Categories
Alert Caffeine Productivity Study Studying

What We Do And Thank You

Hold Onto The Power Within You

We’ve had a few technical difficulties this past couple of weeks that quite frankly, pushed us near to breaking point. And as the saying goes, “it never rains, but pours”, we’ve also had a myriad of personal issues to deal with.

It’s at times like these that your will to carry on can start to falter, and you ask the question if it is really worth carrying on anymore.

In a previous article I wrote about the importance of writing down your purpose or motivation for doing something, and luckily for us at V-CAF we had that to remind us about what we are supposed to be doing and why.

Capturing The Essence of What We Do
Photo by @deivitt via Twenty20

Why

I, most probably like you, want to be successful with what I do. I want to be successful in having a positive impact on people’s lives, hopefully helping them to achieve their own goals in their own way.

Whilst studying for my A-Levels all those years ago I pushed myself too hard so as to successfully pass my exams, but at the cost to my health. To stay awake and alert so that I could study everything that I could, I consumed too much caffeine (in tablet and liquid forms) for six months to the point where my hands couldn’t stop shaking.

The lesson I took away from that incident was that my health is more important than any perceived external goal. Without my health, there are no externals, just internal misery and pain.

Since then I’ve used many alternative approaches to the problem of having a heavy work or study load which have helped me (and by extension, the rest of the team at V-CAF), to be more productive and overcome many difficult hurdles.

As a way of saying thank you back to those that I’ve learned from and the situations I’ve experienced throughout my life, a colleague and I came up with the idea of sharing our collective knowledge with regards to increasing alertness and wakefulness naturally without the aid of stimulants.

What

In our numerous discussions we came up with the idea of creating this blog that would inform people of the dangers of relying on stimulants to increase your perceived productivity, and apparent boost in energy.

We also thought that it would be good if we could epitomise this worthy goal in a program or software package that would let people know when they are at the limits of their alertness, so that they wouldn’t need to resort to consuming stimulants to force themselves to stay awake.

Although we both agreed that this would be something worthwhile to work on, we both knew that the path ahead would be long and difficult. Anyways as evidenced by you reading this post, we started down this path wondering where it would take us.

How

So, more than two years ago we designed and developed this blog and the V-CAF Apple Watch app. Neither of us had done anything quite like this before and both of us were excited and eager to start.

As we had a lot to do, we started building the app, whilst in parallel we formed the company and sorted out the hosting for the blog and setting up the structures of our processes.

Many of the lessons we’ve learnt along the way are the foundation for many of the articles on this blog. We’ve learnt by doing and getting on. When the watch app was complete, we tested it on ourselves, using it as we started to make the iPhone and macOS versions of the app, and I used the watch app whilst doing work on the blog (something I still do to this day).

Review

The picture used in this article (see above), encapsulates what we are trying to do. To capture the moment of the setting of our energy and alertness levels so that a user of our app can take the appropriate actions necessary to replenish themselves and then start again, if need be.

Along the way we’ve had many difficulties and trials to overcome and sometimes we’ve failed to make our targets. On behalf of the team at V-CAF, I apologise.

As stated in the introduction, recently I came very close to giving up. But looking back to where we were, compared to what we’ve done today, and all the people we’ve helped along the way, all I can say is thank you.

Afterword

“Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it – turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself – so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal.”

Marcus Aurelius source: 20 Stoic Quotes On Handling Adversity
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
Caffeine Focus Productivity Safety Side Effects Study Studying

Caffeine Pills for Energy?

Do Caffeine Pills Give You Energy?

I want to know…

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

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

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

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

Unaware of the Limits

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

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

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

Caffeine is even in chewing gum and candy.

Potential Dangers

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

Typical side effects of normal caffeine consumption can be:

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

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

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

Alternatives and Reduction Strategies

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

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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

Now You Know

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

Stay focused, stay alert and stay safe.

Categories
Caffeine Focus Side Effects Staying Awake Study Studying

How Can I Stay Awake Whilst Studying?

I Can’t Stay Awake Whilst Studying

Just do it…

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

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

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

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

Too Tired To Study

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

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

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

Tiredness Reduces Your Studying Efficiency

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

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

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

Plan For Success

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

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

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

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

Review

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

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

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

Get It Done

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

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