Arak Still, Bnachii, Lebanon

We visited Lebanon last November, and were lucky enough to see Arak being distilled on a visit to Bnancii in the North of Lebanon.  Whilst the Arak was distilling away we were treated to a Lebanese BBQ out on the driveway so we could take in the scenery whilst we ate lunch.  The Arak was fantastic, and went beautifully with the most amazing Kibbeh Nayyeh.

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Sketching for Engineers

South Wimbledon Station

South Wimbledon is my local tube station, and I love the way it looks at night.  In the winter it’s like a beacon shining through the gloom welcoming  you into the warmth of the Underground below.  And once inside it will speedily deposit you in central London.

The building, designed by Charles Holden, was completed in 1926.  Interestingly it’s not actually in Wimbledon, it’s in Merton.   It was originally planned to be called “Merton Grove” but it was given the name “South Wimbledon (Merton)” as it was thought that Wimbledon had a higher social standing than Merton.  Over time it was shortened to “South Wimbledon”.

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Urban Sketching – Mount Lofty, Adelaide

Happy new years!  This sketch has been a long time in the making, I originally started it on a visit to Adelaide early in 2013, but I have only just gotten round to finishing it.  I created this sketch from a photo taken on a glorious summers day during a short holiday to Adelaide.  Sketching on the iPad can take a bit longer than drawing by hand, and I had to resist the urge to add in more detail to finish it in a reasonable amount of time.

2014.01.01 Mount Lofty_LowResiPad mini, Adobe ideas and stylus. 4 hours.

Urban Sketching – Chrome Coffee Machine

We woke up today, on a cold rainy Monday,  and decided to hop on the tube and ride into the city to explore.  After a quick visit to Borough Market for some dinner ingredients and snacks, we strolled down the Southbank to Waterloo.  We stopped for a coffee to warm us up, and discovered a coffee shop with the most amazing coffee machine I’ve ever seen.  All chrome plated and shiny, and covered with knobs and handles.  The coffee was excellent, one of only two places we’ve found in London that makes coffee as good as you can find in Sydney.  Whilst we enjoyed the coffee I knocked up a quick sketch, and tested out a few new watercolour techniques.2013.12.30_Vergnano_LowRes

Urban Sketching – The Lounge, Boxing Day 2013

Whilst Celine and the folks watched the Christmas edition of Downtown Abbey I worked up this quick sketch of the lounge.

2013.12.27_Lounge_LowRewOrdning & Reda Lined A6 Sketchbook, Pilot Vball 0.5 , 30 minutes

Urban Sketching – The Garden, Christmas Day 2013

2013.12.26_Garden_LowResOrdning & Reda Lined A6 Sketchbook, Pilot Vball 0.5 & Windsor and Newton Pocket Watercolours, 30 minutes

Turn off. Tune in. Drop out

Do you ever find yourself wondering where all your time goes? The days go by in a blur, you never seem to get to the end of your to-do list, and you haven’t had five minutes to get onto that one thing you really wanted to do. Before we go any further with this line of inquiry let’s take a quick look at the numbers. Each week has over 160 hours in it, 168 to be precise. Everybody needs to sleep, so subtract a solid 8 hours of sleep from each day of the week. This leaves 112. Work puts a reasonable dent in this number, if we assume 40 hours of work and 10 hours for commuting. If you’re keeping up you will notice you still have a full 62 hours left. So even after all of your work, commuting and sleeping you still have a 62 hours of pure and unadulterated time.  This is free time which you can spend in any way you wish. The problem therefore seems not to be the amount of time we have, but simply how we choose to spend it.

Hours in each week

Hours in each week

Now that we know how much time we have available each week, let’s take a closer look at what we are spending our time doing. Think back over the last week or so, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How many days of the week did you watch at least an hour of television?
  • How many times did you check social media websites, and how much time did you spend commenting on posts and status updates?
  • How many times did you tweet, and how much time did you spend reading other peoples tweets?
  • How many photos did you post on Instagram?

The answers to the above may help you realise where a lot of your free time is going. In today’s information rich society it’s hard to switch off as we are constantly being bombarded with information streaming in on a daily basis. It comes from many directions, with social media being one of the worst culprits in recent times. If you want to find more time in your week to do other activities, but regularly watch TV or indulge in social media there are a few options available to you.

First let’s consider television. It’s so easy to flick on the TV when you get home from work. Just for five minutes whilst you sit down and take a break. But the next thing you know you’ve watched a couple of shows, and the evening is gone. Whilst I enjoy watching TV as much as the next man I prefer to watch specific shows a couple of times a week, rather than turning it on every day. If you spend a lot of your time watching TV try going for one week without television and you’ll be amazed at how much free time you have.

Next social media. There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to deciding how to spend your free time, and if you truly enjoy being connected to the world through social media then there is no harm in that. But ask yourself one simple question: Does it make you happy?  Often it can be the opposite. Checking social media on a daily basis can make people unhappy. Not only does a large tract of time disappear reading posts, but reading about things that other people are doing can make you feel like you’re missing out. Think carefully, do you actually get enjoyment from checking social media so often? Do you enjoy reading about what other people have been doing, or would you prefer to be doing more exciting things yourself?

Now we know how much free time we have available, we can adjust how we spend it to find more time to do the things that we want to do.  Try turning off, tuning in and dropping out.

Turn off, the TV. Don’t resort to the TV on a daily basis. Instead consider using TV as a reward when you have completed something else you wanted to get done. An alternative is to set times to watch specific shows you like, but turn off the TV afterwards. If you have a TV in your bedroom, consider getting rid of it.

Tune in, to what you want to do. Think about whatever it is that you want to do each week. Set aside some time to do it, and reward yourself with something fun when you get it done.

Drop out, of the constant social media updates. Try and reduce the amount of time spent checking social media. Avoid checking first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Move social media apps away from your home screen, simply hiding them in folders can reduce the temptation to check so often.

Switch Multi-tasking for Mono-tasking

Multi-tasking might sound like a good idea, but the simple reality is that it’s slowing you down and lowering the quality of what you do.  In our busy lives we have to contend with multiple information streams, projects, deadlines and all the other stuff you need to get done.  It can often feel like we need to be tackling multiple tasks simultaneously to get anywhere. Common examples of multitasking are instant messaging with colleagues or friends whilst writing a report or  stopping your current task every time a new email notification pops up to check the email before switching back to what you’re doing. If you’re used to this approach then you may feel that it doesn’t affect your work, but conclusive research shows that using this method causes not only our productivity to suffer but also the quality of our work. Our brain isn’t wired for multi-tasking, and instead it prefers to direct its full focus on one task at a time.

To understand why our productivity suffers when multi-tasking is used let’s take a closer look at what we are actually doing when we multi-task. Surprisingly the majority of the time we aren’t actually doing tasks simultaneously, but switching back and forth between tasks. When we switch between tasks we have to stop, refresh our short-term memory of where we got to, then continue. Depending on the complexity of the task the switching process can take longer, so that the more we switch between tasks the more time we spend trying to figure out where we where. The switching disrupts our focus by clogging up our short-term memory, and also means that part of our brain is listening out for the next disruption rather than focussing our full and undivided attention on the task at hand. The result of all of this is that tasks completed in this way can take longer than necessary, and suffer from reduced quality. There are some specific cases where we can multi-task, simple tasks such as folding laundry whilst talking on the phone. This is possible because very little brainpower is required to fold laundry, which we have learned to do through repetition without requiring any thinking. As soon as two tasks require brainpower it becomes impossible to do them simultaneously without loss of time or quality.

So now that we understand what multi-tasking is, and how it can affect us, we can look into an alternative way of working. Mono-tasking is when you take one task and give it your full and undivided attention. All distractions are removed and time is no object.  You can now direct your focus with laser sharp precision on a single task and complete it to the best of your ability. The chances are you will have done this before, can you remember the last time you were so engrossed in something that lunchtime crept up on you unexpectedly? I bet it felt good to be in full flow without any distractions. That is what mono-tasking can feel like. Our full attention and focus are targeted at completing a task to the best of our ability.  The result is that we get so caught up in the task that progress comes quickly and easily.

In a modern office there are obstacles that stand in the way of us trying to mono-task. These distractions may include instant messaging, email notifications, colleagues, phone calls.  You get the idea. Whilst you may not be able to solve or eliminate all of these distractions they can be dealt with in various ways. When you need to focus simply close down instant messaging, turn off email notifications and consider letting phone calls go through to voicemail.  Don’t worry you can pick them up during your next break. Depending on your job role and commitments you will need to develop your own way of dealing with common office distractions.  Another way of dealing with these issues is to find a quiet place to work when you need to focus, this could be working from home when you need to write a long report, or popping down to a coffee shop for a couple of hours to work distraction free with no internet connection.

Now you are armed with the knowledge and benefits of switching to mono-tasking  try to think about how you can test it out. If you have become accustomed to using instant messages, and email notifications then at first it will be very hard to move away from this approach. Be proactive and start small, try a doing a few tasks by mono-tasking and you should start to notice the difference. Set yourself a goal of mono-tasking for the next week, and see what impact it has on your life. If you’re still in doubt that this approach really works check out the research for yourself, there is plenty out there.

Further reading on the web:

Stanford – Multitask research study

Lifehacker – What multitasking does to our brains

 

Published papers:

Borst J.P. & Taatgen N.A. The costs of multitasking in threaded cognition. ICCM 2007.

Cutrell E.B, Czerwinski M, Horvitz E. Effects of instant messaging interruptions on computing tasks. CHI 2000.

Shamsi T. Iqbal, Horvitz E. Disruption and recovery of computing tasks: Field study, analysis and directions. CHI 2007.

Salvucci D.D & Taatgen N.A. The Multitasking Mind. Oxford University Press 2010.

Get a Good Nights Sleep

‘Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.’― Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

To be at your most productive by day you need to be well rested at night. A good nights sleep gives your brain a chance to switch off, process stuff we experienced the day before and energise ready for a new day. Not getting enough sleep leaves us tired and cranky, which can impact productivity.  To ensure you get blissful sleep every night there are a few key things that can make all the difference. Firstly you need the right bedroom conditions to allow peaceful undisturbed sleep.  Secondly a good bedtime routine gets your body ready for sleep.  Finally how you spend your day can also influence your sleep, but you cannot always control this so we’ll focus on getting the other two right first.

The ideal bedroom conditions are cool, dark and quiet.  Your body temperature lowers slightly as you fall asleep, and a cool bedroom can help this process.  Aim to be comfortably cool, and if you live in a hot climate you may find a fan helps with this.  If you’re looking for a fan try to find one that’s quiet and doesn’t have any lights on the control panel.  The body clock uses darkness as an indicator that it’s time to sleep, so it’s important to ensure your bedroom is suitably dark.  A good set of thick curtains or blinds will help achieve this.  If for some reason this is not possible then a sleeping mask can help.  To help you fall asleep, and stay asleep, peace and quiet prevents external noises from causing disruption.  If you live near a busy road or in a noisy area you can try either thick sound absorbing curtains or earplugs.  If you use earplugs ensure your alarm is loud enough to wake you, but it’s usually not a problem.

On top of the right conditions a good bedtime routine can get your body ready for sleep.  Your body runs to a rhythm, known as the circadian rhythm, and a good routine developed in tune with this will help you fall asleep easily, and wake refreshed.  The amount of sleep adults need varies but is typically between 7-9 hours, through experience you should know roughly how much sleep you need, and after deciding what time you would like to wake subtract this number to find your ideal bedtime.  I like to wake at 6am, and need around 7.5 hours sleep so I go to bed around 10.30pm.  Know you know your bedtime you can build a routine around it.

How you spend your day can influence how easily sleep will come.  The best quality sleep will come after a fulfilling day.  If your day has been productive, creative, dynamic and included some form of physical exercise then chances are your sleep will be blissful.  We cannot always control how we spend our days though, so exercising in the morning can be the best way to ensure nothing disrupts our exercise routine.  By the evening any number of factors could require that we change our plans, so it’s best to get in early with any routines we don’t want disrupted.  If time is tight you can incorporate your daily exercise into your commute, by either walking, running or cycling to work.

In addition to the above the following tips can be useful in attaining good sleep.Things to avoid:

  • Avoid over-stimulation of senses close to bedtime, action films, loud or fast paced music.
  • Avoid vigorous excessive and eating for two hours before sleep.

Things that help:

  • A warm bath or shower, aromatherapy with calming smell, or calming music.
  • A sleeping mantra. Try repeating a sleeping mantra ‘Om Agasthi Shahina’ ( Ōm Ah-gah´-stee Shah-ee´-nah), which often brings sleep within ten minutes.
  • Observe your breathing and notice it slow it down and become deeper as you relax and get ready for sleep.
  • If you don’t drop off straight away don’t worry as resting quietly is rejuvenative for your body.
  • Try and keep the times you wake and sleep constant throughout the week.  At the weekend rise up to an hour later than in the week, but any more than this can disrupt your routine.
Using the above guidelines think about how you can improve your bedroom sleeping conditions, and create a good bedtime routine.  Consciously stick to your routine for one month to form long lasting habits.  Enjoy feeling refreshed and revitalised each day, and finally notice that you now have more energy to channel into creativity and productivity by day.