foods.
  • Use a gadget that alerts you when you’re tired 
    I use V-CAF an Apple Watch app that alerts you when you are most likely too tired to study effectively.
  • Take timeout for deep breathing
    Deep controlled breathing has worked well for me, depending on how tired I am. If anything, it breaks up my study allowing me to have a quick easy break before trying to study more.

Review

The best thing to do when you have to revise is to plan your sleep accordingly.

Sleep used with the following tips will improve your chances of successfully studying for those exams or tests:

  • Drink more water
  • Eat healthily
  • Use tiredness monitors such as V-CAF
  • Use breathing techniques

Get It Done

If you’re reading this and you are currently studying for exams, I wish you the success you deserve.

Use these tips to help you get yourself through those difficult patches and I’m sure you’ll feel better about completing your exams.