When coffee doesn’t cut it: how to keep going

“There are a few optimal windows for doing your most creative and focused work,” [Assistant Professor Christopher] Barnes says. Most people are at their best in the mid-morning and late afternoon. You might match your circadian rhythm to your schedule by organizing your to-do list around these peaks and valleys. Tate recommends doing “any type of highly detailed work,” such as writing, important decision-making, or technical coding during high-energy hours. During the lulls, you can then turn to tasks that don’t require a great deal of focus: cleaning out your inbox, filling out expense reports, or returning phone calls. “That’s when to do tasks that are like muscle memory work,” she says.

How to Overcome the Midday Slump – Carolyn O’Hara, Harvard Business Review (1 July 2015)

Are we sure coffee doesn’t do the job? It would be helpful. Tea would be even better. But according to O’Hara, moving around and then the opposite, mediation, are what you need. There are reasons and there are more ways to get yourself moving, though: Read the full piece.

Get more energy without caffeine

I have to ask: why? But over on Reddit, there is a discussion I’ve just seen about how to stir yourself instead of your coffee, specifically:

I know a lot of people whose morning habit is to down a cup of coffee to get them ready for the day. Not only have I seen many articles knock that as a bad thing, but I am also not a lover of hot drinks. At the moment of writing this, it is 10am in the morning and I only woke up 2 hours ago. I am feeling tired and could easily jump back in to bed.
So, how do you increase your energy without consuming caffeine?

How Do You Increase Your Energy without Caffeine? CallumVlogs, /r/productivity (27 April 2015)

He – I just somehow sense it’s a man, I don’t know – is still getting replies today, that’s how it floated up in front of me, but he also got responses immediately including this one:

take a nap – it is overused and trivial, but it works like a charm
take a cold shower – cold is key. Warm relaxes you, cold gets you perked up
make yourself a green smoothie – kale / spinach + a fruit of your choice + water + nuts. The greens will give you quite a boost, the fruit will make the taste good, the nuts will give you some energy lasting energy
juice some veggies – carrots / celery / beats
juice some citrus fruits – lemons / oranges / grapefruits – the vitamin C will give you an energy boost
do some HIIT exercises – you’ll have to push yourself mentally past the barrier of “I don’t have the energy for it”, but you’ll feel like a champ after that


Read the full piece and contribute a strong defence in favour of Pepsi Max, would you?

Enough with introvert vs extrovert

Shyness and being outgoing don’t have anything to do with it; it’s more about where we get our energy from. In fact, the differences are pretty simple:

Introverts get exhausted by social interaction and need solitude to recharge.
Extroverts get anxious when left alone and get energy from social interaction.
That’s it. There’s nothing about shyness, being a homebody, or how adventurous you are. Both types can be social, both can creative, both can be leaders, and so on.

Let’s Quit It with the Introvert/Extrovert Nonsense – Thorin Klosowski, Lifehacker UK (26 June 2015)

Read the full piece.

Increase your energy by resting

Nobody ever said that productivity advice had to be deep or clever. Unfortunately someone may have said it has to go on at length:

Schedule rest time first. I know that it sounds counterintuitive but if you want to increase your energy, you need to have adequate recovery from the stresses and strains of daily life. This requires rest. Identify the amount of rest that you require and block that time out of your calendar. Nothing short of an emergency should interfere with this time.

When you are well rested, you are more energetic and ready to take on the world. You can give your all to every task because you know that you will have sufficient opportunity to recover from your efforts. Prioritise your rest time.

5 Habits which increase your energy and productivity – Carthage Buckley, Coaching Positive Performance (undated, probably 22 June 2015)

Read the full piece for the five habits and to find out that Carthage Buckley is a real name.

How to be productive in the evenings

Who says you should be? You’ve worked all day, put your feet up. Except, when you’re writing there is a need to keep going and there is a satisfaction in having done so. Or at least there’s a hell of a dissatisfaction or plain misery in having gone another week or month or year without writing.

Lifehacker has the answer. It has several answers and here’s a taster of the first one, which also happens to be the one I most agree with and do my most to follow too:

Get Started As Soon As You Get Home

A number of you [in a discussion thread] said that if you wait until you’ve had dinner or spent some time with your family, it’s too late and your energy is gone—you’re too far out of “the zone” to really get back into it. The solution? Walk through the door, say hello to everyone, and head right for your workspace at home to do a little work. Whether it’s a few minutes or an hour, getting started as soon as you get home and you’re still in work mode goes a long way.

How To Stay Productive After Work – Alan Henry, Lifehacker (26 June 2015)

Read the full piece.

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…

But apparently I might get more done. New research noodles the fact that at one level, anger gives you adrenalin and it gives you a right-I’ll-show-you attitude so you focus more.

Did you ever notice how your body tenses and how every hair in your body rises when you’re angry? How your heart pounds so hard that you can feel the throbbing in your temples?

When you’re angry, your blood pressure and heart rate go up—so do your energy and adrenaline. These physiological reactions brought by anger are the same triggers that put us in the fight or flight mode.

If our reaction from anger could spell the difference between death and survival, why aren’t we using our anger more often to our advantage?

Feeling Stuck? Make Your Anger Work for You – Cecille Doroja, Pick the Brain (15 October 2014)

More useful, I think, is the question the rest of the piece attempts to answer: is there a way to keep the anger useful and not get arrested for GBH?

Quick wins and the Quick Win Hour

Find a few things on your To Do list that won’t take a lot of time and do them. They’re quick wins because without much time and probably without much effort, you’ve knocked some stuff off your list.

It’s like taking baby steps or building up to doing something big except these things were real and they needed to be done so you’ve built up usefully. The sense you have that you’re on your way, you’re getting things sorted out, is real because it is real.

You can’t just do the quick stuff, you have to buckle down to the difficult and the long, but knocking off a few fast tasks is a good way to get yourself started on those.

Some To Do software including OmniFocus lets you say how long you think a task will take. I have never used this. I never will. I just think the time I spend working out time I’ll spend on a task is time I could be spending doing the task. Nonetheless, if you like doing this or it feels more natural to you than it does to me, you can assign approximate times to any or all of your tasks – and then choose to see a list of all those taking 10 minutes or less.

There are also To Do apps that let you assign an energy level to a task. I don’t even know if my OmniFocus does this because I’m not sure where to look. But if your To Do app does this, you could get it show you all the tasks that don’t need much oomph from you. All the ten minute tasks that you can do in your sleep: that’s a To Do list you can knock through quickly.

One thing I do often do is a Quick Win Hour. Take a moment to find ten things on your list or make up ten new things. Whichever it is, you do ten and you do that very, very quickly. Then you set a timer on your phone for one hour and you do all ten.

I’ve done this perhaps half a dozen times over the last two years and only once did I ever complete all ten within the time but, grief, it was close every other time. And despite or maybe because of my being so focused on the ten and the hour, I didn’t really register that each time I was getting up to ten things done off my list.

Take naps, just not like this

Today was the 276th day that I got up to work at 5am and I say this not entirely to boast – actually not to boast much at all as it’s only 276 and I’ve been doing this lark for nearly two years now – but rather to bitch about how I still struggle with going to bed. Two hundred and seventy-six times I’ve got up at 5am. I spelt that 276 out in full because it was the start of a sentence.

(If you kill me and threaten my pets, I still could never begin a sentence with a digit. Partly because I’d be dead, you did that in a stupid order. But I might even be relieved at that instead of the certain knowledge I will soon be writing about 1Password again and it is a right bugger finding different words to put in front of it.)

Anyway. Can’t start a sentence with a digit. But also writing it out in full just underlines how many two hundred and seventy-six times is. It is enough that I should surely to god have worked out how to go to bed at such a time or in such a relaxed way that I don’t want to cry when the alarm goes off.

I’m not there yet, I’m not close. But I’m getting close to being close.

And the latest experiment is the nap.

Lately I’ve been starting at 5am and working through to about 7pm and on days that I take a nap around mid-afternoon, that is a doddle. In fact, I work then to 7pm not because oh-I’m-so-busy but because I’m just into the work and not noticing the time going.

So. I’m not the first to say this and it makes me feel so very old saying it, but here you go, here I am: take a nap.

The good things first. For some reason I really enjoy the sense that I’m getting two days out of every one. I mean, I often feel like this morning was yesterday. Or last night was a week ago. It’s partly my body getting confused but also that when this is working, I am flying through things and it feel as if I am getting so much more done that I must be having more time in which to do it.

So yes, you get refreshed and you do more. Great. The energy you get from a nap, terrific.


I can’t go to bed, even though I work at home. Can’t do it. So I have been napping in my office chair. I tell Siri to switch on Do Not Disturb on my iPhone and then to set a timer for 15 minutes, then I sit there with my eyes closed. And on a good day – I’ve now done this a whole four times, I’m an expert – I go into a remarkably deep sleep.


Lately it’s been a bit cold and my office tends to be the coldest spot in the house, even though I have a heater in there. So just occasionally and not because I am officially 120 years old, I have a blanket. For three days running now, I have pulled the blanket over my head as I sat there napping.


Today it didn’t work.

I sat there, timer running, Do Not Disturb do not disturbing, with a blanket over my head. And that head of mine thought the words “Our little reading group isn’t perfect, I’ve never said it is.” You’re thinking that’s very random and the part of me that wants to appear in any way mysterious is tempted to just shut up now.

Okay, that was never going to happen. This quote is the opening line of a short story I was commissioned to write. It’s called “The Book Groups” (the plural is everything) and I am going to be reading it at an event later this month. It’s written in first-person prose by a (very) unreliable narrator and that means to me it’s dialogue. It’s a script. I am a scriptwriter even in this short story.

Now, I reckon if you’ve read this far then you’re in, you’re committed, you’ve invested time here and I can tell you something those lesser people who don’t read to the end of articles will never know. It’s this. I am very proud of how often actors have told me that learning my scripts is easy because the dialogue is good. It’s natural and real and it is what the characters would say. I am very proud of that. I recognise that if you don’t happen to be a scriptwriter you might not feel the import I do, but I am and I really do.

And, whisper it, I think I agree now.

Because I can perform The Book Groups. Not read it, I don’t have to read it anymore, I can perform the entire story from memory and in character.

This is relevant because of what happened in the nap today. I sat there with the blanket over my head, I mostly-silently performed The Book Groups, practicing away. I looked like I was furniture that had a drape cloth over it and was moving like a ghost in response to unseen and unheard drama.

I looked like a prat and a half of full-cream milk.

And Angela was working at home today.

Do something else at 2pm

Writer JD Arbuckle has a longish piece about studying your habits and rhythms in order to improve your productvity. It’s interesting but this is the bit that grabs me:

Move into a completely different task between 2PM – 3PM. Most people suffer from a mid-afternoon crash during this time. The worst thing you can do during this hour is try to grind through the crash. Instead, head to a local restaurant and meet a friend. Switch into workout clothes and run the lake. Go run errands and pick up groceries. After this break, you will return to finish the rest of your work completely re-energized and focused (If you haven’t already finished everything between 9-2)

5 Strategies for Maintaining Peak Performance Levels – JD Arbuckle, Conquer Today (12 June 2014)

Read the full piece.

RS, I? Why you should eat Resistant Starch breakfasts

I thought starch was something people used on clothes. But Time magazine has a short piece about why these foodstuffs do you good for keeping your slim. I am slightly more interested in how they affect your energy; this is on my mind right now because I went out for breakfast about six hours ago and I am still feeling sluggish and full.

You know that eating breakfast jump-starts your metabolism. But did you realize that certain a.m. choices can crank up your fat-burning even more?

The key: eating a breakfast that’s high in Resistant Starch (RS). Found in foods like bananas and oats, RS actually signals your body to use fat for energy.

Start your day skinny with these fat-burning meals,.

The Best Fat-Burning Breakfasts – Shaun Chavis, Time (29 October 2014)

There follows a few short recipes, all taken from this book, The Carb Lovers Diet Cookbook by Ellen Kunes. Read the full piece.