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
Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Fatigue Lethargy Side Effects Sleepiness Staying Awake Tiredness

How To Stay Awake, Stay Alert

Overcome Tiredness – Use V-CAF

Stay Awake, Stay Alert, Stay Focused

Feeling tired? Finding it difficult to stay alert? Don’t worry you’re in good company, because we all feel like this at some point in the day (at least I do).

Caffeine stopped being as effective in perking me up as my tolerance levels had become very high and I wanted to stop using it due to some of the strange side effects it had on me.

After trying a variety of alternative remedies my colleague and I decided to make an app that would act like caffeine, without the side effects and be virtual.

Our motivation is to help people stay awake and alert when they need to without having to resort to caffeine. In this post we focus on how to use V-CAF Stay Awake, Stay Alert to help you achieve those goals.

Stay Awake Stay Alert
Photo by @LeopoldoMacaya via Twenty20

Tiredness

/ˈtʌɪədnəs/
/noun/
noun: tiredness
1 the state of wishing for sleep or rest; weariness.”tiredness overcame her and she fell into a deep slumber”

Definitions from Oxford Languages

Tiredness affects us all in varying degrees and frequencies, which makes sense since we are all different. But there are times when we don’t want to feel tired and at those times it can , at best be described as a nuisance, at worst a dangerous sign of an underlying health issue.

Eventually we seek ways to get around it, just temporarily, and not enough to affect our health in negative ways. The most common way by far of achieving this goal is by consuming caffeine.

This wonder drug has and is helping to fuel the thoughts and productivity of many around the world and in its most popular form (coffee) as an industry is estimated to be worth more than $100 billion a year.

 

Why Use Caffeine

Caffeine works, so why not use it? In fact many scientific studies highlight the health benefits of caffeine can delay the onset of such devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

But then there are many reports that show prolonged exposure to caffeine can actually induce effects linked to Alzheimer’s. So which is it? The Alzheimer’s Society in the UK with regards to the protective or harmful effects of caffeine state that there is “No definitive answer” Caffeine and dementia | Alzheimer’s Society .

Although I’ve found that caffeine has worked for me in the past, I almost always needed to consume more to get similar levels of awareness or alertness than I did just a short time before.

This lead me to over consume caffeine to the point that my hands started shaking. And if not to that extreme, then to seriously affect the quality of my sleep, leading me to feel more tired as time went on.

Then there’s the withdrawal symptoms which, depending on how long you’ve been consuming caffeine, can range from a slight headache and drowsiness to very unpleasant stomach cramps and migraines.

Techniques That Work

So, what about V-CAF? Can it work just as good as caffeine and how does it work?

There’s only one thing better at keeping you awake rather than caffeine that isn’t illegal and is 100% natural, and that is sleep. Enough good quality sleep. As a result V-CAF doesn’t work against your natural rhythms but with them.

Instead of trying to fight your body, V-CAF works with your body by monitoring your body’s natural rhythms and notifying you when the probability of your alertness levels dropping have increased.

Knowing this you can then use V-CAF to alert you whilst you are engaged in an activity as a natural break cue. Use this time to take a rest then get back to work. Of late, I’ve started napping after I get a notification from V-CAF. Napping helps clear my mind and I feel a lot more focused and productive
for it.

It’s vital that you get rid of any lingering doubts about whether napping is a good use of your time. Instead, remind yourself that naps can make you more alert, improve your reaction time, help you to become more creative, reduce accidents, and put you into a better mood. In fact, you should start to feel guilty if you are not taking a nap during the day.

Wiseman, Richard. Night School: Wake up to the power of sleep (p. 177). Pan Macmillan. Kindle Edition.

Just make sure your naps are no longer than 20 minutes to achieve the best results.

If you miss coffee or caffeine then start of by not consuming any after midday. Use V-CAF to notify you when you alertness levels drop and then go for a quick brisk walk outside (which for maximum effect works well after having a nap), and drink plenty of water (on cold days I drink hot water and herbal teas for the warmth).

Summary

V-CAF works by you being actively engaged in using it. That is, when you are notified of the reduction in your alertness levels, do something to help regain your focus.

I outlined taking naps and going for walks, but as I constantly say on this blog, nothing beats a good nights sleep. Make the time and effort to increase the quality of your sleep and keep yourself informed about what’s best for your health.

Afterword

Work less than you think you should. It took me a while to realise there was a point each day when my creativity ran out and I was just producing words – usually lousy ones – for their own sake. And nap: it helps to refresh the brain, at least mine.

Amy Waldman source: https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/nap-quotes
Categories
Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleep Staying Awake Tiredness

Are You Getting Enough?

Make Time For A Nap

The original power booster…

Tim was fed up. He’d been working long intense hours to meet his departments’ end of year deadlines. He also had been putting in extra time on his side hustle as a “gig” driver with an online company to help make ends meet.

Nothing seemed clear to him anymore. Whatever he tried to do to earn a little extra cash didn’t seem to be working. It seemed the harder he tried, the less things worked out for him.

“I just can’t think straight!”, said Tim. Each hour of each day for every week since March just seemed to blur into a weird blob of fuzzy consciousness.

Street Sleeper
Photo by @polylm via Twenty20

Deprived

The fast pace of modern life is causing an ever increasing amount of people to not get enough sleep. Pulling all nighters to complete work or study deadlines as well as worries about their financial situation is causing many to feel stressed and fatigued.

As Tim was finding, being stressed and tired makes it more difficult to think clear enough to find solutions that work, which tends to imply that people are actually making things worse for themselves without realising.

The cost of the frantic pace of modern life is less productivity, a reduction in economic activity, and ultimately your health.

The Health Risks

Tim was displaying the classic early symptoms of sleep deprivation. These include:

  • Constant yawning.
  • A likelihood to fall asleep when inactive (for example falling asleep in a meeting or nodding off whilst driving).
  • Feeling fatigued all day.
  • Irritability.
  • And poor concentration.

More advanced sleep deprivation leads to more advanced symptoms :

  • Uncontrolled bursts of sleep.
  • A weakened immune system.
  • An increased possibility of being obese.
  • Tired drivers are 5 times more likely to have a crash.

Getting Enough

Like most people, Tim knew that he needed to get more sleep. But that wasn’t the problem. He needed a plan to be able to get the sleep that was healthy for him whilst being able to work and get things done.

I gave him some of the articles that I’ve written in the past as well as some one to one advice, but the key is to find what works for you and commit yourself to stick to it.

  • Sleep
    Create a sleep timetable for yourself. Make sure that you set realistic goals, for example most people need from between 6 to 10 hours of sleep (depending on age, weight and other factors), so make sure you take all the factors of your life into account. And make sure that you plan and actually go to bed at the same time every day, and wake up at the same time too.
  • Caffeine
    Again, each person is different. I gave up caffeine completely for a few years, but now use it in passing. If you are going to consume caffeine make sure you don’t have any between 4 to 8 hours before you go to bed. Caffeine can stay in your system for up to 15 hours, so again experiment and see what works for you.
  • Breaks
    Where possible, take regular breaks, especially if you are driving or operating heavy machinery. During your breaks try to have at least one 10 – 20 min nap to help refocus your mind. Our Apple Watch app V-CAF, is ideal for letting you know when your alertness is decreasing so that you can optimise your work and breaks to when your body really needs them.
  • Exercise
    Establish a regular exercise routine. Exercise is good for relieving stress and helps boost the quality of your sleep in the evening. It doesn’t have to involve joining a gym. A 20 minute brisk walk is good enough to help improve your blood circulation and the benefits to your sleep are immediate.

Recap

I benefited greatly from the above tips that I’ve outlined for you above, which is why whenever I get the chance to share that information (like I did with Tim), I leap at it.

But, it’s up to you to use them as just reading about them won’t change anything.

To recap:

  • Establish a regular sleep routine and stick to it
  • Reduce or cut out caffeine consumption
  • Take regular breaks whilst working
  • Exercise daily (even if it’s a 20 minute walk)

Afterword

“Fatigue will continue to impact productivity and the number of accidents at home and in the workplace. Sleep deprivation may be the next emerging health issue for both individuals and business.”

Maher, H. (2006). Sleep Deprivation: Are You a Victim?.AAOHN journal : Official journal of the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses,54(12),548-548.
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
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
Alert Energy Fatigue Lethargy Productivity Sleepiness Tension

How Mindfulness Can Boost Your Alertness

Stay Present

Stay Relevant…

A constant annoyance of mine has been the amount of times I get distracted whilst working. It’s not that I can’t focus, but never ending interruptions via messaging, emails or people just talking to me when I’m deeply engrossed in something makes it feel like I’m not making any progress.

Currently I’m working on a project with a lot of people from across the world. Coordination between everyone has to be very tight otherwise we can loose sight of our main goal and risk failing. Me being me, I allowed myself to become sidetracked and as a result missed an important milestone.

My initial response was to blame everyone that distracted me from my project objectives, but a little while later by chance I found an article on mindfulness which helped me change my perspective.

How Mindfulness Can Boost Your Alertness
Photo by Ray Kay,, Ray Kay, @by.raykay

Unintentional Overloading

Whilst reflecting on the situation, I noticed the small things that I had been doing that led me to being distracted. Eager to get ahead and finish as quickly as I could, I hastily jumped straight into the work without first planning a proper strategy to getting the things that needed to be done, done.

This led me to start to ask others about what they thought was needed for getting things done. Whilst it’s good to talk and share ideas, it also tends to lead to a constant “back and forth” style of working, that does work, but not for every single task.

Soon I found myself with a lot of extra tasks added to my workload, some of which had very little to do with achieving our team’s goals.

Not Being Here

The extra tasks started to look like a mountain of pain and I started to focus on what I didn’t want to do rather than what was needed to be done.

Although I was engaging in meetings, email conversations and phone calls, I wasn’t really there. The nagging mountain of pain was always just at the back of my mind, calling out to me, and subtly draining my energy away from the present.

I became more restless and stressed and found it difficult to focus. The deadline was looming and I felt like I had no way of escaping. Then the desperation set in. I started working long hours to try to salvage something but found myself having to explain my actions to everyone around. They sensed that something was wrong, and I knew it too.

It seemed the harder I tried to get things done, nothing was actually done! I was stressed and it was making the situation worse.

Paying Attention

Moments like these can be draining and rob you of your self confidence, but thankfully there are measures that we can take to turn things around and regain control of first ourselves, and then the situation.

One such tool is mindfulness. I think of it as a collection of techniques and ideas that have been proven to help lessen stress and build mental resilience, especially when you’re under pressure.

Mindfulness is the act of being present in the here and now, without the need to judge or label what you are experiencing, but rather being aware of what is going on, around you and inside of yourself.

Luckily for me I had been exposed to some mindfulness techniques via one of my martial arts masters and in this case I started to put it to work as soon as I realised that I was spiralling out of control.

I stopped what I was doing and found a quiet place where I could be alone. I then sat on a chair, set a 10 minute alarm on my watch, and made myself as comfortable as possible, before closing my eyes and concentrating on my breath.

When breathing in I would “breath deep” in the sense that I would push out my belly as I inhaled until I couldn’t any more, and then exhale whilst pulling my belly in to gently push all the air out from my lungs.

Whilst doing this my mind would wonder, and when I caught myself I would bring my attention back to my breathing, without getting angry or judging it in anyway.

Because I was already in crisis mode I was reluctant to take any breaks and tried to carry on. But on one such occasion I was feeling tired and used our app, V-CAF to alert me as I grew even more tired. When the alarm rang, it reminded me to step away and take a break. Bingo, the perfect time to have a quick breathing meditation session!

For the rest of the project I made a point of using V-CAF to notify me to take breaks, which I would use as my meditation breaks. I reaped the benefits of this one change and achieved the rest of my milestones with room to spare.

The Take Aways

The simple act of bringing your attention to your breathing is the perfect exercise for training your mind on being present and aware.

Doing this and other exercises like it will help to build your focus and willpower and make you more aware of what is going on with your body and mind.

Being aware of this helps build your general awareness and therefore make you more alert to your moods and environment.

Being Mindful

It is easy to be overwhelmed by your workloads or stressful situations, but by taking a deep breath and stepping back, you can gain a clearer picture of what is really happening whilst keeping your head.

Deep breathing and other mindfulness techniques can be used to help you regain control of what may seem to be an out of control situation.

Try the breathing meditation the next time you get into a difficult situation and don’t forget to let us know how you got on by leaving a comment below.