Categories
Energy Productivity Sleep Sleepiness

Feeling Sleepy?

Pay Down Your Sleep Debt

It pays better terms of interest…

Over the last few weeks I’d been feeling rather sleepy and put it down to the weather and it being the towards the end of the year. Work wasn’t particularly busy and hadn’t been out on the town for a while.

I then tried experimenting with my daily processes such as my nap lengths, when and what I ate and my exercise routines but I didn’t notice any change in my general feeling of being tired and sleepy.

Reluctantly, I thought I’d better make an appointment to see the doctor to see if there was anything interfering with my health, but before I did, luckily I stumbled upon a solution that worked, and was so simple I felt like “Duh! Why didn’t you try that sooner!”

Sleepy
Photo by @splack112 via Twenty20

Sleep Debt

I’m not the only one guilty of this. During busy and/or stressful times something has to give, and one of the easier things to lose track of is the amount and quality of your sleep.

As usual before this recent down time I was extremely busy in my personal and professional life, and going all in to sort things out and get things done.

Even though I stuck to my pattern of working until my alertness levels dropped and took short nap breaks, I missed the most obvious thing, that the quality and quantity of my sleep was slipping.

What Gives

Although I thought that I was on top of things, all my energy and focus was being spent on things outside of my being, at the expense of my health.

With hindsight it’s easy to look back and say what you should’ve done, but in the moment you can miss that the actions you take at that moment can directly affect your future, either positively or negatively.

Within a few days of finishing that last round of busyness I found myself feeling restless and needing something to do. This was the point where I should have kicked back and got my sleep back in check.

Instead I decided to catch up on things that I felt I missed out on and the not so fun things that had been neglected. As a result I found myself not only not catching up on my sleep, but also cutting into it as well!

My sleep debt was at all time highs! How could I tell? Simply by noticing how tired I was.

Sleep Strategies

As soon as I realised that I’d overlooked the obvious I got to work on finding ways to solve this problem.

I didn’t want this to be too complicated and take lots of effort, so I decided to keep things as simple as possible.

Funnily enough this was so simple and enjoyable I’ve made it part of my “debriefing” process after a hard stint.

  • Going to Bed When I’m tired
    Elsewhere in the blog I’ve stressed the point about going to bed at a regular time so that your body naturally starts to prepare for sleep without any conscious effort on your part. Apps like Pillow and Apple’s Sleep remind you to get to bed at a particular time. But sometimes I ain’t tired at a specific time so it becomes a bit of a chore.
    By going to bed when I’m really tired, I let my body and not the clock dictate when I should go to bed.
  • Waking Up After a Full Nights Sleep
    I like most have a morning routine that doesn’t allow for this one so much, but I’ve found that if I go to bed when I’m tired I naturally get roughly 7-8 hours sleep. So if I’m feeling tired between 10pm – 11pm I would wake up naturally between 6am and 8am.
    This has helped me get back into the flow quicker and I’ve felt that I’ve fell back into my usual sleep routine and feel much more alert faster than I’ve done in the past.
  • Cut Back on Napping
    Napping has been my latest productivity hack, so I was a bit reluctant to give it up in any way. But by reducing my napping to 10 minutes and only having a maximum of two a day whilst I was in recharging mode, helped me to feel naturally more tired earlier in the evening, which helped me to spend more time asleep and paying down my sleep debt.

Just remember that I did this during my down time from being busy. It’s a lot harder to do when you’re busy, so to get the best results plan accordingly.

Recap

So there you have it. Simple and effective and actually quite enjoyable once you get into the flow.

Since trying out this protocol my mood has picked up and I feel human again 😉

The only hard thing about this is to use it during the relatively calmer periods of your life after you’ve had a very hectic prolonged schedule.

  • Go to bed when tired (our app V-CAF can help with that, it notifies you when you are tired and losing focus)
  • Waking Up After a Full Nights Sleep
  • Cut Back on Napping

Afterword

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”

Irish Proverb
Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Studying Tiredness

How to Optimise Your Breaks

Feel Better, Get Better Results

Work to your strengths…

Lately I’ve been researching techniques that would help boost my productivity levels but found that I was doing most of the things that the experts recommended.

Now I’m not saying that my productivity levels are low or that they are extremely high, but I wanted to see if there were any efficiencies that I was overlooking that would give me an above average boost compared to the cost of implementing the said efficiency.

And it turns out there was and I was using it already whilst doing this research! So as usual, I’ll outline what it is and how I managed to get that extra boost whilst incorporating it in my existing processes.

Optimize Your Breaks
Photo by @daphneemarie via Twenty20

Hit and Miss

Putting a lot more effort into what you are doing, focussing more, working long hours, these are the usual approaches that many take when trying to improve their performance and increase their output.

Caffeine pills, coffee and energy drinks for others are the “common sense” performance enhancers that have ben used for centuries and people swear by them.

Then there are the many productivity methodologies that essentially get you to plan the work that you are going to do and then systematically work through the list.

But with all these approaches after the initial jump in performance things can start to peter out and productivity can be even worse than before.

Diminishing Returns

All of the above mentioned approaches work, but all have the problem of diminishing results after a period of time, some earlier than others. So let’s identify the problems with each approach, which will then point us in the right direction towards a possible solution.

  • More Effort
    Putting in more effort in the short term can work well, like sprinting towards the finish line in the last few meters of a race. The problem with this approach is that its usually unsustainable. Continuously pushing yourself to your limits inevitably leads to you hitting a wall and becoming burnt out.
  • Stimulants
    For a quick no frills boost then caffeine is the legal stimulant champion. But like all drugs, your tolerance levels increase leading you to need higher levels of caffeine just to get to similar results of alertness as you did when you started using caffeine (and for some people I know, just to feel normal, which is due to the withdrawal symptoms, but that’s for another blog post).
  • Productivity Systems
    Work very well, but people tend to get caught up in the process rather than the actual work that needs to be done. But because you can show a list of tasks and objectives that are met for the day/week/month or cycle you can unconsciously delude yourself into thinking that you are very productive when in fact your productivity is actually based on gaming the system.

Optimisation

So now we have identified the problem, what’s the solution? It’s quite simply to take breaks at the right time. And when you take breaks at the right time whilst using the aforementioned approaches, you’ll find that suddenly things are not such a drag anymore.

Here are the same approaches modified with a few examples of using them whilst taking well timed breaks.

  • More Effort
    By taking well timed breaks throughout the day you give yourself a chance to rest and recoup a little before going back at it.
  • Stimulants
    If you find it too difficult to break the caffeine habit or want an alternative, start by not drinking any caffeine after lunch and as you feel tired throughout the day take a few more 10 min breaks. If you can get a quick nap in (no more than 20 mins), and aim to get to bed by 10pm latest (at least until your current workload isn’t so heavy).
  • Productivity Systems
    The Pomodoro technique mandates that a break should be taken every 20 to 25 minutes throughout your planned day. The problem I’ve found is that more often than not, once I start working I get into the flow and then my focus get’s broken. So I find myself ignoring the timer and continuing to work. But with a flexible timing method things get easier.

And here’s the thing, recently whilst doing some research on this very topic, I found that I when I took breaks (with 10 – 20 minute naps, where possible) when I needed them, as compared to not taking breaks or having set times for breaks, I was able to complete my work faster, with less mistakes and not feeling so drained.

Recap

But, there’s one thing I left out. I cheated. Most people don’t realise when they are tired and because of this many of us work until we become over tired, and that’s the time when people reach for a coffee, feeling miserable and fatigued.

But I however had the advantage of knowing about and using our app V-CAF to alert me when my alertness levels started dropping. I have a vested interest to say this, but it’s true, it worked!

The more I use the app the more I appreciate how my colleague and I felt when we decided to start this blog and build the app, first of all to help us with a need that we had, and then to help other people avoid some of the issues that we’d experienced around caffeine, tiredness and a lack of productivity.

Afterword

“The challenge is to continue the spread of information regarding the wealth of benefits of napping to combat the numerous physical, mental, and financial consequences of fatigue”

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

Power Napper?

Fast Recharge

Super Booster

You may have noticed that we are living in an age of abundance. Never before has it been so easy for people to pass information between each other at such great distances and across multiple timezones.

Depending on where you live there is an abundance of choices on the types of food, clothing and entertainment that you can consume. Even the choices that we can make regarding what we do to make a living have increased (although this too is also changing, but that’s another topic).

But this abundance comes at the cost of something that we humans have been taking for granted since the industrial revolution. Something that is so fundamental to our health and wellbeing that not getting enough of it can be disastrous to ourselves and those around us.

Power Napper
Photo by @readart via Twenty20

Devalued

Sleeps importance has been downplayed for a while now. Popular culture praises those that are willing to sacrifice their sleep in order to make it to the top.

Do a search in your favourite search engine to find “famous people who claim that they only sleep for four hours or less” to find endless results of people that “…all have one thing in common. They sleep less and are all successful in life.”, (an actual quote from one of the results I got back)!

The countless lists of CEOs of the biggest corporations that appear to devalue sleep is also reflected in books and articles detailing how they got to the top with little to no sleep.

Even CEOs of companies that apparently allow for their staff to be able to take a nap at work, don’t do that themselves.

 

Looking the Part

Not surprisingly those that do take a nap at work or nod off whilst working are seen as being lazy or not up to the task. Add to the fact that no one wants to be seen as the slacker, so will happily point to those that appear to be slacking off so as to look more favourable to the boss.

This attitude to tiredness is dangerous and especially so for those that operate heavy machinery or drive for long hours. In an attempt to make deadlines or quotas, people are putting their life and the lives of others at risk.

If you’re feeling tired at work or whilst studying and someone notices, you may have been offered a coffee or told to have a coffee break. Coffee, or caffeine may make you feel more alert in the short term, but you body is actually telling you that you need to stop.

Many of us feel tired in the afternoon, and that’s not just because we’ve had a big lunch. Our circadian cycle typically alerts us that we are starting to slow down and so sleepiness increases. But instead of listening to the warning we reach for a coffee or caffeinated beverages (or caffeine pills, chocolate), to perk ourselves up.

Reclaiming Ourselves

But there is an alternative; having a 10 to 20 minute nap. Instead of taking a coffee break, if possible, find somewhere quiet and take a nap. In the past I’ve used libraries, quiet coffee shops, or during the summer, a green space in a park, to take a nap.

Many researchers are now finding the benefits of a 10 to 20 minute nap may help boost productivity and possibly increase companies revenues.

“During an average work afternoon, a disproportion of the circadian alerting signal to the rising homeostatic sleep pressure occurs, resulting in increased sleepiness and reduced alertness. These factors, along with other impacted cognitive and emotional performance metrics, result in decreased productivity. There is a wealth of evidence that brief daytime naps of 10-20 minutes decrease subjective sleepiness, increase objective alertness, and improve cognitive performance. Daytime napping facilitates creative problem solving and logical reasoning, boosts the capacity for future learning, and consolidates memories. These benefits are not restricted to those experiencing sleep deprivation. Even in well-rested individuals, napping can enhance alertness, performance, and productivity for several hours. Daytime naps also allow for the regulation of emotions, relieve stress, and strengthen immune system function, reducing levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine and normalising levels of interleukin-6 an immune-regulating molecule. Taken together, allowing time to nap during the workday and reap the collective benefits will result in greater productivity and quality output rather than simply pushing through the fatigue, producing sub-standard work.”

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

Review

I know it’s difficult to take a nap during the day whilst at work or studying, but there are ways around it. Like me, you can find places outside of work to take a nap. If not, then unfortunately it will have to be your car, or book a meeting room for 15 mins and put your head down on the desk.

If you want to boost your productivity then an afternoon nap is well worth it! Napping:

  • Decreases subjective sleepiness
  • Increases objective alertness
  • Improves cognitive performance
  • Facilitates creative problem solving and logical reasoning
  • Boosts the capacity for future learning
  • And enhances productivity for several hours

Afterword

Life is not all about productivity and study. You have to look after your health. Napping is valuable and a great protector of your health:

  • Daytime naps allow for the regulation of emotions
  • Relieve stress
  • Strengthens immune system functioning
  • Reduces levels of the stress hormone norepinephrine
  • And normalises levels of interleukin-6 an immune-regulating molecule
Categories
Focus Productivity

Best Practices for Effective Remote Working

Best Practices for Effective Remote Working

Guest Post By Earnin

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

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

A New Set of Challenges and Opportunities

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

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

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

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

Best Practices

For the Company

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

For Teams

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

For Individuals

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

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

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

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

This article originally appeared on Earnin.

Categories
Energy Focus Productivity Staying Awake

Are the Stairs for Going Up or Down?

“It’s not the Destination, It’s the journey.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The title may seem nonsensical but does anything make sense right now? An escalator leaves no choice regarding direction but with stairs – you get to choose. Dah dah! Finished. No six minute read here but are we finished?

By finished, I’m not referring to the current situation, which at the moment on any media platform you like seems to indicate that life as we know it has long gone and we should wait with a mask to soften our humanoid features, so as not to scare any aliens that arrive with a vaccine. Deep breath and no.

But What If..?

Anecdotes like “chin up” and “best foot forward” failed as soon as our chins had to be covered as we went around in measured steps. As we go from A to B with justification needed for C, it can be easy to not only long for things to go back to your normal but even worse, imagine how things would have been. This is where the real torture lies for most of us and it can be a union of extremes. Firstly, we were in such a great place in our lives (really?) and about to turn the corner into a wonderful life and now it’s completely ruined with one problem after another. Ok – so the last part might be OTT but look me in the eye and tell me, you haven’t had that thought but with different words? It isn’t a few of us, either! 

Keeping Up Appearances

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-motivation has been something of a crash course this year with a much clearer appreciation for pyjama days as a rarity. On the bright side, we had time to do all the things we said we would do when we had time. Thumbs up emoji from everyone when you said you were going to do it but the next part; doing has not been easy. Shiny achievers beamed with new skills and we felt pleased for them with a tinge of guilt/shame/jealousy. If you paused to chose between the three emotions, better to be human and accept that all three were in there somewhere.

Do You!

By now I could have added ‘ten ways to….. or perhaps five tips to……. ‘. 

You’d probably fall asleep to the sound of advice and wake up to it but this is no time to have an aversion to advice, as if you’re some kind of president! Remember that random question at the top of the page?

Are the stairs for going up or down? Of course, the stairs are not the determining factor – you are. It really doesn’t matter where you are in terms of goals, ambitions, new skills (ouch) all that matters is now – well I can’t put it any clearer than Eckhart Tolle! So, about those stairs? What can you see from there?

Categories
Productivity Sleep

Is Your Lack of Productivity Due to Disturbed Sleep?

Where’s the Productivity Gone?

The same place you left your sleep…

Are you having difficulty getting motivated to work or finding it hard to complete assignments, but can’t figure out why?

I’ve been struggling with this issue recently and was at a loss to figure out why this was the case and came across a fantastic book by Alan Derikson called Dangerously Sleepy: Overworked Americans and the Cult of Manly Wakefulness.

The book highlights how being overworked became accepted as part of the American way over the last two centuries and the effects this way of thinking has had on society and individuals.

What caught my eye was the role that disturbed sleep had on those steel workers of the early 1900s, and how it led to a lack of productivity, a lower quality of life, a dangerous work environment and death.

Although not on the level of those workers, the book helped me identify what was bringing down my productivity levels and even affecting my mood. The aim of this post is to help you identify if disturbed sleep is having a negative effect on your productivity and what you can do to correct things.

Work and Overworking

Work pressure is bad enough during the good times, but an economic crisis takes it to a whole other level. Worries about keeping your job (if you are employed), or keeping the business running (if you’re an employer) causes a lot of people to work harder and longer to help try secure their positions.

Students don’t get off scott free either. The worry about passing exams or making the grade can be equally stressful, especially when wondering how you are going to find work after completing your formal education.

And let’s not forget those of us unfortunate to have lost our incomes and are struggling to find ways to make ends meet.

Whatever the case may be, you can bet that a good nights sleep will be one of the first things to go. Working harder (by taking a second job, or working longer hours), is the default go to when the financial outlook looks bleak.

 

Sleep Disturbance

Unfortunately, this may not give us the results that we’re hoping for. Taking shift workers as an example, due to their work patterns not being in sync with their body’s circadian rhythm tend to suffer from:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • gastrointestinal disease
  • increased accident risk
  • increased disturbed sleep
  • and increased fatigue

The two last points also have the added risk of increasing depression and reducing work performance.

Irregular work hours seem to exert strong, acute effects on sleep and alertness in relation to night and morning work. The effects seem, however, to linger, and also affect days off. The level of the disturbances is similar to that seen in clinical insomnia, and may be responsible for considerable human and economic costs due to fatigue related accidents and reduced productivity.

Åkerstedt, Torbjörn. “Shift work and disturbed sleep/wakefulness.” /Occupational Medicine/ 53.2 (2003): 89-94.

Sleep Better, Work Better

There is hope, but as usual it means some work on our side. Although difficult, prioritising a good nights rest is important if we want to overcome any of the difficulties that we currently face. There are no if, buts or maybes when it comes to our health and our ability to overcome the stresses of daily life.

  • Make sleep a priority
    We’ve outlined the downsides of not doing so above, so to get good results, do the opposite to what you have been up until now. Discipline yourself to get 7-9 hours of sleep every day. There are no short cuts for this. To help, follow your body’s circadian rhythm and head to bed between 9pm and 10pm. If you are working shift work, make sure that when you get home that you sleep in a darkened room and let your household know that they have to be quiet during your sleeping hours, or buy yourself a good quality pair of ear plugs. Ultimately, if you can avoid night shifts, then do so. If not try to limit the amount of time that you do for.
  • Eat good, nutrient rich foods
    These help repair your body whilst you sleep and can help lift your mood which is essential if you want to be in a positive frame of mind that is beneficial for finding solutions. For example eat a banana to boost your mood when feeling down (or as a regular habit to help beat the blues). Blueberries are good for cognitive function which can help with your problem solving. There’s a lot of information on what healthy foods to eat on the web, so do a search and find what works for you.
  • Meditate (daily)
    It doesn’t have to be long (5 mins is a good place to start from), and can help calm you down when you are feeling a bit anxious. Including meditation in your daily routine can help clear your mind and make room for new ideas to blossom (either during or after your mediation) and can help you with a general sense of well being. As a pointer for how to meditate if you are not sure, find a quiet space sit comfortably on a chair or cushion (or whatever you are comfortable sitting still on for a few minutes), set a timer, close your eyes and breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. It doesn’t matter if you mind wanders, but when it does, bring your attention back to your breathing. Simple, quick and works wonders (just stick at it for a few days and you will start to notice the difference).
  • Exerciser (daily)
    Natures gift to us, just 20 mins continuous walking can make all the difference. If you like doing weightlifting, running, swimming etc, it doesn’t matter as long as you move and get your heart pumping. If you’re not sporty then dancing or singing are also good. The point is to release some of the stress build up that you have which in turn helps you to sleep more deeply which in turn helps you to have more energy to do the things that need to be done.

Review

These are just a few suggestions that I’ve found helped me recently and I feel better for doing them. Although times can be tough, we should always make time for the things that will make a positive difference in our experience of this life that we are living.

  • Make sleep a priority
  • Eat good, nutrient rich foods
  • Meditate daily
  • Exerciser daily

Conclusion

I’m thankful that we live in the present day.

I feel sad for the workers in the past who sacrificed their health so we don’t have to, but I also appreciate what they did as we benefit from it now.

Even with all the turmoil that is going on around us, at least we have a chance to make a difference in our own lives and the lives of others if we decide to act in a positive way.

Categories
Energy Focus Productivity

Pause, Stop & Start

Pause, Stop & Start

Three steps to closer to clearer focus…

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

Pause, Stop & Start
Photo by Allie Lehman @alliepal

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

In Closing

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

Categories
Focus Productivity

Increase Productivity Through Consistency

Productivity & Consistency

Consistency Increases Productivity

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

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

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

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

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

In a Slump

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

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

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

The Lack of Progress

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

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

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

Turning things Around

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

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

What We’ve Learned

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

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

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

Progressing from Here

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

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

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

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

Boost Your Productivity, Focus and Wakefulness

V-CAF watchOS/iOS/macOS

Stay Awake, Stay Alert, Stay Focused

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

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

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

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

Heavy Workloads

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

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

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

Decline in Standards

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

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

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

Quality Wins

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

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

In Retrospect

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Categories
Focus Productivity Staying Awake Tiredness

A New Productivity Hack

A New Way To Be More Productive

Hack Your Productivity

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

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

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

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

The Slog

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

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

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

Tiredness Was Wining, I Wasn’t

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

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

Being tired:

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

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

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

The Hacks

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

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

Other hacks include:

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

The New Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Here Onwards

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

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

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

Good Luck