Limitless or My Thoughts on Optimizing Productivity

This week I watched the movie "Limitless" starring Bradley Cooper. The film follows a struggling writer who can't seem to get anything done. Even though he has a book deal, he hasn't written a page, not even a word. He finds himself lingering at the bar, talking about what he might do rather than just doing it. 

Then, Bradley Cooper's character meets an old acquaintance who introduces him to a medication - NZT - that improves his brain's capacity to access information, concentrate and focus. Within 4 days, he finishes his book and within a month, he is the lead consultant on the largest corporate merger in American history. 

I found it interesting that the very first thing Bradley Cooper's character does when taking this mental capacity-enhancing medication is to clean his entire apartment. He literally throws away all of the things he doesn't need, washes his dishes, organizes his book shelf, tweaks the layout of his apartment, and sets up a desk that is most conducive to being productive. 

Hollywood hyperbole aside, I think this movie touches on some really important take-aways. First, how do you organize your life? What does your physical space look like? Are you able to be productive in that space? What about your schedule? Are you creating space in your schedule so that you can capitalize on your peak brain capacity, your peak productivity?

For me, I am most effective when I exercise first thing in the morning and then schedule myself 2 - 3 hours of un-interrupted work. I can really zero-in on the one or two most difficult tasks for the day. This is the time that I'm "in the zone" or experiencing a "flow state" - I am engrossed in my work and able to interact with complex thoughts and decisions. 

The time of day and how you mentally prepare for your peak productivity may be different for you. For example, you may be more productive in the night-time hours, after everyone else in your family has gone to bed. The point is this: it is incredibly important to think critically about how you structure your day and your life for optimal productivity, and even happiness. 

I believe that this has important applications for medical conditions, namely depression, anxiety and ADHD. Let's tackle ADHD, for example. With ADHD, the two mainstays of treatment are medications and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). And, in CBT, the focus is on time management, organization, and making short- and long-term plans. 

Here's why CBT is relevant for patients with ADHD, taken from CHADD, the national resource on ADHD: "CBT is relevant for adults with ADHD in two ways. First, in recent years, CBT programs have been developed specifically for adults with ADHD. Some of these programs aim to help adults overcome their difficulties in everyday executive functions that are needed to effectively manage time, organize and plan in the short term and the long term. Other programs focus on emotional self-regulation, impulse control and stress management".

As for Depression, if you are dealing with depression, and you are not structuring your day to include exercise, you may be missing out on a powerful form of treatment. Exercise can be a powerful antidepressant. However, the evidence is limited at this time. According to an article in the American College of Sports Medicine's Health and Fitness Journal, "Only two studies, both from researchers at Duke University, compared the effectiveness of exercise with pharmacotherapy. No differences between exercise and antidepressant medication were noted". 

Final takeaways, you have the power to improve your mood and your productivity by organizing your life. Think critically about how you structure your schedule, physical space, and mental space, and create your schedule around your peak productivity.

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!

- Dr. Paul with Plum Health in Detroit, MI

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