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
A lot of getting productive has nothing at all to do with your work. Think about it. We’re not machines. If we don’t take care of ourselves in general, we are going to be a lot less effective at anything we do.
This simple fact was brought home to me last night. I am in a Thursday night pool league, and have been doing very well. But yesterday, I suffered a mild case of food poisoning after eating lunch at a local restaurant.
By evening I was feeling okay, so figured I had better go play. It was too late to get a substitute and I didn’t want to let my teammates down.
It didn’t go too well.
I could not get it together. The focus wasn’t there. I couldn’t string together two good shots in a row. It was not an impressive showing. Not being 100% healthy in my guts affected my ability to shoot a pool ball.
We are complex systems and everything affects everything else. That’s why we sometimes need to stop working to become more productive.
The idea here is that we need to attend to various non-work factors if we want to be productive in our work. There are three factors in particular that you need to get right if you want to be productive.
You need to:
- Eat Right
- Exercise Your Body
- Rest Your Mind
We should talk about these three factors in some detail here. You’ll soon see why they are so important. You’ll also see why stopping work to address them will make you more productive, not less so.
I am sure you realize that food is vitally important. And that “eating right” can help you be more productive. But knowing what is right to eat can be hard. There is so much conflicting advice to sort through.
And man is it hard to eat right when you are scrambling to get stuff done. I’m sure I am not the only person to work through their lunch to meet a deadline. And I’m sure I’m not the only person to grab a snack from the vending machine instead of eating a regular meal. After all, I was really busy.
You’ve got to resist these urges. Working through lunch might get that report turned in on time. However, you are likely to be less than 100% for the rest of the day. Your blood sugar levels will drop and you will be craving food.
This will lead you to the vending machine, where you will find only unhealthy junk. The junk food will drive your blood sugar up, then bring it crashing down. It will be hard to focus, possibly even to stay awake. And that will drive you back to the vending machine to repeat the cycle.
How to Eat Right (to Make You More Productive)
Now I am not a nutritionist or any kind of medical expert. Still my research and my personal experience tells me a few things. Foremost is that for most people, eating right means less carbs and more protein.
The US government recommends a diet made up of lots of carbohydrates and a small amount of protein. If you look around the USA, you can see the results. They aren’t pretty. Eating the recommended diet results in serious weight gain. It also tends to leave you far from your most productive.
Screen capture from USDA Food Guide Pyramid pamphlet.
One simple step you can take to be more productive all day is to eat a high-protein breakfast. Many high-performance people extol the virtues of a high-protein, low-carb breakfast. One such person is Charles Poliquin, who trains many Olympic and professional athletes. He says that this kind of breakfast leaves you feeling fuller. At the same time, you consume fewer calories.
Why? This kind of breakfast results in a slower, more prolonged rise in your blood sugar than a carb-heavy meal. This keeps you awake and alert, allowing you to concentrate better for longer. At the same time, with stable blood sugar, you are less likely to have cravings for junk food.
Combine all these effects and it is easy to see how this kind of breakfast can set you up to be more productive.
Try eating a high-protein breakfast for a few days and see if you notice a difference. I know that I am definitely more productive when I have the discipline to start my days off this way.
Exercise Your Body
We evolved in the wild, hunting, and fighting, and running for our lives. So it is only logical that our bodies are adapted to a life of action. Sitting in front of a computer for hours a day (as I am doing right now) is not natural for us.
Our world doesn’t force us to be active to survive the way our ancestors were. Several years ago, I visited a recreation of a Colonial New England town. I was told that people back then worked so hard that they burned over 6,000 calories a day!
Few of us would want to go back to that, but we do pay a price for our easier lives. Our bodies are not adapted to the sedentary modern world. We don’t perform as well if we never get any exercise.
Adding some exercise to your life will improve the functioning of your body. That can make you more productive in whatever you do. Happily, we don’t have to live the strenuous lives of our ancestors to benefit.
At almost any level, some exercise is better than none. And a little more exercise gives you a little more benefit. If you are not already doing so, it makes sense to start exercising. And if you are already exercising, try doing a little more.
I am not going to try to tell you what exercise program is right for you. That is way beyond my field of expertise. And I am not going to share my workout program with you. I am a 58-year old guy who was out of action for a long time after contracting the Chikungunya virus. My needs and circumstances are pretty atypical.
I can make a couple of suggestions though.
Number 1 is, start slow, and don’t worry about impressing anyone. The goal should be to do a little more than you are doing now, without injuring yourself. Impressing people with your pullup prowess doesn’t matter if you injure yourself.
Number 2 is, if you are far out of shape, talk to your doctor before starting. Exercise is good. Giving yourself a heart attack or a stroke is bad.
Rest Your Mind
We tend to forget this, but thinking requires physical energy. Our brains burn something like 20% of all the calories used by our bodies. It is unclear whether thinking harder actually burns more calories. Whether it does or not, we do know that concentrating on something drains us over time.
Your mind is a busy organ. Sometimes it needs rest.
We can only concentrate on one thing for a limited amount of time. The amount of time varies from person to person, but we aren’t machines. We simply can’t stay completely focused on one task all day.
So what do you do when you need to be productive all day?
You can try to power through the mental exhaustion. But don’t expect to get good results. You can’t do your best work in this state.
I frequently take siestas during the day. The difference in productivity between right before and after the siesta, is amazing. I sometimes find myself thinking, “Wow! I was really stupid earlier today.”
Why such a huge difference? Right before the siesta, I will have worked hard for hours, and I am tired. Those two things, sustained focus and tiredness, really make it hard to be productive.
But then comes the siesta. Sometimes I sleep. Other times I read or simply rest with me eyes closed. Frequently I will be back at my desk, focused and working productively, in 20 minutes. It’s surprising how much of a difference such a short break can make.
This works because I am resting my mind. During a siesta, I am not concentrating hard on anything, even if I am reading. I am getting physical rest as well as relaxing my mind.
Whatever “energy” it is that allows me to stay focused runs out after a while. I need to step away from the work every so often to recharge that energy and be productive again. Whether you realize it or not, you do too.
If you work in an office, you probably can’t take a siesta in the middle of the day. But you can do something to rest your mind every so often. Even something as simple as walking to the restroom, or chatting with someone at the water cooler for a moment can do it. I am sure you will be more productive when you return to your work.
Non-work factors definitely play a part in becoming more productive. Eating right, exercising your body, and resting your mind are all things that take minutes away from working. But all of them make you much more productive, despite the lost minutes. Try it yourself and see.
References used in this post:
After my last post I realized that I failed to cover two more ways to eliminate distractions. The first is something that I have experience with. The other I have not tried, but many successful people seem to do it regularly.
So check out two more ways to eliminate distractions. We’ll move on to other types of tips in the next post.
Clean Your Workspace
When I first read about this tip, it sounded crazy to me. Clean my workspace? I don’t have time for that. Why waste time cleaning my desk when I could be writing instead! I can reach the keyboard, see the monitor, and find my notes when I need them.
Cleaning your workspace can reduce future distractions from within your own head.
What does the cleanliness of my workspace have to do with writing?
It turns out that cleaning your workspace can make you much more productive.
How? It is a way to eliminate distractions.
When my subconscious doesn’t want to work, it is very good at finding excuses to avoid working. The endless temptation of social media is one good way to avoid work. But even if I have my social media shut down, there are lots of things close at hand to draw my attention.
“Oh yeah” That receipt over there on the corner of the desk. I’ve gotta file that thing before I forget.”
“That dirty plate from my afternoon snack. I should wash that right now. Can’t take a chance on getting bugs!”
“I really do need to get back to work on that Raspberry Pi project over there. It has been sitting half-finished for weeks!”
You get the picture. The more stuff that clutters up your workspace, the easier it is to distract yourself with it.
The solution is simple: clean your workspace.
Before you sit down to start working, make sure that your workspace is clean. If you clean up before you start every work session, this should only take a few moments.
How clean does your workspace need to be? To a certain extent, this depends on you. I am pretty weak when it comes to workspace distractions. It is best if I don’t have anything interesting in front of me other than what I am supposed to be working on.
You may be stronger or less easy to distract than me. So you might not need to do as thorough a cleanup job. The key is to remove anything that might distract you from your field of view.
Try this tip out for a few days and see what you think.
Eliminate Internal Distractions by Journal Writing
Sometimes the distractions that make it hardest to get productive are in your own head. If you have lots on your mind, or are beating yourself up inside, chances are you won’t get any work done. Journal writing might be the solution here.
Journal writing can help you get distractions out of your head.
NOTE: This is not a technique I use myself. I am giving you my interpretation of the things I read and heard about this over the years.
A few moments of journal writing can clear your head. Somehow the act of getting stuff down on paper does the trick. This is true whether you make use of what you wrote, or you ignore it, tear it out of a physical journal, or burn it all.
NOTE: Check out this post for another way getting stuff out of your head and onto paper can make a huge difference.
There we go. Two more tips to help you eliminate distractions and get producing.
Do you have any experience with cleaning your workspace to increase your productivity? Do you use Journal Writing to clear your head? Tell us about it in the comments section.
Unless you are independently wealthy, being freer tomorrow requires a way to make money. But if you are like me, you sometimes get stuck. This article is designed to help you get unstuck.
The last few months have been a tough time for getting work done. Between moving, spending 10 days in the USA taking care of my Mom’s estate, visiting my daughter, and getting married, it has been tough to concentrate on my writing. Especially when you consider that I was without Internet access at home for 6 weeks straight!
But all that is in the past. You can expect to see the FreerTomorrow articles flowing once again. I’ve broken through the delays and the procrastination and am back on duty.
Tips and Tricks for Getting Productive from Other Creative People
To get things going again, we’ll talk about getting going again on your projects after an extended stop. I recently posted a message in a writer’s group looking for people’s tips on how they get and stay productive.
As luck would have it, right after I posted that message, I came across several tips that other creative people use to get the content flowing. While some of these tips are specific to a particular field, most of the information you will find here pertains to getting going again on anything that requires creativity and initiative.
In the interest of getting productive, I’ve decided to turn this into several posts. I planned on one big post, but seeing how my list of tips has grown, and how much there is to actually write about them, that seems like a bad idea. What I will do is give you a reasonably deep look at one or two tips in each post, along with one or more links to places where you can find more information on this topic.
This approach will let me get content out the door in a timely manner, and let you evaluate each tip more thoroughly than you could in the usual, “10 Tips to Productivity” list style article.
The first tip in this post is:
For many of us, distractions are a major impediment to getting started on our work and staying focused as the day goes on. A noisy environment, the lure of social media, even a messy desk can serve as distractions to keep us from getting productive. Fortunately, there are ways to at least reduce, if not totally eliminate, each of the common types of distractions.
Eliminating distractions can make a huge difference when getting productive.
Social media is a highly addictive, and very persistent, type of distraction. It can be very hard to ignore that beep, or buzz or whatever sound your social media apps use to notify you that there is something new and shiny to look at. Once you let social media grab your attention, it is very easy to burn 10, 20, 30 (or more) minutes before escaping back to doing actual work.
Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to cut down on social media distractions.
If don’t need to connect to the rest of the world to work, disconnect for a while. Disconnecting your computer from the Internet is all you need to do to prevent the problem. If you use a smartphone, you will want to disable its Internet access as well. This may seem extreme, but it is a sure-fire way to eliminate this form of distraction and be more productive.
What if you can’t disconnect? Maybe you need to use the Internet in your work. Or maybe you are on call for something and must always be reachable. We can deal with this too.
Try muting all or part of any social media apps that you don’t need to do your work. Pretty much every social media app gives you some way to mute individuals, or groups, or all alerts at once. This gives you the ability to customize for your specific circumstances. Sometimes all you need to do is mute one or two people or channels of communication to eliminate most of the distraction.
For example, on Whatsapp, I get more messages from my brother than from everyone else I know put together. They are useful, but can really interrupt my work flow and normally don’t have any urgency. That means I can ignore messages when I am working and read them when I have free time. So, when I want to really reduce my social media distractions, I can mute him on Whatsapp while still being available to other people.
Depending on what devices and operating systems you are using to connect to the Internet, you might be able to find some sort of app that blocks your access to most or all social media, without keeping you from visiting other sites.
Making this work does require some discipline, both from you and from the people you communicate with. In reality, most social media stuff is not time-sensitive, or even very important. Yet there is a lot of pressure to be online all the time, and to respond to alerts immediately.
Disconnecting from the Internet, or muting social media channels will keep them from interrupting your work. But you still need to convince yourself that you are not missing out on anything important by ignoring this stuff until later.
You also need to change the perspective of the people you communicate with regularly. If you and Sally chat a lot on some messaging app, she may become upset if you suddenly start ignoring her messages until the end of the work day. You may need to explain to some people what you are doing and why. Let them know that you still value your interactions, just not when you getting productive work done.
The second tip we will talk about today is:
Kill the Noise!
It’s noisy where I live. Cars, kids, construction and other sources of random noise can be very distracting. Keeping external noise out is a tough job, unless you can sound-proof your workspace. I did that once, but it is generally not practical. Even so, there are ways to reduce the noise-related distractions you experience.
Killing noise makes getting productive much easier.
Work at Odd Hours
Many productive people reduce the amount of noise they experience by working when others are sleeping. I’ve found this to be a productive strategy. I tend to wake up very early in the morning (between 3 and 4 AM). When I have the discipline to do so, I immediately start working on whatever is my top priority for the day. As a result, I can often get in a couple of hours of work without external noise distractions because most people are still asleep!
The same idea applies if you are a night owl. Lots of creative folks are night owls, and are often awake until 2 or 3 AM. Most people are in bed long before then, meaning much less noise to distract you.
Of course, this tip requires you to be able to work at odd hours. If you have an office job, you probably need to be at the office when everyone else is. Likewise, you may not be able to confine your work hours to only those hours when other people are asleep.
NOTE: If you do work in an office, the book, “The 4-Hour Workweek” contains very detailed advice for eliminating a range of office-type distractions. From dealing with co-workers who want to chat, to dodging pointless meetings, this book can help you with getting productive in the office.
In cases where you can’t do all your work when the rest of the world sleeps, I recommend that you…
Try a White Noise Generator
White noise generators create some kind of random sound that can play in the background while you work. “White noise” which is a type of noise produced by mixing together all the frequencies of sound a human can hear.
How does adding noise to your environment reduce noise-related distractions?
Because it contains all the different frequencies of sounds you can hear, the white noise masks the distracting sounds, making it harder for your brain to focus on them.
I used to think that the whole white noise thing was just some trendy bit of pseudo-science. But in recent years I have started using this effect to help me with noise-related distractions. That said, I cannot guarantee that a white noise generator will be effective for you. It appears to depend on how your brain works as well as the particular type of work you are doing at the time.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:
“The effects of white noise upon cognitive function are mixed. Recently, a small study found that white noise background stimulation improves cognitive functioning among secondary students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), while decreasing performance of non-ADHD students. Other work indicates it is effective in improving the mood and performance of workers by masking background office noise, but decreases cognitive performance in complex card sorting tasks.”
Further confusing the issue is the fact that there are other types of noise generators available to mask noise. For example, I listen to “brown noise” from an app on my tablet. This app, Noise Wall, can generate 4 different types of noise targeted at different circumstances. The brown noise seems more effective for me, but your results may vary.
One more complication is that there are “white noise” generators that can also create a range of random-ish sounds taken from natural or human sources. Waterfalls, ventilation fans, and rain sounds seem particularly common.
To summarize, there are a ton of noise generators out there that can mask out noise-related distractions. I suggest you search online for some free apps that you can test. The odds are good you can find something that works for you.
That’s it for this post. Watch for the next post with more tips for getting productive!
If you have any thoughts or stories to share about these two tips or getting productive in general, please share them below.
Wikipedia, White Noise
The 4-Hour Workweek
23 Productivity Tips from Digital Nomads Around the World
Getting Productive by Killing Distractions on Android
In my last post, we talked about how my lifestyle leaves me free to do less. That’s a pretty obvious result. Today we’re going to talk about something a little less obvious: how this lifestyle leaves me free to do more and motivates me to do so too.
As I’ve mentioned before, the life I’ve built for myself leaves me with a lot of free time. That’s great, but it can be a trap too. You can actually get into a rut of doing nothing. And like any other rut, it can be tough to get out of.
Stuck in a Rut
I fell into that trap. There was a period in my life where I basically did nothing of note. What did I do with my time:
- Worked literally 10 minutes a day
- Went out to eat and to clubs
- Played computer games
And that’s pretty much it.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. I worked hard to be “freer tomorrow,” and when tomorrow got here, I took advantage. I had been working tons of hours and dealing with huge stresses for years. So just hanging out and catching my breath for a while wasn’t a bad idea.
But… This went on for 2 years!
I was stuck in a big rut. Even after I realized it, I found it hard to get unstuck. I felt bad. I was drifting through life and I hated it. I’m happiest when I feel like I’m making some sort of progress. It was clear that I wasn’t getting anywhere during this time, but breaking out of that rut was surprisingly tough.
It took a 10-week stint working at a stealth 3D printing startup in Puerto Rico to finally snap me out of it. The company failed in a scandalous manner, and I never got paid a cent, but at least I was unstuck.
One thing I learned from all this is that anyone, even someone as hard-driven as I used to be, can get lazy and lose direction. Another thing I learned is that too much freedom and too much free time can be dangerous for someone who is used to working hard. If you don’t believe me, try talking to some retirees. Many suffer from having too much time on their hands. It can happen to anyone.
Sometimes Being Free to Do More is the Answer
The solution to the problem of too much freedom, of just drifting through life, is to do more. If you have something you want to, or need to do, then you eliminate the problem of drifting. When you have a regular job, and a regular life, this isn’t a problem. Your job gives you things you need to do (whether you want to or not).
When you are truly free, you need to figure out what it is you’re going to do. But if you do this right, you will have the time and the energy to figure it all out. You are free to do more than just hang out for a few years. And best of all, you get to choose what your “more” is. Some people donate time to charity. Others work on improving their health, or develop a new hobby.
Right now, I’m taking advantage of my free time and energy to administer my mother’s estate. I could pay an attorney to handle this, and if I was still living and working in the USA, I would. But now I have the time and the energy to do this myself. It certainly isn’t a fun project, but it is important to me and my siblings. It’s also important for keeping me from falling back into a rut of doing nothing in particular.
Legal forms are boring but exercise the mind.
Doing this is forcing me to do a lot of things that I wouldn’t ordinarily do. Deciphering all the legal gibberish involved isn’t fun, but it keeps my mind active. Living in Ecuador and dealing with an estate in New Jersey also requires a lot of problem solving. Even something as simple as getting a document notarized can turn into a project. Not exactly fun, but something to keep me motivated and thinking.
What This Means to You
What should you be taking away from all this? If you work hard to be freer tomorrow, someday you will be. At that point you will face the problem of being too free and needing to find things to do with your time and energy. Don’t waste years of your life like I did. You need to plan for freedom. As you go along, spare some thought for what you will do when you are free to do more.
We’ve talked about being freer to do less, and freedom to do more. Next we will talk about one more freedom you will want to take advantage of, the freedom to change your priorities.