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7 Caffeine-Free Ways to Increase Alertness

7 Caffeine-Free Ways to Increase Alertness

    Do you need caffeine to get through your day? I’ve experienced every over-the-counter wakefulness supplement produced before 2007 (when I smartened up) and can promise you that it all has the same effect: A brief period of increased alertness is followed by a dramatic increase in lethargy (a crash) or anxiety and fidgeting. Consume enough caffeine combined with whatever jungle juice is in vogue and you’ll eventually turn into an over-clocked grouch.

    Perhaps you already are? You don’t have to be. Here are 7 ways to increase your alertness and subsequent productivity without reaching for that 6th cup of coffee before lunch:

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    1. Drop Napping

    A quick version of the power nap, a drop nap takes only a few minutes and will usually give you enough of a boost to get through the last few hours of work. How to do it? Sit in a comfortable chair and hold something in one hand that, when dropped on the floor, will make enough noise to wake you from a shallow sleep. Hold the object you’ve chosen so that it will drop to the floor when you relax your hand and let yourself fall asleep. As soon as you fall asleep the object will drop and you’ll wake up with a boost of alertness. If you’ve ever fallen asleep for a few seconds while driving you already know what it feels like to wake from a drop nap!

    2. Micro projects

    A micro project is any small project that can be completed in a very little time. Taking a few minutes away from your sleep-inducing labor to work on a small project of your own can provide the excitement and immediate fulfillment needed to get your brain back in gear for the less interesting work you face.

    3. Stretching

    Get your hind parts out of that seat and release some of that lethargy and tension with a few minutes of stretching! You can start with some basic stretches and move to more complex ones as you feel comfortable.

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    4. Competitive games

    Play a game that makes your mind work as you push for a win over another, preferably somebody you know. The combination of competition, strategy, and social interaction will give you the boost in brainpower you need to keep going. WeeWar is a recent favorite of mine. The combination of strategy, simplicity, and a bit of luck make for a fun way to take an “alertness break” from my work while connecting with a friend.

    5. Hydrate!

    Your brain is mostly water so it makes sense that you’d need to keep yourself hydrated for maximum alertness and productivity! They Mayo Clinic recommends three hydration styles to make sure you keep your body stocked with fluids:

    • Replacement – The idea is to replace all the fluid you lose throughout your day. The average adult loses about a liter of water each day due to evaporation through the skin, breathing, etc. If you sweat a lot or live in a very warm climate you’ll want to up that amount appropriately. Combine that amount with the amount of water you lose as urine and you’ll have a good idea of how much fluid you should be consuming on a daily basis to stay healthy.
    • 8 by 8 – 8 ounces of water 8 times per day (about 2 liters total) is an easy way to remember how much you need to keep from getting dehydrated and losing precious brainpower because your body is struggling to operate.
    • Prescribed quantity – Check with your doctor or registered dietitian for a more exact idea of how much water you should be consuming based on your body weight and gender.

    Trading that 4pm cup of coffee for a glass of water may have the extended benefit of guarding you from the hours-long affects of caffeine that might otherwise keep you up late.

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    6. Phone-a-friend

    Fight away the drowsiness by connecting with a friend for a short conversation. Making plans for the weekend or just chatting about something that’s on your mind can give you a big mental boost and get you back into the game quickly. Keep your conversation short so you don’t end up spending any of your new-found wakefulness on chatting while you still have work to do!

    7. Exercise

    Depending on your fitness level, you should be able to engage in an activity that raises your heart rate for a few minutes without breaking a sweat. Feel stupid doing crunches or jumping jacks in your cubicle? You’d feel much worse if you were caught sleeping on the job! If you have more time and don’t mind getting sweaty, take an hour to make use of that gym pass you bought in January or go for a run. You’ll come back mentally refreshed and enjoy increased alertness for a few hours as your heart continues the increased blood flow to your brain.

    What about you? Have you got into the habit of gulping caffeinated beverages whenever you feel a bit drowsy? Perhaps you’ve broken free of caffeine and have a tip or two of your own to share?

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    Image: Jraj7

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    Seth Simonds

    Seth writes about lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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