Categories
Alert Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Fatigue Focus Insomnia Lethargy Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

When Caffeine Just Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

When Too Much Becomes Too Little

It’s time to change…

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

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

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

When Coffee Doesnt Do It
Photo by @potochnyi via Twenty20

The Promise

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

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

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

 

Getting Let Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Better Way

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

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

Alertness Tips

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

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

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

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

Afterword

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

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

Categories
Energy Focus Insomnia Productivity Studying Tension

Don’t Loose It, Just Use It?

Step Back & Breathe Slowly

Or Just Loose it…

The frustration was building, and my patience was running short. Up until this point I thought that I was doing well. It seemed to me that I was handling things the right way.

For weeks I’d been putting in the time and the grind and couldn’t bare to think that it might of all been for nothing. What was going on? What did I miss? Maybe I’m not as brilliant as I think!

Now I felt my breathing becoming more shallow and faster. It was difficult to focus on any one thing, but then, in what felt like the back of my mind, I heard a voice that told me to step back and breathe slowly.

Non Stop Progress

The events leading up to this point were pretty normal. Assignments had to be done, social life was buzzing, and I was learning new skills privately that I hoped would further my career .

What could go wrong? I was doing the things “that you’re supposed to do” to be successful in all areas of my life. Yet I had a strange unnerving feeling that all was not as good as it seemed.

I noticed little things at first that I just brushed off as nothing. Little things such as laying awake in bed at 03:00 in the morning, and then not being able to switch off after a long day.

Soon I started to feel a little apprehensive about assignments that I once looked forward to getting into, and I started to lack the motivation to go out and socialise.

 

Real Progress or Busy Stuff

I didn’t talk to anyone about it but just kept on going. Plodding along and hoping that no one would notice. If anyone asked if I was ok, I would just say that I’m busy with assignment stuff or learning stuff.

But this could only go on for so long before someone would notice. And then it happened. My martial arts instructor kept on saying that I looked distracted, and would ask if everything was ok. I responded with the usual busy rebuttal defence, but she saw through it.

Looking back it wasn’t hard to tell for anyone that was paying attention, but somehow I missed it myself. Instead of taking some well earned time out for myself, to recover or catch a breather, I just kept on going.

And like a lot of people, I hid behind something and blamed that instead of standing up and facing myself. I kept the deception going. Productivity slipping, well just do more. Feeling tired, ok where’s the coffee.

I was burning out! But the need to not fail or let anyone down stopped me from looking at what I was doing to myself. My trainer noticed and said, you’re not going to the tournament next week!

I became angry but said nothing. Then when it was time to spar I lost it. I kept going in too hard and my partner kept telling me to take it easy. I didn’t listen. I angrily snapped a front kick forward, which my partner took advantage of, then boom.

I was on the floor looking up at the ceiling. It hurt when I tried to breath, so I took shallow breaths, frustrated that I couldn’t get up. My partner hit me in my solar plexus with a well timed punch that took advantage of my forward momentum. That’s what made it worse. I did this to myself.

As I got up I heard my trainer tell me to step back and breath slowly. Later my trainer had a one on one with me and told me that sometimes we just have to stop and assess where we are. If we find ourselves loosing it, then redirect it towards something positive.

Positive Steps

The lesson I was being taught was to make sure that I don’t loose sight of the big picture and step back from constant pushing and yearning.

My trainer pointed out that nothing progresses constantly in a straight line, and that we should take note of that and incorporate that idea in our lives.

So since then over the years I’ve been finding ways to adapt this notion into my daily life and have found some of the following to be quite useful:

  • Setting Good Routines
    I like to be spontaneous and try to resist being tied down to one way of life, but that said, I also like routines. Why, because it takes the battle outside of my head and places it on a path I can follow without too much thinking. As a result, I have all types of routines for all areas of my life.
    My start the day routine – do at least an hours worth of exercise.
    My work routine – list my tasks for the day, drink water and jump in to it.
    My before bed routine – unwind watching silly videos then reading.
  • Micro Breaks Throughout The Day
    I suffer from tunnel vision when I get into something, so it’s important for me to be reminded to take a 5 to 10 minute break every so often. I used to use the Pomodoro technique and work in 20-25 minute blocks. But after we created V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, I’ve found that I take the breaks as my focus starts to drop off and the watchOS app alerts me, which is more in tune with my rhythm rather than a static clocks rhythm. And, it really works. I’m less likely to power through when I’m tired now and the difference is amazing.
  • Drinking More Fluids
    For a long time I became a purist, water only type of guy. It was part of my routine. A set amount every day. Now I’m a bit more relaxed and drink a range of liquids not just water. The point is to get enough fluids in you so you are not dehydrated. BTW if you are feeling really dehydrated then drink some milk, apparently it’s more hydrating than water!

In Hindsight

If I could go back in time and tell myself that I needed to chill a bit more then of course I would have. The problem is that I’m stubborn so probably wouldn’t have listened to myself anyway!

So rather than tell you what to do, I thought it best to point out the signs to look for if you find yourself struggling in anyway to meet your progressive aims.

  • Take a step back and assess what you are doing and how you are doing it.
  • Create a plan that incorporates routines that will help you to achieve your goals without sacrificing your well being.
  • Take short regular breaks
  • Keep yourself hydrated

Afterword

As far as we know it’s only one life that we get. We get to choose the attitude that we take through it. It’s not what happens to us, but how we react to what happens to us that counts.

Categories
Alert Focus Productivity

Take Some Timeout And Put Your Feet Up

“Rest is not idleness”

John Lubbock, The Use of Life (1894)

Many of us are under a lot of pressure and don’t seem to have five minutes to spare to just stop and do nothing. Despite all the advances in technology we still haven’t come up with a way to remove stress from our lives.

And nor should we as stress is a natural part of life that helps us to find balance in our characters and bodies. But a lot of the stress that we experience is not necessary, and if we are not careful, can lead to a lot physiological as well as psychological harm.

One of the ways in which we can lessen this stress can be as simple as stepping away, especially before we become overly tired which can compound the problem.

The Build Up

I find it very frustrating. Just when you think that you’ve completed a task, either something else gets added to it or the next task seems like it will take triple the effort to complete compared to the last one.

I would then proceed mumble under my breath and just get on with it, but this would have the effect of sapping my energy slowly without me noticing. As I became more worn down, it would feel like I had a great weight on my shoulders weighing me down and making all my actions feel like they were in slow motion.

Eventually, after what would feel like an age, I would get something done, but not be happy with it and would have to redo the work which made everything feel twice as bad.

Lack of Alertness, Focus and Productivity

What I’ve found in the past is that when things seem to be getting worse, with regards to work or personal items, the default response was to reach for a cup of tea or coffee (usually coffee) to pick myself up and get more alert so I could get things done.

But what I found was that after the initial caffeine backed power up, the crash would be horrible and the pick me up didn’t work as it once did; eventually making me feel much worse than what I did before.

This was due in part to my caffeine addiction which over time increased my tolerance to the effects of caffeine, which in turn made me think that I needed more!

Add to that the crash that I once experienced as a normal occurrence, was due to the withdrawal symptoms that I suffered from not having enough caffeine in my system to make me feel normal. If you’re a coffee/caffeine drinker then there’s more than a slight chance that you have experienced at least one of the following before craving you’re next caffeine fix:

  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Palpitations
  • Tremors
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Simple Solutions

A friend of mine gave me a study that he read about idle time and doing nothing. At first I thought he was commenting on what I do, but then realised he was commenting on how I work and go about things.

The article was calling for more research into the benefits of idle time on the minds ability to develop and learn. The basic premise is that when we day dream or our minds wander, we are actually helping our brains to function more efficiently, particularly in the relation to personal awareness and relationships.

“Further evidence from social and affective neuroscience suggests the importance of brain systems implicated in the DM (default mode) for active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing, for example, in tasks involving self-awareness and reflection, recalling personal memories, imagining the future, feeling emotions about the psychological impact of social situations on other people, and constructing moral judgments…

Studies examining individual differences in the brain’s DM (default mode – daydreaming, mind wandering, etc) find that people with stronger DM connectivity at rest score higher on measures of cognitive abilities like divergent thinking, reading comprehension, and memory“

Immordino-Yang, Mary Helen, Joanna A. Christodoulou, and Vanessa Singh. “Rest Is Not Idleness.” /Perspectives on Psychological Science/ 7.4 (2012): 352-364.

But here’s what my friend was trying to point out to me. If I’m constantly forcing myself to get things done without taking a break, (and by break he meant stepping away from all electronic devices and people for a few minutes every day), and not spending some idle time and letting my mind wander, then what kind of results would I expect in my personal and professional life.

Point taken Sir, thank you 🙂

Since that time I’ve taken what he and the study said to heart and it was part of the reason for us coming up with the V-CAF app and this blog.

Without taking the quiet time to be idle we would never of come up with the idea to start this blog and build the app. In fact , the app embodies the idea of taking quiet time away from your desk and work by notifying you when your focus is lowering and tiredness increasing. Giving you ample chance to take a break from the hubbub of the day and gather yourself so that you can be more focussed, productive and contented.

Review

So to wrap this up:

  • Take regular breaks from work/study/being busy and put the devices down.
  • Get up go for a walk and let your mind wander
  • Stare out the window occasionally and let your thoughts carry you to where they may
  • And if you’re finding it difficult to give yourself time for a break, use our app V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert to notify you when your tiredness is increasing, reminding you that your productivity levels are falling, so take a break.

Afterword

Health is on everyones minds at the time when I’m writing this. Use this time as an opportunity to do the things that you know you can and should do.

Take a break and let your mind wander, it may help you have better connections with yourself and others.

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

Struggling to Stay Awake During a Long Day?

Listen To What Your Body Is Telling You

If you don’t hear, you will feel

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Day

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

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

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

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

 

Struggling to Make it Through the Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Useful Options

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

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

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

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

In Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Afterword

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

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

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

Categories
Focus Productivity

Best Practices for Effective Remote Working

Best Practices for Effective Remote Working

Guest Post By Earnin

As the world hunkers down to weather the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), work is shifting gears as well. In many industries, working from home (WFH) is going mainstream. It’s a smart way for companies to limit the potential exposure to the virus and keep employees safer while at the same time remaining productive.

Working from home is not a new concept. Most of us, especially those in the tech industry, have worked from home occasionally, but it is uncharted territory when the entire company is working remotely. This poses several challenges and opportunities – and there is a lot to determine in setting up the right systems for company-wide WFH scenarios.

A New Set of Challenges and Opportunities

Working remotely has its benefits – it allows people to focus on individual deliverables and often provides the time and space for people to concentrate on difficult or intense tasks. Modern open-office layouts have stripped workers of quiet spaces, and WFH can be a refreshing break from the buzz of the workplace.

However, WFH makes a lot of things more challenging, especially communications. Remote teams often miss out when it comes to the critical conversations and relationship building that are so important to team cohesion. While video conferencing and collaboration technology do bring teams together, remote work makes it harder to read body language, hear what people are saying, read in-room dynamics, ask follow up or side questions, or drop by and quickly sync with a coworker at their desk. It is even more difficult to conduct a brainstorming session when everyone is on a phone or logged in via video.

The good news is that most people save a significant amount of time by not commuting. Some people now may use the time they would normally spend commuting to talk and message with their colleagues more, which could overcome communications challenges.

Below are some of the best practices for remote working, segmented them into company-level, team-level and individual-level tips. These suggestions may work best for startups, but there should be some things that work for departments in a larger organization as well.

Best Practices

For the Company

  1. Keep the same goals as you normally would, but provide more clarity. Customers must remain top priority – we don’t have the option to be less aggressive on achieving our business goals, just because we’re working remotely. Since remote workers have a harder time dropping in to clarify things, each level of leadership should take extra effort to make sure their teams have a clear understanding of expectations.
  2. Ensure you have critical coverage for the most important areas of business at all times. Working remotely gives people the flexibility to walk the dog or take lunch whenever they want. This can lead to gaps in coverage if people don’t coordinate schedules – this is especially important in mission-critical areas of the business.
  3. When working remotely is uncharted territory, managers need extra tools and training. For example, consider using bots to help monitor the level of communications across teams, review velocity, and help in other ways.
  4. Executive office hours are important – especially when there isn’t a physical office. Make sure executives and teams hold a time on their schedule when they’re available to answer questions from anyone in the company.
  5. Maintain transparency – establish a communications channel visible to the whole company where key initiative leaders can submit weekly status reports and get feedback from executives. This will help ensure everyone is up to speed.

For Teams

  1. Continue to host meetings as if you were in the office. This is an important factor in maintaining a productive cadence. Schedule and budget your time around meetings. Delaying or canceling meetings will not only impact the way a team spends time but also deadlines and workback plans.
  2. Use team channels on Slack, Hangouts, Whatsapp or whatever tools your company uses as much as possible. Avoid small group chats and one-on-one threads unless it’s a confidential or personal conversation. This way everyone can benefit from the dialogue and have access to fuller context for their work. Don’t worry too much about message overloading. In a remote working environment, making sure people are sharing enough information is more important than word economy.
  3. Establish standard routines. Start the day with a 9 am standup meeting over Slack or Zoom. Some have found the Slack standup app helpful for tracking progress. When people can’t make these “meetings,” have team members post their daily top three priorities in the team channel.
  4. Start a team-wide Zoom session throughout the day for those who are not bandwidth-constrained so that people can talk to each other easily. People should feel free to leave the session for other meetings.
  5. Do not forget about fun. Relationship building is such an important piece in our professional life. Since we cannot have happy hour or hallway jokes and laughter anymore, we need to be more creative. Try to find something suitable for your team, such as personal storytelling or watching funny Youtube clips together during lunch time.

For Individuals

  1. Effectiveness is tied to having the right tools and using them the right way. Install commonly used apps on both your laptop and phone so that you can join remote meetings from your phone when the VPN on your laptop slows down your video conferencing. Add phone numbers to Slack profiles or email footers so people can reach you for quick answers if needed. A short phone call is not an excessive interruption and can replace the quick in-person drop by conversations you would normally have at someone’s desk.
  2. Strictly follow your normal daily routine. Avoid delaying meetings with the hope you will meet in-person at a later time.
  3. Flag issues or slow-downs to your manager or function leader right away – not doing so may just compound delays for you and your team. When you flag an issue, you’re benefiting the entire team.
  4. At the end of the day, ask yourself two questions:

    “Am I as productive remotely as I am in the office?” If not, figure out why and explore ways to improve.

    “Are all critical communications done?” If not, finish up before you log off.
  5. Step away for 10 minutes: Find time throughout the day to step away from your desk – stretch, get some exercise in, or grab a cup of coffee. Taking short breaks every couple of hours will help improve your productivity and focus.

By ensuring that efficiency and communications remain high at the company, team and individual levels, remote work forces can be as productive, if not more so, than traditional work forces.

This article originally appeared on Earnin.

Categories
Energy Focus Productivity Staying Awake

Are the Stairs for Going Up or Down?

“It’s not the Destination, It’s the journey.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The title may seem nonsensical but does anything make sense right now? An escalator leaves no choice regarding direction but with stairs – you get to choose. Dah dah! Finished. No six minute read here but are we finished?

By finished, I’m not referring to the current situation, which at the moment on any media platform you like seems to indicate that life as we know it has long gone and we should wait with a mask to soften our humanoid features, so as not to scare any aliens that arrive with a vaccine. Deep breath and no.

But What If..?

Anecdotes like “chin up” and “best foot forward” failed as soon as our chins had to be covered as we went around in measured steps. As we go from A to B with justification needed for C, it can be easy to not only long for things to go back to your normal but even worse, imagine how things would have been. This is where the real torture lies for most of us and it can be a union of extremes. Firstly, we were in such a great place in our lives (really?) and about to turn the corner into a wonderful life and now it’s completely ruined with one problem after another. Ok – so the last part might be OTT but look me in the eye and tell me, you haven’t had that thought but with different words? It isn’t a few of us, either! 

Keeping Up Appearances

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-motivation has been something of a crash course this year with a much clearer appreciation for pyjama days as a rarity. On the bright side, we had time to do all the things we said we would do when we had time. Thumbs up emoji from everyone when you said you were going to do it but the next part; doing has not been easy. Shiny achievers beamed with new skills and we felt pleased for them with a tinge of guilt/shame/jealousy. If you paused to chose between the three emotions, better to be human and accept that all three were in there somewhere.

Do You!

By now I could have added ‘ten ways to….. or perhaps five tips to……. ‘. 

You’d probably fall asleep to the sound of advice and wake up to it but this is no time to have an aversion to advice, as if you’re some kind of president! Remember that random question at the top of the page?

Are the stairs for going up or down? Of course, the stairs are not the determining factor – you are. It really doesn’t matter where you are in terms of goals, ambitions, new skills (ouch) all that matters is now – well I can’t put it any clearer than Eckhart Tolle! So, about those stairs? What can you see from there?

Categories
Productivity Sleep

Is Your Lack of Productivity Due to Disturbed Sleep?

Where’s the Productivity Gone?

The same place you left your sleep…

Are you having difficulty getting motivated to work or finding it hard to complete assignments, but can’t figure out why?

I’ve been struggling with this issue recently and was at a loss to figure out why this was the case and came across a fantastic book by Alan Derikson called Dangerously Sleepy: Overworked Americans and the Cult of Manly Wakefulness.

The book highlights how being overworked became accepted as part of the American way over the last two centuries and the effects this way of thinking has had on society and individuals.

What caught my eye was the role that disturbed sleep had on those steel workers of the early 1900s, and how it led to a lack of productivity, a lower quality of life, a dangerous work environment and death.

Although not on the level of those workers, the book helped me identify what was bringing down my productivity levels and even affecting my mood. The aim of this post is to help you identify if disturbed sleep is having a negative effect on your productivity and what you can do to correct things.

Work and Overworking

Work pressure is bad enough during the good times, but an economic crisis takes it to a whole other level. Worries about keeping your job (if you are employed), or keeping the business running (if you’re an employer) causes a lot of people to work harder and longer to help try secure their positions.

Students don’t get off scott free either. The worry about passing exams or making the grade can be equally stressful, especially when wondering how you are going to find work after completing your formal education.

And let’s not forget those of us unfortunate to have lost our incomes and are struggling to find ways to make ends meet.

Whatever the case may be, you can bet that a good nights sleep will be one of the first things to go. Working harder (by taking a second job, or working longer hours), is the default go to when the financial outlook looks bleak.

 

Sleep Disturbance

Unfortunately, this may not give us the results that we’re hoping for. Taking shift workers as an example, due to their work patterns not being in sync with their body’s circadian rhythm tend to suffer from:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • gastrointestinal disease
  • increased accident risk
  • increased disturbed sleep
  • and increased fatigue

The two last points also have the added risk of increasing depression and reducing work performance.

Irregular work hours seem to exert strong, acute effects on sleep and alertness in relation to night and morning work. The effects seem, however, to linger, and also affect days off. The level of the disturbances is similar to that seen in clinical insomnia, and may be responsible for considerable human and economic costs due to fatigue related accidents and reduced productivity.

Åkerstedt, Torbjörn. “Shift work and disturbed sleep/wakefulness.” /Occupational Medicine/ 53.2 (2003): 89-94.

Sleep Better, Work Better

There is hope, but as usual it means some work on our side. Although difficult, prioritising a good nights rest is important if we want to overcome any of the difficulties that we currently face. There are no if, buts or maybes when it comes to our health and our ability to overcome the stresses of daily life.

  • Make sleep a priority
    We’ve outlined the downsides of not doing so above, so to get good results, do the opposite to what you have been up until now. Discipline yourself to get 7-9 hours of sleep every day. There are no short cuts for this. To help, follow your body’s circadian rhythm and head to bed between 9pm and 10pm. If you are working shift work, make sure that when you get home that you sleep in a darkened room and let your household know that they have to be quiet during your sleeping hours, or buy yourself a good quality pair of ear plugs. Ultimately, if you can avoid night shifts, then do so. If not try to limit the amount of time that you do for.
  • Eat good, nutrient rich foods
    These help repair your body whilst you sleep and can help lift your mood which is essential if you want to be in a positive frame of mind that is beneficial for finding solutions. For example eat a banana to boost your mood when feeling down (or as a regular habit to help beat the blues). Blueberries are good for cognitive function which can help with your problem solving. There’s a lot of information on what healthy foods to eat on the web, so do a search and find what works for you.
  • Meditate (daily)
    It doesn’t have to be long (5 mins is a good place to start from), and can help calm you down when you are feeling a bit anxious. Including meditation in your daily routine can help clear your mind and make room for new ideas to blossom (either during or after your mediation) and can help you with a general sense of well being. As a pointer for how to meditate if you are not sure, find a quiet space sit comfortably on a chair or cushion (or whatever you are comfortable sitting still on for a few minutes), set a timer, close your eyes and breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. It doesn’t matter if you mind wanders, but when it does, bring your attention back to your breathing. Simple, quick and works wonders (just stick at it for a few days and you will start to notice the difference).
  • Exerciser (daily)
    Natures gift to us, just 20 mins continuous walking can make all the difference. If you like doing weightlifting, running, swimming etc, it doesn’t matter as long as you move and get your heart pumping. If you’re not sporty then dancing or singing are also good. The point is to release some of the stress build up that you have which in turn helps you to sleep more deeply which in turn helps you to have more energy to do the things that need to be done.

Review

These are just a few suggestions that I’ve found helped me recently and I feel better for doing them. Although times can be tough, we should always make time for the things that will make a positive difference in our experience of this life that we are living.

  • Make sleep a priority
  • Eat good, nutrient rich foods
  • Meditate daily
  • Exerciser daily

Conclusion

I’m thankful that we live in the present day.

I feel sad for the workers in the past who sacrificed their health so we don’t have to, but I also appreciate what they did as we benefit from it now.

Even with all the turmoil that is going on around us, at least we have a chance to make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others if we decide to act in a positive way.

Categories
Anxiety Exercise Headaches Side Effects Sleep Tension

Life Stresses and Sleep

Don’t Stress Yourself

Just Chill…

It would be an understatement to describe this year (2020) so far as a little challenging. Dealing with a global pandemic and it’s social and economic repercussions has affected us all in someway.

So when would have been a better time to decide to move home and restructure your business activities than in the middle of a crisis, but that is exactly what we decided to do.

Unsurprisingly, we have been (and still are) pretty stressed, but things are slowly getting better. In this post I’ll talk about the effects of stress on your sleep and what you can do to reduce it’s toll on your mind and body.

Life’s Stresses

Worries about this latest pandemic are causing a lot of people a huge amount of stress. Our health and well being are paramount to our survival instincts, so any perceived threats to them immediately put us into “Fight or Flight” mode.

Likewise with the economic outlook not looking too pretty, people are worrying about their jobs and/or businesses as well as their investments and financial commitments.

Moving home is also stressful at the best of times, but moving during a pandemic compounds the issue. Having to deal with authorities, schooling and adjusting to a new environment can take it’s toll on your nerves and can be very frustrating.

Sleep Quality and Quantity

It’s no surprise that it is usually our sleep that suffers first when stressed, and as it is a fundamental sphere of our health, this has major implications for our overall health and well being.

For example, stressing about your work performance can lead to a lack of confidence in your abilities which is then magnified when you are not getting enough good quality restful sleep.

In a 2019 Sleep and Vigilance Journal study which investigated the link between sleep, work stress and headaches amongst print workers, it was found that the intensity of headaches and lower levels of concentration were characterised by the quality of sleep that the participants had the night before as well as the amount of interruptions they had at work.

“Between one working day and the subsequent day. printers need to recover their mental resources, and complete recovery depends on getting a good night’s sleep. There is a consensus that work stress impairs sleep quality. Sleep is necessary for recovery in humans and is therefore considered to be the link between occupational stressors, cognitive functioning and health. Impaired sleep may have a detrimental effect on psychosomatic well-being (e.g. pain) that is independent of the effects of work demands. Reduced sleep quality is a predictor of impaired performance, especially cognitive performance. Sleep impairments extend reaction times, impair concentration and attention and reduce working memory capacity. Hence, we hypothesised that the previous night’s sleep quality and current day’s time pressure, as well as work interruptions
and concentration requirements, would predict current-day, cognition-related health complaints, including headaches and concentration problems.”

Kottwitz, Maria, Christin Gerhardt, Sabrina Schmied, and Achim Elfering. “Sleep, Work Stress and Headache in Printing Business: An Actigraphy Study.” /Sleep and Vigilance/ 3.1 (2019): 9-15.

Helpful Strategies

The Sleep, Work Stress and Headache study made some suggestions on how to reduce the effects of stress on sleep but these where mainly directed at employers and policy makers, which in my experience if they eventually do become institutionalised, it’s in a weak or non sustainable way, with unintended consequences such as job loses as smaller employers struggle to afford to implement such measures.

If you’re like me you may not be willing or able to wait for guidelines to be made into laws, so what steps can you personally take to lower your stress and improve your sleep?

  • Talk with your boss
    Depending on your relationship with your boss or your work environment, taking the proactive step of talking about your current stresses at work and making suggestions on how they may be addressed may give you better than expected results. The key here is not to go in making demands, but to make very clear achievable suggestions that if acted upon, will help improve your productivity. An example of this is to clarify what your role entails and the commitments that are expected of you as well as what level of quality work you will be able to complete within a given deadline.
  • Make the time to exercise
    This is a difficult one, but necessary if you want to reduce stress levels. Exercise helps your focus and stamina and has been found to help boost productivity as well as reduce the rates of absenteeism. Exercise has also been shown to improve sleep quality which may be the reason why you may find that your productivity increases as a side effect.
  • Organise your sleep
    Your body needs sleep to repair. A lack of sleep helps reduce your concentration and focus levels, and can have negative effects on your overall health. Getting a sufficient amount of quality sleep will help reduce stress and feelings of depression and anxiety.

Action Points Summary

Although there are only three points, over the past couple of months I’ve found myself struggling to implement them! But with the latest release of our app, V-CAF, I found myself instinctively just getting on with them.

Workloads were negotiated and reorganised, I exercised more intensively and naturally found myself getting in more hours of sleep. I guess sometimes you can’t force it, but have to go with the flow.

I know the points sound simple (maybe not the talking to the boss one), but give them a try anyway, you may be pleasantly surprised:

  • Organise/Negotiate your workload (with your boss if applicable)
  • Make time for exercise
  • Prioritise Sleep

Conclusion

It wasn’t easy for us to start afresh and reorganise, especially during these unprecedented times, but doing so has made us more resilient to stress and hopefully will help to keep us productive so that we keep producing posts like this for you.

If you are feeling overwhelmed with all the current changes that are going on, step back and reflect on the things that really matter in your life and focus on making the most out those things that you’ve been blessed with.

Stay Safe 🙂

Categories
Alert Energy Fatigue Lethargy Productivity Sleepiness Tension

How Mindfulness Can Boost Your Alertness

Stay Present

Stay Relevant…

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

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

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

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

Unintentional Overloading

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

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

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

Not Being Here

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

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

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

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

Paying Attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Take Aways

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

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

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

Being Mindful

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

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

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

Categories
Fatigue Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

Napping – A Sign of Laziness or Smart Working?

Power Nap To Get Things Done

Rinse, Repeat…

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

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

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

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

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

Being A Slacker

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

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

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

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

Things Aren’t Getting Done

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

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

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

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

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

Visiting The Land of Nod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Points

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

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

Moving On

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

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