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How to Stay Focused at Work

By: Wieke von Scheidt

Why do people have trouble staying focused?

Staying focused eight hours straight every day is a goal that most people strive for, but no matter how hard we try, it is impossible. Why? Experts say that the average attention span in adults is between 20 and 40 minutes.

Even though our preferred goal is to stay focused for eight full hours a day, our brain is not developed to function that way. The opposite often occurs when we try to stay on task for a long period of time – that is, we get easier distracted. Market research firm uSamp found that 53% of people waste at least one hour a day due to all types of distractions. Collaboration tools that are supposed to increase productivity at work, continuous noises, overflowing email inboxes and the frequent feeling of being fatigued, let our minds keep wandering off.

In addition to the loss of hours, our body takes a toll when trying to work without proper breaks. People often turn to coffee to keep from getting tired, this can lead to sleep insomnia. According to the National Institutes of Health, 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders. In order to function properly adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each day. Many don’t get the necessary amount of sleep needed and it starts affecting their concentration. So, what can you do to maintain the level of concentration you need to get all your work done?

 

Frequent Breaks

Studies show that taking frequent breaks helps to increase focus and productivity tremendously. Many employees don’t take enough breaks during the day, some don’t even take any at all but that doesn’t seem to increase the amount of work they get done. People that don’t take breaks tend to get distracted easier than people who break frequently.

Draugiem Group, a social networking company based in Latvia has demonstrated this by using an app called DeskTime. Employees were to work for 52 minutes and then take a 17 minute break. During this break employees did things completely unrelated to work and without the use of electronics, like going for a walk, chatting with co-workers, or reading a book.

The problem is that many fear to appear lazy or unproductive. It is important that employers support this method and show their employees that it is ok to take these breaks. In the end the whole organization will benefit from this approach.

Move Around

If you have the ability to exercise during your breaks, do so. It’s been proven that moving around will increase concentration levels – even if you just go for a walk outside. Dr. John J. Ratey a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School explained how a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is released, which plays a role in the improvement of cognitive health. The image below shows best the level of activity in the brain of a person in a serenity state versus a person who has been active for 20 minutes.

Brain Scan

Photo Credit: Brain Scan

 

In addition to what happens in the brain, exercising regularly benefits the whole body – leading to lower health risks.

 The Right Nutrition

Nutrition can make a significant difference on concentration capacity, especially when consumed at the right timing. A study by the International Labor Office shows poor diet can impact up to 20% of work productivity. It is very common that office cafeterias don’t offer a balanced meal selection. In other cases employees only have 30 minutes and run to the next Fast Food restaurant. Some may underestimate the importance of the right nutrition and their connection to mental and physical functions. Of all nutrients water is probably the most important; studies have shown that not drinking enough water will not only dehydrate your body but also decrease your level of focus and short-term memory. Other foods that increase energy and concentration include blueberries, fish, avocado, green tea, and dark chocolate.

 Make a To-Do List

Making a to-do list is one of the most effective ways to get work done and stay on tasks. However, many seem to struggle creating a list and following it. There are too many distractions during the day that keep us from staying focused. Making a list will not only help you stay organized but also help finish the work you intended to do. Here are a few tips on how to write and follow the to-do list effectively.

 

  •  Write Your to do list the night before

Writing your to-do list the night before will save you time and energy, which you will need in the morning to be most productive.

 

  • Get out your calendar

Take a look at your calendar, check appointments that are coming and determine what you need to for these meetings.

 

  • Prioritize

Make a random list of all the things you have to get done and then prioritize, listing the most important tasks first.

 

  • Check your emails

Check your email inbox when you arrive at work. Set a timeframe, like 30 minutes to read and respond to emails. After that don’t check it again for at least an hour or until you finished the first important task on your to-do list. Checking our email inbox is one of the most distracting things that keep us from focusing.  As soon as we open our inbox we see an important email and feel the need to respond to it. Before we know it we will respond to the next, and the next, and the next, until we forget what we were actually concentrating on.

  • Set a Realistic Time

Setting a realistic timeframe is often difficult; people underestimate the time they really need to finish a task. So, be realistic and add an extra 30 minutes if you are unsure. It is better to have more time than to feel rushed. The same applies to emails, decide on how often you want to check your emails and set aside a certain time to respond to them.

  • The end of the day

Before you leave go over your to-do list and make sure you finished everything. Then start your new list for the following day.

 

Take Clarex

Especially in the afternoon people tend to get groggy and crash easily. If that’s the case you should try Clarex. Compared to caffeine containing beverages it will keep you focused without the crash effect. If you do prefer to drink coffee you should try to drink it in the morning only. Generally, caffeine stays in your system for about 5 to 6 hours before it starts to wear off. Drinking coffee early in the day will decrease the chance of insomnia later on at night. Clarex will also help prevent caffeine jitters that tend to plague many coffee consumers.

Overall people’s ability to stay focused is limited. Scientists have proven that the human brain can only concentrate for a short period of time like up to 52 minutes. It is just a matter of us learning how to be more productive by taking frequent breaks, moving around, staying organized, making lists etc. There are many ways one can return to a good level of focus and the ones above are only a few.

 https://sleep.org/
http://www.fastcompany.com/3035605/how-to-be-a-success-at-everything/the-exact-amount-of-time-you-should-work-every-day

 

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Managing Stress during the Holidays

By: Wieke von Scheidt
 
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Photo Credit: Holiday Stress

 

It’s this time of the year again, Thanksgiving has just passed, Christmas is right around the corner and New Year’s is not too far behind either. This can be a very stressful time for families – holiday parties, Christmas shopping, cookie exchanges, and the pressure of New Years Eve plans. With people having all kinds of obligations, November and December are two of the busiest months of the year. That’s why it is important to learn how to manage stress during this time. Here are some tips to help you remain sane.

Plan ahead

Got parties to plan, guests to invite and dinners to organize? Why wait till the last minute? I know it’s hard to get into holiday mood and start planning when Halloween is still two weeks out, but it will take a lot of pressure off of you later. Get your Calendar out, pick some dates, invite guests early, plan your menus, and make a shopping list. If you plan ahead you don’t have to worry about having multiple things on your plate at the same time. Once the organizational part is over, you can sit back, relax a little and start thinking about Christmas gifts. People are also more likely to be able to attend your festivities if you invite them early; most likely their calendar is still empty.

Make a list

If you are one of those last minute shoppers it is no wonder that you are stressed out. Buying gifts takes some thought, especially when you have a big family. Last minute shopping only adds to your stress level because shopping Malls are jam packed with people hurrying to get the last minute presents, just like you. Even if you are jumping into the turmoil with a calm attitude, which I doubt, considering Christmas is only a couple days away, the atmosphere of rush and impatience will rub off on you as soon as you step foot into that Mall. So why do we want to do this to ourselves? Again, plan ahead and make a list early. One of the things I do that helps me get my Christmas shopping done early is listening to friends and family year round and taking note about their complaints regarding a product or a mention of something they want. This way, when Christmas or even birthdays roll around, I always have something handy.

Stick to a budget

Money is probably one of the main factors leading to stress. It doesn’t matter if you have a lot or not you want to have a budget no matter what. Not only for presents but also for the holiday parties you are throwing and those you are attending. So before you go shopping for presents and food decide how much money you have to spend and don’t go over your budget. If you have some money left over from that budget, stick it into a family piggy bank or give back to your community by making a donation. This will not only make someone else happy, it will also make you feel great.

 Leave the planning to someone else

You have been the one planning all the holiday parties, making meal plans and inviting everyone for the past, you cannot even remember how long. Let someone else take charge for once. Ask one of your family members to move Thanksgiving or Christmas to their house this year. “We go overboard to please others during the holidays: shopping, cooking, sending cards, and attending every event,” says George Pratt, PhD, a psychologist at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla in California. “Instead, take care of yourself by saying no at least once—and maybe more.”

 

 Coping with the Holiday Blues

It’s not unusual to feel sad or depressed during this time of the year. Instead of the joy we are expecting to feel, loneliness often overcomes us when, for instance, thinking of loved ones we have lost. Emotions like that are only normal and need to be recognized as such, especially when still in the grieving period. During this time it is important to stay busy and spent time with the people we care about and who care about us. Try out something new, volunteer, or do something active. Under significant circumstances it may help to seek professional help.

No matter what the case may be that’s adding to your stress level, make a change and learn to manage it better. That way you can really enjoy the holiday period.

Why Is It Always the Same New Year’s Resolutions?

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By Eugene Y. Chan, MD

First, Happy New Year!  But what is it about our New Year’s Resolutions?

Are we always stuck on this endless treadmill of making the same ones?

How can it be the same one as last year?

Weight loss, exercise, love, friendship, success, money.  We seem to yearn for the same things, that gives us hope.  To hope is to be human.  We may never seem to reach them, they are ideals that we hold in our heads.  That is what is so powerful about it.

Size 2, no size 0 is better.  Grade A, no A+.  2000 sq. ft, no 3000.  Part of this is an inner thirst for the betterment of ourselves.  It  is what makes us build cities, send rockets to Mars, and to understand DNA.  But what is it that makes some of us able to do it and other not?

Someone once said to me, “Your life is made up of the sum of all the little decisions that you make from day to day.”  Likewise, the amount of willpower and mental focus that you give each minute, of each meal, each rep, or each hug, creates who you are.  A businessman who greets someone with a half-hearted smile will not be as successful as the one who remembers your name, dog, and the color of your tie.  An artist who paints only when told to will only see his works on his desk.  Don’t be that.

Send your spaceship to Mars,

See your art in the MoMA,

Find your inner DNA,

Live each minute of your life with gusto.

Be well and stay focused.

Happy 2014.

The CLAREX EFFECT (Concise)

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The CLAREX Effect

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By Eugene Y. Chan, MD

What is the CLAREX Effect?  We often get asked this question.  I initially formulated CLAREX based on my experiences at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where I saw a significant number of patients needed a boost after spending too much time in the hospital.  Some of these were from alcohol intoxication, malaise, and general deconditioning.  I wanted to create something that did not require an IV, but was able to help people bounce back quickly and be productive.  For me, especially after long shifts at the hospital.  

The CLAREX Effect has several uses:

1.  Mental Clarity Recovery.  After a late night or long night, CLAREX helps you bounce back and be productive.  We have received a lot of great feedback from different people about this aspect of CLAREX.  The effects are most noticeable after long, stressful days or even for post-celebration recovery.

2.  The Intelligent Workout.  How many times have you wished you crammed an hour of workout into 30 minutes?  CLAREX helps you stay focused while you are in the gym, obstacle course, or playing field.

3.  Increase Studying Performance.  Studying, or any mental activity requires active neurons.  Caffeine has a short-lasting effect and wears off quickly.  CLAREX is designed to help you stay focused for long periods of time, days, or even weeks at a time to achieve the best possible performance.

Essentially, CLAREX is a productivity supplement that works on your natural biochemical pathways and it does not contain any caffeine and is completely stimulant-free so you can feel good that you are using it.

 

 

Quick Ways to Improve Your Attention

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by Eugene Y. Chan, MD

Ever wonder why you can’t sit still and finish your work?  This is a general problem with the population at large these days.  The quick answer is that there are too many distractions:  smart phones, the internet, kids, and television.  Yes, these are things that can ultimately cause you to be unfocused, unproductive, and unnerved.  This decrease in attention has indeed been studied by numerous groups out there.  For instance, Higginbotham et al. 1993 showed that both normal and diagnosed children with ADHD, when subject to active and passive distractions, led to decrease in performance.  It is no question that distractions, especially sensory ones related to visual and auditory, are undesirable.  On the other hand, this is not the only reason.  For instance, Booth et al., 2005 demonstrated that there is a decreased inhibitory network in those with ADHD, suggesting that there is an underlying physical basis for decreased attention. What should you do about it?

  • Unplug!  Have dedicated periods of time in your day where you are free from your phone, TV, internet, and any electronics.
  • Practice focusing.  This can be done by reading, writing, or some other active form of concentration.  This forces your mind to exercise its inhibitory neurons.
  • Eat carefully.  See previous post, avoid any refined sugars, avoid stimulants, go for small meals, and wisely supplement.

Take care and stay focused.   Booth, JR et al.  Larger deficits in brain networks for response inhibition than for visual selective attention in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  2005.  J. of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.  46:1, pp 94-111. Higginbotham, P. and Bartling, C.  1993.  The effects of sensory distractions on short-term recall of children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder versus normally achieving children.  Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society, Vol 31(6), Nov 1993, 507-510.

Energy Drinks Can Affect Your Heart

Image By Eugene Y. Chan, MD

Just recently, presented at the Radiological Society of North America, German researchers were able to image increased cardiac motility 1 hour after test subjects consumed popular energy drinks.  The drinks contained 400 mg taurine and as much as caffeine as up to two cups of coffee.  The increased cardiac motility is not surprising, given that caffeine itself can lead to irregular heartbeats and palpitations.  What this does confirm however, is that physically, the heart works harder, specifically 6% harder after drinking energy drinks, according to Dr. Jonas Doerner with the University of Bonn, Germany.  Increased heart contractility in those with underlying cardiac issues would be more prone to potentially adverse effects.  In recent years, there has been a series of deaths and emergency events associated with the consumption of these caffeine and taurine-based energy drinks.  What is surprising from this study is that a control group, just utilizing caffeine at the same dose, did not show increased cardiac contractility.  This potentially shows that the potential synergistic effects of caffeine, taurine, and potentially sugar can lead to amplified effects, which can affect heart function.

Here’s my advice on how to stay focused without energy drinks:

  • First, minimize your sugar intake.  Refine sugar can have a deleterious effect on your body.
  • Second, stay up to date on the latest studies of what you eat or drink.  Science and medicine have a certain truth to it.  If more than a few research studies have shown certain things, it is starting to look like it may be real.
  • Third, go stimulant-free.  Caffeine acts on your neuroreceptors, which get saturated over time.  That is why over time you need more of it for it to work.  Going stimulant free and choosing a judicious supplement program allows you to go for the long haul.

Stay focused and be well.

Studying for Exams

by Eugene Y. Chan, MD

The rigors of academics can take a toll on the mind and focus.  What to do when you have stayed up for that all night cram session?  There are a few ways that you can clear your mind:

  • Avoid caffeine, this tends to last only for a short period of time and then the crash will come and you will feel more tired than before you took it.
  • Avoid foods with excess carbohydrates or refined sugar.  These high glycemic index foods lead to significant swings in your mental state.  The insulin response from these foods can also cause reactive low sugar levels that can cause drowsiness.  Instead, reach for something else like nuts which stabilize your sugar levels better.
  • Go work out.  There is no better way to keep up mental fitness by exercising your body.  Sound mind and body.  There is no exaggerating here.
  • Take a supplement that helps you recover and maintain focus.  On this end, you should try to find something that works on entire metabolic pathways (like CLAREX or a like product).  You have to find what works for you and sometimes trying out a few may work well for you.  Regardless of the product, you should look for something that is stimulant-free and does not act on your neuroreceptors like caffeine.

Be well and stay focused.

The Post-Workout Protein Window

A Collaboration between Captain Clarex AKA Eric Ballenger and Dr. Eugene Y. Chan M.D.

Why is it, that so many people put such an enormous amount of thought into what they eat all day long, and not immediately post-workout? Everyone training muscle, regardless of their chosen mode of exercise, must take their post-exercise nutrition seriously in order to provide their muscle with the required raw materials. Since all types of exercise use carbohydrates for energy, it is inevitable that muscles require carbohydrates afterwards. Therefore, post-workout carbohydrates are important to refill this key ingredient in your muscles.

However, any amount of carbohydrates will not do. You need to consume enough carbohydrates to promote a substantial insulin release. Insulin is the hormone responsible for shuttling glucose into muscle cells. Furthermore, insulin leads to increased glycogen synthesis in liver and muscle cells. Insulin has overall anabolic, or “building up,” effects on the body. The addition of protein to this post-workout carbohydrate routine adds the basic building blocks for this overall anabolic process (Miller et al., 2003; Volek, 2004). There many recommended ratios out there concentrating on the glycemic index and the carbohydrate to protein ratio, including a 4:1 or 5:1 ratio (Cordain, 2010). Researchers have utilized a 0.8 g of carbohydrates per kg of body weight as a recommended amount for stimulating anabolic effects of insulin (van Loon et al., 2000). At a 4:1 ratio, this is 0.2 g protein per kg of body weight. An increased consumption of essential amino acids may lead to a more positive protein balance. For instance a 0.4 g/kg may by better. A protein intake range of 0.2 g/kg to 0.4 g/kg is therefore appropriate.

While your post-workout feeding should be rich protein and carbohydrate, this meal should be fat free. The consumption of essential fats is one of the most overlooked areas of daily nutritional intake but during the post workout period, eating fat can actually decrease the effectiveness of your post-workout beverage. Since fat slows down transit through the stomach, eating fat during the post workout period may slow the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and proteins.

 

 

Cordain, L. The Paleo Diet for Athletes: A Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance. December 16, 2010.

Miller, S.L., K.D. Tipton, D.L. Chinkes, S.E. Wolf, and R.R. Wolfe. Independent and combined effects of amino acids and glucose after resistance exercise. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 34:449-55, 2003

Van Loon, L., Saris, W.H., Kruijshoop, M., and Wagenmakers, A.J. Maximizing postexercise muscle glycogen synthesis: carbohydrate supplementation and the application of amino acid or protein hydrolysate mixtures. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 72(1):106-111, 2000.

Volek, J.S. Influence of nutrition on responses to resistance training. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 36:689-96,2004.

Food for Thought for the Holidays

By Eugene Y. Chan, MD

The holidays are approaching us fast and typically there are two big fears that confront us:  (1) how do I not gain weight? and (2) how do I survive my holiday party?  Thanksgiving and the holidays are synonymous with gluttony, binge eating, and over indulgence.  Furthermore, there are numerous holiday parties that you need to attend, whether out of obligation or for fun.  Given the joyous time of year, there is plenty of opportunity to get carried away.  Fortunately, there is time to prepare.  

First, regarding weight gain, there are several key realizations.  The first is that the stomach has unique properties.  It is an expandable container, made of smooth muscle.  If it is in a compact state for weeks prior to your binge eating episode, you will feel full faster and will not consume as much.  On the flip side, if you occasionally have large meals, you stomach will have lost its elasticity, very much like a balloon that has been inflated and deflated multiple times, and you will be able to consume a lot more.  Second, your stomach and digestive tract secrete enzymes that require a certain time of upregulation, through gene expression and protein translation.  Without certain key enzymes, the nutrients of certain foods do not make it into the body.  So you could utilize this to your advantage.  If you avoid fatty foods routinely, it is unlikely that a single meal of fatty foods will lead to significant weight gain.  The lesson here in understanding the anatomy of your stomach as well as the molecular response of it to food is simple:  if you eat healthy and in small portions on a routine basis, the impact of a single large meal is unlikely to have significant impact on your daily trip to the scale.  Of course, it all goes without saying that you should continue to remain active and exercise often.

Ok, what should you do about those holiday parties?  Holiday parties tend to be a great time to network, build camaraderie with your colleagues, all through a relaxed atmosphere.  Part of this is a liberal amount of beer, wine, and cocktails that loosen up even your stiffest co-worker.  The key here is moderation for you.  Since you don’t want to be the individual that gets talked about the day after, setting a drink limit and goal for yourself prior to the party is most important.  Discussing your goals with a colleague of similar professional mindset would help you solidify your resolve.  In the event you did have one too many, how do you make it to work?  The answer is simple:  drink plenty of water and take a product designed for post-celebration recovery.  The key is to get your Kreb’s cycle back up and running since an excess of ethanol builds up NADH, which signals the Kreb’s cycle to slow down.  As you know the Kreb’s cycle is central to generating ATP, your body’s main form of energy.  By supplementing key cofactors for enzymes in your Kreb’s cycle, you can get it back up and running in no time, and feel great in the process.  

With that, good cheers for the holidays and be well.

 

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