It seems that the universe is completely oblivious to the pathetic plans of us mere mortals. Back in early July, my life seemed to have settled into a regular routine again. I was looking forward to getting lots of work done and making real progress on my plans for my life.
Then my wife needed an entire week’s worth of medical testing before “minor” surgery. The surgery turned out to be not so minor and required a week of bed rest to recover. My brother became very ill and was bedridden, recovering just in time for previously scheduled major surgery of his own.
As for me, I had to make an urgent, unexpected trip back to the USA. Happily, there was a bright side to this trip, as I got to spend a few days with my wonderful daughter while up North.
Adding to the fun, I learned that I had developed a significant hormonal imbalance. This is forcing me to redesign my diet, my exercise program, and even my sleeping patterns.
Now that all this has blown over, it is time to get back to work. But I am not ready to get back into the regular Freer Tomorrow type of posts. First, I am going to write about this hormone thing that I am dealing with.
Why should you care about my hormone problems?
This issue that I am dealing with turns out to be a fairly common one. In particular, it manifests itself among men who are now in their 50’s, and grew up in the USA. In other words, guys like me and many of you. It is also something that is seldom tested for, so rarely diagnosed.
In my next post, I will tell you about the problem and what I am doing to try to resolve it. Chances are good that some of you are suffering from the same issue without knowing it. I hope sharing what I have learned will help you too.
Nootropics is a strange-looking word that most people have never heard before. But the word nootropics refers to a topic that you will want to understand if you want to live better in the future.
In this post, I will give you the rundown on this very important topic. I’ll also talk a bit about my own experience with some nootropics.
No matter what your vision of a freer tomorrow looks like, I doubt it includes slow thinking, lack of focus, and a crummy memory. Especially for people like us who are building our own future, instead of following the herd. It is very hard to be productive and do great things when you feel dumb, can’t focus, and keep forgetting the damn keys!
But wouldn’t it be easier to build a freer tomorrow if you felt sharp, focused, and had a great memory? Of course it would. This is why you need to learn about nootropics. Let’s go.
What the Heck are Nootropics?
Nootropics are substances that help you think better, stay focused, or remember stuff. Or any combination of those things. Also called smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, nootropics are becoming ever better known. It seems everyone is using them:
- College kids use them to get better grades (high school kids too)
- Top executives and entrepreneurs use them to compete at a higher level than they otherwise would
- Emergency room medics use them to stay sharp and focused in total chaos
- Military pilots use them to stay awake on long, dangerous missions
- People dreaming of a freer tomorrow use them to make those dreams come true faster
Nootropics vs Stimulants
We need to talk about the difference between nootropics and stimulants. Nootropics are substances that boost your cognition or memory. They act on certain neurotransmitters to change the way your brain works. But so do stimulants such as amphetamines, which are not considered nootropics.
The differences include:
- Which neurotransmitters they affect
- Nootropics generally have few side effects
- They don’t cause you to crash after they wear off like stimulants do
- Nootropics also don’t have the addiction risk that stimulants can have
But these differences are somewhat subjective. And some substances have characteristics of both nootropics and stimulants. Which category they fall in depends on which expert you care to listen to.
Finding Useful Nootropics
There are lots of substances that people claim will boost your cognition or memory. Many of them don’t work. Others have very subtle effects that only show up in lab testing. But there are some that actually do what they say when used in the real world.
Some of these substances are newish creations fresh out of some scientist’s lab. And some are expensive, hard to get, or even illegal. But others have been around for a long time and are easy to get your hands on.
A guy named Scott Alexander did a survey of nootropic users in 2014. This survey got nootropics users to rate the substances they use. The survey is full of useful information. Among other things, it says that YOU likely use a powerful natural nootropic every day.
Caffeine – Your Grandfather’s Nootropic
Caffeine is the most widely-used nootropic in existence. Caffeine is the active ingredient in coffee, which people have been using for over 1000 years.
The caffeine in coffee has both stimulant and nootropic effects.
Caffeine straddles the line between nootropic and stimulant. It definitely has some stimulant effects. You can develop a tolerance to it, and you can crash after you use it.
But caffeine also has nootropic effects. It inhibits the function of adenosine in the brain, increasing alertness. If you have ever used caffeine to stay awake and alert, you are well aware of how this works.
Other Plant-Based Nootropics
Besides caffeine, there are several other plant substances with reported nootropic effects. Here are two examples:
Studies have shown that the extracts from this plant can reduce fatigue and boost memory. It is also known to improve concentration.
I had access to a very pure, very strong supply of Rhodiola Rosea for a short while several years ago. I noticed major improvements in concentration and resisting fatigue.
Unfortunately, that supply lasted only a few weeks. After that, I only had access to the much weaker concoctions available in health food stores. These didn’t have any noticeable effect on me.
This substance comes from a moss that grows in India and Southeast Asia. Studies have shown it to give some boost to memory. It works by partially blocking the function of Acetylcholinesterase in your brain. This results in higher levels of Acetylcholine, which is important for memory.
I have no personal experience with Huperzine A. In Mr. Alexander’s study, nootropics users rated Huperzine A as mildly effective.
Products from the Lab
Besides natural nootropics, there are potent cognitive enhancers that come out of labs. While this is a rapidly changing area, we can talk about two products to get a sense of it all: Adderall and Modafinil.
Much of the cognitive enhancement from caffeine comes from its action as a stimulant. Adderall provides a much stronger boost because it is a much stronger stimulant. Adderall is a combination of two chemical forms of amphetamine. Doctors prescribe it to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.
It is no surprise that folks without these conditions would try this stuff when under the gun. Drinking black coffee or popping caffeine pills only takes you so far.
It turns out that Adderall does indeed improve cognitive performance in healthy people. Clinical trials show it can improve memory as well as attention. But remember that this drug is an amphetamine. Using this stuff for cognitive enhancement has serious risks.
Side effects from using Adderall can include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty urinating
- Tolerance (requiring ever larger doses to get the same effect)
- Crashing when the drug wears off
In short, Adderall works as a cognitive enhancer, but if you use it, you are taking serious risks.
My Favorite Nootropic: Modafinil
Modafinil is a true nootropic. That is, it boosts your cognition and memory with few side effects. It doesn’t cause the crash amphetamine users can experience, and is not addictive.
Doctors prescribe Modafinil for people with narcolepsy and similar disorders. It is also used off-label to treat various conditions that cause fatigue. It is not a typical stimulant. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how it does what it does.
But as far as I am concerned, here are the important points:
- It isn’t addictive
- You don’t crash when it wears off
- People have been safely using it since the 1990’s
- It works
What Does “It Works” Mean?
What do I mean by, “It works?” I mean it boosts my focus and productivity tremendously. When I use Modafinil, I can completely lose track of time. Today, for example, I started working on a project around 8AM.
I was completely focused on what I was doing and blasted out a ton of work. When I finished the project, I looked up and realized it was 1:30PM. I also realized I hadn’t eaten anything in 18+ hours.
I wasn’t tired or hungry but it seemed like a good idea to have breakfast (lunch, whatever). So I quick grabbed some food, took a short walk, and got to work on this article. It is now after 4PM and I am still not hungry, or tired. And I’m still cranking out the work.
This is what Modafinil can do for you.
And you don’t need to take my word for it. Numerous studies have shown Modafinil’s effectiveness. Here’s just one example. It is the first study I encountered when investigating Modafinil for my own use. This 1999 United States Air Force Modafinil study showed that Modafinil helped keep flight crews functioning effectively after 40 hours with no sleep.
About Regular Modafinil Use
I’ve been using Modafinil for around 3 years now. But I do not use it every day. In my experience, it seems to lose a bit of its punch if you use it too many days in a row. Besides, I don’t always want to be so focused and alert! I like being able to relax once in a while.
It makes sense to limit the use of any drug, even safe ones like Modafinil. I have seen many different suggestions for usage schedules. Here are some of them, along with ideas on when they might make sense for you:
- If you are still working a regular job, you could try using it during the workweek and not on the weekends
- If your job features crunch times or hard deadlines, you could use Modafinil then. This is the way I do it
- If you tend to party a little too much during the work week, you could use it the morning after to mitigate the effects
How Much Do You Need?
The exact dosage of Modafinil depends on you. Some people get the desired effect from 50mg. Others need 200mg. It depends on your weight, age, and who knows what else. It is something each person needs to experiment with.
How Do You Get Modafinil?
This is where things can get a little tricky. Here in Ecuador, Modafinil is an over the counter drug. I walk into any pharmacy and walk out with a box of 20, 200mg tablets for about $20. In most countries, it is a prescription drug. If you can get the stuff at all, it usually costs several dollars per dose. In the USA, it is a Schedule IV controlled substance. The legal treatment varies from country to country.
Modafinil is a powerful nootropic that is available OTC here in Ecuador.
Despite the restrictions on Modafinil, large numbers of people use it as a nootropic. Some get a friendly doctor to write them a prescription. But many get the stuff through other channels.
Modafinil is easy to buy on the Internet. Several companies in India and China manufacture it and will ship it anywhere in the world. Apparently it ships in plain, non-descript packages. These usually make it through Customs and the postal system without problems.
If a package does get stopped by Customs, it doesn’t seem to cause any problems for the buyer or the seller. Some sellers will even ship another package as soon as Customs intercepts the first one! So expect the use of Modafinil and related drugs to keep on increasing.
Where is This All Going?
Now that you know what nootropics are, you may be wondering where this all leads. Real, effective drugs do exist that can boost your memory and concentration. More and more people are using them every day.
What does this mean for you? If you don’t use Modafinil or something similar, you are at a disadvantage against people who do. It may not seem fair, but that is the reality. What are you going to do about it?
Do you use Modafinil or some other nootropic? Are you in favor of their use or opposed? What will you do as more and more people start using this stuff? Leave a comment and let us know.
It has been a while since I last made a post in this productivity series. The Pomodoro Technique, created by Francesco Cirillo, has been around for a long time. I have been using the basic to boost my writing productivity for more than a year. But I knew there was more to it than I was using. So I put off writing this post until I read Cirillo’s book, “The Pomodoro Technique.”
Would the rest of the technique be as useful as the part I already use? Here is what I learned:
As a writer, I need to sit my butt down in my chair and put words on paper. On big projects, I need to be in front of the computer for many hours every day. I need to be able to crank out lots of coherent, interesting content the whole time.
But I am vulnerable to getting into a kind of trance when writing. I may sit down at my desk and start writing. When I look up again, I discover that 3 or 4 hours have gone by, and I haven’t moved from my chair. I’ve been spinning out content like a mad man.
While I can be in a writing trance or flow for hours, I can’t maintain full concentration during that time. While the quantity of words on the page keeps growing, after a while, the quality of the writing suffers. I need to take breaks once in a while to stay productive.
I’ve tried taking breaks when I feel that my quality is dropping, but it is hard to do it on your own. It takes attention away from the work. In the back of my mind I am constantly worrying at it (“Is my writing still good? Is it time for a break? Should I push myself just a little longer? Would this be a good day to go out for a pizza?”).
Plus, when I do pull away, it is easy to get sidetracked, and start doing something else. I tell myself I will play 10 minutes of Desktop Dungeons or something similar, then get back to work.
It is easy to get sidetracked when you control your own work breaks.
Two hours later, the guilt finally drives me back to the work I was supposed to be doing. Clearly, I need some external power to impose worktime discipline on me!
Enter the Pomodoro Technique
While looking for a solution, I kept seeing mentions of the Pomodoro Technique. At first, it seemed ridiculous to me. Get a tomato-shaped timer and magically become more productive. Yeah, right!
Even so, I kept reading about people who swore by their little tomato timers. So I decided to give the technique a try.
The Pomodoro Technique divides your work day into 30-minute chunks (called Pomodoros). It uses the timer to control what you do during those chunks. It tells you when to start and stop work. And forces you to take short breaks before your concentration flags.
Tomato timer to the rescue!
This means the timer is key to the whole technique. You can go the classic route and buy a kitchen timer (maybe even a tomato-shaped one). Or you can do what I did and look online for a Pomodoro timer app. There are free apps out there for every type of computer or mobile device.
I have found that the timer provides the worktime discipline I need.
Right now, I am using an Android app called Brain Focus. It runs on my tablet, which sits on the desk next to me. The app handles the whole process of setting the times for work and breaks. This saves me from having to set a physical timer for 25 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 25 minutes, and so on all day. I know myself well enough to know that I would grow tired of doing that. I abandon the whole technique.
The basic plan is that you set the timer for 25 minutes, then start working. When the timer goes off, you take a 5-minute break. Then the cycle repeats. 25 minutes is a short enough time to stay focused on the task, but enough time to get some solid work done.
The 5-minute break keeps you from getting bored or burnt out. It lets you recharge and recover. I like to get away from the desk for those 5 minutes. I go to the bathroom, get a drink, or do a few exercises. Anything to get my blood flowing and my conscious mind off what I am working on.
This leaves me refreshed when my 5 minute break is over and it is time to get back to work. At first I worried that this kind of work cycle would disrupt my flow and make me less productive.
I was wrong. When I use the technique I am far more productive.
Adding Nuance to the Technique
There is actually another time cycle to the Pomodoro Technique. After every 4 Pomodoros, you get a longer, 15 to 30-minute break. This break lets you do things like eat lunch, respond to ‘urgent’ messages, or whatever else you need to do.
I find that this helps a lot too. Even with the 5-minute breaks, after 2 hours (4 Pomodoros) of hard work, I am ready to step away for a bit. Then when I come back after a longer break, I am ready to settle in for another 2-hour push.
So far so good.
Going Deeper into the Pomodoro Technique
As I mentioned above, I decided to read about the full technique before writing this post. I was not happy with what I found.
First, Cirillo’s book tries to fit your entire workday into Pomodoros. This sounds logical, but it is impractical. Some tasks don’t break down like this.
For example, the book suggests that you dedicate the first Pomodoro of the day to planning the day. But I don’t need to spend the first 25 minutes of my day figuring out what I am going to do the rest of the day. That is a 5-minute task.
Likewise, one of my daily tasks is Spanish lessons. But the length of my Spanish lessons varies, and doesn’t map well to 25-minute chunks of time.
The book recommends using excess time in a Pomodoro to review what you have been working on. But after spending a few Pomodoros learningg Spanish conjugations, I am done. No way am I going to spend more time on them to fill the space in a Pomodoro!
Worse, from my perspective is the rigidity of the system. Interruptions are not allowed. If an interruption takes more than a few seconds, the Pomodoro is over. You should abandon it and start over from scratch.
Mr. Cirillo does offers a system for quickly dealing with interruptions. That helps, but this concept still doesn’t work for me. My life is filled with short interruptions that I am not willing to ignore. At the same time, I’m not willing to restart a Pomodoro that is almost done because of a short interruption. Following that rule would make me angry instead of productive.
One last objection. The book advocates tracking and managing all your work based on Pomodoros. This feels like a stretch:
- This task takes 2 one-person Pomodoros.
- That task takes 1 two-person Pomodoro, which is NOT equal to 2 one-person Pomodoros.
- I completed 5 one-person Pomodoros and one 3-person Pomodoro today.
There is a certain logic to all this. If you are going to work in Pomodoros, measuring and managing with them makes sense. But for me at least, it is way too much.
Can the Pomodoro Technique Make You More Productive?
The Pomodoro Technique can boost your productivity. But you need to be smart about how you use it. When I need to stay focused for long periods, using a Pomodoro Timer is a definite benefit. Give it a try the next time you need to put in several hours of focused work.
But going too far with the technique can be counterproductive. The more advanced aspects are too rigid and constrained for me. Trying to build my whole work life around the Pomodoro Technique would drive me crazy. Still, if you like the basic technique, buy the book and try the rest of it. The full technique works for many people around the world. Maybe it will for you too.
Do you use the Pomodoro Technique? Do you like it? Do you use it all or just the timer part? Am I crazy to use it the way I do? Please share your thoughts below.
NOTE: This post originally appeared on STEEMIT.com