Categories
Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleep Staying Awake Tiredness

Are You Getting Enough?

Make Time For A Nap

The original power booster…

Tim was fed up. He’d been working long intense hours to meet his departments’ end of year deadlines. He also had been putting in extra time on his side hustle as a “gig” driver with an online company to help make ends meet.

Nothing seemed clear to him anymore. Whatever he tried to do to earn a little extra cash didn’t seem to be working. It seemed the harder he tried, the less things worked out for him.

“I just can’t think straight!”, said Tim. Each hour of each day for every week since March just seemed to blur into a weird blob of fuzzy consciousness.

Street Sleeper
Photo by @polylm via Twenty20

Deprived

The fast pace of modern life is causing an ever increasing amount of people to not get enough sleep. Pulling all nighters to complete work or study deadlines as well as worries about their financial situation is causing many to feel stressed and fatigued.

As Tim was finding, being stressed and tired makes it more difficult to think clear enough to find solutions that work, which tends to imply that people are actually making things worse for themselves without realising.

The cost of the frantic pace of modern life is less productivity, a reduction in economic activity, and ultimately your health.

The Health Risks

Tim was displaying the classic early symptoms of sleep deprivation. These include:

  • Constant yawning.
  • A likelihood to fall asleep when inactive (for example falling asleep in a meeting or nodding off whilst driving).
  • Feeling fatigued all day.
  • Irritability.
  • And poor concentration.

More advanced sleep deprivation leads to more advanced symptoms :

  • Uncontrolled bursts of sleep.
  • A weakened immune system.
  • An increased possibility of being obese.
  • Tired drivers are 5 times more likely to have a crash.

Getting Enough

Like most people, Tim knew that he needed to get more sleep. But that wasn’t the problem. He needed a plan to be able to get the sleep that was healthy for him whilst being able to work and get things done.

I gave him some of the articles that I’ve written in the past as well as some one to one advice, but the key is to find what works for you and commit yourself to stick to it.

  • Sleep
    Create a sleep timetable for yourself. Make sure that you set realistic goals, for example most people need from between 6 to 10 hours of sleep (depending on age, weight and other factors), so make sure you take all the factors of your life into account. And make sure that you plan and actually go to bed at the same time every day, and wake up at the same time too.
  • Caffeine
    Again, each person is different. I gave up caffeine completely for a few years, but now use it in passing. If you are going to consume caffeine make sure you don’t have any between 4 to 8 hours before you go to bed. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 15 hours, so again experiment and see what works for you.
  • Breaks
    Where possible, take regular breaks, especially if you are driving or operating heavy machinery. During your breaks try to have at least one 10 – 20 min nap to help refocus your mind. Our Apple Watch app V-CAF, is ideal for letting you know when your alertness is decreasing so that you can optimise your work and breaks to when your body really needs them.
  • Exercise
    Establish a regular exercise routine. Exercise is good for relieving stress and helps boost the quality of your sleep in the evening. It doesn’t have to involve joining a gym. A 20 minute brisk walk is good enough to help improve your blood circulation and the benefits to your sleep are immediate.

Recap

I benefited greatly from the above tips that I’ve outlined for you above, which is why whenever I get the chance to share that information (like I did with Tim), I leap at it.

But, it’s up to you to use them as just reading about them won’t change anything.

To recap:

  • Establish a regular sleep routine and stick to it
  • Reduce or cut out caffeine consumption
  • Take regular breaks whilst working
  • Exercise daily (even if it’s a 20 minute walk)

Afterword

“Fatigue will continue to impact productivity and the number of accidents at home and in the workplace. Sleep deprivation may be the next emerging health issue for both individuals and business.”

Maher, H. (2006). Sleep Deprivation: Are You a Victim?.AAOHN journal : Official journal of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses,54(12),548-548.
Categories
Energy Focus Insomnia Productivity Studying Tension

Don’t Loose It, Just Use It?

Step Back & Breathe Slowly

Or Just Loose it…

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

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

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

Non Stop Progress

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

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

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

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

 

Real Progress or Busy Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positive Steps

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

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

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

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

In Hindsight

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

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

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

Afterword

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

Categories
Alert Focus Productivity

Take Some Timeout And Put Your Feet Up

“Rest is not idleness”

John Lubbock, The Use of Life (1894)

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

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

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

The Build Up

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

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

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

Lack of Alertness, Focus and Productivity

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

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

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

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

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

Simple Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point taken Sir, thank you 🙂

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

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

Review

So to wrap this up:

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

Afterword

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

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

Categories
Focus Productivity

Best Practices for Effective Remote Working

Best Practices for Effective Remote Working

Guest Post By Earnin

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

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

A New Set of Challenges and Opportunities

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

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

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

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

Best Practices

For the Company

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

For Teams

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

For Individuals

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

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

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

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

This article originally appeared on Earnin.

Categories
Fatigue Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

Napping – A Sign of Laziness or Smart Working?

Power Nap To Get Things Done

Rinse, Repeat…

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

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

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

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

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

Being A Slacker

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

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

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

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

Things Aren’t Getting Done

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

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

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

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

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

Visiting The Land of Nod

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Points

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

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

Moving On

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

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

Categories
Energy Focus Productivity

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.

Categories
Focus Productivity

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.
Categories
Addiction Caffeine Addiction Energy Focus Productivity Uncategorized

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.

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
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Focus

How To Stay Focused Without Caffeine

Staying Focused Without Caffeine

Stay focused…

Many of us have times when it is really difficult to focus, whether it is at work, whilst studying or even when having fun.

In an effort to wake up, some instinctively reach for caffeine, because it works. But short-term fixes can end up having long-term effects on our health and wellbeing.

The recent epidemics in both tiredness and insomnia point to the need to find healthy alternatives that can help us focus without having detrimental effects on our sleep.

In this article we’ll look at how to focus without using stimulants.

Focus on me
Photo by Gabrielle Henderson @gabriellehender on Unsplash Shoot with @yungkweendee

Dependency on Stimulants to Focus

The thing is, drinking coffee or an energy drink is so easy and they work that we rarely think about it.

And therein lies the problem. For many, tiredness equals “I haven’t had enough coffee”, or “I need to have an energy drink”.

Each time we do this we are reinforcing an unnatural habit that if not checked will keep us in a perpetual loop of tiredness followed by increasing amounts of caffeine.

Lack of Self Control

By inadvertently linking tiredness and caffeine in our daily habits, we make it harder to break the habit whilst at the same time potentially exposing ourselves to harmful side effects.

For example, the effects of caffeine that most of us want, (alertness and focus), are in fact the results of caffeine withdrawal. Your body craves the caffeine that is no longer in your system, and like any addictive stimulant, makes you feel lousy.

But get that caffeine fix in and your body soon starts to feel better and your mind clearer. Unfortunately it’s not that caffeine made you more alert, but due to you feeling so bad before you had your fix, your body just returns to normal levels of alertness and focus.

To make matters worse, as your body acclimates to your current level of caffeine consumption, you will soon need higher levels of caffeine to get the same feelings of alertness and focus.

Consuming more than 400mg of caffeine daily can eventually increase the likelihood of you being exposed to:

  • Mental disorders such as altered consciousness, anxiety and depression.
  • Increased heart rate and elevated blood pressure.
  • Dehydration and decreased potassium.

Exercises for Your Will

To stay focused without using caffeine is something that is well within your reach. Just by exercising a little willpower each day you can eventually build momentum and your focusing powers.

Here are some tips that will help you:

  • Stop consuming caffeine. 
    It can be very difficult, but you must try. Start abstaining from caffeine when you have time off work or at the weekends so that you are not around people that are drinking coffee or sodas. 
  • Do short bursts of focused work. 
    If you have a task to complete, break it down into 5 to 10 minute manageable chunks. Once the time limit is up, take a 5-minute break, and then repeat the process. As your focus becomes stronger over time, gradually increase your focus periods to 25 to 30 minute sessions.
  • Don’t work when you are tired.
    Tiredness is the enemy of a focused mind. Where possible work when you are well rested. That means getting more quality sleep during the night. But what if you are unable to sleep? What can you do? I would recommend a tiredness alarm for the Apple Watch called V-CAF. V-CAF subtly notifies you when you are most likely to be tired. Once you are alerted you can take the appropriate action to wake yourself up.
  • Stay hydrated.
    If you’re feeling tired, drink lots of water. Water helps more blood and oxygen get to your brain; which will help you focus better.

Review

You don’t need caffeine to be able to focus effectively. In fact caffeine can work against you. Try these tips to help you focus better without caffeine:

  • Don’t consume caffeine
  • Do short bursts of focused work (when starting 5 – 10 mins.)
  • Don’t work when you are tired. Use a tiredness alarm like V-CAF to alert you when you are most likely to be tired.
  • Do drink more water.

Be Strong, Stay Focused

Don’t weaken your resolve to stay focused naturally by drinking a coffee or energy drink. If you feel yourself craving them, try to hold out.

The longer you hold out the stronger you will be the next time the cravings come back.

There are no quick fixes, but by taking things slowly, day by day, you will improve your focus.