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Caffeine Caffeine Alternative Energy Fatigue Focus Productivity Sleepiness Staying Awake Studying Tiredness

How to Optimise Your Breaks

Feel Better, Get Better Results

Work to your strengths…

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

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

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

Optimize Your Breaks
Photo by @daphneemarie via Twenty20

Hit and Miss

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

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

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

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

Diminishing Returns

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

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

Optimisation

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

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

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

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

Recap

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

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

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

Afterword

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

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

Napping – A Sign of Laziness or Smart Working?

Power Nap To Get Things Done

Rinse, Repeat…

Drifting off to sleep at the the most inappropriate times has been something that has plagued me from school. As I got older I thought that things would improve, but sitting in meetings after lunch have proved that wrong.

My initial attempts of trying to use caffeine to keep me awake and alert did work, but soon after heading down that road stopped being so effective, and had side effects on me that I wasn’t too pleased with.

As a result, a work colleague and I decided to put our heads together to build an app that would notify you when your alertness started to decrease and also created this blog to inform others in a similar situation.

But, as our research into this phenomena expanded we found something that consistently appeared to work in boosting people’s productivity levels that was so simple and made sense, that we wondered why society saw it as problem rather than as a cure.

Napping - A Sign of Laziness or Smart Working?
Photo by Rob Christian Crosby, Robert Cross, @robcros

Being A Slacker

Whether in school, college, the workplace or social situations, it’s generally frowned upon to appear to be tired. It gives off a sense of laziness on the part of the poor soul that finds themselves in that situation.

In work and college I found that people were very proud of the fact that they had very little sleep to get things done and would delight in telling me how they just powered through the tiredness to meet deadlines.

It was almost as if they used their tiredness as a badge of pride to show how hard they were working. But unfortunately for them they either didn’t get the grades that they thought they deserved or the quality of the work that they produced was found wanting.

I found this out the hard way by giving in to the brow bashing, and although I had seen the results of this approach on others around me, I complied as I didn’t want to be seen as the slacker, who doesn’t give his all.

Things Aren’t Getting Done

At first I thought that I was managing to keep up with the workloads, the long days and very little rest and sleep, because “Hey I’ve got work to do!”

But as time went on I found it difficult to concentrate, and even simple tasks started to seem like climbing the Matterhorn. My productivity started to go down and I started hating coming into the office.

This is not surprising or uncommon. Recent research suggests that working fatigued has hidden health-related costs that costs the economy billions of dollars each year in lost productivity:

“According to a fatigue cost estimator from the National Safety Council and Brigham and Women’s Sleep Matters Initiative, health-related cost of lost productivity is $136 billion a year. Further, a reported 70% of Americans regularly experience insufficient sleep. Sleep loss, especially in the
presence of underlying sleep disorders, results in reduced workplace productivity and increased absenteeism, health care expenditures, workplace accidents and injuries, and motor vehicle accidents during commutes. “

(2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. SLEEP, 42(8)

Visiting The Land of Nod

After a relatively short time I grew frustrated with this way of working and went back to how I work best and listened to myself and body. When feeling tired I decided to go out to a library near where I worked and have a snooze in a corner somewhere.

I also cut down on how much I ate during lunch, reduced or cut out carbohydrates, ate more protein and got most of the difficult work I could out of the way in the mornings (which happens to be my better time for working). Where possible I moved my meetings to the early afternoon, just after my snooze, so I could be more attentive and contribute more.

Using our app V-CAF helped to let me know when my alertness levels were dropping and I used it as my break alarm, so that I would stop what I’m doing before making any mistakes and allowing me to review what I’d done up to that point.

Also, I would wake up earlier in the mornings and do my daily workout (which is probably why it’s easier to get the difficult work done in the mornings), drink more water and get to bed as early as possible.

I have to say, that after adding these changes into my daily work mode I’ve come to find work fun again, and get more done in shorter periods of time.

Along with recommendations to sleep 7-9 hours at night, daytime naps are being integrated into workplace culture in the world’s largest grossing tech, consulting, media, and retail companies: Google, Uber, Nike, Cisco, Zappos, Huffington Post, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Proctor & Gamble, and Ben & Jerry’s. Not only do these companies encourage workplace naps, but they provide accommodations, such as rooms secluded for the purpose of napping, often equipped with nap pods or beds.

(2019). Challenging the stigma of workplace napping. SLEEP, 42(8)

Key Points

Sometimes we need to take stock of what is best for us rather than following the herd. Taking a 20 minute nap whilst at work is not only good for our productivity, but good for our health and wellbeing too.

  • Working whilst fatigued reduces productivity and has hidden costs to industry.
  • Do your more challenging work in the mornings (if you are a morning person).
  • Eat light, protein rich lunches and drink more water.
  • Move meetings to just after your naps if you can.
  • Take regular breaks whilst working where possible.
  • Get more sleep (between 7 to 9 hours each night).
  • And take a nap (again, where possible). It’s not being lazy and can actually boost the quality of your productivity.

Moving On

Nobody knows you better than you. Learn to listen and trust yourself. Society is usually slow to adapt to each persons needs and wants. If you are feeling tired, try not to plough on like a machine, but take a step back and give yourself a break.

Try it and let us know how you get on in the comments below.

Categories
Fatigue Staying Awake Tiredness

Working Through Tiredness

Tiredness, How to Work Through It

If you want to, that is…

Recently I’ve had a lot of work on and noticed that I’ve been feeling more tired than usual.

As a result I’ve felt that my work has been harder than it needs to be and taking longer than expected.

This in turn has made me more frustrated which has effected the quality and efficiency of my work.

Thankfully I recognised what was going on and was able to stop the downward spiral, and decided to write an article about how I was able to turn things around fairly quickly.

Working Through Tiredness
Photo by Joyce Romero @joyceromero on Unsplash, Bali, Indonesia, Caught my friend sleeping while waiting for boarding.

Decreasing Productivity

It can be depressing. You have a deadline to meet or a heavy workload, but feel confident that you can meet your objectives.

Then as you get deeper into your tasks you start to feel a little overwhelmed and find that your efforts aren’t quite hitting the mark.

You increase your efforts but frustration and even a little anger might start to set in. And to top it off you’re feeling exhausted!

Now you’ve reached the tipping point. As you become more drained the likelihood of you making mistakes increase whilst simultaneously decreasing your efficiency.

Working Whilst Tired

It’s been proven that you increase the potential to make mistakes when working during tiredness. So why do so many people do it?

I believe that it’s partially due to people possessing less body awareness nowadays. It’s a similar situation to people not realising that they’re thirsty until it can’t be ignored anymore.

Another responsible factor is overloading. A never ending growing list of responsibilities and tasks lay pressure on the mind and distract you from paying attention to what your body and mind are telling you.

The lack of sensitivity to tiredness may also be linked to the amount of stimulants that are available for us to consume, which has helped to blunt our ability to recognise the tell tale signs that tell us we need to take a break.

If we don’t learn to pay attention to the signals, we are ultimately setting ourselves up for:

  • Stress
  • Nervous breakdowns
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise
  • Confusion
  • Forgetfulness
  • Anxiety

Working Through Tiredness

Just because I’m tired it doesn’t mean I don’t have to hit my targets. It’s a sign that I have to take time management more seriously and make better decisions.

During my last slump I used these strategies to get me over that hump:

  • Prioritised Sleep
    Yep. I planned my waking hours around my sleep. What this meant in practical terms was that I had set times to wake up and go to sleep. No working past at least an hour before I went to bed. For me I set my bed time for 10:00 and woke up around 06:00 every day, including weekends. The idea here was to get back in sync with my circadian rhythm.
  • Exercise
    I’m more of a morning person when it comes to exercise so I did an hours weights and running session soon after waking up. For me I found that it gave me an energy boost and made me feel more alert, so I felt better about the work I had to do for the day. You’ll have to experiment and find a time that works for you, but the aim is to do some exercise every day. Even a ten minute walk helps clear your mind and relax you. It’s a great stress buster and can lift your mood.
  • Eat Whole Foods and Drink Lots of Water
    Nutrient dense food works wonders at boosting your mood and energy. Eat dark green leafy vegetables, grass fed cattle, whole milk, free range eggs and chickens, nuts and berries. These are natures gift and provide you with your basic nutritional needs. I’m vegetarian so where I mention meats, I eat more beans and lentils and do food combining, like rice and beans to get what I need. Again experiment to find what works for you. Don’t forget to drink lots of water throughout the day, and stay away from processed foods as much as possible.
  • Plan Your Work
    I’ve used Scrum and Kanban to plan what work I’ll do for the week ahead. And as usual, I’ve modified them both to fit my needs and style of work. Again, it’s not about the method, but more about the principals behind the method. In this case, it’s kinda like being back at school and having a class schedule so you knew which classes where on what day and where, but in this case it’s for work you need to get done. Planning ahead helps keep you focused on the work that needs to be done and also gives you a concrete indicator on the amount of work that you’ve done and can also help you to adjust where you put your efforts.
  • Take Regular Breaks
    Break up your work sessions into 20-30 minute work periods and make a point focussing only on the work that you have set to do in that time and then take a 5-10 minute break when your current session is done. This is my adjusted version of the Pomodoro technique, so adjust to what fits your concentration spans. In addition to that I also use our tiredness alarm, V-CAF, to let me know that I’m at that point where tiredness will begin to affect my work, so I take a break. It works wonders and I highly recommend it.

Review

Working whilst being tired sucks. Sometimes we just can’t avoid it, but I hope that you at least try some of the tips that I used to get me through my last slump. It’s better than trying to trick yourself into staying awake, and in the long term you’ll feel so much better.

Give these a try:

  • Making sleep a priority
  • Daily exercise
  • Eat healthily and drink lots of water throughout the day
  • Plan your work
  • Take regular breaks whilst working

Afterthought

It looks like a lot to do just to be able to get things done when you are tired, but it’s not that much. For the cost of a little effort every day the rewards will soon pay you back tenfold.

Being tired is a natural part of being alive. Embrace it for what it is and you’ll soon feel like you can do anything, and probably can.

Good Luck

Categories
Focus Productivity Study Studying

How to Beat Tiredness, Stay Awake, Stay Productive

Beating Tiredness, Staying Awake, Staying Productive

That’s what we do…

Recently I’ve been working long hours and not getting enough rest. Even though I know better, I’ve just pushed through.

My deadlines were tight and something had to give. Unfortunately it’s been my sleep. 

As sleep wasn’t an option I had to find quick fixes that worked for the short term without being too harmful to my long-term health goals.

Let me share them with you.

Trying to beat tiredness, trying to stay awake and trying to stay productive
Photo by Tim Gouw @punttim on Unsplash Full focus at a coffee shop

When Sleep Is Not An Option

There are times when getting any qualitative sleep is just not possible. Whatever the cause the reduced amount of sleep that we get eventually makes us feel tired.

The best option is to get more sleep. But when we can’t what should we do? 

The Problems With Not Getting Enough Sleep

Not getting enough sleep is a sure fire way to kill your productivity! 

Sleep loss equals loss of productivity:

And it seems that more people are willing to concede that tiredness is affecting their productivity at work:

Tiredness and fatigue epidemic is affecting employee work productivity

Quick Stay Awake Fixes

Okay, so what can one do? I found the following tips helpful, but the number one fix is to get more quality sleep and schedule your work priorities appropriately!

  • Take a break every 20 – 25 minutes
    Step away from your desk, go for a walk or talk to a colleague.
  • Work standing up
    if you have a desk that can raise then great. If not, work leaning on a cabinet or raised coffee bar
  • Use a gadget
    Set the alarm on your smart phone to alert you every so often, or if you have an Apple Watch use an app like V-CAF . It senses when you’re likely to fall asleep and alerts you automatically
  • Drink coffee or an energy drink
    Just be careful you don’t have too many and stay under the 400mg limit (or 3 to 4 cups of coffee per day)
  • Drink water
    By keeping your brain hydrated you help reduce the effects of tiredness and increase your ability to focus

Review

Hopefully these tips will help you be more productive when you are feeling tired and have a tight deadline.

Don’t forget:

  • Make sure you have a short break every 20-25 minutes
  • Work standing up
  • Use gadgets and apps like V-CAF to alert you when you’re most likely to fall asleep.
  • Don’t drink too much coffee, but have some non the less
  • Drink water to help you focus 

Be More Productive

Thank you for reading this article.

But what’s more important is that you take the steps to prioritize organizing your sleep patterns so that you get more qualitative sleep.

In the meantime I hope that you find my suggestions useful.

Categories
Caffeine Exercise Sleep Tiredness Weight Loss

Difficulty Staying Awake?

Do This Every Day To Conquer Tiredness

Be Victorious

Whenever I ask my friends and family how’s things going, a significant amount of the responses I get back state that they are tired.

Looking at a few of the headlines out there seem to suggest that tiredness is becoming more common than ever before:

The reasons why exhaustion and burnout are so common, BBC

The exhaustion epidemic, The Guardian

The Fatigue Epidemic, Honor Society

The reasons for why this appears to be a growing trend are numerous and are beyond the scope of my understanding, what I do know from personal experience are that there are measures that we can take personally to help beat tiredness.

Conquerer
Photo by Robin Corps on Flickr Fighting

Tiredness Today

Although tiredness appears to be a growing trend, I personally believe that it has always been a factor in a lot of people’s lives. The difference today is that with social media and the Internet people are more willing to talk to others about how they really feel.

Of those that seek medical advice, many come away feeling disappointed as they were expecting a magical cure to something that is fundamental to the human experience.

Holding Me Back

Tiredness reduces your ability to fully appreciate life. It reduces your productivity; alertness and can affect your mental health as well as your relationships and social interactions.

If not dealt with effectively, tiredness can manifest in numerous ways in your life:

  • Lack of confidence
  • Loneliness
  • Increase in risk of being involved in an accident
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Weight gain

What Can I Do?

The one thing that you can do every day to reverse this condition in your life is to commit to yourself to take action to overcome your tiredness. 

Unfortunately there are no quick fixes, but there are steps that you can consistently take to help yourself overcome your tiredness. I know it’s not a very popular message these days, but by taking responsibility for your response to the problem, you empower yourself to eventually succeed in overcoming your tiredness.

Here are some steps to help you on your way:

  • Sleep
    Make sure you get enough quality sleep. Deep sleep is quality sleep. This helps you feel less tired during the day and helps your mind and body prepare for tomorrow. How do you deep sleep? See the next point.
  • Exercise
    Just 25 – 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least 4 hours before you go to bed can make all the difference to your sleep. It can help you fall asleep faster, improve your sleep quality and help you sleep longer. Also, the effects of exercise on your sleep can be seen to benefit you immediately, on the same night. 
  • Be aware when you are tired
    Notice the signs of tiredness in yourself and act appropriately. Tiredness alarms like V-CAF subtly notify you when you are most likely to be tired. Best of all it’s tailored to you.
  • Eat healthily 
    don’t eat processed foods, reduce your sugar intake and avoid caffeine in all it’s forms.

Review

The points outlined in this article aren’t easy, especially if it means a big lifestyle change, but at the same time they are not so hard. You can do this.

The most difficult part is agreeing to take responsibility and start.

  • Increase your quantity and quality of sleep. 
  • Increase your exercise (amount or intensity or both)
  • Be aware with your tiredness (use a tool like V-CAF)
  • Eat healthy 

What Will You Do?

Thank you for reading this far. This was a bit of a tough article, but hopefully you can see the benefit of a little tough love 😉

Take control, stay awake and stay alert.

Categories
Alert Caffeine Fatigue Staying Awake Tiredness

Tired of Being Tired? So Was I

Tired of Being Tired? So Was I

We shall overcome…

For most of life from my teens I can remember feeling tired to the point of distraction.

School was difficult because I felt like I was constantly fighting to stay awake. By the time I went to University I was known for falling asleep at the back of lectures.

One lecturer even called me out and asked if I found his lectures boring, and another student shouted out “Don’t worry Dave, he does that to everyone”!

Drinking more coffee and taking caffeine pills actually made things worse. Things finally came to a head at work when one of my colleagues told our boss that I would nod off briefly.

Tired of being embarrassed about being tired I decided to take back control of my life, and with the help of another colleague who also had a similar issue, we decided to share what we have found that works and to let you know about a tool that we built to help people like us stop being embarrassed, to be more alert, and to be more awake.

Working Hard, or Hardly Working? Hahaha
Photo by Murray Barnes on Flickr Working Hard, or Hardly Working? Hahaha Funny, what? Tom, sleeping

Tiredness and Productivity

Tiredness during work hours has reached epidemic levels. The problem is that most don’t like to talk about it as it could show them as being unprofessional.

According to research conducted by Westfield Health, 86% of those who took part in the study believe their colleagues, including managers, do not understand the potential consequences of fatigue and lack of sleep and only 9% say their workplace would accept tiredness or fatigue as a genuine reason to call in sick.
Open Access Government, Tiredness and fatigue epidemic is affecting employee work productivity 

Tiredness affects everyone. No matter how skillful, knowledgeable, or proficient someone is in his or her profession, nobody is exempt.

Not Seen in the Best Light

A lot of people will not admit to being tired at work due to how they would be perceived by their colleagues.

However, this can be at the least detrimental to productivity, and at worst dangerous or even fatal as tiredness directly influences people’s physical and mental abilities needed to complete even simple tasks.

The affects of tiredness in the workplace include:

  • Reduced or lack of motivation
  • Slower reaction times
  • Diminished alertness
  • Poor concentration
  • Lower hand eye coordination
  • Difficulty in retrieving and storing information in memory
  • Inefficient information processing and
  • Poor judgment

Tired people can also become quick to anger and therefore potentially dangerous to themselves and others.

What We Found That Works

The secret to beating tiredness during working hours is to efficiently manage the different layers that cause you to be tired. 

Use the techniques outlined below togetherto help manage your tiredness and eventually overcome it:

  • Get more sleep
    Sleep longer and deeper. Most people need about 8 hours a day to be fully alert. But everyone is different. Use a measuring tool to find out the quality and quantity of your sleep. I use Pillow to track my sleep.
  • If you are in a sleep deficit, grab a few minutes nap when you can
    If it’s possible, have a 30 minute nap. It’s been proven to increase alertness whilst at the same time reducing tiredness. Use your lunch break to catch up.
  • Use a tiredness alarm
    V-CAF is an app that alerts you to when you are most likely to be tired and fall asleep. We developed it in response to our need to stay awake whilst working, studying or traveling. Used with the other tips in this article we’ve been able to increase our own productivity and feelings of accomplishment. Available only on the Apple Watch (at the moment).
  • Use Stimulators
    This includes modafinil, amphetamines and caffeine. Caffeine didn’t work for me too well as my tolerance levels were/are quite high. Speak to your medical advisor or doctor about the other two.
  • Drink Water
    Water helps keep you hydrated and helps you to focus more easily.
  • Move 
    If possible stand at your desk, or go for a walk. The act of moving will get your heart pumping and help your brain to be more alert.

Review

This is a very sensitive issue for a lot of people, which is why I decided to write about it. By facing up to what we feel we are weakest at, we help strengthen our resolve to overcome it.

So, summarizing the steps we can take to overcome tiredness at work, or school:

  • Get more sleep
  • If possible have a nap (30 minutes)
  • Use V-CAF to alert you to when you are most likely to fall asleep or be tired
  • Drink water
  • Move

Closing Thoughts

There is no need to be embarrassed about being tired. Many people in the workplace feel tired, but try to hide it by drinking too much caffeine.

By taking the step to confront your tiredness, you are putting yourself back in control of your mind, body and life.