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
Energy Exercise Fatigue Focus Lethargy Productivity Sleep Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

So Tired You Can’t Stay Awake?

Stay Awake, Stay Alert, Stay Focused

The V-CAF app Can Help…

A lot of people that I speak to complain about not having enough time to get things done. Work or study loads are excessive, home life is hectic and there is always something more to do.

“There just isn’t enough hours in a day to get everything done” is a common phrase around these parts. So what do we do? We lengthen the day by cramming more stuff into whatever time is left usually by staying up later and waking up earlier.

Sure in the short term it appears to work, but for many people this has become the norm, and there seems to be more people complaining about feeling tired and lethargic during the day.

Out Of It
Photo by @WR36 via Twenty20

Drowsiness

You don’t do it on purpose, but it sneaks up on you. Being so focussed on the overwhelming amount of tasks that you have to take care of, you get to work on completing what you can to the best of your ability.

More and more time is spent on doing “what needs to be done”, but you start to skip breaks. Perhaps you start eating at your desk or start increasing the amount of coffee and caffeinated sodas that you drink.

Longer hours become the norm. You have less time to switch off after finishing for the day and find it difficult to get to sleep, and when you wake up the next morning, you feel that you could sleep for another couple of hours easily.

Your days become a blur. You are becoming increasingly mentally and / or physically tired. It’s harder to think straight and your work tasks seems to be impossible to do.

 

The True Cost

Unwittingly you have been steadily increasing your sleep debt. It is difficult to notice and as a result very easy to make yourself very tired. Just loosing a couple of hours a sleep per night can have detrimental effects on your brain’s ability to accurately complete tasks and keep focussed.

The cost to your health isn’t good either. Building up a sleep deficiency over time can lead to:

  • An increase in obesity
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • And negative affects on the quality of your life and relationships

And our collective tiredness costs the economy too.

“ 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

Reducing the Debt

Fortunately, the fixes are relatively simple to implement, but they will take discipline to keep up so that you reap the full benefits of being alert and not feeling drowsy during the day.

  • Reduce or Avoid Caffeine
    Caffeine is a stimulant. If used correctly, it can help boost your alertness. But the problem is that it is addictive and people tend to drink too much caffeine. Too much caffeine inhibits your brain’s capability to know when you are tired, and as a result lead to a decrease in the quality of sleep that you get, which in the medium to long term will make you feel worse.
  • Get Enough Sleep and Take Naps
    Everyone is different so it’s difficult to stay exactly how much sleep you need. As a result, most health experts say between 7 to 9 hours sleep is what is needed for the typical adult.
    If possible, take a nap during the day (10-20 mins). Usually after lunch good. Taking a nap has been proven to be beneficial in helping people to concentrate.
  • Take Regular Breaks
    Schedule in breaks to give yourself time rest. The problem is that we can be so focussed on our work that we forget. Speaking for myself, I tend to get tunnel vision whilst working to the exclusion of everything else and as a result miss my breaks. But, since we created V-CAF, which I use daily, my Apple Watch and iPhone notify me as my alertness levels drop, which i then use as a signal to get up and away from my desk for a few minutes.
  • Daily Physical Activity
    A little exercise goes a long way. Just a 15 minute walk during the day helps to improve sleep quality when it’s time for bed. If possible, include exercise in your daily routine. But be sure not to exercise too close to bedtime.

Key Points

Drowsiness affects us all from time to time, but there are things that we can do to reduce it and keep it at a minimum. Try incorporating these tips into your daily routine to help you feel more alert.

  • Reduce or Avoid Caffeine
  • Get Enough Sleep and Take Naps
  • Take Regular Breaks
  • Daily Physical Activity

Afterword

Right now, we are all living through stressful times. Please take the time to look after yourself and try not to worry about what is going on out there in the world.

Focus on the things that you can control. Getting enough quality sleep alone helps to reduce bad moods and can make you feel better. Exercise can also help lift your mood and is good for your heart.

Control these things and you’ll be in a much better position to take on whatever the world throws your way.

Categories
Alert Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Caffeine Alternative Fatigue Focus Insomnia Lethargy Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

When Caffeine Just Doesn’t Cut It Anymore

When Too Much Becomes Too Little

It’s time to change…

During one of our insanely busy work cycles, Darren looked limp and worn down. In our daily meetings he just stared into the distance, occasionally checking his watch.

As time went on I noticed more often than not that some management types would pull him to one side and have what looked to be an intense discussion about something that they felt the need to point out to him.

Then one day Darren came over to me and asked if we could have a quick chat over a coffee. We found a quiet corner, him with a mug of joe in his hand and me with water in mine, and Darren came out bluntly and asked “How do I do it?”

When Coffee Doesnt Do It
Photo by @potochnyi via Twenty20

The Promise

Confused I responded and said something like “Do what?”. The reply I got back shocked me. “You always seem to be with it. It’s rare that I see you getting angry or upset.”.

Now I got where this was going. In the past I’d been fairly stressed out and not working at my best. I looked sleepy and some would come by my desk and tell me to wake up!

Under pressure to perform, I started drinking diet sodas with caffeine to help keep me awake. But before long, I found myself needing more sodas to just feel normal and staying alert became harder.

 

Getting Let Down

It wasn’t long before my increased caffeine consumption started to affect my sleep. Most evenings between 6 and 7 I would go from feeling lethargic to suddenly being hyper alert.

At the time I put it down to finding work boring and that because the evening wasn’t all about work my mood picked up. But as it became normal for me to be wide awake at 3am laying in bed, I knew that something was wrong.

Also, when it was time to wake up I felt like I hadn’t slept. This feeling would continue until about 10ish after I had my first diet soda of the day. But after lunch until I got back home was a struggle.

It became so bad that my manager asked if I had a sleep condition and told me to fix up as other workers were noticing that I would nod off in front of my screen.

As Darren listened to what I was saying he nodded, laughed and said that he remembered those days and in fact a manager had told him to talk to me to find out what I did to turns things around.

What Darren and I appeared to be suffering from was a bad mix of unhealthy sleep practices and a raised tolerance to caffeine. Because caffeine blocks our brain’s adenosine receptors, our body found it difficult to work out if we were tired.

Adenosine is a chemical released by our body throughout the day. As the amount of adenosine builds our tiredness increases which let’s us know that it’s time to wind down and get ready for sleep.

Caffeine blocks our brain from being able to correctly measure how tired we are and so tricks us into thinking that we are more awake than we really are. To make matters worse, caffeine can stay in our system from between 7 – 15 hours depending on our weight and age.

Because I was drinking so much caffeinated sodas throughout the day I was actively blocking my body from being able to regulate itself which in turn led to me being too awake by bedtime, but tired throughout the day.

A Better Way

I told Darren that I tried a few different approaches, but the best results came from getting more quality sleep and reducing, then removing caffeine from my diet.

  • Avoiding Caffeine
    I stopped drinking caffeine straight away, but it may be best to take it slowly and gradually reduce the amount of caffeine that you consume. This boils down to how bad your withdrawal symptoms are and what is going on in your life at the time.
  • Eating Healthily
    Eat more iron. magnesium, and protein rich foods like beans, nuts, spinach and eggs as a deficiency in any of these can make you feel drained.
  • Staying Hydrated
    Dehydration makes it difficult for you to focus and concentrate, so by being hydrated you can increase your brain’s ability to focus and concentrate whilst reducing drowsiness.
  • Knowing How Tired You Are
    A lot of people are so busy or focused on what they are doing that they don’t realise how tired they are until they make mistakes or are feeling frustrated. By being mindful of how you feel you can train yourself to recognise the tell tale signs of fatigue. Using an app like V-CAF, an Apple Watch app, you can be notified when you are tired so that you can stop and take a natural break before continuing with whatever activity you were engaged in.

Alertness Tips

Darren thanked me for my openness and went on to try some of my tips as well as what he thought would work for him.

And that’s the beauty of being human, we are all similar but unique enough to make it interesting. Darren started to change things around based on his needs and experiences.

My tips are what worked for me, but perhaps you can use them as a base to start from if you ever feel that caffeine isn’t working for you anymore.

  • Avoid Caffeine
  • Eat Healthily
  • Stay Hydrated
  • Know when you are tired

Afterword

Don’t suffer in silence, if you’re in a difficult place, reach out and ask for help. There’s no shame involved. Everybody has times when things aren’t as good as they can be.

Whether we like it or not, we are part of a community, it’s just the way it is. Help your community and they will help you.

Categories
Energy Focus Insomnia Productivity Studying Tension

Don’t Loose It, Just Use It?

Step Back & Breathe Slowly

Or Just Loose it…

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

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

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

Non Stop Progress

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

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

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

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

 

Real Progress or Busy Stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positive Steps

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

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

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

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

In Hindsight

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

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

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

Afterword

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

Categories
Alert Focus Productivity

Take Some Timeout And Put Your Feet Up

“Rest is not idleness”

John Lubbock, The Use of Life (1894)

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

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

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

The Build Up

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

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

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

Lack of Alertness, Focus and Productivity

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

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

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

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

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

Simple Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point taken Sir, thank you 🙂

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

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

Review

So to wrap this up:

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

Afterword

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

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

Categories
Anxiety Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleep Staying Awake Tiredness

Struggling to Stay Awake During a Long Day?

Listen To What Your Body Is Telling You

If you don’t hear, you will feel

“What!? Another unrealistic deadline? When am I supposed to rest and recover? And what about the quality of the work you’re asking us to produce?” I yelled at my team lead.

I had got to my breaking point and lost control for a brief moment. As I gathered myself together I thought of what had lead up to this point. The past month had been like being in bootcamp.

The mountain of work didn’t seem to be reducing, in fact it felt like there was more added every day. The stressful days and nights spent at my desk seemed to blur into one long day.

Now, with this last deadline, it was too much to take, I could go on no more.

Long Day, Head down on a table
Photo by @Igor_Kostyuk via Twenty20

The Long Day

The stress had taken it’s toll. I was finding it difficult to sleep at night and when I did eventually nod off, when I woke, it felt as though I hadn’t slept. This had the effect of making me feel very irritable and lethargic and made it almost impossible to concentrate whilst working.

My fellow team mates would complain about the same thing. Each of us shared with the other members of the group the strategies that they were using, but the common consensus was that coffee or caffeine was the way to go.

To some people’s amusement and surprise I said no to coffee. “Here’s the martyr!” one guy would mock. It irked me, but I carried on and tried to ignore the taunts.

They drank coffee and some took caffeine pills, whilst I drank water and took regular walking breaks (with the odd nap when I could find a quiet place to snooze, like the local library down the road).

 

Struggling to Make it Through the Day

At the start of our work marathon, those that were inclined to drink coffee seemed to be pulling away. They appeared more alert during our daily meetings and ready to do whatever our bosses told them without question.

But things started to change. I noticed that we were having a lot more discussions about why the work that had been done wasn’t good enough. At first I thought I was lucky because it wasn’t my work, but the drop in quality impacted the whole team.

Those that seemed to be doing well at first and were full of enthusiasm for the unrelenting workloads, started to complain and blame others for their work not been up to par.

Had I not had my own bad experiences of caffeine crashes over a period of time I would of put this all down to stress. But I couldn’t help but notice that some of my colleagues were displaying the symptoms of consuming too much caffeine, such as:

  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • and Depression

Others complained of not being able to sleep (although this may be due to the stress of worrying about making our deadline). Unfortunately for some of them, they found themselves falling asleep at their desks (which management didn’t find very impressive). And as we got closer to the deadline, things became worse.

It was as though a good portion of our team had become possessed, and we couldn’t do anything about it!

Some Useful Options

It wasn’t long before some of our team noticed that I seemed to be unfazed by it all and they began asking questions, indirectly of course. “So why don’t you drink coffee? Is it a religious thing?”, “How do you cope? I couldn’t start the day without coffee!”

I found that I would be answering with the same points over and over again. So I printed them out and put them on my desk. When people asked or brought it up, I would point to it:

  • Avoid Caffeine
    If you find it difficult, start slowly and try reducing the amount you consume. When you feel the withdrawal, although it doesn’t feel like it, know that you are making progress and stick with it. At the end of it all you’ll feel like a completely different person.
  • Eat Healthily
    Eat more iron and magnesium rich foods as a deficiency in either one can make you feel drained. For iron eat spinach and beans; for magnesium, nuts such as cashews and almonds. Eggs are good for protein and are a good source of B vitamins that help turn your food into energy. Eat fruits that are high in vitamin C, like oranges, strawberries, pineapples and kiwis, as they help body fat to be used as energy.
  • Stay Hydrated
    Drink lot’s of water. Dehydration makes it difficult for us to focus and concentrate. Being hydrated helps reduce drowsiness.
  • Know When You Are Tired And Act Accordingly
    Probably the most important point of all. Most of us don’t realise when we are tired and get frustrated when we can’t do more. Coffee (caffeine) only masks the tiredness. And it does so at the expense of your body’s ability to sleep and recover, eventually leading to you become dependent on caffeine to stay awake and then wondering why you can’t sleep when you go to bed at night; all whilst during the day thinking that something is wrong with you when you feel tired.

This is why I lost it with my team lead. There was no consideration for the long term health of our team. I knew that I was tired and couldn’t allow anyone to risk my health over an arbitrary deadline which could have been handled better with proper planning.

In Summary

Although it was a stressful time, I’m glad that we went through it. It showed me that by being consistent I was able to handle a difficult situation without having to resort to a substance to make me feel that I could make it through.

I even helped some people to at least abstain from caffeine for a while and a few said that they felt better and had better sleep then they’ve had in a long time.

And the ace in the hole was that my team lead now considers how we are coping with our current workloads, and although they are still heavy, we now plan how we can spread the load to get things done.

If you’re thinking about giving up caffeine (or want to reduce the amount you consume) then print out the following points to help remind you of what to do when the withdrawal symptoms kick in:

  • Avoid Caffeine
  • Eat Healthily
  • Stay Hydrated
  • Know when you are tired
  • Get better quality sleep

Afterword

Since that period at work, the team has their ups and downs but generally we work better together, or perhaps we have more patience and understanding when dealing with each other.

During these difficult times, I think it would be best if we each showed more patience and understanding towards other people.

A kind word or even a smile goes a long way these days.

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?