Categories
Energy Focus Productivity Sleepiness Studying Tiredness

Protecting The Quality of Your Work

Protecting Your Quality of Life

Self first, then others

Working or studying for long hours goes hand in hand with working hard and being productive. I’ve worked at many firms that believe this to be true. If the business owners or senior management spend a lot of time at work the chances are that their employees and subordinates will do the same in order to be seen in a favourable light.

Unfortunately for many firms where this is the case, staff turnover is often high and morale isn’t as good as it could be. Eventually even the quality of work begins to suffer and productivity decreases. In an effort to reverse the trend, managers can demand more from their teams who already feel that they are giving all that they can.

Academics and students don’t do much better. As the pressure to compete with other departments and institutions for research bursaries increases, the need to produce favourable results can lead to people working extremely long days, seven days a week which eventually affects the quality of the research and study in a negative way.

Trying to suggest to such people to spend less time working is often met with derision or dismissed as not being realistic. “If I don’t put the hours in how will the work get done”, is a response I used to give back to anyone that dared mention cutting back on the hours spent at work, whilst having to do more tasks.

But what if our assumptions about putting more time in at work are wrong and may in fact be the reason why we have to put more hours in?

Protect Yourself
Photo by @AZ.BLT via Twenty20

Quantity and Effort

Let me start off by saying that I’m not opposed to working long hours per se, but my past experiences of working long hours and the results I achieved led me down the path of investigating if there was a better way of getting things done apart from spending all my waking hours trying to figure out how to finish my task on time.

In many professions long hours are a cultural norm (take junior doctors for example), and anyone challenging the status quo tend to be seen in an unfavourable manner that often can effect their career prospects. Those that complain can be made to seem weak and not up to the task of getting things done, which is all well and good, but can have a chilling effect on anyone who might have a better solution to just throwing more hours at a problem.

Another motivating tactic that is often used to get people to work longer and so increase productivity is to pay more money or overtime. This seems fair as your time and effort is being compensated for, but what about your health and family time? Again, there’s nothing wrong with working long hours but you have to take into account all aspects of your life (unless you live to work).

And full disclosure here, I regularly work long hours, but have found ways to manage that with my family and personal life. Working long hours from time to time I believe is acceptable, but what I don’t like is that it soon starts to be seen as the norm and exploited as such.

Grinding Ourselves Down

Perhaps a better question may be “What is the cost of working fatigued?” 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.

Alger, S., Brager, A., Capaldi, V., & , (2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. SLEEP, 42(8),

When working long hours becomes the norm, that’s when the negative effects on work start to take hold. Working long hours for short periods of time is okay and is needed from time to time to get things done due to an unforeseen oversight or event.

Prolonged overworking leads to work fatigue and stress which can have negative effects on your health and wellbeing. Work fatigue is negative for both employee and employer or company.

Employees presenting high levels of work fatigue displayed lower job satisfaction, psychological health, physical health, and organisational commitment, coupled with accrued turnover intentions and difficulties to relax after work. Work fatigue is damaging both psychologically and physically, leading to less efficient work recovery, negative work attitudes and health-related difficulties.

Blais, A., Gillet, N., Houle, S., Comeau, C., & Morin, A. (2020). Work Fatigue Profiles: Nature, Implications, and Associations With Psychological Empowerment.Frontiers in Psychology,11,

So how do you know if you are suffering from work fatigue? Here’s a list of signs to lookout for:

  • Constantly yawning
  • Falling asleep when sitting still
  • Feeling tired throughout the day
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Feeling tired when waking up in the morning
  • Unmotivated to go to work and/or finish tasks
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches

Preventative Measures

I mentioned earlier that I also regularly work long hours and have found ways that help me reduce the effects of doing so on my health and personal life.

At first it may seem easier said than done, but by being consistent and working through these steps (and those that you find for yourself, that work for you) you’ll find that you’ll be able to maintain a high level of work whilst at the same time feeling like you have more energy.

Let’s get to it, in no particular order, here are some tips that you may find helpful in reducing the effects of working long hours over a prolonged period of time.

Give Purpose or Meaning to What You Do

  • Where does your current profession fit into the bigger plan for your life? Does it align with your life’s goals?
  • Figure out what are the implications of your current task for you, your team and/or company.
  • Figure out which is more important to you, your life or your work life and reorganise as needed (I’m not suggesting that you walk out of your job because the quality of your life is more important! For example if your home life is more important, then start to organise your work life around your personal life if that is possible. If not, then figure out how to make it so).

Look After Your Health

  • Although your employer (even if you are self employed) may try to make things at work as comfortable as they can for you, don’t neglect your own health.
  • Take regular breaks whilst at work (every 25 – 30 mins) where you get up and walk around.
  • If your job permits, after lunch have a 10 – 20 minute nap to help refocus your mind, relieve any tiredness and give you a quick boost in your energy levels without having to resort to caffeine.
  • Take regular exercise
  • Get outside more (maybe during one of your scheduled breaks throughout the day). Getting daylight to your skin and eyes helps regulate your circadian rhythm which in turn will help improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals and smoking before going to bed.
  • Go to bed at regular times and get between 7 – 10 hours of sleep per night (even on weekends and holidays).

Review

There is constant pressure to perform well at work and whilst studying. Some people assume that spending many hours working or studying is time well spent. Unfortunately due to no fault of their own, they are ignorant to the fact that it doesn’t work.

Schools, workplaces and cultural norms reinforce this misguided path as the logical common sense way to achieve great results. It is further reinforced by the “Captains of Industry” who often are cited as having little time for sleep.

Scientific studies are continually updating their findings regarding work fatigue and it currently seems to be clear that working long hours over a long period of time increases the chances of suffering from work fatigue and stress which can negatively affect health and quality of work.

Afterword

Sleep deprivation, in some populations, is still considered a point of pride and a reflection of toughness. However, this argument is based largely in ignorance and companies are beginning a movement to counteract it. 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.

Alger, S., Brager, A., Capaldi, V., & , (2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. SLEEP, 42(8),
Categories
Energy Fatigue Productivity

Does Taking Regular Breaks Really Increase Productivity?

Have a Break

Have some me time…

Over the years I’ve worked for many bosses that had the notion that if you weren’t tapping away on your keyboard or seen to be busy, then you were skiving or stealing company time. From what I remember this forced people to find things to be busy with that didn’t actually add any benefit to the companies, and people just took longer doing their work. Win win for everyone.

Things have got better, but not that much. During challenging economic times people become more aware of job insecurity and don’t want to be seen as the slacker. As a result not only are we working longer hours, but an increasing amount of people will tell on those who don’t appear to be pulling their weight.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Some of us work in environments that judge you on your productivity or results rather than how long you were seen to be busy. My own anecdotal experiences from working in places were you are judged by your results based performance seemed to suggest that many people appeared to be content with their work, only putting in the extra time when really needed, and took much more breaks throughout the day, and generally in total spent more time actually working.

And there are a lot more research papers that come to a similar conclusion, in that those that took regular breaks were not only more productive but also more likely to be happier, healthier people.

Work Loads

When stopping to think about an issue or just to stare out the window it wasn’t uncommon to hear someone quip “Idle hands…” or “If you ain’t got enough to do, you can help me with this”, as if a 30 second decrease in visible activity would somehow unbalance the workplace.

And there’s the problem. It is difficult to quantify how productive someone is just by watching what they do. Everybody has different work styles, but a few things are common amongst most. One being that stress reduces peoples’ productivity and the quality of their work.

Another is that if people don’t feel secure in their position, they may resort to busy work that doesn’t really add any benefit to the business, but makes them look as if they are being productive. Some bosses have realised this and give their workers a lot to do so that they don’t have time to think about what they’re doing and so keep busy with boss sanctioned busyness.

Bosses aren’t the only ones to blame either. Some of us employees (myself included), have trouble organising and scheduling their workloads to what they can manage and as a result put themselves under unnecessary pressure, and without realising it, miss opportunities to take breaks throughout the day.

 

A Drag on Productivity

However, in case work demands are too high, employees tend to detach less from their work during off-job time and engage less in physical recovery activities. Health care managers should be aware that allocating too many work demands on their employees may be negative for their recovery and health. This may also have a destructive effect on their work performance and the quality of care.

DE JONGE, J. (2019). What makes a good work break? Off-job and on-job recovery as predictors of employee health. Industrial Health,58(2),142-152.

It’s not surprising that so many people are unknowingly exposing themselves to health risks as work demands increase, making it difficult for people to take a break (and some to actively skip breaks) in order to keep up to speed and not feel like a burden to their colleagues.

As this mode of working is increasingly becoming the norm, people are finding it difficult to switch off and relax after a long day.

One of the recovery problems is highly intuitive for many workers: difficulties to mentally disconnect from work. For instance, you may play with your children on the playground in the afternoon, talk with your partner about plans for the next weekend, or you may try to fall asleep after going to bed – but there is something in your mind that distracts you from these activities or impairs your ability to listen carefully: /thoughts about your work/. This experience of mental connectedness to one’s work through work-related thoughts during recovery periods has been described in the literature on stress and recover as low psychological detachment, work-related rumination, problem-solving pondering, and work reflection.

Wendsche J, de Bloom J, Syrek C, Vahle-Hinz T. Always on, never done? How the mind recovers after a stressful workday? German Journal of Human Resource Management. 2021;35(2):117-151. doi:10.1177/23970022211004598

By being always on for prolonged periods we increase the risk of adversely affecting our health in the short, medium and long term. Stress has been linked to:

  • Fear
  • Tension
  • Anxiety
  • An increase in cortisol
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • A decrease in the effectiveness of our immune system
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Clinical depression

And of course, the quality of our work as well as our productivity levels will also decrease. Working longer, appearing to be busy and not detaching from work robs us of our ability to work productively and robs us of our health.

Break Away

The Booster Break program was designed to interrupt prolonged sitting at the workplace. In a group context, interrupting prolonged sitting can be fun and enjoyable. Our previous research on the physical activity Booster Break showed that during a 6-month period, participants lost an average of 14 pounds (8% weight loss) and significantly increased their plasma high-density lipoprotein level from 50 to 57 (≥60 is optimal) . Both of these changes substantially reduce one’s risk of cardiovascular disease and premature mortality and can counteract the effects of the sedentary nature of work life. The Booster Break experience can be a catalyst for adopting a healthier lifestyle.

Wendell C. Taylor, Kathryn E. King, Ross Shegog, Raheem J. Paxton, Gina L. Evans-Hudnall, David M. Rempel, Vincent Chen, Antronette K. Yancey, Booster Breaks in the workplace: participants’ perspectives on health-promoting work breaks, Health Education Research, Volume 28, Issue 3, June 2013, Pages 414–425, https://doi.org/10.1093/her/cyt001

Although not the be all of work stress and productivity, taking regular breaks at work can help mitigate a lot of the stressors that we experience through the day and can work as a useful starting point for learning how to detach from work so that we can enjoy our free times better.

Micro Breaks

Whether you realise it or not, we all take micro breaks from time to time throughout the day. Whether it’s checking our smart phones, browsing to a non work related website, or simply just staring out the window, there are times throughout the day where we unconsciously step away from our work tasks and take a few seconds break to recover. This is normal as it would be almost impossible to focus completely on work alone throughout the day. When reading up on this topic for this article I found a term that sums up what a lot of people feel when they look at something other than work whilst at work, ’Screen Guilt’. It’s a good term but a bad thing to feel. Guilt tends to lead people to either over compensate for a perceived wrongdoing or just give up and not bother. Neither are good, so rather than feel guilt, learn to accept that you can only focus on one thing for a limited time, so when you find yourself doing something else without realising, know that you should have taken a break to help yourself recover.

Scheduling

A lot of time is wasted thinking about what you are going to do rather than getting on with it. Not that I’m saying just jump in and do something, but rather plan your day, week, month or year ahead of time and allocate time slots to get the work done. Although it doesn’t work for everyone in every situation, using processes like Kanban, Scrum or the Pomodoro Technique help to keep you on target to get things done without burning yourself out. I set 25-30 minute blocks to get work done. Once a time block is done, I take a 5-10 minute break away from my machine and either go for a walk, make a personal call, or crack jokes with colleagues (if they’re free of course) before getting back to my next block. Everyone is different and it can take a little while to get used to, but once you get used to it, it helps.

End of Play

After work’s done, go for a walk, or have something non work related to do before you head home. By doing this you give yourself a chance to unwind before you see you friends / family / partner. When I wasn’t working from home I’d walk to the train station rather than take a bus, or if I drove in I’d park further away than usual so that I’d have time to let my thoughts go wherever they wanted which helped me leave work at work. When working at home, I have a routine of closing the lid of my laptop (which would send it to sleep), get up from my desk and then either stare out the window or jig about a bit, and on the odd occasion go for a walk.

Review

Does taking regular breaks really increase productivity? I would have to say yes and as a bonus side effect, by taking regular breaks whilst at work you help decrease the risk of suffering from stress and stress related diseases making you feel more relaxed whilst working, which in turn helps with your productivity and self esteem.

“Improved focus at work. Improved relationships with co-workers. Helped me to fit some physical activity into a busy day. Motivated me to start thinking about my health more. I really enjoyed them – gave me a chance to get away from the desk, de-stress, and enjoy my co-workers. We even had a lot of laughs which was good for morale!”

Wendell C. Taylor, Kathryn E. King, Ross Shegog, Raheem J. Paxton, Gina L. Evans-Hudnall, David M. Rempel, Vincent Chen, Antronette K. Yancey, Booster Breaks in the workplace: participants’ perspectives on health-promoting work breaks, Health Education Research, Volume 28, Issue 3, June 2013, Pages 414–425, https://doi.org/10.1093/her/cyt001

Afterword

The paradox of work stress in America is this: What we value most is inherently stressful. If we understand what we value and how it contributes to work stress, we can begin to create strategies and interventions that are culturally sound and effective, and we will be better able to interpret the findings of our scientific literature. Efforts that work against the cultural values will fail to reduce work stress, whereas efforts that work in concert with our cultural values will succeed.

Peterson, M., & Wilson, J. (2004). Work Stress in America. /International Journal of Stress Management,/ /11(2),/ 91-113.
Categories
Energy Exercise Productivity Safety

Time to Keep Moving

Keep on Moving, Don’t Stop

Keep Going…

If you work in an office environment, are studying, or driving for a living, the chances are that you spend a lot of time sitting down throughout the day. Although you don’t mean to it’s easily done.

How many times have you been so engrossed in what you are doing that you lose track of time and forget to eat or drink, and before you know it, it’s time to stop for the day?

There have been countless times where I’m just in the flow zone and I feel the need to get everything I need to do done before I lose momentum. During times like these it’s very difficult to take a break and I get annoyed when someone disturbs me.

I’ve found unfortunately, that this mode of working can take its toll on you, especially if you find yourself working like this for long periods of time. Eventually something has to give, and for me it’s either the quality of my work, or my energy levels crash to the point where it’s a struggle to get anything done.

Fortunately there are things that you can do to help you manage these periods and consistently keep the level of your productivity high without compromising its quality and your health.

Get up, stand up
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

In The Moment

A common complaint that I get about myself when I’m working is that I zone out and get tunnel vision, only focussing on the task that I’m doing at that moment at the cost of shutting everyone out until I’m ready.

I find it funny because apparently in school I was the opposite, always staring out the window or joking about. Perhaps in school my purpose for being there wasn’t so clear, but nowadays I have a clear defined purpose for my life and when I’m doing things that further that purpose my brain tunes in and focuses on the task at hand.

Anyway, the point I’m making is that when you’re in the flow it can be difficult to stop and give yourself a breather, especially when you lose track of time or have the pressure of a heavy workload and a tight deadline.

Work and study loads have progressively increased and many of us feel trapped. On the one hand we want to get the work over and done with, but at the same time wish we didn’t have to do it.

The stress of entertaining these opposing views can lead us to a point where we are doing busy work rather than getting the task at hand done. What’s busy work? Anything that makes us look busy but doesn’t help us in completing our work or study in any meaningful way.

This takes time and energy away from what needs to be done whilst keeping us sitting at our desks and making us feel tired and unmotivated.

Sitting Your Life Away

Sedentary behaviour, as distinct from a lack of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, is an emerging health risk behaviour for the development of chronic diseases. Examples of sedentary behaviour include sitting, watching television, using a computer, and driving a car.
Overall, we identified a compelling case for sitting reduction to be included in clinical preventive advice as a key component of ‘active living,’ where adults and children are encouraged to ‘move more and sit less’ across different settings and locations.

Bauman, A., Chau, J., Ding, D., & Bennie, J. (2013). Too Much Sitting and Cardio-Metabolic Risk: An Update of Epidemiological Evidence. /Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports,/ /7(4),/ 293-298.

Another factor that we also should take into account is that away from our work and study lives, we spend a lot of our recreational and travel time sitting too. People are spending more time than they realise sitting down without realising that they are putting their well being at risk.

I’m very guilty of this. My day job involves me having to be at my desk for most of the working day. On the commute to work I may work on my laptop or read a book, which necessitates that I sit down (most of the time). And then by the time I’ve got home and spent family time (talking, eating, helping with homework – all mostly done whilst sitting), I then finish off any work that I have left over for my personal interests or play a game (again, in front of a screen of some sort, and sitting down).

Although it can feel that we are being productive and making the most of our work/study/life balance, we may overlook the cumulative effects of spending so much time sitting in one place, especially when having to complete work or getting caught up in our down times.

People sit while performing occupational tasks, reading, eating, using technologies such as computers and entertainment devices, and commuting to and from their destinations. Research indicates that daily total sitting and prolonged uninterrupted sitting times are highest among older adolescents, male adults, all adults over age 60, and people who are overweight or obese.
And sedentary behaviour affects the health of people regardless of their race or ethnicity and across various socioeconomic backgrounds.

Eanes, L. (2018). CE: Too Much Sitting: A Newly Recognized Health Risk. /AJN: American Journal of Nursing,/ /118(9),/ 26-34.

What’s concerning is that sedentary behavioural research seems to indicate that by not taking regular breaks and sitting uninterrupted for long periods of time increases the risks of:

  • Type2 diabetes (22%)
  • Metabolic syndrome (39%)
  • Colon cancer (8%)
  • Endometrial cancer (10%)
  • Lung cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease

And this is regardless of how much exercise you do during the day. The research suggest that if you sit for more than 30 minutes without taking a moving break, or doing some form of exercise for at least 5 minutes, then you still increase the risk of negatively affecting your health!

Standup and Take Action

Thankfully, the solution is pretty straight forward for those of us who sit at desks for most of the day, just stand up for 5 minutes every 20-30 minutes you sit down. If you’re a driver it’s a bit more difficult, but you can reverse some of the ill effects of sitting down if you stand and move around every 60 minutes.

Linda Eanes in the American Journal of Nursing (118.9) 2018, outlined a few suggestions to help us take action immediately:

  • Use a standing desk.
  • Take frequent standing or walking breaks (standing or walking for five minutes for every 30 minutes of sitting, for example).
  • Stand when talking on a cell phone.
  • Reduce total daily television viewing time by standing or walking during commercial breaks.
  • Engage in hobbies that involve some physical activity.
  • Use social networks for self-report and supportive feedback.
  • Use computer software or smartphone apps that offer prompts to take brief physical activity breaks.
  • Wear physical activity monitors.

source: Eanes, L. (2018). CE: Too Much Sitting: A Newly Recognised Health Risk. /AJN: American Journal of Nursing, 118(9), 26-34.

Personally I’ve found my Apple Watch very helpful in this regard. The watch has a built in Activity app that prompts you to stand and do a set amount of exercise (take that as moving about) daily. You can set your goals and away you go. The stand goal only allows you set goals in hours, but its a good place to begin. If you have an Apple Watch, Tim Brookes wrote a very good How-To Geek guide on how to set you Activity goals, which you can find here.

In conjunction with Activity, I also use V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert (our own Apple Watch app). Because V-CAF monitors your tiredness levels and alerts you when you are tired, I use it as my optimal break alerter. Whenever I get a notification that my alertness levels are dropping, I get up and go for a walk or a stretch. That way I know that I’m not just powering through to get things done, and I keep the quality of my work high and my health on point.

Review

Most of us know that we shouldn’t be so sedentary, but our modern lifestyles tend to promote and reward sitting down, (especially for long periods of time).

  • Most of us sit too much and need to move around more both at home and whilst working.
  • After sitting for 30 minutes take a 5 minute break where you stand up, walk around or do some other form of physical activity.
  • Have hobbies that involve physical activity.
  • Track you activity levels by using wearable gadgets or your smartphone.

So don’t forget, as Soul II Soul said “Keep On Moving’”

Soul II Soul – Keep On Movin’ (Official Video)

Afterword

When you have decided that a thing ought to be done, and are doing it, never avoid being seen doing it, though the many shall form an unfavourable opinion about it. For if it is not right to do it, avoid doing the thing; but if it is right, why are you afraid of those who shall find fault wrongly?

Epictetus, The Enchiridion v35
Categories
Alert Energy Focus Productivity

Know the Optimal Time to Take a Break

Make Time For Yourself

You Deserve It…

The other day I was talking to a colleague about how currently there seems to be so much more to do. We went back and forth with anecdotes that confirmed how we felt and just as I felt my motivation spiralling downwards, my colleague happily exclaimed how thankful that he was going to be on holiday for two weeks.

With glee in his voice he told me to “enjoy holding the fort”, and wished me luck! Unfortunately for me, I still had two months to wait before my holiday, and cursed myself for not booking it sooner. Sulking looking at my screen I thought about the time that I don’t spend prioritising breaks that suit me when I work, particularly during the work day and both planned and unplanned vacations.

I scolded myself for letting things get to this point and then realised that lately I hadn’t been following my own advice, and became more focused on the amount of work rather than organising the work around the time that I had to complete it!

I stopped sulking and started to dig through my journal and past articles that I’d posted to see what I could do to get myself back in balance.

Know the optimal time to take a break
Photo by @johnlmc via Twenty20

Unbalanced Work

Work life balance is a mantra that has been espoused by the corporate world for a while now. Many companies make a point of letting potential new recruits know that they actively encourage and support a more healthy balance between private and work life.

In my time working with various institutions, I’ve had more than my fair share of emails, bulletins and workshops to help guide me to that elusive goal of a perfectly balanced professional and family life. Managers and team leads have encouraged me to take time off, and to be fair, some have been really supportive and understanding.

So why is it that with all this encouragement and support, that people find themselves feeling overloaded and overworked?

Possible reasons include:

  • Not wanting to let your colleagues, team or company down
  • Increasing workloads
  • Overly demanding bosses/managers
  • Bullying
  • and stress

Whatever the cause, the end result is that you can skip daily breaks and vacations for the “greater good” of the project or deadline. And when you are under pressure to get things done, work breaks can be easily overlooked.

 

No Play, Low Pay

We live in a time when professionals take fewer vacations than ever before and businesses are generally leaner, tending toward high productivity at the expense of flexibility. It’s hard to find a “convenient” time to get away, and when you do the stress of re-entry and catching up can wear you back down in almost no time.

Americans seem to be among the worst of professional workers around the world for leaving hard-earned vacation time on the table. Depending on which one of the many surveys you can read on this subject, something like 50% of American workers use less than their allotted vacation time…
Most of those same surveys also cite higher stress levels for people who do not take time off, and worse, some indicate that long-term career prospects are worse for people who cannot pull themselves away from the office or lab.

Atwood, S. (2015). Take a Break ‐ You Deserve It. Information Display, 31(4), 2-35.

I once worked at a firm where it was expected that you worked long days (12 – 16 hours) and weekends continuously for months. Knowing what I know now, I realise that this way of working was bordering on the cruel and abusive, but to keep us working and motivated we were told that we were the elites in our industry, the go getters, and by enduring work like that, were destined to be industry leaders in our fields.

Life was a blur. I couldn’t think clearly and as a result made more mistakes than necessary. This had knock on effects for the rest of the team, so I felt guilty and would work longer to help fix the mistakes that were caused by the tiredness I felt because of the long hours that we were working. And so it went on.

That was an extreme case but many people figure that productive work equals long hours, but in fact the opposite is true. The longer the hours you work, the more likely you are to make errors and reduce the quality of your work.

Furthermore, you open yourself up to stress and burn-out, which in their early phases, rather than impress your colleagues and bosses, can make them see you as incapable, lazy or needy. Eventually this can lead you to being overlooked for promotion and could even cost you your job (as well as your health and well being).

Some of the signs that you may be heading towards burnout include:

  • Not going to work or not getting out of bed
  • Losing interest in work that used to be exciting and interesting
  • Not meeting your basic needs – eating, exercising and family time
  • Making more mistakes than usual at work
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Being short tempered, intolerant or overly sensitive with colleagues
  • Catching illnesses more often
  • Not sleeping well
  • Feelings of low confidence

    source: Powell, K. (2017). Work–life balance: Break or burn out. Nature, 545(7654), 375-377.

Regular Breaks

A break from work is a period in the course of a workday during which employees shift their attention away from current tasks. A micro-break is a short break from work that lasts a few minutes and that is informal and less structured than, for example, a lunch break.

Employees initiate a micro-break themselves or deliberately decide to join a micro-break initiated by others.

Micro-breaks can encompass various kinds of activities, including, for example looking out the window, checking in with a favourite colleague, or going for a short walk.

Bosch, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2019). Should I Take a Break? A Daily Reconstruction Study on Predicting Micro-Breaks at Work. International Journal of Stress Management, 26(4), 378-388.

When going over my old notes about taking breaks I found that the most important thing about them, was to actually take them. In the past I’ve set up routines and work processes like using the Pomodoro or Kanban techniques where I work in 25 minute blocks with a 3 to 5 minute break between blocks. Although it works, when I’m really busy I sometimes forget to set the timer or turn the break alarms off without going on a break!

This is a big no no, and I was guilty of doing that more often than not. To get around that issue I now use our app V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert. It’s an Apple Watch app that is simple to use. I just press the V-CAF icon on my Apple Watch, choose the icon which best captures how I’m feeling and it starts monitoring my tiredness levels ready to notify me when my alertness decreases. I use it as my reminder to go for a break, which nowadays is a mixture between going for a quick walk outside, stretching and moving around, or having a quick 10-20 minute nap away from my desk.

As a consultant, I found it very difficult to take holidays as it meant that I would not only have to catch up with all the work that wasn’t being done whilst I was away, I also didn’t get paid for my vacations. To get around this I soon learnt that I needed to charge enough to cover my vacation times and book my vacations well in advance, so that I could organise my work around them.

If you’re an employee, don’t leave it until you feel like you can’t work another day, plan realistically for the times that suits you (and your family, if that’s a concern) best. And whilst on vacation, cut all ties with your place of work. That means, no looking at emails, or social media and taking calls. Be unreachable. Recently a colleague of mine was on holiday and he was called back in for an emergency in the office. Luckily for the bosses he was still in the country, unlucky for my friend, he had to explain to his wife and family why he was going back into work during their holiday (not a nice situation, I can tell you). Let me just say, nobody can reach him when he’s on holiday or over the weekend since that incident!

As a side benefit of taking regular breaks you’ll get a better sense of the best times that you work. During your workdays, plan your most difficult tasks around the times when you are most alert and productive, and routine work that doesn’t take too much brain power for when you’re less alert.

Review

Ultimately, you have to listen to what your body is telling you and not force yourself to work longer than is optimal for you and your productivity.

It won’t be easy to just change everything all at once, so take small steps and progressively move towards achieving a work-life balance that suits your health and wellbeing best.

Afterword

A micro-brake offers individuals the possibility to reward themselves with an activity they like, such as texting with their friends or enjoying their favourite tea. Because activities individuals are fond of have a remunerating character, micro-breaks possess the potential to provide small but immediate rewards during the workday.
Such rewards may help recover affective-motivational resources that were depleted while working.

Bosch, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2019). Should I Take a Break? A Daily Reconstruction Study on Predicting Micro-Breaks at Work. International Journal of Stress Management, 26(4), 378-388.
Categories
Productivity Sleep

No Time For Sleep!?

You’d Better Get Yourself Some

Boost your sleep, boost your productivity…

There are times in our life when we find that we have too much to do and something has to give. Until a few years ago, that something that gave was my sleep!

Play hard, work hard was my mantra, and I certainly did that! So whenever I had a tight deadline or too much to get done, I would just stay up and work late and then wake up early and continue where I left off.

This worked out great for a short while but came back to bite me in a big way later on. And I’m not unique it this respect. According to a number of studies, an increasing amount of us are getting less sleep now than we did 10 years ago.

Nobody knows why this is the case but we do know that the medium to short term effects on our lives personally, and the cost to society as a whole, are too high a price to pay.

Time To Get Ready, checking a watch during the evening
Photo by @chrisramsay.feedback via Twenty20

Duration and Quality Decrease

Compared to 2010, the odds of short sleep duration were statistically significantly higher in 2018 despite adjusting for demographic characteristics (25% higher) and occupational characteristics (22% higher). In 2018, the highest levels of short sleep duration were found for the following categories of jobs: protective service and military (50%), healthcare support occupations (45%), transport and material moving (41%), and production occupations (41%).

Khubchandani, J., & Price, J. (2020). Short Sleep Duration in Working American Adults, 2010–2018. /Journal of Community Health,/ /45(2),/ 219-227.

There’s no getting around it, we need enough good quality sleep; but the pressures of life, work and/or studying may all be contributing to us not getting the sleep that we need.

Research has found that there may be a link between stress and a decrease in the amount of hours that we spend sleeping. People suffering from stress often find it difficult to get to sleep, or discover that they often wake up during the night and by the time it gets to the morning, still feel tired.

Then there are those of us who, due to economic reasons, work late or night shifts. This is extremely difficult to do as we have to fighting against our own body clock, which is telling us to go to sleep. Once the night shift is finished, sleeping through the day may help catch up on some of our sleep, but the quality and quantity is often reduced, which often means returning to work not fully rested.

Risking Your Health

Almost a third of working adults in the U.S. get inadequate quantities of sleep. Most likely, those who work long hours, engage in changing shifts, or those in high stress professions that have minimal control over their work and life schedules are at risk of short sleep duration and the subsequent social, physical and mental health consequences of sleep problems.

Khubchandani, J., & Price, J. (2020). Short Sleep Duration in Working American Adults, 2010–2018. /Journal of Community Health,/ /45(2),/ 219-227.

By not getting enough sleep, you are putting your health and well being at risk. I know it’s difficult, and I used to just push through the tiredness to meet my deadlines, and because I did it often I thought I was doing well. It was only when colleagues pointed out that some of my work wasn’t up to my usual standard that I took a step back to see what was going on.

When you are stressed, tired and under pressure, it is easy to miss the tell tale signs that your body is giving you, trying to warn you that you need to stop and take a break.

Continuing to work when you’re not fully rested makes working more difficult and can be dangerous to you and potentially others. Tiredness often makes things worse as it impairs our ability to think clearly and slows down our cognitive abilities.

It’s logical to assume that if we can’t think as clearly as we can when we are fully awake, then our productivity will also suffer when we are tired. Tiredness also increases the likelihood that we will make more errors at work, which can be costly for our business or employer as well as to you.

The cost to your health cannot be overlooked. Just by not getting more than 7 hours of good quality sleep you are more likely to suffer from the following chronic diseases than those who sleep 7 hours or more (per 24 hour period):

What You Can Do

The simple answer, get more good quality sleep; but I know from personal experience that it’s not so straight forward. Work, study or life pressures make it difficult for us to do what we know is best for us.

So, what to do?

  • Sleep
    • Go to sleep and wake up at regular times
    • Don’t work past 9pm if you can
    • Avoid consuming caffeine past midday (or better yet, give it up)
    • Make your bedroom as dark as possible
    • Don’t read, watch tv or take gadgets to bed
    • Keep your bedroom as quiet as possible
    • Make sure you are cool in bed
  • Whilst Awake (during the day, usually)
    • Take regular nap breaks (but no more than 20 mins max)
    • Do more exercise during the day, (use at least two breaks a day for walking outside or stretching – even a 10 minute walk can help improve your sleep at night)
    • Keep yourself mentally active throughout the day (keep your mind busy and stimulated)
    • Eat healthier foods (fruits, vegetables, non processed meats, eggs, butter, etc) rather than processed foods with lots of sugar and salt added to them
    • Know when you are tired (it helps to head to bed when you are actually tired, rather than just because of a schedule. Also knowing when your tired throughout the day can help you time your nap breaks strategically, which in turn helps your focus and productivity – see what we say about this topic in the review)
  • Shift workers
    • Where possible, explain to your employer the benefits of a well rested employee and ask for more considerate shift planning (for example no back to back shift working – one week late shift, the next week early shift)
    • Have regular health checks to make sure that you’re not stressing your body to its limits and risking a chronic illness.

Review

It’s easy to overlook when we are tired and as a result put ourselves at risk from chronic diseases and mental health issues. Our health is primarily our responsibility and as a result, it would be wise for us to prioritise our sleep and exercise before our work (but this is easier said than done).

Which brings me to the issue of knowing when you are tired. We developed V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert(an Apple Watch app) to help you know when your tiredness levels are increasing so that you can take the appropriate actions necessary to either wake yourself up, or to take a break. V-CAF also links to your iPhone and iMac or Apple Laptop so that you can be notified when your alertness levels are dropping.

I hope that the points that have been highlighted in this post will be useful to you in your personal and professional life, if so, please comment below.

Thanks 🙂

Afterword

“Sleep is an investment in the energy you need to be effective tomorrow.”

Tom Roth, source: https://everydaypower.com/sleep-quotes/
Categories
Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Study Studying Tiredness

Do You Really Know When You Are Tired?

How Tired Are You Really?

You wake up, get ready for the day ahead, make it through the day and then finally back to bed. But how much thought do you give to whether or not you are fully refreshed after sleeping, and how that affects your waking hours?

It’s typical for people to have a coffee or some other stimulant to kick off the day, and then consume more caffeine throughout the day just to feel normal and to help you get through the difficult parts of the day; or to help your focus/alertness when tackling a particularly challenging problem.

Another strategy is just to power on through the tiredness just to get things done, which can be very frustrating and increase the difficulty levels by a factor of 10!

There is a relatively simple alternative to the above described approaches, but unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t even aware that they could benefit from using it. One reason may be that most of us don’t realise how tired we are and how our tiredness is affecting our effectiveness, health and sense of well being.

Check Yourself, checking v-caf on an apple watch
Photo by @criene via Twenty20

Unaware of Poor Sleep

How we spend our time is important. We cannot get a refund on our time and it’s the basis of how our economic system works. We exchange time for currency and exchange currency for things that save us time.

With that in mind it becomes a bit clearer as to why we are spending less time sleeping. Time spent working, or studying to improve our value to potential employers or customers is commonly understood as being time well spent. The increasing hours that we put into earning or potentially increasing our earning power equates to the possibility of less time spent working later. But nothing is without its cost.

The extra time and effort spent at work means less time spent on ourselves to do the things that we want to. Time spent with family, friends or in leisure is sacrificed for the greater good. But, with modern technologies such as the internet, social media and on demand streaming entertainment, it can appear to us that we have access to new leisure and communication avenues that make up for the old analogue ones that we lost.

These new pursuits can soak up our free time like a sponge to water, and before we know it we are going to bed later or not fully relaxed. We then sacrifice our sleep without even realising it and can do this for years.

Lifestyle factors such as excessive electronics use, smoking, alcohol consumption, and lack of physical activity contribute to low sleep duration.

Ojile, J. (2018). Everyone Sleeps!—(Poorly) or Not Enough: Sleep as a Priority and Vital Sign. American Journal of Health Promotion, 32(7), 1635-1639. source: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0890117118790621b

The Sleep Health Foundation lists some of the common reasons why people don’t sleep enough here, but here’s a summary of their main points:

  • Taking sleep for granted
  • Too much caffeine, alcohol and sleeping tablets
  • Shift work
  • Jet lag
  • Eating and drinking late
  • Failing to wind down before bed
  • Stress
  • Sleep disorders
  • Drug side effects

But these aren’t the only causes, just an example. The most important thing to take away is that most of us take our sleep for granted and don’t realise the effects on our ability to work efficiently and the effects on our health.

Health Implications

Good sleep allows us to recover physical and mental resources for the next day. Good sleep is needed for workers in any occupation…

LEE, S., GONZALEZ, B., & SMALL, B. (2020). My job impacts my sleep: signs and symptoms of insomnia among healthcare workers. Industrial Health,59(2),86-98. source: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/indhealth/59/2/59_2020-0191/_pdf

Although it is known that a good nights sleep improves our performance and feeling of contentment, by not being aware of our poor sleep hygiene habits we expose ourselves to a variety of chronic diseases:

  • Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Obesity
  • Depression

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into more detail on each point with regards to sleep and sleep disorders and can be found here CDC – Sleep and Chronic Disease – Sleep and Sleep Disorders.

So what are the tell tale signs that we may not have the best sleep hygiene habits?

  • Still feeling tired and unrested after waking up
  • Unable to fall asleep
  • Disturbed sleep or waking up regularly during the night
  • Stress and frustration during the day
  • Daytime tiredness
  • Inappropriate nodding off

Raising Awareness

The first and most practical thing that you can do is to get enough good quality sleep. Quality is as and may be more important than quantity for reducing the risk of tiredness during the day.

So how do you get good quality sleep? Joseph Ojile, MD, FCCP, DABSM suggests:

  • Keep a consistent bedtime, even on weekends.
  • Remove cell phones (tablets, TVs) in the bedroom.
  • Avoid caffeine after 4:00PM.
  • Don’t have nicotine or alcohol within 2 hours of bedtime.
  • Limit daytime naps to 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Consume only a very light snack before bed.
  • Get early morning sunlight.

    Ojile, J. (2018). Everyone Sleeps!—(Poorly) or Not Enough: Sleep as a Priority and Vital Sign. /American Journal of Health Promotion,/ /32(7),/ 1635-1639.

Review

Most people don’t know that they are tired and as a result struggle through the day, hoping that it goes quickly enough so that they don’t feel too drained to appreciate their leisure time.

As tends to be the case these days, quick fixes such as consuming stimulants to increase alertness is now normal, whilst going to bed at a regular time, exercising and eating healthy are seen as a chore.

However, through greater awareness of the risks to our health because of bad sleep hygiene, we can improve the likelihood of improving our quality of life.

Afterword

“Of course no general conclusion can be drawn from these limited data; but so far as their indication goes they tend to show that in the evaluation of sleep and its correlation with psycho-physical activities, barometric and environmental conditions, one of the prime considerations is the quality of sleep and not its amount. The amount is doubtless highly important when certain limits are transgressed, but within these limits we believe the central consideration is /quality/ and not /quantity/…”

Rowe, E. (1911). The hygiene of sleep. /Psychological Review,/ /18(6),/ 425-432.
Categories
Anxiety Productivity Tension

5 Hacks That Combat Work Related Stress.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Away from your desk…

Most businesses need to be profitable in order to survive. Whether we are an employee or self employed, the level of our productivity is either directly or indirectly linked to the ability of the business to create profits.

What this translates into in our real world experiences is that our productivity is more than likely being measured and assessed to calculate our effects on the bottom line.

Work performance measuring can lead to an increase in the amount of pressure that we feel which ultimately can have detrimental effects on our performance and therefore reduce our productivity levels.

In these challenging times there’s even more need for the worker to think out of the box and come up with solutions that will help restore their confidence in their ability to meet their work demands without harming their health and wellbeing.

Loss of Productivity

Scores from PSS (Perceived Stress Scale) and the HWQ (Health and Work Questionnaire), appeared to be inversely correlated; higher stress scores were associated significantly with lower productivity scores.
This negative association was… especially strong for work satisfaction.

Bui, T., Zackula, R., Dugan, K., & Ablah, E. (2021). Workplace Stress and Productivity: A Cross-Sectional Study.Kansas Journal of Medicine,14,42-45.

It can seem to come from nowhere. You’ve been focused on your work and getting things done, but for some reason you either seem unable to produce anything or the quality of your work is far less than you expect from yourself. How did that happen?

Work pressure usually doesn’t hit you all at once, but gradually. Work deadlines, heavy workloads and performance targets all take their toll. There’s also your life outside of work, which may also indirectly contribute to your work pressure.

And then there’s the fact that everybody’s response to pressure at work is different. What you may perceive as a challenge may be perceived by a colleague as a major stressor. It’s telling, when even the scientific and legal arenas can’t even agree on what stress is and how to legally define it.

Regardless of the debate on what is or is not stressful, your lack of productivity can itself be a major cause of stress which further compounds the problem.

 

Stress

Although it’s difficult to define a universal definition of what stress is or isn’t, there are signs that you should be aware of that can help you determine whether or not you or someone you know are stressed. By being able to identify these signs, you can help relieve the pressure by taking the necessary steps to correct the situation. We built V-CAF precisely for this reason.

Not all of the signs are in of themselves confirmation of stress, but if your productivity is falling and the symptoms appear regularly, then they may be good indicators that you need to take a step back and contemplate what you observe, and possibly consult your medical advisor.

Some of the physical signs of stress include but are not limited to:

  • Fatigue
  • Tension headaches
  • Stomach problems
  • Backpain
  • High blood pressure and
  • Sweaty palms

Non physical signs include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Helplessness
  • Depression
  • Frustration
  • Indecisiveness
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Behaving out of character

During difficult social, political and economic times, it can be hard to ask for help, but where possible, speak to your counsellor or medical advisor, (or even someone you can trust). Ignoring the situation doesn’t help and exposure to persistent stressful environments can have both negative shot and long term effects on your health.

Strategies

By acknowledging that you are stressed, you have taken a very big step in the right direction to address the issue. The next step is to speak with your boss/manager and discuss the issues that are causing you stress. This isn’t always possible (especially if your boss isn’t known for being understanding, or if you work for yourself), so the next best thing is to take steps that will help you relieve the pressure you feel at work. (I would also state that if your employer doesn’t display any empathy towards the situation, that it might be a sign to start looking for a new job. You only live once, and being in a miserable work environment not only affects you, but your work colleagues, friends and family, let alone the damage you are doing to your self esteem and health).

So, in no particular order of relevance, here is a list of 5 things that you can do to help relieve stress at work:

  • Prevention
    Understand and know what causes you to be stressed. Write them down, make a list and then list the things that you can do to avoid meeting these situations when you are at work.
    Also have a backup plan for when you do meet them (which will happen once in a while). If you are stuck keep reading on and use some the tactics outline below to help construct your plan.
  • Exercise
    One of the most overlooked stress busting tools available to us all is exercise. A build up of tension usually accompanies stress. By exercising, we help to release tension in our body. And it doesn’t have to be a full body workout either (although those help too). A 10 to 25 minute brisk walk is just enough effort to get your heart pumping harder, and you breathing in deeper to make a difference.
  • Eat well
    Reduce or avoid eating processed foods where possible and eat good whole foods. The general rule of thumb is that if it walks, flies, crawls or grows from the earth, and doesn’t have heaps of processed ingredients added to them, then you’re good to go.
    So why not processed foods? Processed foods contain a lot of refined sugar which spikes your insulin levels causing you to have “sugar highs” and crashes throughout the day, making it more difficult for you to concentrate on your work.
  • Good quality sleep
    Make sure you get enough sleep every night, of the highest quality. How do you do that? Eat well, exercise and go to bed at regular times daily. Also make sure you’re not overly warm and avoid alcohol.
  • Avoid alcohol
    Yep. I mentioned it before and I’ll mention it again. Although not harmful in moderation, alcohol interferes with your sleeping pattern and the following hangover does nothing for your concentration and productivity levels. Even a relatively small amount of alcohol consumed the night before can have adverse effects on your productivity the next day.
  • Manage workload
    List and prioritise the work that needs to be completed, for the week, day and in some cases by the hour. Discuss this with work colleagues and your boss so that you can organise your work in such a way as to eliminate any bottlenecks that can lead to frustration.
    Using process like Scrum, Agile and Kanban can help improve both individual and team productivity in a more efficient and stress free manner. I’ve used (and still use) all of them in varying degrees and find that without them work would be very difficult.
  • Take regular breaks away from your workplace
    The usual mantra of this blog, and for good reason too. Taking a break away from your desk (by going for a walk, or meditation , and taking a nap), can actually increase your focussing and memory powers. Don’t just keep pushing on forward regardless, take the time to be nice to yourself and then come back to your work. I get tunnel vision whilst at work and get very frustrated when working whilst being tired and don’t realise it. Tools such as V-CAF help by notifying you when your alertness levels drop, to take a break.
  • Positive outlook
    Difficult to do in the moment when you are stressed, but keeping a positive frame of mind helps you to overcome the stress that you will inevitably experience. This is why in point one (Prevention) we said that you should write down what to do if you find yourself in a stressful situation. If you have this you can be reminded to be positive because you have the answer and know what to do. Plus being prepared helps you to have a positive outlook as you consciously know that you have a plan.

Review

I can’t count it seems. But I hope that you take heed of my advice and also go and do some more research for yourself and experiment with what works for you.

If you are stressed and feel too overwhelmed to cope, make a point of scheduling an appointment with your doctor or medical advisor immediately, as it may be a sign of something more serious.

Finally I leave you with the list of the main points outlined in this post.

  • Prevention
  • Exercise
  • Eat well
  • Good quality sleep
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Manage workload
  • Take regular breaks away from your workplace
  • Positive outlook

Afterword

“ Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. ”

Epictetus, source: Daily Stoic
Categories
Focus Productivity

How Do You Become More Focused And Productive?

Start By Getting Out More

Small steps, one after the other…

Being focused and being productive go hand in hand, so when people’s productivity begins to wane it usually has something to do with losing focus. Unfortunately these days it’s very easy to be distracted as there are a myriad of ways to unintentionally reduce our levels of concentration.

Social media and smart phones are the usual suspects that routinely get blamed for the apparent decrease in attention spans and there is a lot of research that seems to validate this point. But if this is the case then why do people who don’t use smart phones regularly also find it difficult to focus?

On a surface level it makes sense to blame this lack of attention on our digital gadgets, but looking deeper into how to increase one’s concentration skills I found that there’s more to it than just packing away your smart phone.

Get With It And Get Out
Photo by @kristin12 via Twenty20

The Blame Game

Doing a search for “smart phones attention span” brings back a lot of headlines that imply that our smart phone usage is responsible for the decrease in people’s ability to focus as well as they used to.

As a result, parents, teachers and some employers restrict the use of smart phones in an attempt to stop the apparent rise in the loss of focus and concentration skills.

However, anecdotally I’ve found that these measures don’t help but can actually make things worse. Rather than turning focus onto a particular activity, restricting phone usage can make people focus on the fact that they don’t have access to their device and make it harder for them to concentrate.

Then there’s the fact that some smart phone usage can actually help productivity. In my case, I listen to music or binaural beats which help me from time to time to zone out and concentrate on what I’m doing.

Listening to binaural beats has been found to have real benefits for increased focus, attention, cognition and memory. You can find binaural beats playlists for productivity on Spotify or YouTube. Binaural beats require headphones because the frequency is created from a difference in inputs between your ears.

Serena Poon, Leveraging Mindful Practices To Maximize Productivity

 

Not Paying Attention

Also note that people that are “glued to their phones” seem to be very focused on whatever they are doing on their devices. It’s common to see people fully engrossed in activities on their devices, to the point that they can forget that other people are around them.

Clearly this doesn’t sit well with the view that people are distracted and have shorter attention spans, if the same said users spend a lot of time using their devices. So is the problem the gadgets and the apps running on them or is it something else?

To improve our focus and productivity we have to then figure out what it means to lose our ability to concentrate. Classic signs include:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Increased fidgeting
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Being unable to complete tasks
  • Carelessness
  • Unable to think clearly

By noticing how addicted someone is to their devices is missing the point of what is causing a loss of focus and therefore productivity. Although excessive interaction with smart phones may be part of the problem, it is not “the root” problem.

Although I haven’t found any research papers that prove this hypothesis directly, there may be a link between the rise of sleep disorders and anxiety with the loss of concentration and the reduction in productivity levels.

In fact, in earlier blog posts we highlight how being tired robs you of achieving your optimal levels and the cost of sleep disorders for an economy.

“ Insomnia may be responsible for over $63 billion in absenteeism and presenteeism, and accidents and errors by people suffering from insomnia may result in an additional $31 billion lost annually. A recent report estimates that undiagnosed sleep apnea in the U.S. costs society $150 billion each year. The RAND Corporation has estimated that collectively, costs attributable to sleep deficiency in the U.S. exceeded $410 billion dollars in 2015, equivalent to 2.28% of gross domestic product.”

Calculating the Cost of Poor Sleep – Methodology, Nation Safety Council

Reversing The Trend

There are a lot of recommendations on what society and legislators should do to combat this problem, but thankfully you don’t have to wait for them to get around to solving this issue.

As a responsible individual you can implement some very straightforward lifestyle changes that eventually will increase your ability to focus and hopefully get you back on track.

  • Work with your circadian rhythm
    Sounds complicated but it’s not. Make sure you get to bed to give yourself enough time to rest and have a deep sleep. In general your body starts to slow down between 9pm and 11pm. Get to bed between those hours and by 2am – 3am your body should be in the quality deep part of sleep (REM or rapid eye movement). From 7am – 8am your body starts to wake up and get ready for the day. By making you bed and wake up times routine, you train your body to get the most out of your nights sleep.
  • Get outside more
    Get as much daylight as is possible throughout the day. This helps your body to realise that you are awake and active (especially if you are moving or exercising) and helps you to sleep better throughout the night, as well as giving your body enough time to generate vitamin D directly from the sun.
  • Avoid stimulants as much as possible
    Make a point of avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol as although they may give you a temporary boost, in the long term they are detrimental to your concentration and productivity levels.

Review

Finally to answer the question of this post, to be more focused and productive, eat well, sleep better and get outside more.

Afterword

“Go outside. Don’t tell anyone and don’t bring your phone. Start walking and keep walking until you no longer know the road like the palm of your hand, because we walk the same roads day in and day out, to the bus and back home and we cease to see. We walk in our sleep and teach our muscles to work without thinking and I dare you to walk where you have not yet walked and I dare you to notice. Don’t try to get anything out of it, because you won’t. Don’t try to make use of it, because you can’t. And that’s the point. Just walk, see, sit down if you like. And be. Just be, whatever you are with whatever you have, and realise that that is enough to be happy.
There’s a whole world out there, right outside your window. You’d be a fool to miss it.”

Charlotte Eriksson, You’re Doing Just Fine .

Categories
Lethargy Productivity Studying Tension

Get Yourself Together

Take a step back and see where you are

One step back…

Unfortunately there are times in our lives when we just feel overwhelmed and find it difficult to sort out what we should be doing. No clear path to the road of order presents itself and we can be left a little befuddled.

At the same time it’s not uncommon to find ourselves being pulled in many different directions, all as important as the other, whether it be study life, work life balance issues or family. It easy in hindsight to realise that you should take a step back and take some time to assess where you are and what you should do, but when you’re deep in the thick of it, nothing looks straightforward.

But we shouldn’t fret as there are things that we can do to help lift the fog and clear the way for us to get back on track, so let’s dive in and figure them out.

Get Yourself Together
Photo by @kristin12 via Twenty20

The Descending Mist

Another assumption within the Effort-Reward Imbalance model points to over-commitment leading to sustained stress reactions…

Over-committed people exaggerate their efforts beyond levels usually considered appropriate, a behaviour also discussed in the personality-centred approaches of burnout.

Jenull, B., & Wiedermann, W. (2015). The Different Facets of Work Stress. /Journal of Applied Gerontology,/ /34(7),/ 823-843.

Loosing track of where you are is easy to do. The way that we work and/or study tends to encourage us to have tunnel vision and focus exclusively on what we have to do; and working this way helps to get things done.

However, these days we are increasingly finding ourselves having to multitask or focus on multiple things at once, just to keep up with the ever increasing demands for more productivity, better grades, or moving up the corporate or social ladder.

In addition, it can be very difficult to say no to the increased workloads as we may feel that this would affect our chances of promotion or put us at a disadvantage to our competition.

As the pressure builds we try to put more effort in and double down on a failing strategy unable to clearly see a way out of this mess. All we can do at this point is hope that our efforts are not in vain and that eventually we’ll make it through.

 

No Clear Way Out

However, before we know it, we are swamped with things to do and don’t have enough time or energy to get them done, with no clear way out of the mess we find ourselves in.

It’s at this point when we can find ourselves in a “danger zone” without even realising it; by unintentionally placing excessive pressure and demands on ourselves, we are actually stressing ourselves out and find that even the simplest things can overwhelm us.

And as I stated earlier, because we are so focussed on getting through what needs to be done, we can overlook some of the tell tale signs that tell us we are stressed and therefore miss an opportunity to take the appropriate actions needed to relieve the pressure. Some of these indicators include:

  • Feeling tense
  • Increased anger and/or frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Low morale
  • Decrease in productivity
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Disturbed or impaired sleep
  • Increased consumption of stimulants (caffeine or alcohol for example)
  • Over eating

Clarity

Now that we have made the link between feeling overwhelmed and stress and the negative effects that being stressed can have on your health and quality of life, what can we do to reduce or even better prevent the build up of stress in our lives?

  • Work / Study for reasonable hours
    It’s tempting to put in more hours in “the grind” trying to get things done than is actually possible, so set a target for your productive times during a stint and divide your day into productive things to be done and other tasks that need to be done.
    This leads me onto a side issue that has been in the software development world for years regarding how many hours per day you are actually doing productive work vs. meetings and non productive work. There are those among us (me being one of them) that believe that at best you can’t get more than five hours of truly productive work consistently per day. There are exceptions, but they don’t tend to last so long. In fact there’s a post by Joel Spolsky from 2002 where he mentions:

“What drives me crazy is that ever since my first job I’ve realized that as a developer, I usually average about two or three hours a day of productive coding. When I had a summer internship at Microsoft, a fellow intern told me he was actually only going into work from 12 to 5 every day. Five hours, minus lunch, and his team /loved/ him because he still managed to get a lot more done than average. I’ve found the same thing to be true.”

Joel Spolsky, founder of Trello, and Glitch, CEO of Stack Overflow from 2010-2019, Fire And Motion – Joel on Software

Please note I’m not saying that you should only work 4 or 5 hours a day, but rather that you should work out what works for you and get the majority of what needs to be done in that time. Throwing more hours at a problem usually doesn’t solve it!

  • Keep Family/Friends time or down time sacred
    Don’t sacrifice time for yourself and/or family and friends (or if you feel you have to, keep it at a minimum). To increase the quality (and perhaps quantity) of your life, a balanced work / social life is key. Although family and friends time can have their own stresses, the act of taking time out from an area and spending it in another can be all that is needed to lift our spirits (think, a change is as good as a rest).
  • Manage your workloads
    As with making sure you work within reasonable hours, managing your work takes it one step further. Make it a point to as best as you can organise the work that needs to be done, and where possible try not to overlap two or three demanding tasks with each other. If your work loads are out of your control, let your employer or manager know that it might be better to reorganise your workload so that you can be more productive. If you don’t ask you don’t get, so why not mention it to them (they’re human too).
  • Value yourself and the work/studying that you do
    By taking the time to truly know and appreciate yourself you’ll be less likely to abuse yourself with unreasonable demands and will eventually appreciate that your efforts are valuable. Doing this will eventually increase the quality of your output and productivity because you now work with value and purpose, which in turn will reduce the stress that you feel as you’ll be enjoying what you are doing.

Review

In summary, get yourself together by reducing the amount of stress that you subject yourself to. This starts by changing your attitude towards yourself and the things that you have to do. Taking the time to organise yourself to make this happen is your responsibility and ultimately you get the reward for the effort that you put in.

Just don’t stress about it 😉

Afterword

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.”

Cooper, C. (2003). Stress prevention in the police. /Occupational Medicine,/ /53(4),/ 244-245.

Categories
Caffeine Energy Focus Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

Virtual Caffeine For Your Apple Watch

V-CAF The Game Changer

Take a chance, change your life

There are moments in everyone’s life that are so profound that they can change your life for the better (or worse). When looking back at these points in time it may be easier to see that it was rarely just the moment, but the things that lead up to and after the moment that shape how we perceive these life changing events.

Take for example the first time I heard that Apple were going to make a smart watch. I had an iPhone and a MacBook Pro and didn’t see any reason why I should get one. “Just another gadget” I thought.

But then a trip to New York changed my mind about smart watches…

Before We Set Off

As usual work loads were heavy and time was against me. It was also a very hot summer and people’s tempers were short. I planned to stay home this vacation as it was too exhausting to think about and arranging a trip anywhere.

But then I saw a 4K video of a guy walking around Manhattan which got me thinking. It was just the start of summer so I thought that everything must surely be fully booked.

Then at work I was informed that mandatory holidays had to be taken, it’s now or never I thought, and the next thing I knew the family and I were on a plane to New York.

But What’s It For

New York is an impressive city. A bit too big for my liking but it was a nice change compared to where we were coming from. The sights, sounds and people were all amazing.

The trip also overlapped with my birthday, so my children were trying to figure out what to get me. After some discussion they decided to get me an Apple Watch and told me about it to see what my reaction would be.

At first I argued what the point of it would be as I have an iPhone and a watch already. Isn’t it just going to be more of the same but not as good as either, I asked.

Thankfully, my children don’t listen to me and got me my first Apple Watch. At first I didn’t know what to do with it apart from wear it as a watch. I read some reviews and articles about what apps to get and what could be done with it but didn’t see much there that I was interested in. By the second day of wearing the thing, I found myself modifying all sorts of settings that would help with exercise and concentration.

At the end of the first week I was hooked.

Virtual Caffeine

So it’s about three weeks after our trip and I’m exercising more, getting better sleep and organised almost all aspects of my life via my Apple Watch.

I’m sitting at my desk feeling tired and I colleague tells me that my boss needs to see me. When I see the big man, he tells me that I need a coffee and not to fall asleep at my desk.

It’s at this point that Virtual Caffeine or V-CAF is born. I tell another colleague about it and then we decide to build it and see if we can help people like us who may get tired whilst they are busy from time to time, people that need to stay alert and those of us that don’t want to use caffeine to perk us up throughout the day.

Since then I haven’t looked back.

To Sum Up

An unlikely combination of events can indeed change your life for the better, but you have to be open to them. Thankfully I had my children to push me in a direction that I didn’t know would lead me to help people all over the world.

If you don’t have a smart watch, I would highly recommend that you get one. And if you have an Apple Watch get V-CAF. It may help you just as much as it’s helped others and me.

Afterword

“Sometimes the slightest things change the directions of our lives, the merest breath of a circumstance, a random moment that connects like a meteorite striking the earth. Lives have swivelled and changed direction on the strength of a chance remark.”

Bryce Courtenay