Tuesday, 16 September 2008

GTD – Keeping “Fresh”

For my next instalment of my GTD journey, I want to talk about keeping the old “noggin” fresh. This is an often overlooked part of getting things done. I want to talk about getting over “brain fatigue”.

To put it simply, if your brain loses momentum, YOU lose momentum. Due to this, as part of wanting to work smarter (not harder) we should look at it and see what we can do to fix it.

Look at the Problem

Now, not everyone may suffer from this. Some people may be able to do 8-9 hours of work and go home and do everything else and still feel pretty refreshed by the end of the day. I however, can not. Far from it in fact. Here is my current take on the situation:

I am a software head. I write software for a living, I study software, it is my career and my passion. While this is awesome, it also means I am sat in front of a computer for an average of 12 hours a day (holy crap even I never realised it was this much until I worked it out!). This means I am always typing code, thinking about code or looking up code for most of my conscious time. This makes my head tired.

For me, I tend to get tired about the same time(s) each day. Around lunchtime and when I am heading from from the office. This kind of makes sense. People tend to naturally feel sleepy after eating and after doing 9 hours work, of course I am bloody tired.

When it hits me, I find it REALLY hard to focus on what I am doing. Hell sometimes I am struggling to stay awake at my desk. Sometimes I have never been able to get focused following a “crash”.

I don’t think sleep is an issue. I get a minimum of 7-7.5 hours a night. Medically, I am perfectly healthy.

So we have identified here that:

  • When it hits me, its VERY disruptive to my work flow.
  • I have times where I feel tired. There is a regular pattern.
  • It happens a lot (i.e. daily) but the good thing is that its regular (I know roughly when it is happening).

Now, I know some people don’t have the luxury of having a regular “cycle” (especially those of you with children!) so this is why it’s important to think about your individual situation.

Think!

I started thinking.. Why do I suddenly start to feel real tired? Yes, I have always known people feel naturally tired after eating, but it never happens at home (studying or working), or when I am out dining with friends? What’s the difference? So I began to start comparing my two main working locations.. Work, and home.

Then it started to strike me. It really is my environment. I have a boring office, with a crappy chair, with nothing going on but the cursor/caret moving in front of me as I do my work.

At home, I can have the windows open with fresh air coming in. I can hear the birds outside, the rain coming down (I am in England, its the “norm”). A comfy chair. No office noise. I can work in my boxers if the need takes me (apologies for any nasty images). I can stop for longer than 20 minutes and not get a boss thinking I am trying to pull a fast one.

To put it simply: Humans aren’t cut out for this crap.

We are creative, sensitive individuals who crave stimuli. It’s so simple, but the problem is we don’t [all] have great offices, we can’t go to work in our underwear and bosses like to see people doing work rather than drinking coffee and relaxing.

Solutions?

Get Stimulated! Here’s some of the things that I have done to help me, these may work for you, or may need some “tweaking” to suit your needs:

  • STOP! First and foremost, don’t try and fight it, you will lose.
  • Listen to different music. I am a rocker, a metal-head. I love it and always will. However, the trouble with it is that most of the time it pushes the testosterone and adrenaline up, making it hard for me to relax. But when the old “sleepies” hit, it doesn’t really help me because I am used to it. So I ended up on Napster checking out all sorts of random music that I don’t normally listen to, the most prominent being New Age (this made me chuckle as it is so “not me”). I couldn’t believe the effect it had on me, it actually chilled me out a LOT and I could almost feel my brain emptying and become less stressed. FYI, One group that I play a lot is Enigma. Aside from all of the above, it opens your brain up to new aural experiences.
  • Don’t do “boredom” things. Surfing Boing Boing, YouTube, FAIL Blog and the like for cheap giggles will not help either. Yes, you may get a little lift, but none of them are getting your brain doing anything, so as soon as you go back to work, you are back at square one.
  • Engage with people. Talk to colleagues, if you are feeling it and a colleague pops out to grab a coffee, go and chat for 5 minutes. Talk about whatever you like, provided you are both interested. You will both feel refreshed when you return.
  • Brainstorm. This is my personal favourite because you can brainstorm about other things you are working on while not working. These can be future projects/features, side projects, blog posts (guess where this one came from) and so on. Nothing beats getting away from the screen with a pencil and paper and just unloading your thoughts. Remember, brainstorming should be a natural thinking process, don’t force it. Just relax and yet your thoughts lead the way.
  • Do NOTHING! Yup, you heard it from here, tell your boss to send the complaints to me. I don’t care I am trying to help you and they should do the same. Sometimes just getting out of the office, sitting down with some chill-out music on with your eyes closed can work miracles for your mental state. I have also been doing this a lot recently too. I have literally opened my eyes after 5 minutes “shut off” (closed eyes, good posture, music in ears – NO INTERRUPTIONS) and felt as refreshed as when just waking up.
  • Scribble / “Doodle”. Sometimes just drawing rubbish can really take your mind off of things. Stupid little faces, animals, planes, comic book heroes, whatever. I often do this while brainstorming. As soon as a “thought chain” stops. I doodle around previous thoughts. For example while brainstorming this post, the “STOP” idea ended up with a big red stop sign scribbled next to it. The music point ended up with some weird bug thing with a smile and music notes flying around its head. Be creative, it doesn’t need to be serious.
Contributions from Commenter's

Take a walk! Getting some blood flowing around your body can really help you wake up and if you do it soon enough you won't start to feel tired either.

Summary

The above are things that I have found really useful for picking me up and putting me “back in the game”. Normally this only takes 10-20 minutes. This is much better than a total afternoon crash where I have literally not been able to get focused for the entire afternoon. Hell, some of my colleagues disappear to the restroom for longer periods.

So, will the above totally work for you? Probably not. I just wanted to post my thoughts so it may be of some help for you. If you only take one point and get a little bit more productive because of it, I am happy. :)

Feel free to share any ideas that work for you, be great if we can get some more recommendations on here!

Special thanks to those that get involved and help improve the post! :)

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3 comments:

  1. completely agree I m in the same boat

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good post, I'd add "take a walk", getting some blood flowing around your body can really help you wake up and if you do it soon enough you won't start to feel tired either.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yes I love software too and want to work in software.

    Another solution here: go to the gym, pour with sweat and get a six pack and a big chest and arms!

    How many software nerds can say they have a body to die for!

    I can ;) and I bet I can bench press far more than all of them put together

    ReplyDelete