If you haven’t heard of the term nootropics before, aka “smart drugs”, they are cognitive enhancing supplements that can optimise several systems in your brain, to help improve your concentration, memory and alertness, as well as reduce stress and mental fatigue.
You can learn more about nootropics in this infographic.
But the big question is: will they actually make you more productive?
The short answer is maybe. Although I would love to tell you there’s a magic pill that will make you more productive overnight, such a thing does not exist.
As an avid nootropic user and biohacker myself, I have come to learn that nootropics don’t directly impact your productivity—but that does not at all mean they don’t influence it (because they do!).
The fact is there’s no shortcuts in life, and you need to eliminate that kind of thinking when it comes to productivity. There’s no “one simple trick” that will boost your productivity by over 500% if you implement it. Trust me.
So in this post I want to talk about what productivity actually is, and how nootropics have an impact on it. I feel like many people don’t describe the connection in much detail, which leads to either blind optimism or unfounded pessimism.
What is productivity?
Good question. Let me tell you a little something about productivity.
Productivity is a two piece puzzle. The first part is simply getting tangible work done. But it doesn’t end there. That’s the outcome of productivity. What about the input?
The input is what % of your time was actually spent on productive work.
For example, if you work a standard 9–5 job with a 1-hour lunch break, then you have a total of 7 hours a day to get work done.
But are all 7 hours actually 100% productive? No.
This is the other side of productivity. I am pretty confident that most people are nowhere near as productive as they think. Many people will mistakenly make the assumption that 7 hours = 7 hours of productivity, when in fact it’s only a percentage of that time.
If we make the assumption that people are 70% productive on average (which I think is too optimistic, but let’s just roll with it), then out of 7 hours there’s really only 5.9 hours of real productivity happening per day.
The other 1.1 hours of “wastage” is spent checking your Facebook feed, staring into the obis and doing other miscellaneous stuff that is not actually helping move the task at hand any closer to completion.
That’s productivity. A combination of optimising your time spent on tasks, and your overall ability to get shit done and ticked off.
So back to the question at hand: can nootropics improve your productivity? Can they increase the percent of time you spend working productively? Maybe they can close the cap from 70% > 80%?
Not so fast.
There’s a range of factors that contribute to productivity:
- Skill level (entry, intermediate or advanced).
- Concentration (ability to focus and not get distracted).
- Speed (the pace in which you work. Slow, medium and fast).
- Quality (the quality of work output. Poor, good or amazing).
- Habits (do you have good or bad habits?).
There’s PLENY more, and this is quite an oversimplification—but it will do the trick for this post I am sure.
As you can see, you would need to be improving all of those areas in order to enhance your productivity, significantly.
My theory on nootropics and productivity
My hypothesis is that nootropics are the fuel that can amplify whatever it is you’re using your brain for (most things right!).
This however is a double edged sword, as it means nootropics can amplify for good AND for bad.
I like to use coffee as an analogy. Although using coffee will wake you up, if you spend all of that energy watching funny cat videos on YouTube you will actually be LESS productive.
The direction you drive (your mind) in is essential. That’s the role nootropics play in improving your productivity. They amplify your habits, concentration, speed and potentially quality (by virtue of more attention to detail + getting better at core skills quicker). The better your habits before taking nootropics, the better your outcomes will be.
I always find it hilarious when somebody takes nootropics, only to complain a week later saying something like “they didn’t make me more productive”, or “they made me LESS productive this stuff is bullshit”, when in reality that person probably doesn’t have very productive habits in the first place.
How can nootropics contribute toward productivity?
What links taking nootropics with improving concentration, attention, speed and quality? A ton of clinical data and scientific studies, that’s what!
Certain nootropics have been shown to improve what’s called “executive functions”, a set of cognitive systems that can help improve work performance and potentially increase your productivity. Here’s a list with a ton of clinical references.
A few of these functions are:
- Flexible thinking.
- Working memory.
- Planning and Prioritising.
- Problem solving.
- Task initiation.
Which can be influenced by:
- Increasing Dopamine (alertness, arousal and attention).
- Blocking Adenosine (wakefulness, alertness).
- Increasing GABA (stress reduction, calmness).
- Increasing Acetylcholine (concentration, memory).
- Increasing Nitric Oxide (blood flow and circulation).
Which is achieved by taking nootropics that:
- Make you feel calm (reduce anxiety).
- Increase alertness (reduce tiredness).
- Decrease cognitive fatigue.
- Increase blood flow (Nitric Oxide).
- Increase concentration.
A level above executive functions are flow states, as described by the Yerkes-Doson law as being in an “optimal state of arousal”. Not too relaxed nor too stimulated, rather in the sweet-spot where you feel calm, alert and concentrated.
This is that awesome state of mind where everything around you fades to black and you get shit done for hours in a row.
I believe the link between nootropics and productivity is the lower-level link between executive functions and flow states.
If you think of this all as a chain, it looks something like this:
Nootropics > Executive Functioning > Flow States > Habits > Task Output = Productivity.
So though there’s many steps in-between taking nootropics and productivity, I believe the link exists, and that it can be quite powerful if you already enforce good habits to be more productive.
Nootropics are all about amplifying your good habits, not compensating for you poor ones. Remember that!
And that’s how nootropics (could) make you more productive!