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Alert Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Staying Awake

A New Paradigm For Staying Productive

V-CAF The New Productivity Hack

Stay Productive

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

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

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

Stay Productive
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

Full Steam Ahead

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

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

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

Hitting the Wall

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

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

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

Changing Perspectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review

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

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

Afterword

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

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

Categories
Alert Energy Exercise Focus Productivity Study Studying

How to Stay Focused In Three Easy Steps

As Easy As One, Two, Three

Just start…

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

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

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

Stay Focused
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

The Draining

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

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

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

Guilt and Competing Interests

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

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

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

Overcoming

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep deprivation – Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

Afterword

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

Wiseman, Richard. Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep (p. 295). Pan Macmillan.”
Categories
Alert Energy Exercise Productivity Tension Tiredness

Stretch And Reach For The Stars

Stretch Yourself

And reap the benefits

Have you noticed that when you wake up you stretch and yawn? Studies have found that it is more common to stretch and yawn than it is to yawn and stretch.

No one really knows why this is but many hypotheses relate the phenomena to our bodies trying to prepare themselves for activity and possibly to increase the alertness of our brains.

If there is any truth to the above assumption, would it then be possible to benefit from a good stretch throughout the day to help boost our alertness and productivity?

Stretch And Reach For The Sky
Photo by @johnlmc via Twenty20

Unnoticed Tension

Working towards a big goal, deadline or completing a difficult task can unintentionally increase the tension within our bodies. The difficulty that I have is that I get lost in my work or study and just power through regardless, which in the end leaves me feeling exhausted.

What I didn’t realise is that one of the reasons why I get so tired is due to the build up of tension. Unfortunately it’s very easy to miss, especially if you get tunnel vision and only see the making of your deadline to the exclusion of everything else.

As the tension builds, you can become more tired, which can cause you to snack or drink caffeine in a subconscious attempt to raise your energy levels, but ultimately they both just delay the onset of tiredness at the expense of feeling more drained later, which leads to more snacking (you get the picture).

Increased Tiredness

“The sugar snack condition was associated with significantly higher tension after one hour, and a pattern of initially increased energy and reduced tiredness, followed one hour later by increased tiredness and reduced energy. The results partially support a general conceptual hypothesis that sugar snacking is often motivated by a low-awareness attempt to raise energy. Additionally, the results clarify an apparent conflict between neurochemical research, which indicates that sugar ingestion increases the tendency to sleep, and popular nutrition theory, which indicates that it increases tension.”

Thayer, R. (1987). Energy, Tiredness, and Tension Effects of a Sugar Snack Versus Moderate Exercise. /Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,/ /52(1),/ 119-125.

I knew about the sugar crash thing but didn’t make the link between sugar causing tension which would most likely increase my tiredness and then without thinking make it more likely that I would eat or drink a sugary snack to help fight the tiredness.

It also explains why caffeine drinks and chocolate are so full of sugar. I used to think that sweet foods and drinks increased my energy levels but at the expense of increasing my calorie intake, with the inevitable crash once the initial sugar high wore off.

But just like caffeine, the effects are temporary and actually can help to make you dependent upon them just to make it through the day! Unlike caffeine though, the build up of tension within your body is very subtle and difficult to detect, which it is why it so difficult for us to make the link between sugar, tension and tiredness.

Stretching

“Powerful stretching movements have major, widespread physiological consequences, including increases in the pulse rate, blood pressure, and blood flow to the muscles and other body parts, and increase in the flexibility of the muscles and joints”

Provine, R., Hamernik, H., & Curchack, B. (1987). Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans. /Ethology,/ /76(2),/

The authors of Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans suggest that stretching usually happens just after waking up to help prepare our bodies for action and to increase our brains alertness. But I’ve found that when I’m working intensely and lose myself, there are points when I naturally yawn and stretch, as if my body is trying to boost my energy levels.

Sometimes I acted on these natural reminders to take a break and go outside for a walk, but if I was especially tired, then that walk would end up at a vending machine looking for something sweet to eat or drink to pick myself up.

The problem for most people in a similar situation is that they don’t realise that their alertness levels are dropping until it’s too late and they find themselves snacking on something sweet and caffeinated. The solution to this is to know when your energy and alertness is decreasing before it gets to the snacking stage. This is where V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alertcan help. Our Apple Watch app monitors your body’s rhythm and notifies you when alertness levels start to decrease.

Once I get a notification, I leave my work in it’s best possible state, have a stretch and go for a walk outside or get a cup of water to drink which helps to raise my alertness levels so that when I get back to work I can continue at a more energised level.

In fact in “Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans” the research paper found a surprising benefit to walking instead of consuming a sugary snack.

“The results from the 10-min rapid walk are perhaps the most striking of the whole experiment. This relatively small amount of moderate exercise was associated with significantly increased energy and decreased tension for as long as 2 hours after the activity. The sugar snack, on the other hand, first was associated with tense-energy and then tense-tiredness for a majority of the participants. And although the energy and tiredness effects were weak in this condition, the increased tension effects associated with the sugar snack were unmistakable.”

Provine, R., Hamernik, H., & Curchack, B. (1987). Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans. /Ethology,/ /76(2),/

Summary

Stretching and yawning is your body’s natural attempt to raise our energy and alertness. We instinctively know this but over the years have been conditioned to to work against ourselves by using sugar and/or caffeine to give us a quick, immediate boost.

The problem with this approach is that these fixes are short term and have the potential to help us become dependent on them just to make it through the day.

Use your body’s natural indicators and work with your body by going for a walk, stretching and drinking water to help naturally and effectively raise your body’s energy and alertness levels.

Afterword

“Stretching his hand up to reach the stars, too often man forgets the flowers at his feet.”

Jeremy Bentham
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
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
Alert Caffeine Focus Productivity Staying Awake Study Studying

Coffee vs Tea for Studying

Choose Your Poison

Study This Study About Studying

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

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

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

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

Depending on Coffee or Tea for Alertness

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

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

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

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

Further, according to TeaClass.com:

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

The Truth About Caffeine

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

Is Drinking Either Coffee or Tea the Solution?

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

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

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

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

So, What Works?

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

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

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

Review

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

Some of these choices include:

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Categories
Focus Productivity Sleep Staying Awake Study Studying Tiredness

Beat Tiredness, Study Better

Beat Tiredness, Study Better

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

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

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

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

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

Tired of Studying

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

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

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

Working Harder Doesn’t Mean Working Better

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

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

Tiredness decreases your ability to:

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

All of which are essential for successful study.

Tiredness Hacks

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

Incorporate the following tips into your routine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review

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

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

Once again, our sleep strategies:

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

Conclusion

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

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

Categories
Productivity Staying Awake

How To Stay Awake In That Exciting Meeting

Struggling To Stay Awake In That Very Exciting Team Meeting?

I know, it’s difficult…

Oh how I love those very important team meetings. First thing in the morning or just after lunch do it for me.

Sure, they are packed full of very useful and relevant information to help me with that end of week deadline, but I just can’t seem to keep myself awake in them.

Luckily there are steps we can take to overcome nodding off; and one in particular has worked wonders for me. Keep reading to find out more.

museums are boring :)
Photo by Lo on Flickr museums are boring 🙂

Being Tired During Meetings

Meetings are a big part of our working lives. I’ve been in situations where whole days have just been meetings. And being tired made getting through the day feel like hell.

Unfortunately, they are a necessary evil, so we can find ourselves grinding through them. 

The Good, Bad and Ugly

Being tired during a meeting is no fun. It can be irritating to both your meeting host and yourself.

Also, it is very difficult to focus on the information being presented which can lead to more frustration.

And worse of all, you can appear to be unprofessional to your piers and boss if you look like you are nodding off during a presentation.

It Works For Me

I’ve seen others post similar info on the Internet and also found some of the following tips in books. But the last point is new, and I think it’s a game changer (as far as staying awake goes anyway).

  • Focus on the presentation and ask questions or make suggestions
    Force yourself to be an active part of the meeting.
  • If possible, drink something and have a snack
    Give your body something to do and a quick energy boost. Just be careful that you don’t consume too much caffeine or sugar.
  • Move about in your chair
    Fidgeting can help by getting your body to move.
  • Use a tiredness alarm
    V-CAF is a new Apple Watch app that vibrates when you are most likely to be tired. The watch app has an iPhone counterpart, which allows you to put your iPhone in your pocket so that it also vibrates when you are tired. The amount of times this app has helped me out is unbelievable, which is why it’s my favorite choice. 

Review

Using a combination of these tips can help you get through those long meetings when you’re tired. I mix and match to see what works best for any given day (depending on my tiredness and the length of the meeting). 

So once again:

  • Focus and participate in the meeting
  • Drink and eat something if possible
  • Fidget and move about
  • And my favorite, use V-CAF a tiredness alarm 

Conclusion

Don’t let tiredness embarrass you in front of your boss and piers during that all-important end of year presentation.

Use these tips to get through your meetings successfully.

Categories
Caffeine Staying Awake

Changing Your Lifestyle to Stay Awake

Lifestyle & Staying Awake

Your choices matter

In the age of the Internet we have grown accustomed to quick fixes and instant gratification. Information on almost anything is just a few keystrokes and mouse clicks away.

The pervasiveness of this expectation has permeated into our natural world, where we now believe that there is a product or gadget that can fix almost anything quickly without too much effort.

To stay and be more awake is the result of lifestyle choices that we make. This article will highlight some of those choices.  

pensive
Photo by charlotte henard @punttim on Flickr pensive

Tiredness Quick Fixes

During the course of a day, when tired many people reach for a coffee, an energy drink or caffeine pills.

The need for immediate alertness overrides any concerns about the long time effects of that choice.

The quick fix then becomes reinforced as the response to tiredness further entrenching it as the default behavior.

The Problem With Quick Fixes

Although they have their place, using quick fixes as the default response to tiredness robs us of an opportunity to learn about the relationship we have with our own body.

The more you consume caffeine the greater your tolerance becomes, which in turn encourages you to increases the amount you consume.

Between 200-250mg per day is considered safe (depending on age, sex and health). Anything above 400mg (approx. 4 cups of coffee) increases your chances of being exposed to caffeine’s side effects, including and not limited to:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions

Lifestyle Choices

To have more control over your tiredness you will need to make the choice to invest the time to learn about yourself.

Below are some ideas to get you thinking.

  • Are you drinking enough water?
    Drink a lot of water daily, before you start feeling tired.
  • How much processed food are you eating?
    Our brains use 1/5 of our total daily energy needs. Stimulants trick our brains into reacting as if they are not tired. After the effects wear off, we crash. To avoid that, fuel your brain by eating whole foods, especially those with complex long-chain carbohydrates (nuts, fish, avocado etc.), as they release energy steadily.
  • Do you know when you are tired?
    When we are tired our brains do not react as accurately and efficiently as they do when we are fully awake, and clouds our judgment about how tired we really are. Use an Apple Watch app such as V-CAF, which alerts you when you are most likely to be tired. 
  • How much quality sleep are you getting?
    Quality is better than quantity with sleep. Make sure you get enough sleep and track how you feel after you’ve slept. Apps such as Pillow give you information on your sleep quality and gives you tips on how to improve.

Review

Choosing to live a healthier lifestyle has many benefits, some of which are improved energy and less tiredness.

By choosing to deal with your tiredness rather than taking a quick fix pays dividends in the long run.

Key Points

  • Drink more water
  • Eat more whole foods and Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Learn when you are most likely to be tired using apps such as V-CAF
  • Get quality sleep rather than just hours

Make a Choice

If you’ve made it this far I think it’s fair to say that you are already making the choice to find out more about how you can deal with tiredness by changing your lifestyle.

Hang on in there, it can be tough; but with perseverance I’m sure you’ll make the change that you want.