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Tired of Being Tired – Coffee Anyone?

We’re Tired of Being Tired!

Virtual Caffeine and What It Can Do For You And Your Tiredness

For years I found myself falling asleep at the most inopportune times. During college lectures, whilst attending very interesting corporate meetings, and when having to complete tasks that I wasn’t enthusiastic about!

Each time, I found that I needed more caffeine, in any of its various forms, to get that woke feeling whilst its effects lasted shorter the more I used it.

Tired of being tired!
Photo by Kyle Glenn @kyleglenn on Unsplash, I snapped this self-portrait while setting up the studio for a portrait shoot.

What We Are Going To Do About It

Tired of my tiredness, I found other poor souls that wanted to change this sad state of affairs and we came up with V-CAF. A solution to consuming ever-increasing amounts of coffee and caffeine, without the diminishing returns.

What Is V-CAF?

V-CAF is an Apple Watch app that subtly notifies you when you are tired or about to fall asleep. We see it as a digital alternative to caffeine and / or coffee with none of the side effects that are associated with increased caffeine consumption. And unlike coffee or caffeine pills, you only pay once. You get to use it for life for the cost of a cup of coffee or thereabouts!

So What’s This Blog About Then?

V-CAF The Blog is a resource that we created to help inform people about tiredness, sleep related issues such as sleep deprivation and insomnia, and caffeine. It is a collection of our experiences and information that we have found useful related to anything to do with staying awake and tiredness.

We hope that you will find it informative and useful.

Tea – Is It The Best Drink of the Day?

Caffeine To The Tea

Nothing beats a good cuppa…

I like drinking tea. For quite some time I’ve been drinking mostly herbal teas and occasionally I drink a few black leaved teas and green teas, but this has been a problem.

Although a lot of people point out the benefits of tea, especially its anti carcinogenic properties, tea has a very high caffeine content, which is usually dismissed as being outweighed by all the other benefits. Even to the point that some studies show that there are no harmful effects of drinking caffeine in tea when drunk in reasonable amounts.

But what are reasonable amounts and how much caffeine can I consume before it becomes harmful to me.

Tea - Is It The Best Drink of the Day
Photo by Maresa (@meezsmith)

Tea, Natures Gift

It appears that I’m not the only one who likes to drink tea. According to World Tea News , tea is the most consumed prepared beverage after packaged water!

Tea Consumption Second Only to Packaged Water | World Tea News
Tea Consumption Second Only to Packaged Water | World Tea News

Part of tea’s popularity has been due to the marketing of its health benefits. Most of these stem from catechises and polyphenols which are tea’s main source of antioxidants, and give tea its taste and anti carcinogenic properties.

But what is not widely known is that tea can raise blood pressure, cause palpitations, anxiety and insomnia for some people.

The Gift and The Curse

The source of these symptoms are due to tea containing high levels of caffeine. Although caffeine can be found in many food and drinks, it is mostly consumed in the forms of coffee and tea.

Caffeine is easily absorbed by the body and can reach your brain within 5 minutes of consumption, which has helped increase its popularity as a mild stimulant that is effective in temporarily overcoming drowsiness and fatigue. In addition it has been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease and improved overall immune response.

But this comes at a cost. Caffeine can have many adverse effects such as:

  • Addiction
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Osteoporosis

The Alternatives

If you are sensitive to caffeine but enjoy drinking tea, all hope is not lost. There are decaffeinated teas which have a reduced amount of caffeine in them, but from my perspective, unfortunately lack the taste and a lot of the health benefits associated with tea.

There are a few good decaf green teas that I’ve tried but for the most part I don’t bother, (If you know of any good decaf teas, please list them in the comments).

By chance I had a discussion with a family member about a particular herbal tea that I thought had caffeine in it, which they said it didn’t. After going back and forth at each other for a while, they got fed up, went online, and showed me the list of ingredients. Low and behold, no caffeine!

Since then I’ve made it a mission of mine to find good quality herbal teas that taste fantastic and have little or no caffeine in them at all, (Healthista has a list of ten caffeine free teas to get you started, 10 caffeine-free teas for morning energy – TESTED).

As for black and green tea drinkers there is still hope. Apparently there’s a lot of research currently into producing caffeine free tea plants. Traditional farming methods currently take approximately twenty five years to produce a plant which may not be suitable for consumption. As a result alternative methods such as metabolic engineering are being explored and the results look promising.

A Quick Review

So, there’s no real need to give up drinking teas if you don’t want to. I still drink caffeinated teas occasionally, but since finding so many herbal tea alternatives I usually don’t bother.

  • Teas contain antioxidants and other health benefits, but the benefits can be cancelled out by the caffeine content (a build up over time).
  • Decaf teas still contain caffeine and strip away a lot of the healthy antioxidants.
  • There are plenty of good quality herbal alternatives that keep the healthy benefits of tea without compromise.
  • There soon could be metabolically engineered caffeine free teas.

Next Steps

I’m constantly trying out new alternatives and experimenting with what works for me. By keeping an open mind I’ve grown to like drinking tea even more.

I’d suggest that if you like tea and want to reduce or eliminate your caffeine intake, try out a few herbal alternatives, and even the decafs and find what works for you.

Doubt and Caffeine Addiction

Be Bold & Have Faith In Yourself

Believe in yourself…

Soon after finally accepting I had a caffeine addiction and knowing that I had to do something to change the situation, I began to realise just how much hard work it would take me to not only give up drinking caffeine, but even to reduce the amount that I consumed.

Up until then, I thought that caffeine had been a beneficial aid that helped me to get things done and help me to achieve many of my academic and professional goals, so it was hard to accept that I would have to give up the “little cup of miracles” without it impacting my productivity in some shape or fashion.

Doubt and Caffeine Addiction
Photo by Kay Isabedra @kee_says

Dependency

Change is hard at the best of times. Multiply that by 100 when you have a dependency on a substance or behaviour.

Over the years, without fail, when resolving to give up caffeine I’m full of enthusiasm and resolve, but being honest, there’s always a niggling doubt that I won’t be able to do it!

As time goes by, that doubt begins to grow and eventually I give in to temptation, finding ways to justify it to myself 🙁

Robbing You of Confidence

Unfortunately the more you give in the stronger that doubt grows until it potentially stops you from even trying.

Doubt has the power to reduce the levels of your self confidence to a point where you have low self esteem and appear weak and unsure to yourself and others.

Looking back at the times around my attempts to give up caffeine, I also remember that these were some of the most stressful times in my life both professionally and personally.

My lack of trust in myself was causing me and others to second guess my decisions. In fact, I remember a discussion I had with one of my managers at the time who said “If you don’t believe in yourself, who else will”!

Faith

Later on, remembering that discussion, I made the decision to try quitting again, but this time I would try something different. I would learn from my past failed attempts and figure out what I could do differently.

Instead of making it an all or nothing affair, I resolved to take smaller steps over shorter timespans. For example, instead of never having caffeine again, I would go for no caffeine days once or twice a week, and then increase from there until I could do seven days.

Also, if I found myself unintentionally consuming caffeine in any form, as soon as I noticed, I would stop there and then, and continue my abstinence for the day. No getting upset with myself, or judging myself in a negative way, but actually rewarding myself for noticing that I was slipping and continuing anyway.

Steps like these not only helped me to eventually overcome the cravings, but had an unexpected side effect, my faith in myself and abilities began to increase for the first time in years.

Key Points

To me doubt is closely related to fear. In his book, Dune, Frank Herbert addresses overcoming fear through the Litany Against Fear, as recited by the main character Paul Atreides:

“I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Frank Herbert, Dune

If there is any field of endeavour that will improve you that’s difficult to overcome, and you have doubt in your abilities:

  • Jump In
    The act of starting to try to overcome can lead you to immediately make progress. The longer you dither about whether you should or shouldn’t do something, the greater risk that any doubt you have will grow and affect the outcome of the endeavour negatively.
  • Take Small Steps
    Give yourself small achievable targets at first. It is easier to adjust your approach to an issue when they are manageable. Plus, by having quick wins earlier, you help build confidence and momentum to tackle the inevitable obstacles later on.
  • Don’t Judge
    If you find yourself falling don’t be tough on yourself but rather be thankful for being able to recognise that you did fall and that it’s okay. This will help you to not give up and even give you the motivation to continue trying.

Final Thoughts

Nowadays I can drink a coffee, tea or cola and not feel guilty at all. I no longer have caffeine pangs and I can go for weeks without realising that I haven’t had a coffee. I have confidence that I am in control of my wants.

Don’t let doubt rob you of the confidence to be yourself.

Pause, Stop & Start

Pause, Stop & Start

Three steps to closer to clearer focus…

Life can feel as if it has its own momentum with meetings, timetables, meal times and our list of things to-do can seem endless. We can go weeks, months or years knowing that we are stuck in a rut and need a new direction, change of scene or some type of action that calls us out of our comfort zone. In our minds we carry solutions to problems and sometimes even talk ourselves out of the solution before we have even fully realize them! With so much chatter in our daily lives, we can get lost in the cacophony.

Pause, Stop & Start
Photo by Allie Lehman @alliepal

Call it what you will but the universe always has a way of grabbing our attention and giving us moments to pause. It can be in the form of hearing a few notes to a forgotten song, a smell that reminds us of someone or even a taste that transports us almost instantly to a memory held inside us. Whatever it is, it gives us a moment to pause. Just like seeing amber at the traffic light we make a quick intuitive decision. Slow down and pay attention to what is being communicated or rush on with the belief that it’s too late to stop – regardless. With V-CAF there is a gentle reminder to take care. The beauty of the pause is that we can lead ourselves to the stop. A place not of failure but a chance to check-in with our authentic self and consider whether our actions are from deep within. Sometimes busy is an excuse in disguise. It is not easy but there is joy in connection to purpose and not the ego driven taskmaster of the mind.

In Closing

Many of us as children found amazement and wonder in everything. Try to discover this again and start to see & feel the precious gift of the present moment. There is something to unfold in even the most mundane tasks or surroundings when you start to connect all of your senses and give yourself permission to be fully alive. So next time you have an ‘amber’ moment, decide if you are going in the best direction or take a deep breath and turn onto a new road.

How Caffeine Changed My Life For The Better

V-CAF Article Title

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.

Increase Productivity Through Consistency

Productivity & Consistency

Consistency Increases Productivity

Recently, during one of my downtime breaks, I found myself reflecting on the times that I’ve felt the most content and satisfied with who I am and where I find myself.

As I thought about the different phases of my life I found that the times when I felt most content compared to those when I didn’t, were when I got involved in activities that required me to put in consistent effort and maintain a certain level of discipline, whilst at the same time being able to track my progress in said activities.

Conversely, the times where I had no direction and seemed to be doing things ad hoc were the time times where I felt most stressed, unsatisfied, and least productive.

As we’ve slowed down a little after our last busy stretch, we discussed how and why this was and wanted to share a little of our discussions with you.

ncrease Productivity Through Consistency
Photo by KRISTINE ISABEDRA, Weekend Brainstorm 7

In a Slump

I, like most people, get fed up from time to time, especially when I’ve got a lot to do, but for whatever reason, I don’t start them; or when I do start them I realise that I have more work than I planned for!

Frustration soon sets in because it either feels like it’s impossible to make any progress or I become overwhelmed and eventually nothing gets done. It only takes a few sessions like that to cause your productivity levels to fall into a slump whilst your dissatisfaction levels reach all time highs.

And, as is the case with these kind of situations, you can find that your lack of progress leads to less productivity which leads into even more lack of progress, and so it goes on.

The Lack of Progress

The feeling of not making any or significant progress whether related to a specific life goal or routine tasks can lead to feelings of despair, helplessness or even depression.

Perceived failure to accomplish a task or reach a goal can reinforce a negative self image which can make it more difficult to start any future projects for fear of failing again.

This compounds the problem because the act of accomplishing a goal or completing a task can help raise your self esteem which can then act as a positive reinforcement mechanism to help fuel your will to complete further goals.

Turning things Around

Fortunately the steps needed to break out of this cycle are relatively simple to start. The trick is continue to use them until they become a habit or part of your being.

  • Divide and Prioritise
    Whatever task you have, look at what the big goal or purpose is and keep this as the higher level or main purpose for the sub task(s).
    Subtask(s) are made up of the smaller tasks that need to be completed in order to complete the higher level goal. Make these subtasks as small, focused and defined as possible.
    The result will be that you have manageable, and more importantly, visible steps towards your goal. Each task completed helps motivate you to do the next one as you come closer to achieving your goal.
  • Do something every day towards your goal
    Make it your number one priority to do something towards your goal every day. This will give your willpower a boost so that it eventually becomes second nature for you to complete the tasks that get you closer to your goal. As you become more proficient your productivity levels will grow and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can get things done.
  • Stay Consistent
    Even when you don’t feel like doing your planned tasks for the day, just start. The act of starting can help focus your mind for the task at hand and you may even be surprised at how productive you’ve been when you finally complete your task(s).
    For example, I’m writing this after a long day of training, completing various planned tasks, completing various unplanned other tasks, and feeling like I want to go to bed. However, the consistency bug is in me now and I’m happy with the results so far 😉
    Also, schedule your planned work for the same time every day! I’ve found that by doing this I now naturally find myself just getting on with my tasks without too much pontification.

What We’ve Learned

There’s nothing said in this blog that we don’t already know:

  • Plan, divide and prioritise your goals/tasks
  • Work on your tasks every day
  • Stay consistent

Being productive can help you feel more content with yourself and your life in general, and being content helps to boost your productivity.

Progressing from Here

I don’t think life is all about goals, but they are a useful tool that can help you appreciate life in general. Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , Volume 34 (11): 14 – Nov 1, 2008. Take it easy people…

“There certainly are benefits to thinking of goals at a higher level; these higher level goals are more self-relevant and holistic and give us a sense of direction in our lives. However, when focusing solely on the higher level goal, a person is more vulnerable to the detrimental and amotivating effects of momentary failure. This does not mean we should never look up from what we are doing: There are times when the prize must be referenced, re-examined, or even rejected. However, as a general strategy, it seems that especially during times of difficulty, it is more beneficial to keep your nose to the grindstone.”

Houser-Marko, L., & Sheldon, K. (2008). Eyes on the Prize or Nose to the Grindstone? The Effects of Level of Goal Evaluation on Mood and Motivation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(11), 1556-1569.

Boost Your Productivity, Focus and Wakefulness

V-CAF watchOS/iOS/macOS

Stay Awake, Stay Alert, Stay Focused

We’ve been a little busy over here at V-CAF. Tight deadlines, issues to fix and increasing demands have been taking their toll for the past few weeks!

Anyways, being that we espouse the virtues of working smart without having to resort to caffeine, I thought I’d share some of the techniques and processes that proved to be invaluable .

In a relatively short amount of time, we accomplished a fair amount (if I may say so myself), and I hope that you’ll find what we’ve done inspirational and more importantly, useful to you.

V-CAF Stay Awake, Stay Alert
Use the Apple Watch app with the Mac desktop app to help keep you awake, alert and focused.

Heavy Workloads

Since the new year I’ve had a ton of work that I’ve been committed to. We had decided to make some major changes to our app V-CAF, which included a new version compatible with macOS desktop and laptops.

Unfortunately at the same time we also had personal commitments that couldn’t be ignored, and would take up a great deal of our time.

My head felt like it was going to explode and at the time I had no idea how we could honour all those commitments.

Decline in Standards

A lot of people faced with tight deadlines tend to power through and force themselves to achieve their goals through thick and thin.

I’ve done this in the past, and although I met most of the goals, I knew that it wasn’t my best work, leaving me feeling flat and exhausted.

Working like this once in a while doesn’t do too much harm, but if it starts to become a regular occurrence both the quality of your work and temperament can suffer.

Quality Wins

So, how did we get through our recent busy spell? By using some of the techniques that I’ve written about in the past, and using some new combinations.

  • Planning Work Ahead of Time
    Before diving straight into the tasks, we planned the order and importance of work that needed to be done. This way we had a clear view of what work should be done and a clear indication of what work had been done so that we could visibly track our progress. Tools such as Kanban or Jira are good for tracking your progress. (both are primarily aimed at software development, but can be adapted to any project or task)
  • Breaking Down Tasks Into 20-25 min Blocks
    Instead of trying to complete everything at once, divide and conquer. Each of the major tasks were broken into smaller sub parts, which had the result of helping us to focus on one specific issue at a time. This helped us to work faster and improve quality. The Pomodoro technique worked wonderfully here – The Pomodoro Tracker — A useful tool for time management based on Pomodoro Technique.!
  • Take A Break When Tired
    It can be hard to stop when you are tired, especially when a deadline approaches. Also most people become so focussed on their work that they don’t realise how tired they are, but working whilst tired leads to an increase in the probability that the quality of your work will diminish. V-CAF, an Apple Watch app, informs you when your alertness decreases and is ideal for helping you stay alert and focused.
  • Get Enough Sleep
    This is the master key to all the other techniques. I don’t know about you, but when I have tight deadlines I tend to work longer hours and cut into my down time, which in turn cuts into my sleep time. Again, once in a while is okay, but constantly working like this for a week can really have a detrimental effect on your productivity.
    Prioritise your sleep. Make time for it and get enough good quality sleep. If you are finding it difficult to sleep (due to stress for example), then try exercising at some point during the day for 30 minutes or more. Exercise has been proven to improve the quality of your sleep almost immediately! Just make sure you don’t exercise within two hours before you plan to go to bed.

In Retrospect

These are the main techniques that I used and they worked well. Not listed are the new combinations that we tried and got very positive results from.

As an example, one of our tasks was to create V-CAF Desktop. We had built desktop applications for other platforms, but this was our first for macOS.

To help us achieve this goal we planned the tasks that would get us to our desired result, and stuck to using V-CAF the watchOS app to keep us from working whilst being overtired. In addition we added another task that was dependant on completing the desktop app which involved using V-CAF desktop to complete the video editing and sourcing tasks.

This allowed for us to test the desktop app in the real world whilst completing another of our tasks. A classic “Two birds, one stone” situation, that helped us boost both our productivity and quality.

Conclusion

Increasing your productivity, focus and wakefulness doesn’t rely on any one special secret technique, but the willingness to experiment and find what works for you.

Before you start your next deadline or goal plan which techniques you’ll try.

Finally, post your tips and the techniques in the comments so that we and other readers can try them out too!

Caffeine, Studies and Your Skin

Experts & Your Choices

Your Life, Your Choices…

Where I live daylight hours are starting to get longer, but most days seem to be overcast, dull and cold, (not the most optimal conditions to be trying to give up caffeine).

During a break I read an article on the pros and cons of drinking coffee, and the question came up if coffee was bad for your skin and concluded that it depends on how you consume it.

Now, given that it’s cloudy, cold and dark around here, and knowing that at least a couple of people have decided to give up coffee and caffeine, I wondered how many people would use an article like this to justify continuing to over consume caffeine in it’s various forms.

Later I read a few studies around this topic and decided to write a brief post on the importance of choosing what’s best for you.

Caffeine, Studies and Your Skin - Choices
Photo by Burst @burst on Unsplash, Lost in the Maze

Which One?

Life seems to be all about choices; the ones we’ve made in the past, our present, and the future. Some are good, some not so much. Either way whatever we choose have consequences, and it’s thoughts about these consequences that can grind us down or help us to make impulse decisions.

Which is why so many of us find it easy to default to what the experts say on what is right or wrong, good or bad. The thing is, that many of the experts can’t agree on anything. One group of experts says one thing is good, only to be contradicted by another group. Which expert is right? (Yet another choice).

Bias and Objectivity

In this scientific age of reason, it is easy to assume that once we have all the facts (or as much of them as we can handle) in front of us, that by using reason and logic we can make a reasonably objective and informed judgement on what is right and what is wrong.

“Well, the science tends to suggest that this is correct”, which is true in a very specific environment, but may not be so in another. Researchers and academics no matter how noble their intentions and rigorous their methodologies are not immune to their biases, which is why they have peer review boards and associations to cross check their findings. Even I admit that I may have a few biases 😉

Knowing this helps us to understand why there can be contradictions in studies that apparently test the same thing.

A Few Pointers

Let’s go back to the article that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. By the time we get to the end of it we have a list of facts that explain away the contradictions regarding caffeine and its effects on your skin:

  • Caffeine may help prevent skin cancer, but drink no more than one to two cups per day of black coffee with no sugar (eating chocolate and drinking sodas don’t help either).
  • Drink high quality coffee and not decaf.
  • You don’t have to drink coffee to get the skin cancer fighting benefits. Apply coffee/caffeine directly to your skin.

So drinking a moderate amount of black coffee a day can help prevent skin cancer (and other cancers). Drinking six plus cups of sweetened or milky coffee can have adverse effects on your health.

If you are trying to give up caffeine, but want the benefits (for your skin at least), rub coffee or caffeine into your skin, you don’t have to eat or drink it!

A Brief Recap

So, truth is in the eye of the beholder. Experts are subject to their own biases just as much as the rest of us.

Understanding this should lead us to cross check and find counter arguments against a particular point of view so that we can try to get a better insight of the topic.

What’s Best for You

Goals are good, they help to motivate us to do better, but I think that there’s a better way to improve that is sustainable and will take us beyond our goals.

Implement systems or processes into our life that will make us improve every day if we so desire. As an example, instead of saying “No more coffee or caffeine for me ever again” how about trying to see how many days you can go without caffeine and give yourself rewards at set milestones to help encourage you to keep going?

A New Beginning

A New Way For A New Year

Don’t Give Up & Be Consistent

It’s been a while since the last article was published, so belated new year’s greetings to you and yours.

During the holiday season a lot of you may have had the time to reflect on the past year and think about how you would like this new year to pan out.

Giving up or reducing the amount of caffeine that you consume is a common goal, and by coincidence a key objective of this blog, so we’ll be looking into sustainable strategies that can help you succeed.

As an added benefit some of the tips that we suggest can be used for your other resolutions or objectives too!

Success - A New Beginning
Success – The result of planning, hard work and luck.

The Typical Approach

Maybe because of tradition, or the fact that so many people are also thinking similar thoughts at around the same time, it seems to be easier to have good intentions about changing an aspect of yourself and proclaiming it to your nearest and dearest.

The first few days or weeks go well, but after a while you start to lose motivation and can eventually stop trying all together!

Never mind, there’s always next year…

Why it Doesn’t Work

It’s not just at New Years that we can fail to keep up with our intentions to do better. Dieting for your summer holidays, starting a new workout routine, giving up or reducing caffeine, or any other big change takes time and a lot of willpower.

At the time when we decide to take on the challenge we tend to be full of willpower and excitement. This is due in part to us focussing on the end goal and seeing ourselves making it to the end, but neglecting to see the hard work it takes to reach that point.

For example, a few years ago when couple of friends of mine and I were training at a gym, someone suggested that we should run a marathon (which was only nine and a half months away, and I’m useless at running long distances).

I’m quite heavy and had never ran a marathon before so I said no straight away. The other two guys said that it would be fun and we can help motivate one another, and eventually got me to reluctantly agree. We even put a forfeit in place for anyone deciding not to follow through.

Unfortunately for my two friends they had to pull out (one had a bad toe and the other a bad back). Luckily for me, the guy that challenged us to do the run had a plan, which I stuck to for dear life.

What Does Work

After completing the marathon I had learnt some very valuable lessons about achieving difficult goals which I’ve applied to other areas of my life and got good results. Here’s a list of the ones that I use regularly.

  • Plan to fail
    Last year I wrote an article about how to plan to beat caffeine addiction – “How to Build a Plan Against Caffeine Addiction”. In it I list some of the strategies you can use to overcome an over-dependency , but the number one strategy is to plan your failures in advance.
    It means exactly what it says. Think of all the excuses and reasons for giving up in advance and plan ways to eliminate them. So if giving up caffeine is your goal, then think of ways to avoid being around coffee, like not having any in your home or not meeting friends in cafes.
  • Pace Yourself
    Take each day as it comes and concentrate on your goal for the day. Doing so helps to focus your energy and attention on the here and now which helps you to overcome any obstacles you may encounter.
  • Track Your Progress
    Keeping a journal about your experiences can help motivate you during the difficult times. Using a tracking app to log your progress also helps by showing you the number of days that you’ve been able to keep going, which you can share with your support group or mentor if you need someone to be accountable to.
  • Have a Mentor or Support Group
    During my marathon preparation having a mentor helped keep me on track and helped me with a plan to achieve my objective, even when my support group wasn’t there.

Choosing a mentor that fits your personality is key. A mentor that knows you well enough to help guide you through the tough times is worth their weight in gold. However, don’t get caught up in trying to find the perfect mentor, nothing beats self motivation. Any good mentor will tell you that.

Review

So, a few short simple points that really work can help you become a miracle worker. The real magic is in planing and being consistent.

  • Don’t rush in but plan
  • Pace yourself
  • Keep a log of your progress
  • If you can, get a mentor or join a support / interest group

Conclusion

Although the new year has already started and you may have broken some of those new year resolutions, don’t quit. If you fail, don’t worry, just jump back on the program.

Learn from your past mistakes, plan accordingly and move on confidently.

How to Stay Awake at Night

How to Survive Nightshifts

Making the best out of a difficult situation

A colleague of mine was speaking to me about doing shift work and mentioned how much he hated it.

Luckily for him he only did this once every six weeks and got paid well enough to make it worth his while. I told him to be careful with that and he replied, “I know, working like this can kill you, you know, take you out early (shorten your life)”!

My face must of been a picture, because he then quickly told me about some of the precautions that he has taken to minimise the stress and make the shift work for him.

I’ll share some of his tips for working nights as well as pointing out the effects that sleep deprivation can have on your health.

How to Stay Awake at Night
Photo by Joshua Bartell @jjbart7 on Unsplash, lighted lantern lamp, https://unsplash.com/photos/B5PGhF55FgU

Lifestyle and Work Pressures

Our modern way of living and working encourage us to stay up later or miss out on sleep during the night. Whether it be because we are working, playing, surfing the internet or whatever, we are affecting the quality of our sleep without realising it.

For many there is no choice but to have to work during the night, and some have to work during the day as well. This can lead you to feeling miserable and tortured to the point that you start to loath everything and everyone around you.

Your work begins to suffer and you find that you are trying to work harder to make up for the drop in your productivity levels. Something will have to give, but what will it be, the job or your health, or both?

Long Nights and Your Health

Humans are social by nature and the quality of our social connections can have an effect on our health. Good relations tend to make us feel better and as a result have a positive influence on our health, whereas bad relations have the opposite effect.

Working through the night can negatively impact the quality of our family and social connections which in turn has negative effects on our health.
This may be a contributing factor as to why nightshift work has been linked to cardiovascular and metabolic diseases as well as cancer.

A study also found that night workers were less likely to exercise and more likely to increase their body mass index. It is an accepted fact that obesity plays a significant role in the development of various diseases such as:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Colon and breast cancer

Pepłońska, B., Burdelak, W., Krysicka, J., Bukowska, A., Marcinkiewicz, A., Sobala, W., Klimecka-Muszyńska, D., & Rybacki, M. (2014). Night shift work and modifiable lifestyle factors. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 27(5), 693-706.

Another study tested 100 student nurses before and after they worked a three month nightshift period and found that they had:

  • Less energy
  • Poorer concentration
  • Poor sleep
  • A loss of interest in their daily activities
  • Irritability
  • Become more sensitive to criticism
  • A feeling of hopelessness

Healy, P. (1996). Night shift work linked to depression. Nursing Standard, 11(15), 7-7.

When You Have No Choice

Reading the above isn’t pleasant especially if you have to work night shifts, but not all hope is lost and there are things that you can do to minimise the effects of working nights on your health.

  • Nutrition
    When talking with my colleague he mentioned that he payed very close attention to his nutrition and what he ate. No junk food, lots of fruit and veg and hardly any alcohol. He also avoided too much caffeine as it would interfere with his sleep when he finished the shift.
  • Exercise
    By keeping yourself active you help to reduce the risk of being obese which itself can increase the risk of various diseases that were mentioned in the previous section. Exercise is also a very good way to help lift your mood and make yourself feel better. My coworker makes a point of going for a walk in the forest near where he lives and sometimes he runs or cycles. No matter what type of exercise you choose, make sure it’s something that you like doing which will make it easier for you to do on a regular basis.
  • Sleep
    By working nights you are actively fighting against your body’s circadian rhythm which regulates your sleep pattern. Melatonin starts to be released by your body between 9pm and 10pm and stops around 7am. You face an uphill battle when working during these hours just to stay awake.

    To make things easier on yourself make sure that you have between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every day, (that includes short naps), and sleep for 2 hours just before the start of your shift.
  • Staying Awake @ Work
    It’s difficult but can be done. Just make sure not to work too many nightshifts in a row for a long period of time if you want to reduce the risks that I’ve outlined above.

    Using a bright light or sitting in a very bright area will help increase your alertness. Break up tedious tasks with some form of physical activity (like going for a walk or stretching). Also have chat breaks with your coworkers to help stimulate your mind. Tools such as our app V-CAF can help keep you awake by notifying you when you are about to fall asleep and can be used to help remind you to get up and move around.

Remembering the Risks

Many people don’t have a choice and have to work nightshifts. Working like this for the short term minimises the health risks that you are being exposed to.

If possible, like my colleague, try to maximise the periods between working nightshifts (for example, my coworker works the night shift one week in six).

It’s your duty to be informed about the risks that working nightshifts can have on your health, and to take the appropriate actions to help minimise the adverse effects on your health. I’ve outlined some of the information that my colleague gave me and supplemented it with my own research, so please use this post as your starting point for your own research.

Make The Change

Shift work is hard. If you are on a nightshift and reading this article, I don’t want to make you feel bad. The same goes for those that work long hours and don’t get enough sleep.

Just know that it’s good for now, but when you can – make the change. In the meantime look after yourself and stay healthy.

A New Productivity Hack

A New Way To Be More Productive

Hack Your Productivity

Everybody wants to be more efficient and productive. For years I’ve been searching for the golden mean between minimum effort verses maximum output.

This has lead me on some strange and wonderful trials that overall have helped me to know what works for me as compared to those things that don’t.

In this post I’ll share with you my trail of discovery that lead to me finding a new productivity hack that has changed the way I work and I hope that you will find useful too.

Reach your goals with this new productivity hack.
Photo by Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith on Unsplash, Weekly Review for Your Goals

The Slog

Feeling tired when you have a school, work, or personal deadline looming really is the worst. No matter how many cups of coffee is drunk or how many breaks that you take, nothing seems to be making the difference.

The effect of tiredness on your work can be compared to working after having a few drinks at lunch time. This in itself can make you feel frustrated and decrease your productivity even more.

That’s without taking into account the effect on the quality of your work. At best, the drop in quality in your work can be seen as you not putting in enough effort, at worst, being incompetent.

Tiredness Was Wining, I Wasn’t

The Slog (or the grind), can really demotivate you and sap your will to carry on when you are tired. We all have bad days once in a while, but when they become more frequent they can be quite worrying.

I my case I found myself making avoidable mistakes and had difficulty in focusing on my tasks. Not only did this have the effect of me looking less than capable, but also started to mess with my own view of my skills. It got to the point where I was constantly second guessing myself just to make sure that I didn’t make any mistakes (which in turn affected how much work I could get done)!

Being tired:

  • Affects your memory
  • Reduces your concentration
  • And can negatively effect your motivation

Look out for these tiredness symptoms whilst working, to identify if your work efficiency and quality are reducing:

  • Heavy head
  • Watering eyes
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Loss of interest
  • Poor concentration
  • Not wanting to talk to anyone
  • Irritability
  • Yawning

The Hacks

The best hack isn’t really a hack, but more common sense, and that is to get enough sleep. How much is enough? That depends on you and your body but as a rule of thumb make sure you get enough sleep so that you don’t feel tired during the following day.

To find this out, make a point of going to bed at the same time every day for a week, so that you have enough time when you wake up to still get ready for the day ahead. Note what times you wake up and how you felt during the next day. By the end of the week you should have a rough guide to your body’s sleeping rhythms and how long to sleep for.

Other hacks include:

  • Get good quality sleep as well as quantity.
    You’ll find that having good quality sleep can actually reduce the time that you spend sleeping. What is good quality sleep? According to the National Sleep Foundation:
  • Where possible reduce your workload or reorganise it.
    Make sure to prioritise your sleep, work and play (in that order). If your workload becomes too great, then try to reschedule or don’t commit to taking on new work until you have cleared your current tasks. Whatever you do, try not to cut into your sleep time.
  • Avoid caffeine in all its shapes and forms after midday.
    This will be tough for some, but caffeine can stay in your system up to 8 hours after ingesting it. And as caffeine is known to reduce the quality of your sleep, it can make you feel even more tired after the effects of caffeine have worn off.
  • Don’t nap for more than 25 minutes during the day.
    And avoid sleeping after dinner!

The New Way

Using the above mentioned points as a guide has helped me to feel less tired during the day, especially whilst working. I have also increased the amount of exercise that I do, am drinking more water and getting better results because of it.

However, the biggest productivity hack where I could see the results immediately was when I started testing our app V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert.

The idea behind the app was to have an alert that would tell us when we are on our way to being tired or sleepy so that we could take a natural break. This way we could consistently produce high quality work by not working whilst we are tired.

V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert does just that. It’s an Apple Watch app that works with your heart rate to alert you when you are tired. The alert is a vibrating nudge (if the Apple Watch is in silent mode, otherwise an alarm and nudge), which discreetly lets you know that you need to take a break.

I’ve used V-CAF while in meetings and working, and it’s great. In meetings it’s kept me focused on the discussions that can seem to go on forever, and whilst working its kept me from working long stretches without breaks by notifying me that alertness levels have dropped.

Although no one thing listed can keep you more awake than getting enough sleep, using V-CAF in combination with the suggestions in this post has made a big difference in the teams’ and my productivity.

From Here Onwards

Get enough good quality sleep. Nothing beats that. Make it a priority and stick with it!

That said, using the other suggestions in this post will help you to get good quality sleep daily.

There are no shortcuts to productivity, but there are things that you can do to help improve it, and number one on that list is to reduce your tiredness.

Good Luck

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