Caffeine: The Silent Killer of Success

This week's tip for improving your performance is the most simple and straightforward method I’ve provided thus far. For many people, this tip has the potential to have a bigger impact than any other single action. The catch? You have to cut down on caffeine, and as any caffeine drinker can attest, this is easier said than done.

For those who aren't aware, the ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and we’ve found that 90% of top performers are high in emotional intelligence. These individuals are skilled at managing their emotions (even in times of high stress) in order to remain calm and in control.

The Good: Isn’t Really Good

Most people start drinking caffeine because it makes them feel more alert and improves their mood. Many studies suggest that caffeine actually improves cognitive task performance (memory, attention span, etc.) in the short-term. Unfortunately, these studies fail to consider the participants’ caffeine habits. New research from Johns Hopkins Medical School shows that performance increases due to caffeine intake are the result of caffeine drinkers experiencing a short-term reversal of caffeine withdrawal. By controlling for caffeine use in study participants, John Hopkins researchers found that caffeine-related performance improvement is nonexistent without caffeine withdrawal. In essence, coming off caffeine reduces your cognitive performance and has a negative impact on your mood. The only way to get back to normal is to drink caffeine, and when you do drink it, you feel like it’s taking you to new heights. In reality, the caffeine is just taking your performance back to normal for a short period.

The Bad: Adrenaline

Drinking caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline. Adrenaline is the source of the “fight or flight” response, a survival mechanism that forces you to stand up and fight or run for the hills when faced with a threat. The fight-or-flight mechanism sidesteps rational thinking in favor of a faster response. This is great when a bear is chasing you, but not so great when you’re responding to a curt email. When caffeine puts your brain and body into this hyper-aroused state, your emotions overrun your behavior.

Irritability and anxiety are the most commonly seen emotional effects of caffeine, but caffeine enables all of your emotions to take charge.

The negative effects of a caffeine-generated adrenaline surge are not just behavioral. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that large doses of caffeine raise blood pressure, stimulate the heart, and produce rapid shallow breathing, which readers of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 know deprives the brain of the oxygen needed to keep your thinking calm and rational.

The Ugly: Sleep

When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, shuffling through the day’s memories and storing or discarding them (which causes dreams), so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, focus, memory, and information processing speed are all reduced when you don’t get enough—or the right kind—of sleep. Your brain is very fickle when it comes to sleep. For you to wake up feeling rested, your brain needs to move through an elaborate series of cycles. You can help this process along and improve the quality of your sleep by reducing your caffeine intake.

Here’s why you’ll want to: caffeine has a six-hour half-life, which means it takes a full twenty-four hours to work its way out of your system. Have a cup of joe at eight a.m., and you’ll still have 25% of the caffeine in your body at eight p.m. Anything you drink after noon will still be at 50% strength at bedtime. Any caffeine in your bloodstream—with the negative effects increasing with the dose—makes it harder to fall asleep.

When you do finally fall asleep, the worst is yet to come. Caffeine disrupts the quality of your sleep by reducing rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the deep sleep when your body recuperates and processes emotions. When caffeine disrupts your sleep, you wake up the next day with an emotional handicap. You’re naturally going to be inclined to grab a cup of coffee or an energy drink to try to make yourself feel better. The caffeine produces surges of adrenaline, which further your emotional handicap. Caffeine and lack of sleep leave you feeling tired in the afternoon, so you drink more caffeine, which leaves even more of it in your bloodstream at bedtime. Caffeine very quickly creates a vicious cycle.

Withdrawal

Like any stimulant, caffeine is physiologically and psychologically addictive. If you do choose to lower your caffeine intake, you should do so slowly under the guidance of a qualified medical professional. The researchers at Johns Hopkins found that caffeine withdrawal causes headache, fatigue, sleepiness, and difficulty concentrating. Some people report feeling flu-like symptoms, depression, and anxiety after reducing intake by as little as one cup a day. Slowly tapering your caffeine dosage each day can greatly reduce these withdrawal symptoms.

This week's tip for improving your performance is the most simple and straightforward method I’ve provided thus far. For many people, this tip has the potential to have a bigger impact than any other single action. The catch? You have to cut down on caffeine, and as any caffeine…

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Command Line Alias

If you're like me, then you run a hundred terminal commands each day and most of the time you have to pull up a saved note, google search, word doc, etc to recall what commands do what. To simplify things, I generally like to use aliases. Here's a basic example of how to use an alias:

alias name_of_command='command to be performed'

Here's one that I setup to open static files using Google Chrome

alias chrome='open -a "Google Chrome"'

Here's one that I use for managing several servers

alias name_of_server='ssh -v -l USERNAME IP ADDRESS'

Here's one that helps list directories in a two character command

alias la='ls -a'

This one is great for your fat fingers! You will be prompted to continue before deleting files. You are essentially in interactive mode with -i flag. (I personally do not use this one, but it could be a nice one for you)

alias rm='rm -i'

TIP: If you would like to store your aliases permenantly, I suggest you store them in your ~/.bash_profile

If you'd like to see your list of current aliases, simply run:

alias

I hope you explore more aliases and I hope this helps you as much as it helps me.

If you're like me, then you run a hundred terminal commands each day and most of the time you have to pull up a saved note, google search, word doc, etc to recall what commands do what. To simplify things, I generally like to use aliases. Here's a basic example…

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Write better walkthroughs with the 3x3 Method

"If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” — Albert Einstein

As a product designer, you have many roles to fill. Strategist, UX designer, front-end dev, and marketer to name a few. The smaller your team (maybe your “team” is just you), the greater the number of hats there are to wear.

Among these roles, yet often overlooked, is that of salesperson. Not the suited, briefcase-wielding type; but the stealthier kind: the copywriter. When designing your marketing materials — chief among them your app’s walkthrough screens or site’s homepage — your copy and its layout are your primary tools.

When was the last time you got to an app’s homescreen/page and felt a little exasperated? “So what does it do exactly? Why do I need this?” — your job as a designer is to answer these questions quickly, efficiently and beautifully. It’s a tough task, but there’s a method that can help, which I call the 3x3.

Constraints for clarity

When designing the walkthroughs for Peeps, my current startup, I had a hard time knowing what to focus on. My head was so deep in the product — what we had, what was upcoming, what worked well, what wasn’t quite there — that it was hard to see the wood for the trees. I needed a way to focus on what the key benefits were for end-users. Why should they sign up for this?

I decided to constrain my thinking in order to regain clarity. Remembering the Einstein quote above (and various other odes to simplicity), I drew three boxes on a sheet of paper. Underneath each of them, three lines. The task was thus: explain to a n00b what the product is and why they should use it. 3 illustrations, each with 3 words accompanying them. This is the 3x3 method.

Try it now

Try it with your own product. 3 boxes, each with three lines underneath. Sketch a simple illustration in the boxes, then write 3 words on the lines underneath. Explain what, why and how.

  • What - what does your product do?
  • Why - what’s the benefit? (makes for a good slogan).
  • How - a differentiator. Perhaps an innovative piece of functionality or a cost indicator.

Make no mistake: _It’s hard. _But that’s the point. By constraining yourself to an extreme level, you’re forced to boil down your product to its bare fundamentals. Your use of language has to change. Do away with determiners and adjectives and concentrate on verbs and nouns, whilst avoiding lists and maintaining a semblance of a sentence for each panel.

This is the first part of the exercise, designed to help you establish what the core of your product offering is.

I cheated a little on the last panel here (told you it was tough!)

Where’s the beef?

The second part is where you beef out the choices arrived at so far, and shape them into something that will sell your products’ concepts to potential users. In production — that is, where you eventually display the walkthroughs — you will likely need to soften the language so it reads well for your readers; but maintain the key messages derived from the 3x3 exercise.

The final Peeps walkthrough. Note how the original 3x3 has been expanded, but retains the same message.

If you struggle, the reasons why may reveal an insight into your product. For example: perhaps there are two or three features you feel are deserving of attention? The 3x3 should force you to settle on the most pertinent.

These kind of learnings can be super valuable, and a good reason to spend 10 minutes making your 3x3.

Show me your 3x3s - I’m @tomcavill on twitter. You can download Peeps on the App Store.

Source: https://medium.com/@tomcavill/

"If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” — Albert Einstein As a product designer, you have many roles to fill. Strategist, UX designer, front-end dev, and marketer to name a few. The smaller your team (maybe your “team” is just you), the greater the…

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Launching Soundfly.com with NodeJS

For the past month or so, I've been working on creating an interactive music learning platform with a bunch of amazing and talented musicians, DIYers and makers in Brooklyn called Soundfly.

We're launching our initial concept on September 3rd, 2014 and we're excited to see how the app translates to the rest of the world. Particularly those interested in learning how to play music for the first time as well as advanced courses that will teach you a thing or two about how to improve your current playing skills.

My role at Soundfly is CTO, which is fitting since I am the only tech person (this startup is running lean and I love it) for now. Prior to joining I started working on porting all of my existing PHP apps and websites over to NodeJS, Express, MongoDB, Jade, and Less. I couldn't be any happier with this decision and I've been writing Soundfly's new codebase using a boilerplate NodeJS app that I created prior to joining the team. It's not only helped us produce more work in roughly one month's time, it's also allowed me, a single developer, to rapidly prototype Ian's (our CEO/Founder) design and product decisions in a more flexible and time saving approach.

I honestly love working in Javascript, I never thought I would be using it for an entire web stack. I mean, working in Atom (Githubs IDE) which is written in NodeJS, the ease of installing modules through NPM, the ability to debug so much easier, and working with JSON through the app is incredibly fun to me.

For us at Soundfly, we plan on thinking big and acting small. With that said, we need to move quickly and a have laser sharp understanding and focus of our individual contributions in order to be the most effective and productive. I'm afraid of how long this project would have taken me if I created it in another language. Node is becoming my all time favorite and it's making my job fun and full of life again.

After our launch in September, we will be focusing on several new courses and more advanced interactive learning games. We've been asking the question of "how do people learn online?" we don't believe it's a one size fits all model, we believe people take different steps in learning and comprehension and that everyone's path is unique. We're planning on discovering some best practices and applying these concepts on an more individual and impactful level. Indeed, we have some wonderful challenges ahead and I'm really looking forward to seeing how our app performs throughout it's lifespan.

If you're reading this and thinking to yourself that you would like to start learning how to play music from anywhere, please visit http://soundfly.com and signup to be notified of our official launch.

For the past month or so, I've been working on creating an interactive music learning platform with a bunch of amazing and talented musicians, DIYers and makers in Brooklyn called Soundfly. We're launching our initial concept on September 3rd, 2014 and we're excited to see how the app translates to…

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Ghost 0.5.0

I've just upgraded this blog. Hopefully everything continues to work as expected. yay. That was easy.

What does this mean to you? Nothing, but I just thought I should share how painless upgrading a Ghost Blogging Platform can be.

I've just upgraded this blog. Hopefully everything continues to work as expected. yay. That was easy. What does this mean to you? Nothing, but I just thought I should share how painless upgrading a Ghost Blogging Platform can be. …

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