Medicating procrastination: how “smart drugs” can keep you motivated

drugs-on-the-brain

Most people have goals. They want to write more. Produce more. Start a business. Do the chores.

And if you really want to do something, and you enjoy doing it, you may not face too much of a motivation challenge.

Except that the things worth doing probably involve some stuff that’s not too much fun.

Like editing your book or rewriting (which can be SO frustrating). Or sending out query emails.

Or fixing your website.

Or doing client work.

If you have a “real job” you can often feel that just “getting through the day” is enough. If you eat healthy and exercise a little you may even feel pretty proud of yourself. Time to relax and watch House of Cards.

You can do all that other stuff tomorrow.

But if you work for yourself or you desperately want to, then you need to get shit done.

It’s not just about finishing the book – you need to finish 3 or 4, and then write a few more.

You can’t afford to relax too much or take it too easy.

Which is why our culture is a little obsessed with productivity.

There are tons of articles on the web about overcoming procrastination and motivating yourself to get to work.

They offer a helpful list of tips likes “give yourself a reward” or “do the hardest thing first.” Good advice. But it rarely works, and it’s always an effort.

It’s much easier to take drugs.

Yesterday was a pretty normal day for me. I got up around 3pm. I drank some coffee, then some tea, had some breakfast, worked a few hours and then took my bike to Chinese class. Then from around 5 to midnight, I alternated between working on client projects and working on my own projects – but with lots of checking Facebook, and lots of watching crappy TV shows (like “Intelligence” … which is just good enough to watch, but not good enough to forget I’m wasting time). I had a motivation problem. I kept avoiding stuff I had to do. I kept watching more and more TV shows until it was 4am and it was time to go to bed.

Today was a little different. I got up at 12:30 (no consistency in my schedule, one of the perils of not having a job), and took about 30mg of Modafinil. Followed by some coffee and more tea. Chinese classes was a lot easier and I was more engaged with the teacher. I came home and got to work. Now it’s 2:45am – I’m still working. I’ve still taken breaks and watched some TV… but now when I start a program (even House of Cards) I find myself pressing pause and going back to do more work. I’ve gotten a lot done. I’ve probably worked at least 12 hours today. I’ve even published a few blog posts and totally revamped a website I’m about to launch.

In short, I’m about twice as productive as “normal.”

And I’m only taking less than 1/4th of the dose they give to children.

Modafinil is a commonly prescribed ADD/ADHD medication, which has become very popular for students, academics and entrepreneurs. For children who have problems focusing, it lets them “zero in” on one task at a time.

It has a similar effect on adults. Even if you don’t have ADD. (Tangent: Does anybody really have ADD? I fit the profile, I had all the symptoms, but I grew up before prescribing ADD medicine became popular. I just had to have “time out” or be yelled at for not shutting up or sitting still).

Unlike caffeine, which just gives you more energy (sometimes jittery energy which makes focusing even harder) Modafinil seems to make you responsible. It’s not just that you get more done because you’re working harder; it completely removes the weird mental and emotional blocks you have towards that stuff you know you should be doing, but still resist.

In other words, it’s a procrastination killer.

Sometimes you even really feel like cleaning up your room, organizing your bookshelf, painting the house. But it also lets me keep my butt in the chair for 12 hours easily moving down my to-do list. And it’s not just productivity: I also find it enhances my writing and speech capabilities.

My thoughts are clearer and more fluid. I’m able to organize massive amounts of information in my head (not recall though, and I’m finding I have a little trouble remembering specifics things…). For insight, plotting out novels, and blazing through a rough draft (I can type 10,000 words on a good day) there’s nothing better.

Socially it makes me talkative and outgoing, calmly confident, but also gives me a sharp, critical edge. It removes my filter and I can accidentally say mean or harsh things I otherwise wouldn’t say. Like with anything, there are pros and cons.

For staying in and getting work done, I like to take it once or twice a week to catch up on things.

There are lots of different kinds of “smart drugs” out there for you to research… I’ve tried piracetam and others in that family but they didn’t work on me. I’ve found noopept – an unregulated substance developed in Russia and sold freely on eBay – to work moderately well.

Ritalin, another ADHD medication not so different from cocaine, keeps me buzzing all day but isn’t as perfectly anti-procrastination as Modafinil. There are several other drugs used to treat ADD and I hope to try them all.

Isn’t it illegal? Or immoral?

It’s a very gray area.

Some of these substances are regulated in the USA as prescription medication, so I should have a prescription to use them legally.

But I’m not in the USA.

I’m not even ordering them from the USA (there are websites only where you can buy meds without prescriptions and they’ll ship them to you).

Others aren’t regulated at all.

Cocaine was once legal – Freud was one of its earliest adopters and enthusiasts. Freud used a lot of cocaine – not only to get massive amounts of writing done, but to boost his confidence before family dinners. When coffee and chocolate were introduced to Europe, they were seen as miracle cures. Caffeine and Nicotine are legal stimulants with absolutely no limitations – you can drink 10 red bulls a day if you want (and some kids do).

But that won’t help you concentrate and produce more work.

Other natural stimulants like Maca or Ginseng or Gingko Biloba are available anywhere, also unregulated.

Then there are specific vitamins and substances like Choline or Taurine or L-Carnitine or Artichoke Extract. Fish oil or MCT oil.

They are good to take also for general brain health… but not as powerfully effective.

Am I a drug addict or abuser? I probably take less Modafinil than you take Aspirin, and it’s less harmful to my health.

There’s very little risk for addiction, and I’m not doing it to “get high” or enjoy myself. I’m doing it to finish more projects, build more resources, help more people and make more money. I’m also planning on writing and publishing at least a dozen books these year (including one on this subject called “Your Creative Brain on Drugs.”

Do you have trouble with concentrating? Do you have a book you want to write but you can never seem to focus or get started?

Modafinil or other ADD meds may be your miracle cure to procrastination. You don’t even need to take it illegally – tell your doctor you have trouble staying awake, focusing and finishing work. Tell them you’ve had trouble concentrating and have heard some ADD meds like Modafinil or Ritalin may help adults with those problems. Ask if he can give you a small sample or recommend something for you or give you a prescription. It’s NOT illegal.

Wouldn’t you like to produce more?

About Derek Murphy

Derek Murphy is a book designer with a Ph.D. in Literature. He's been featured on CNN and spoken at dozens of writing conferences around the world. These days he mostly writes young adult fantasy and science fiction, while helping authors build profitable publishing platforms. Find me
  • Mind Design

    This was a great post. I think you may have saved my life.

    • Be careful what you take, and always start with low quantities. Also if you have trouble with motivation, it’s often because you’re trying to make yourself do things you don’t actually want to do… it’s easier to start saying “no” to more stuff, and do things that fill you with energy and joy.

      • Gabriel_14

        Very true.

      • Reasonable Conservative

        What about other nootropic drugs, like Adrafinil and phenylpiracetam? I understand these work similarly to Modifinil, but without the prescription.

  • Gabriel_14

    Do you take it daily at the same dose?

    • I don’t take it anymore, it gives me rebound migraines… which is too bad. I’ve found weed works pretty well but in a very different way. Wish there was something I could take for peak productivity but my lifestyle is too messed up. Mostly it’s just Diet Cokes these days.

  • Gabriel_14

    How do you meassure 30 mg?

  • SawBladePainter

    Hey Derek,

    Thanks for the article. I have suffered from procrastination and ADD my whole life. You mention the “weird mental and emotional blocks you have towards that stuff you know you should be doing, but still resist”—I know exactly what you mean!

    This is precisely what I feel when I sit down to finish doing my taxes or whatever. It’s similar to a feeling of guilt or shame, but that’s not exactly it, either. When I was in college, I was always gung ho for the first six weeks, but then I would fall behind.

    Once I would fall behind, the feeling of pleasure from doing the catch-up work was completely gone, and I’d inevitably just stop trying very hard. I’d get distracted into other things (like video games…!) to escape that “weird mental and emotional feeling” you describe.

    The feeling is like a mix of existential dread and frustration (for lack of better terms). And you’re right—stimulants don’t really seem to help, especially long-term after you have developed a tolerance to them.

    But there’s another aspect to this, as well: the remarkable ability to completely forget about important to-do’s. I find that after the first time I have procrastinated something I needed to do, normally, I will literally not consciously think about that task again until it bites me in the ass or it’s the last possible minute to do it. And the whole time I’m forgetting about, I won’t have the faintedt twinge of a feeling about that thing.

    Many other people simply do not have this type of forgetfulness. For example, my significant other tells me that, if she procrastinates something, there’s a little nagging voice in her head that won’t shut up or let her enjoy a spare moment until she has completed her task. And she’s one of the most responsible people I know; she’s saved my ass many times. (I have strong hands and open jars for her in return.)

    But what medications help memory and unblock that “weird feeling”?

    I have had some success taking phosphatidylserine, a natural supplement which has a noticeable impact on memory, and no side effects. It’s in Focus Factor but I prefer taking just the supplement because FF has stimulants that don’t play nice with my other meds.

    I have also felt sharper when I take a good multivitamin, Vitamin D in mornings, and fish oil.

    Melatonin + magnesium at night is also huge.

    Having a solid sleep cycle is also important; there’s an app called Sleep Cycle for iPhone that works really well. I’ve been noticing that I sleep much better in cooler, fresher air than a stuffy bedroom where the windows are seldom opened. A mild pet allergy or mold in the house could contribute to breathing problems at night; an app that records sounds at night could help unlock that. Or going to a sleep study, which I have yet to do—I also wonder if sleep apnea or another undiagnosed condition could be related.

    I suspect though that we are running into the limits of what the human brain evolved for. It may be a false assumption to think that humans “should” not be like this. Just because some humans are not this way, does not mean that we are all supposed to be the same.

    It’s said there’s a great woman behind every man. And as sexist and un-PC as that might sound in this age, at least with regards to my dad and me, we’re intellectual space cadets who focus on our interests while our significant others are responsible women who take care of all the bills etc. So, to some degree, it does make me wonder if perhaps each human is genetically predisposed to be best suited for a certain set of social roles.

    Perhaps the modern, liberal view that “everyone is equal” has gone too far if it suggests we should all have the same behavioral expectations put on us. With physical differences this is easy to understand, so we make handicap ramps etc. But what is the equivalent of wheelchair ramps for chronic ADD procrastinator people like us? We end up with lower credit scores and get penalized with late fees and higher interest rates. The financial and pharmaceutical industries alike take advantage of people like us for their own profit, and we get the blame, as if we were being intentionally lazy or dishonest.

    It’s things like this that make me sick. And as a white, straight, biological male, I have no “victim card” to play, and no interest group to protect me. It’s not like I expect sympathy, and I do recognize my own privileges that being from a non-oppressed category entails.

    But, like you, I so want to find a way to get rid of those weird mental blocks.

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