Categories
Alert Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Staying Awake

A New Paradigm For Staying Productive

V-CAF The New Productivity Hack

Stay Productive

It would be an understatement to say that in the past I found it challenging to stay consistently productive and hitting all my objectives. Not that I’ve magically got to this fantastical place and that now I’m some sort of productivity god that can’t be stopped.

No, presently where I find myself is a considerably better place than I was but there is always room for improvement. It was a long hard slog to get here and it can sometimes feel daunting thinking about just how much more I need to do to be at my optimal, let alone knowing if it is even possible to get to such a place.

Which brings us nicely to the theme of this post, productivity and what I’ve used to help improve my productivity. Along the way there’s been a lot of trial and error, but the good thing is that by experimenting and having deep thoughts about how I could improve it, led to the creation of our Apple Watch app, V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert.

Stay Productive
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

Full Steam Ahead

For most of my life it feels like I’ve been chasing deadlines or targets. In school it was to get good grades, in work it was to progress my career or earn more cash. I rarely took the time to think about why I’d chosen this approach, I just got on with it.

And I wasn’t the only one. Most people around me in the different environments that I’ve found myself in also had a similar approach. Whenever I felt in a reflective mood, usually after just making a deadline, I would speak with colleagues who all had their own way of dealing with productivity issues, which funnily enough were just variations on a few common themes.

Make lists, prioritise tasks, drink coffee, give yourself enough time, are some of the usual suspects that keep coming up. And although they all work to a degree, to me, none of them dealt with the actual underlying issue and all wouldn’t work as well as expected at a certain point.

Hitting the Wall

Prioritising tasks help and this is something that I just do. I’d organise my work in order of importance and away I’d go. I definitely recommend organising your tasks, but not to spend too much time doing it. And then there’s the fact that even though I’ve organised my work, there’s always (without fail), something else that comes up that forces me to have to reorganise and spend more time not actually doing the work, but doing the work around the work.

Drinking coffee has and still does work, but not in a sustainable way. When I was feeling tired and demotivated to get things done, then having a coffee would help perk me up. Things would get done, but only for a short period of time before I needed another shot of caffeine to get me through to the next dip. Now there’s nothing wrong with having a coffee once in a while, but to use it as a crutch to increase productivity just doesn’t work. The most obvious reason is that the more coffee (or caffeine) that you drink the more your body increases it’s tolerance to the drug leading you to need more of it to get the same productivity results.

Then there’s the addiction aspect. Many people feel that they can give up caffeine at the drop of a hat and don’t believe that they are addicted. I was one of those people until I actually tried to go without it for a while. That was quite an experience, I can tell you. Trying to give up caffeine can effect your productivity too as the withdrawal effects can make you feel terrible but you’d put it down to tiredness or not feeling well. Either way, I didn’t want my productivity to be dependent on the amount of a substance that I’d consume.

Changing Perspectives

So, what to do? What actually works? I tried numerous workflows and found that the Pomodoro Technique worked well when using Kanban (lean process management) and helped with giving me clear timeframes and slots to complete work. Giving myself more time to get things done and prioritising work did help, but something else was missing.

Then, during a break, I was walking in a park and enjoying the green when I realised that I was looking outside of myself for a solution to an internal problem. Earlier that day my boss had spoken about me looking tired and falling asleep at my desk. The problem was that I was working long hours and cutting into my down time before going to sleep and then waking up early to try and get as many hours as possible to throw at the problem.

What I needed was to step back and get more rest in order to get things done properly. As soon as I got back to my desk I started looking for information on sleep, productivity and daytime tiredness. It became something of an obsession for me as I started finding that when I started implementing the information that things got better. Productivity picked up and I felt much less stressed and more content with my work.

I began getting better quality sleep, exercising more, eating better and taking more breaks whilst at work. Whilst monitoring my mood and the amount of work that got done I started to realise that this was the missing component that was needed to sustainably maintain my level of productivity.

But being the stubborn kind of guy that I am, I found myself sometimes working through my breaks and not stepping away. When I did this, my stress levels went up and my productivity went down! Speaking with a colleague about this we came up with the idea to make an app that unlike any work flow process, actually worked with your body to help optimise work slots around your alertness levels.

That led us to create V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, an Apple Watch app, which is now available on iOS and macOS, that notifies you when your alertness levels are decreasing so that you can stop and revitalise yourself before your decreasing alertness affects your work. Over the last few years I’ve been using it daily and it feels like it was the last secret missing key for me to unlock my productivity potential.

Review

If you’re feeling that your productivity levels aren’t what they should be or feeling tired and lethargic, take the time to change your sleeping, eating and exercising habits.

I know that it can seem difficult, but anything of value has a difficulty factor attached to it. It’s easy to look for a quick fix to a solution but by actually paying the price of going through and overcoming a difficulty you will be paid back no end.

Afterword

“The associated annual economic costs due to lost productivity for the entire work population at the participating companies were estimated to be $54 million (~$1967/employee). Our findings highlight the potential for the improved detection and treatment of sleep disturbances to significantly improve workplace safety and productivity and reduce the associated economic costs.

Mark R. Rosekind, PhD, Kevin B. Gregory, BS, Melissa M. Mallis, PhD, Summer L. Brandt, MA, Brian Seal, PhD, and Debra Lerner, PhD, The Cost of Poor Sleep: Workplace Productivity Loss and Associated Costs, 2010; p.97

Categories
Alert Energy Exercise Focus Productivity Study Studying

How to Stay Focused In Three Easy Steps

As Easy As One, Two, Three

Just start…

There are a thousand and one different things competing for our attention at any given moment. Most of the time we naturally block out all that noise and tune in to what we turn our attention to.

But sometimes it can be really difficult to focus on something that we should or want to focus on. Likewise there are times when we don’t or shouldn’t focus on a particular thing but we nevertheless find it extremely difficult to not turn our attention to it.

I’ve tried various ways to help get my mind focussed on what I need to whilst putting aside issues that are more of a distraction rather than a must do, and in this post I’ll share three ways that have helped me to improve my focus.

Stay Focused
Photo by @jesslharbin via Twenty20

The Draining

Competing priorities are a daily occurrence to me. Family, work, study and personal health are all vying for centre stage in my mind. When I’ve been busy in the past I’ve just gone with the issue that’s more pressing at the time!

For example, if I have a work deadline that has to be done by Friday and it’s Thursday evening, then getting things done around the house will have to wait until Saturday. But if I also have to do the shopping on Saturday because the cupboards are bare, then shopping takes priority over the household chores.

Unfortunately whilst doing one thing my mind would partially be on having to figure out what I have to do next, which in turn takes focus away from what I’m doing, causing me to take longer than I would have if I’d just focused on what I’m doing at the moment.

Guilt and Competing Interests

At some point I would find myself doing a half hearted job, not feeling good about it and then rushing to get the next thing done. This would weigh on my mind and eventually I’d come to a grinding halt and do nothing or just feel so tired that I’d might as well do nothing.

Part of the problem is that by not prioritising what needs to be done and listing them down (either on paper or electronically) I was adding more stress than I needed to myself every day and then wondering why I wasn’t feeling as productive as I could have been.

Another part of the problem was due to feeling tired. A lot of the time I found that when I felt the most lethargic I would tend to procrastinate more than usual before starting a task. All the time I spent delaying starting would make me feel guilty and that eventually would make me feel more tired, which made it more difficult for me to start.

Overcoming

Being as stubborn as I am, it took for some subtle changes to be forced upon me for me to realise that without too much effort I could feel better and think clearer with more focus!

Had I listened I wouldn’t of had to feel. My lack of focus wasn’t just a focussing problem, but rather a warning from my body to change how I went about things.

These are the relatively easy steps I had to take to get my focus back on track:

  • Consistently have 7-9 hours of quality sleep.
    Sleep is a basic human need. As you know we need it to function “normally”. The problem is that we can undervalue just how much we need a good nights sleep; especially whilst studying or working. For many, (including myself), it becomes one of the first things that we sacrifice in order to reach our objectives.

Nicole Bieske, a spokeswoman for Amnesty International Australia, has stated the opinion of her organization thus: “At the very least, sleep deprivation is cruel, inhumane and degrading. If used for prolonged periods of time it is torture.”

Sleep deprivation – Wikipedia

So why do this to ourselves? Be nice to yourself, and get more sleep. I did, and I believe that doing this was a significant factor in improving my focus.

  • Enjoy a healthy lifestyle
    Eating healthly, moderate exercise and reducing your stress are all helpful ways to improve your focus. How? Directly and indirectly by helping you to sleep better and by making your body more resilient. For example just a 20 minute walk can aid with improving your sleep quality, whilst at the same time improving your blood circulation, which also aids concentration and keeping you alert.
  • Take a break when you are tired

I know when I am getting sleepy
MYTH.
People are very poor judges of how tired they are. As a result, they often drive when they are drowsy, and struggle through the day not realizing that they are far from their best.

Wiseman, Richard. Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep (pp. 294-295). Pan Macmillan.

Be aware and look out for the classic signs of tiredness – lack of motivation, tiredness, difficulty concentrating. The difficulty here is being aware of these tell tale signs. Thankfully our Apple Watch app, V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, notifies you at the times when your alertness levels are decreasing, so that you can concentrate on getting on with the task at hand. Since using the app I’ve found it invaluable in helping me to know when I’m not focussing at my best. When the alarm goes off, I take that as a cue to have a break (usually, I take napping breaks, or go for a walk), after which I feel more energised and ready to continue from where I left off.

Summary

Your lack of focus may be due to being tired and/or overworked and not realising it. It’s one of the many signs your body sends you to warn you to change what you are doing.

Take note of how much sleep that you are getting, if you are exercising regularly enough and eating healthily.

And also remember to take regular breaks when you feel yourself getting overly tired.

Afterword

“If you don’t get enough sleep then you’ll struggle to concentrate, become accident-prone, lack willpower, and become less productive. Worse still, you will increase your chances of becoming overweight, having a heart attack, and dying early.”

Wiseman, Richard. Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep (p. 295). Pan Macmillan.”
Categories
Alert Energy Exercise Productivity Tension Tiredness

Stretch And Reach For The Stars

Stretch Yourself

And reap the benefits

Have you noticed that when you wake up you stretch and yawn? Studies have found that it is more common to stretch and yawn than it is to yawn and stretch.

No one really knows why this is but many hypotheses relate the phenomena to our bodies trying to prepare themselves for activity and possibly to increase the alertness of our brains.

If there is any truth to the above assumption, would it then be possible to benefit from a good stretch throughout the day to help boost our alertness and productivity?

Stretch And Reach For The Sky
Photo by @johnlmc via Twenty20

Unnoticed Tension

Working towards a big goal, deadline or completing a difficult task can unintentionally increase the tension within our bodies. The difficulty that I have is that I get lost in my work or study and just power through regardless, which in the end leaves me feeling exhausted.

What I didn’t realise is that one of the reasons why I get so tired is due to the build up of tension. Unfortunately it’s very easy to miss, especially if you get tunnel vision and only see the making of your deadline to the exclusion of everything else.

As the tension builds, you can become more tired, which can cause you to snack or drink caffeine in a subconscious attempt to raise your energy levels, but ultimately they both just delay the onset of tiredness at the expense of feeling more drained later, which leads to more snacking (you get the picture).

Increased Tiredness

“The sugar snack condition was associated with significantly higher tension after one hour, and a pattern of initially increased energy and reduced tiredness, followed one hour later by increased tiredness and reduced energy. The results partially support a general conceptual hypothesis that sugar snacking is often motivated by a low-awareness attempt to raise energy. Additionally, the results clarify an apparent conflict between neurochemical research, which indicates that sugar ingestion increases the tendency to sleep, and popular nutrition theory, which indicates that it increases tension.”

Thayer, R. (1987). Energy, Tiredness, and Tension Effects of a Sugar Snack Versus Moderate Exercise. /Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,/ /52(1),/ 119-125.

I knew about the sugar crash thing but didn’t make the link between sugar causing tension which would most likely increase my tiredness and then without thinking make it more likely that I would eat or drink a sugary snack to help fight the tiredness.

It also explains why caffeine drinks and chocolate are so full of sugar. I used to think that sweet foods and drinks increased my energy levels but at the expense of increasing my calorie intake, with the inevitable crash once the initial sugar high wore off.

But just like caffeine, the effects are temporary and actually can help to make you dependent upon them just to make it through the day! Unlike caffeine though, the build up of tension within your body is very subtle and difficult to detect, which it is why it so difficult for us to make the link between sugar, tension and tiredness.

Stretching

“Powerful stretching movements have major, widespread physiological consequences, including increases in the pulse rate, blood pressure, and blood flow to the muscles and other body parts, and increase in the flexibility of the muscles and joints”

Provine, R., Hamernik, H., & Curchack, B. (1987). Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans. /Ethology,/ /76(2),/

The authors of Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans suggest that stretching usually happens just after waking up to help prepare our bodies for action and to increase our brains alertness. But I’ve found that when I’m working intensely and lose myself, there are points when I naturally yawn and stretch, as if my body is trying to boost my energy levels.

Sometimes I acted on these natural reminders to take a break and go outside for a walk, but if I was especially tired, then that walk would end up at a vending machine looking for something sweet to eat or drink to pick myself up.

The problem for most people in a similar situation is that they don’t realise that their alertness levels are dropping until it’s too late and they find themselves snacking on something sweet and caffeinated. The solution to this is to know when your energy and alertness is decreasing before it gets to the snacking stage. This is where V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alertcan help. Our Apple Watch app monitors your body’s rhythm and notifies you when alertness levels start to decrease.

Once I get a notification, I leave my work in it’s best possible state, have a stretch and go for a walk outside or get a cup of water to drink which helps to raise my alertness levels so that when I get back to work I can continue at a more energised level.

In fact in “Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans” the research paper found a surprising benefit to walking instead of consuming a sugary snack.

“The results from the 10-min rapid walk are perhaps the most striking of the whole experiment. This relatively small amount of moderate exercise was associated with significantly increased energy and decreased tension for as long as 2 hours after the activity. The sugar snack, on the other hand, first was associated with tense-energy and then tense-tiredness for a majority of the participants. And although the energy and tiredness effects were weak in this condition, the increased tension effects associated with the sugar snack were unmistakable.”

Provine, R., Hamernik, H., & Curchack, B. (1987). Yawning: Relation to Sleeping and Stretching in Humans. /Ethology,/ /76(2),/

Summary

Stretching and yawning is your body’s natural attempt to raise our energy and alertness. We instinctively know this but over the years have been conditioned to to work against ourselves by using sugar and/or caffeine to give us a quick, immediate boost.

The problem with this approach is that these fixes are short term and have the potential to help us become dependent on them just to make it through the day.

Use your body’s natural indicators and work with your body by going for a walk, stretching and drinking water to help naturally and effectively raise your body’s energy and alertness levels.

Afterword

“Stretching his hand up to reach the stars, too often man forgets the flowers at his feet.”

Jeremy Bentham
Categories
Energy Fatigue Productivity Staying Awake

Let’s Break Up Your Day And Be More Productive

Do Your Day Your Way

I have to admit that I find it difficult to
stop what I’m doing when I become extremely focussed on something.

On a few occasions this has worked out well for me as it made it easier to get things done. I feel ultra productive and at the top of my game.

But too often after stints like that my energy levels crashed to depths that had me feeling like I needed a week of sleep just to get back to normal!

As I became older my patience for this boom – bust cycle was at its lowest and I made it my mission to figure out what I could do to reduce the likelihood of repeating this draining chain of events.

Lets Go
Photo by @sennnnnya via Twenty20

The Lead Up

The typical scenario goes like this. I take a long time to get into the work that I’m doing. I keep on going knowing that at some point I’ll figure out what I’m doing and get most of the task completed. I get to the previously mentioned point and work like crazy. Finally I finish the work but at the end I feel exhausted and glad that it’s over. Then I get the new stuff that needs to be done and the process repeats.

Although it’s great to get the work done, the process can seem overly stressful at first, until you get into the flow and then work seems effortless. The problem is the after the work is done part.

What’s the point of doing all that work just to feel too tired to appreciate the time and effort put in? If you know that you have this work pattern it can be very discouraging to start because of how much effort it takes to get to the flow part.

Boom Then Bust

In the past I’ve found that just by doing something does help to start the process but the effort of starting can prolong the time it takes to get to the really productive part of the work cycle.

Then once in the productive phase, because I want to get things done, I found it difficult to stop because I didn’t want to risk loosing the moment that I worked so hard to start. This is good for my productivity targets but bad for my energy and sense of well being.

The fact that it took me so long just to get started, as well as the fact that at the end of my work stint I felt so tired was proof that something needed to change as the way that I was working was not sustainable.

During my research I found that I was displaying classic fatigue symptoms that if left uncorrected would become worse and eventually could get to the point where I would not be able to function “normally”.

Some of the signs of fatigue are:

  • Fuzzy thinking
  • Slower response times
  • Productivity declines
  • Lethargy

Hacks

Thankfully once I identified that maybe I was fatigued, it was a not so simple matter of trying out things that could correct it without having to take prescription drugs or visit a doctor.

By the way, if you feel that you may be suffering from fatigue and you’ve exhibited the symptoms for a while, make an appointment to see your medical advisor or doctor just to make sure that you are not suffering from anything that could seriously affect your health and well being.

So with that said, here are three possible causes of my boom-bust work style and how I addressed them.

  • Sleep Deprivation
    Was I getting enough sleep? I decided to use a sleep tracker on my Apple Watch to see the quality and length of my sleep. Apparently we humans need between 7 and 9 hours of good quality sleep a day. During my tracking period I was getting between 5.5 and 7 hours a day. So it was fairly clear to me that I would have to increase the times that I’m actually sleeping and not lying in bed trying to get to sleep.
    A fix for that problem was to increase the amount of exercise I did, changing my routine from every other day to everyday. This worked fantastically and had the beneficial side effects of making me get more healthy and boosting the quality of my sleep.
  • Work Patterns
    Setting up a daily routine helps with structuring my day and getting my mind ready to focus on what it needs to. I realised a while back that I’m more of a morning person when it came to certain tasks, so it made more sense to me to structure my work around that. Further I found that working to my circadian rhythm helped with my focus and productivity. As an example of my typical day, I structure my more intense, hard thinking type work to be worked on during the mornings and my more routine work after lunch. If I start working at 09:00 then I make a point of finishing for the day no later than 18:00. I stick to this schedule Monday through Friday and I believe that it has made things so much better. When I’ve worked longer days or stray from the schedule, I notice the difference immediately.
  • Time on Tasks
    This was my major issue and correcting this noticeably increased my productivity whilst at the same time helping to correct my boom-bust work cycle.
    Our brains like any muscle or body part for that matter, when used to excess becomes tired and non responsive. Any physically or mentally demanding tasks will take its toll on us. Because we sometimes overlook the amount of time that we spend working on a task (which is what I do all the time), it is very easy to burn ourselves out without noticing.
    To correct this we must insure that we take regular breaks throughout the working day. When and how you structure this is deponent upon your own work circumstances, but luckily for me my workplace is fairly relaxed when it comes to taking breaks (as long as there isn’t an impending deadline, but that’s for another post). Up until recently I was just using the Pomodoro technique of working for 20 -25 minute blocks, taking a ten minute break, then back to another block. This worked well but didn’t account for the times when my alertness levels weren’t so great. Now days I rely heavily on our Apple Watch app,V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert, to notify me when my alertness levels drop so that I can take a natural break at the times when I need it most.

Review

Ultimately for me to change my work cycle of boom then bust it meant that I had to change my attitude to taking breaks whilst working and making sure that I did the things that promoted habits that would encourage me to get enough sleep whilst helping me to focus better throughout the day.

So as the picture in this article suggests, take some time out and go for a walk instead of sitting at your desk all day trying to get everything done at once.

Afterword

“No matter the risks we take, we always consider the end to be too soon, even though in life, more than anything else, quality should be more important than quantity.”

Alex Honnold

Categories
Alert Caffeine Energy Focus Productivity

Make Time To Chill

Be Here, Now

Slowly but surely, you will get there

Years ago a friend bought me a fantastic book called, “The Tao of Pooh & The Te of Piglet” to help point out to me that I was loosing “the way” and that I shouldn’t stop trying to get back more in line with it!

The chapter of that book that I was most drawn to and that had the most impact on me (which is probably why I remembered it regarding this post), is titled “Busy Backson”. The general gist of the chapter is that these days we tend to fill our time with stuff that keeps us busy, but that doesn’t amount to much, at the expense of us missing out on experiencing our own lives.

The book has helped me over the years and I think now is as good a time as any to share my thoughts on my favourite chapter and relate, how it’s principles can help you be more energised and excited about each day.

Time To Chill
Photo by @theki.dcreative via Twenty20

Sorry, I’m Too Busy

To me it seems that busyness has become associated with productiveness. When at work, home or studying very few people that I’ve come into contact with would admit to not doing much. I know that there have been times when I didn’t feel like doing much, but rather than say so, have found something to do that makes me look busy.

Even in polite conversation at a social gathering of some sort, when talking with someone (whether that someone be new to you or not), the conversation soon gets to the point where someone usually asks “So what do you do?” or “Have you tried [enter whatever activity or place to travel here]?”.

It is as if we have to justify every waking (and in some cases, unawake) moments. Like we would be instantly punished for saying “Actually, I’m just enjoying being still and listening to the sounds around me”. It’s not that people don’t say such things, it’s just uncommon (especially whilst being at work or school or even social gatherings).

What Am I Missing?

And that’s the problem. It’s become so normal to be constantly busy doing something that it’s almost a bad thing to be bored, daydream, or just stop and do nothing.

It’s true that meditation has become more popular lately, but it also suffers from the “Busy Backson” affliction of showing that you are doing something rather than just doing it because you want to. It’s a bit like the virtue signalling that seems to be popular these days to show that you’re a good and upright type of character, only for the sake of being seen by others so that they can say “Look, there goes a very virtuous person”!

The problem with keeping up appearances is that you eventually slip-up and that it brings unnecessary stress to yourself. Constantly appearing to be busy takes away from your life because you don’t get a chance to appreciate the wonder that is your life.

You can also start to resent life in general, to the point where life becomes one big drag that eventually can be too much to bare.

Claim Your Life Back

“I say, Pooh, why aren’t you busy?” I said.
“Because it’s a nice day,” said Pooh.
“Yes, but—“
“Why ruin it?” he said.
“But you could be doing something Important,” I said.
“I am,” said Pooh.
“Oh? Doing what?”
“Listening,” he said.
“Listening to what?”
“To the birds. And that squirrel over there.”
“What are they saying?” I asked.
“That it’s a nice day,” said Pooh.
“But you knew that already,” I said.
“Yes, but it’s always good to hear that somebody else
thinks so, too,” he replied.
“Well, you could be spending your time getting Educated by
listening to the Radio, instead,” I said.
“That thing?”
“Certainly. How else will you know what’s going on in the
world?” I said.
“By going outside,” said Pooh.
“Er…well…” (Click) “Now just listen to this, Pooh.”
“…thirty thousand people were killed today when five
jumbo airliners collided over downtown Los Angeles…,” the
Radio announced.
“What does that tell you about the world?” asked Pooh.
“Hmmm. You’re right.” (Click)
“What are the birds saying now?” I asked.
“That it’s a nice day,” said Pooh.

Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

I often write about the importance of taking a break every day, especially when working or studying or any endeavour that requires a lot prolonged focussed concentration. I was influenced by the quote above and actively found ways to practically apply it in my daily processes.

Thinking about it, it probably indirectly led to me getting to the point to create our Apple Watch app, V-CAF Stay Awake Stay Alert. Stepping away from what I’m working on has always been difficult for me, so any process that helps to remind me to take a break is welcome.

After being alerted to take a break, stepping outside works, but so does just stepping away and doing nothing. It’s much like when I go for a walk to clear my mind. Eventually I’m distracted by the sounds around, or how lovely the sky looks, or any number of things going on around me, that just happen to be happening without my interference and independent of me.

It’s at moments like these that I feel at one with the world whilst at the same time appreciating me for being me, regardless of what is going on in my life at that moment.

Review

Benjamin Hoff concludes the “Busy Backson” chapter by highlighting the benefit of appreciating the process above just striving for the goal.

For example, many people want to give up caffeine and get upset when they relapse. They can feel like a failure because they didn’t make their goal. Or if they give up for a certain amount of time, they may feel that they achieved their goal, and then go right back to consuming caffeine.

Instead of focussing on the goal, why not focus on the process. Experiment and find ways to make your process as enjoyable and achievable as possible. If you mess up, no big deal, it’s all part of the process. Learn from it and move on.

It’s a tool that I use in all areas in my life and has made such a big difference.

So, try being like Pooh and appreciate yourself and life and the world in which you find yourself.

Afterword

“Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches today to save nine tomorrow.”

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (and quoted in The Tao of Pooh)
Categories
Insomnia Productivity Sleep Tiredness

Does Alcohol Help You Sleep Better?

Nightcaps

Avoiding the gin and juice

Depending on how much I used to drink, I thought that in some cases alcohol helped me to have a deeper level of sleep. No problem if I had a hangover the next day, all I needed was a few shots of coffee and loads of water and I’d be good.

However I made the mistake of drinking too close to a test once and thought that I could pull through with just coffee and water, but as you can guess things didn’t go according to plan.

As I have a few friends that drink heavily and always seem to bounce back unphased I wanted to figure out what I was doing wrong and what they did right. But, what I found out, with regards to productivity at least, changed my view of alcohol.

Night cap
Photo by @sophie.nva via Twenty20

A Drink Helps Me Sleep

It’s understandable. You’ve had a long, stressful day and want to unwind. It feels like too much effort to get up and do some exercise. A glass of wine or a can of beer helps you to relax.

Soon after you find yourself feeling less tense but drowsy, and you may even fall asleep on the sofa. Or perhaps for the past few days you’ve been finding it difficult to get to sleep, but after a drink, you seem to fall asleep faster.

So how can this be bad for my sleep? When talking with friends about this it seems that we all tend to agree that a light drink actually helps your sleep and doesn’t affect your productivity the next day.

But then I found a study on the effects of alcohol on sleep, which I found surprisingly interesting, not just because it was an interesting read, but also because it challenged some of my assumptions about sleep and alcohol.

 

The Productivity Disruptor

According to the study, there have been many studies documenting the negative effects of even low dosages of alcohol on sleep quality and next day productivity.

Not surprisingly the heavier the drinking session, the worse the hangover effects, but also the worse the quality of sleep and next day productivity levels.

Relative to their habitual night of sleep, Sleep Quality was significantly worse after the drinking session that produced the hangover. On the hangover day, daytime sleepiness was significantly elevated.
…Sleep quality and daytime sleepiness were significantly associated with the presence and severity of various individual hangover symptoms.

Schrojenstein Lantman, M., Roth, T., Roehrs, T., & Verster, J. (2017). Alcohol Hangover, Sleep Quality, and Daytime Sleepiness. /Sleep and Vigilance,/ /1(1),/ 37-41.

The top reported hangover symptoms included but weren’t limited to:

  • Dry Mouth
  • Thirst
  • Sleepiness
  • Weakness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Reduced reaction speed
  • Nausea
  • Concentration problems

What I found fascinating was the similarities between hangover symptoms and caffeine withdrawal symptoms. It may be the reason why I thought that drinking lots of water and having a few shots of coffee was a legitimate cure for hangovers, as when you have caffeine withdrawal symptoms, drinking a coffee helps get rid of those symptoms very quickly!

Sleep Quality

So although alcohol may make you feel drowsy and fall asleep quicker, it actually can have a detrimental effect on the quality of your sleep. Ok, so what should you do about it?

The easy answer, don’t drink close to bedtime (or give up alcohol completely) and get more sleep.

The more nuanced answer (for those that may suffer regularly from hangovers) is to:

  • Reduce the amount of alcohol that you consume when you have a busy schedule and don’t drink so close to bed time.
  • If you have a hangover whilst working, if possible take regular breaks and sneak a nap when you can.
  • Drink lots of water to rehydrate yourself.
  • It may be best to take the day off work to get yourself back to your normal productive self.

Review

Sleep is important, you don’t need me to tell you that. If you have a heavy workload or study schedule, it may be best to skip the drinks until things get a bit less hectic.

If you find that you have a hangover or just a bit fuzzy from the night before, be kind to yourself (and others) and take it easy until you are back to your normal self.

Afterword

If you are having difficulty focussing whilst giving up caffeine and/or alcohol, or in general, our app V-CAF can help. It’s an Apple Watch app that notifies you when your alertness levels drop so that you can take the appropriate steps to boost your alertness.

It’s available now on the App Store, download it today.

Categories
Alert Focus Productivity Staying Awake

Time to Rest and Refocus

Life Doesn’t Have to be so Complicated

Keep it simple…

These days I seem to have more to do than ever. Tight deadlines, keeping in touch with family and friends whilst trying to complete my personal study and fitness goals all take their toll.

And it’s at times like these that you can easily lose track of time and forget to take time out. I was reminded of this fact when I found myself struggling to stay on track for a deadline. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t solve this particular issue which I found increasingly frustrating.

As my mind started wandering I found my self thinking about the complications of life that seemed to be making it impossible to get what I needed done. Then I looked at my Apple Watch and a solution struck me.

Time To Sleep
Photo by @alexcroes via Twenty20

Side Tracked

It’s one thing knowing what to do, and another to actually do it. Especially when you find yourself under pressure to get things done. I normally make the time to take time out throughout the day, just to keep me sane.

But in these very interesting times, it is easy to start with the intention of doing one thing but find yourself sidetracked by what seems to be more pressing and urgent at that moment.

For some things this is no big deal but I let things slide just a bit too long and I felt it! Tasks that I would normally sail through became quite challenging and took longer than expected.

Lose of Focus

I didn’t realise that I wasn’t focussing on the main issue but focusing on symptoms. So, unfortunately, I started doing stuff that dealt with the immediate problems.

Not getting the results I expected made me even more angry and frustrated than I was in the first place, which eventually made me feel like just giving up and quitting.

It was during one of those frustration tantrums that I stepped outside for a walk to help clear my mind. It was late but the air was cool and crisp and had the effect of immediately picking me up. I started noticing my surroundings, the smokers on the corner, the slight frost on the floor, and how quiet things were.

My mind began to wander and I realised that time was getting on so I glanced at my watch to see how long I’d been out. And there it was, on my Apple Watch’s face the subtle answer to why I hadn’t bee able to focus.

The Complication Solution

A watch complication is any function that exists in addition to telling time (displaying hours, minutes and seconds) on a timepiece. These watch complications enable special functions that are performed and displayed on the watch to enhance or simplify your life.

Wixon Jewelers, Learn about Watch Complications & Timepieces | Wixon Jewelers

In a previous release of V-CAF we enabled the Apple Watch complication feature. One of the team suggested that we needed a visual cue that would also double as an easy access button to launch V-CAF.

So when I saw the V-CAF coffee cup icon on my Apple Watch’s face (as seen in the bottom corner of this articles photo) I realised that I’d been so busy that I’d forgot to start the app which would have alerted me to my ever decreasing alertness levels.

Being aware of my alertness levels in the past allowed me to adjust accordingly and helped increase my productivity. When I got back to my tasks I launched V-CAF and took breaks when alerted to. When I got home, aware of my tiredness, I got to bed earlier. Did it make a difference? I think it did. “Simplified my life indeed!”

Apple Watches have the ability for you to customise your watch face, using complications. The Apple Watch comes with its own standard complications but it also allows you to use third party app’s complications if the app supports them.

V-CAF supports complications and it’s very straight forward to enable and use.

  1. Open the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.
  2. Tap the My Watch tab.
  3. Under the My Faces section scroll through the different watch faces that are installed on your Apple Watch and select a face that is compatible with complications (you can find out which faces are compatible by tapping on a watch face and looking under the Complications section. If the options under this tab are enabled, you can add custom complications to this style).
  4. After you have tapped the watch face that you want to add the V-CAF complication to, select where you want it displayed (i.e. “Top Left”, “Middle”, “Bottom Left” etc) by tapping on the appropriate selection.
  5. Scroll through the list of apps and features until you find V-CAF and tap on it.
  6. Click “Click as current Watch Face” if it isn’t set as your watch’s current face.

Once there when you look at your watch face you’ll see that you now have easy access to Launch V-CAF without having to scroll through the Watch’s app selection grid or list.

And you may find, like I did, it’s a good visual reminder to start V-CAF whilst you are working, studying or any situation where you need to stay awake and alert.

Recap

It’s easy to forget to do the things that need to be done when you are busy, so try to find ways to remind yourself what needs to be done. In my case it was as simple as putting the icon of our app on my watch’s face that helped solve the underlying problem to my focussing issues.

Afterword

“Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.”

Aesop
Categories
Caffeine Caffeine Addiction Side Effects Staying Awake

Too Much Caffeine?

V-CAF Is The Alternative

Stay Awake Stay Alert Stay Focused

Over the years I found that my tolerance to caffeine had increased. Coffee, tee, caffeine pills and energy drinks weren’t having the same effect they once did.

I found myself having to increase my consumption of caffeine in all of its various forms just to feel normal, and normal meant no headaches and no cravings for a coffee, chocolate or energy drinks.

Eventually I had enough and decided to quit caffeine and get back to feeling like myself. Going through that process felt like pushing a boulder up a steep mountain, but along the way I found some shortcuts and helpful techniques that lessened the discomfort.

Too Much Caffeine
Photo by @Zenchic via Twenty20,

Before Setting Off

Up until I decided to quit caffeine, life seemed hectic, and therefore, always a need for a little pep up. Studying, tests, exams, looking for work, job interviews, on the job learning, deadlines, it never seemed to end.

At each new phase I promised myself that I would either cut down or stop drinking so much caffeine, but there was always something new that would eventually lead to bingeing on whatever caffeine I could find to “get me through this”.

Even after I got the jitters from taking caffeine pills and drinking caffeinated sodas to help me stay awake whilst studying for my university entrance exams, you’d have thought that I would just stay away, but I didn’t.

 

Why

This was the question I asked myself each time I decided to quit and the same question I asked myself when I started to binge. A good friend advised me to give up on the caffeinated drinks and caffeine pills, but didn’t offer any advice on how to do that.

I didn’t think that I had a problem so I didn’t talk to my doctor about it and decided that all I had to do was quit. But here’s the thing. At the time I didn’t realise that my caffeine withdrawal symptoms were actually driving me back to caffeine.

The symptoms include :

  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Reduced Performance
  • Vomiting
  • and Nausea

In the October 15th 1992 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, an article by John R, Hughes, M.D. stated:

“One central feature in most definitions of dependence is that the drug serves as a reinforcer [subjects give the drug to themselves]…
Self administration of caffeine has been demonstrated in several studies in humans. A clinical counterpart to drug reinforcement is the notion of losing control, i.e., being unable to stop using the drug or using the drug despite the knowledge that it is harmful. Unfortunately, we do not know whether caffeine users have difficulty ceasing to use caffeine or whether they continue to consume it despite physicians’ recommendations to stop.”

Hughes, J. (1992). Clinical Importance of Caffeine Withdrawal. /The New England Journal of Medicine,/ /327(16),/ 1160-1161.

Change of Path

So on my journey to lose my caffeine dependency, with many starts and stops, I finally found something that worked. That something wasn’t just one thing but the summation of all the little things that I had done or exposed to that helped me change my perspective and continue to reap the benefits even now.

  • Stop Trying To Give Up Caffeine
    We all know some version of the following. If I tell you to close your eyes and not think of a delicious cup of coffee, the chances are that you are going to picture a cup of coffee. When I decided not to drink caffeine anymore I found myself noticing people all around me drinking my favourite sodas with caffeine and I found that I thought more about caffeine and what I was missing!
    When I finally said I’ll take each passing moment as it is and acknowledged that there was a chance that I would cave in to temptation, I eventually found that I didn’t even notice that I hadn’t had any caffeine substances until someone offered it to me. Now I can occasionally have caffeine in one of its many guises or I can decline, either way it doesn’t faze me.
  • Get Better Sleep
    I still have periods where I don’t get as much sleep as I need, but they are fewer now since I committed myself to get more sleep. But it’s not just quantity, it’s also quality which I strive for now. An easy win in this area is to exercise more and avoid caffeine after lunch.
  • Reducing Stress by Taking More Breaks
    I now without fail take more breaks during the day. I’ve replaced coffee breaks with either short naps, walks outside or water breaks. Before I used to work through until I finished whatever task I had to complete. But now I not only take breaks, I take smart breaks. Whenever working I start our app V-CAF on my Apple Watch and leave it running. When I’m tired or my alertness starts to waiver I get an alert, and it’s at this point that I take a break for 5-10 mins before coming back and starting the next round. The unexpected side effect of this has been to reduce my caffeine intake because I now know when my alertness levels are low, so I can do something about it rather than just automatically reaching for a coffee.

Summary

It ain’t easy to give up a caffeine dependency, but you can make it easier on yourself by:

  • Not focussing on giving up caffeine
  • Increasing the quantity and quality of your sleep
  • Take more smart breaks where possible whilst working, studying or playing

Afterword

Remember to take things at your own pace and gradually if you want to succeed in losing your caffeine addiction. Good Luck 🙂

Categories
Energy Exercise Fatigue Focus Productivity

Take a Break and Get Out More

Time to Walk

I like listening to video and audio podcasts when I’m at work. Luckily for me I currently work in an office where I am able to do that without too much hassle from other colleagues and bosses.

I don’t do it all the time, but definitely when I’m getting a little stressed or frustrated with a problem that is seemingly impossible to fix (at that precise moment). Turning my attention towards something else for a brief moment has helped me clear the brain fog and find a solution.

Unfortunately, lately I’ve been staying at my desk for almost the whole day and I’ve found that even though I take a few micro breaks, by the end of the day I’m exhausted.

Work, Work, Work

Having the feeling of being productive is very important to our self esteem and general mental health. But things that are positive, if done to excess, can harm.

I, like you probably do, work in a culture of very productive people in which you don’t want to be seen as a slacker or someone who doesn’t pull their weight; so, to not feel like you are letting the team down you minimise the breaks that you take.

For me that came in the form of not leaving my desk too often and taking micro breaks where I’d check my email, message my friends and family quickly, or just look at what’s trending in the world of entertainment (better known as gossip)!

This was especially true when I had tight deadlines or a heavy work load. In fact I spent more time having micro breaks than I did having “proper” breaks.

At first I thought that it helped me deal with the stress at work, but after a while I began to feel flat and demotivated.

Overloaded

It was becoming clear to me that I wasn’t able to keep the quality of my work consistently high, and that if I noticed, it wouldn’t be long before others did too.

At first I tried turning my phone to flight mode and leaving it in my bag, but I found myself checking news and other interesting websites just as much as I had done whilst being on my phone!

I then doubled down on using the Pomodoro technique to focus on the tasks at hand but that didn’t help when I had difficult or complex issues to solve as I spent more time at my desk working on said problems.

Get Up and Get Out

During one of my intense focused work sessions I caught myself staring out of the window watching people walking by.

It was then that I realised what I needed to do. I grabbed my coat put my EarPods in and went for a ten minute walk in the green a few metres away from my office.

There’s something about being out and about, particularly where there’s a lot of trees or open green space that’s really relaxing. Sometimes I listen to a podcast, music or audio book, and sometimes I just let my mind wander from one thing to the next.

I’ve lost track on the amount of times that I’ve had a good idea come to mind, or realised the solution to a problem, or even just felt more refreshed and awake whilst on these walks.

Where I live it gets dark earlier in winter and there’s less sunlight. Going for outdoor walks either just after lunch or instead of a coffee break have really helped to boost my mood and improve my concentration when getting back to work.

Recap

Nowadays I make a point of taking at least one walking break outside when I can and I’ve found that when I do, I naturally have less breaks where I stare at my phone or monitor.

The act of getting up and going for a walk helps because:

  • I get fresh air
  • I raise my heart rate
  • I get more vitamin D for free
  • I put my mind in a more receptive state allowing me to find alternative trails of thought
  • I can listen to something that helps me switch off for a while

Overall, what’s not to like? If you find yourself in a bit of a rut, maybe try going out for a walk.

Afterword

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.“

Friedrich Nietzsche

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),/