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10x Your Focus: Four Productivity Deadlocks No One Is Talking About

Reading time: 11 minutes

Productivity systems.

They are great and all, but the ugly truth is…

No system or time management in the world can help you.

That’s it. You’re doomed.

Until you solve this one thing.

Energy management

All the time management skills, secret formulas, honest-to-god gurus, online course, or voodoo rituals (okay, maybe voodoo rituals) won’t make you successful. The only thing that will make you successful is your ability to intensely focus on work for an extended period of time.

The purpose of this image is to display the graph of Intensity times time, which gives the amount of work done.

The Problem With Energy Management

Intense focus burns a lot of energy. And energy is, sadly, a finite resource. [1] There is only so much energy you can expend during the day and only so much you can restore. Once it gets exhausted, you’re done. [2] Have fun giving in to temptations, [3] procrastination, and other naughty things that you do when no one else is watching.

Work Capacity As A Water Reservoir

Let us illustrate this energy concept a bit more. Consider your energy – or work capacity, to be a water reservoir on top of a hill. The deeper the tank, the more water it stores. Which means more water can run the mills in the valley during the day. The townsfolk are happy. The rye gets powdered into flour, the electricity runs, and everything works fine. Once the reservoir gets exhausted, however, everything comes to a stop.

But don’t worry, your reservoir comes with a pump. It starts to pump water back into the reservoir whenever the demand for it decreases. The more efficient the pump, the faster the tank gets refilled.

The best way to “pump water” is by resting and relaxing. That’s something I deeply explored in this post (available on 7.5.2020)

Today, however, we will look at how to increase the depth of your reservoir, so more stuff can get completed during the day. This can be done simply by sacrificing four virgins unlocking four deadlocks:

Dopamine, Tummy, Purpose, and Garbage Locks.

Deadlocks are things on which your body unnecessarily spends a lot of energy. Consider this energy locked. You can’t use it until you solve the problems that locked it in the first place. Think of it as if your reservoir has chambers. Big chambers. But they are all sealed off by nasty things. Deadwood, hair, rocks, rats, and cake – or whatever gets stuck in your local water systems. Having and maintaining clean pipes is essential for the water to flow.

Dopamine Lock

Dopamine is an organic chemical in your body that has an essential role in the reward-motivation circuitry. It makes you feel good. It developed to encourage you to do things that, in olden times, meant better survival. By olden times we mean 600 million years ago when our ancestors still looked like jellyfish.

Back then, there were not a lot of things that could give you dopamine. All of that changed in the last century.

We are now literally swarmed with dopamine hitters. Video games that keep us hooked, social media slot machines with likes and notifications [4], excessively sweetened foods, TV series with cliff hangers and fast cut scenes, pornography of the wildest imagination is just a few clicks away. Pretty much everything you consider “fun” that is also wildly popular, got that way because it usurped our dopamine pathways – and in the process kidnapped our attention.

Living in this high-stimulus environment, intoxicated with dopamine, has literary rewired our brains [5].

We are unable to do “boring” activities anymore. Activities, like reading and working deeply, simply don’t release as much dopamine as grinding World of Warcraft or binge-watching Jane the Virgin. Attempt to do them, and your brain will continuously jab you to switch over to a more stimulating activity.

The dopamine circuits are dumb. They evolved way back when higher cognitive functions didn’t exist. The lizard brain still thinks the easy, feel-good way means a better chance of surviving, but it’s actually the other way around!

Try A Low Dopamine Diet

The rules are simple.

  1. If an activity gives you unearned dopamine hit (sugar, social media) = avoid it
  2. If a fun activity has no clear stopping point (video games, tv series) = don’t do it

At first, removing high dopamine triggers will make you sad and cranky. But don’t worry, that is only because you are a filthy dopamine addict. The withdrawal symptoms won’t last long, as your beautiful brain will quickly adjust to the new diet.

Be careful, though. The chance of relapse for dopamine addiction is very high. If that happens, don’t be too hard on yourself. Dopamine hitters have become the standard in our culture. Expect to be under constant siege of temptations. But if you manage to stay clean, you will be spiritually, mentally, and professionally miles ahead of everyone else – the constantly distracted and unfocused.

So what should you do instead?

Do hard things that make you feel good only after doing them. Exercise, cold showers, studying, work, walking, reading, deep face-to-face conversations, various hobbies like painting, tinkering, cooking, writing, blacksmithing. Consider this your new downtime.

Unlocking this lock alone will infuse your life with meaning, calmness, happiness, and productivity. But there is even more.

Tummy Lock

Unlocking your tummy is not only about what you eat, but how much and when you eat.

What you eat

Garbage in, garbage out.

Some foods are harder to digest than others. [6] This means your body will expend more energy and allocate more resources to process such foods. Aid your body by eating easily digestible, low-inflammation foods. Consume olive oil, spinach & other leafy greens, unsweetened oatmeal, walnuts, and some fat (yes, bacon) as your primary energy source.

Drinking various concoctions from ingredients like turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, apple cider vinegar, and lemon can also help your digestion and reduce inflammation. These are amazing before a meal since they prepare a very acidic environment that is crucial for proper digestion.

The Wim Hof method and physical exercise are also great ways to reduce inflammation and optimize the brain – as I have already thoroughly explained in my post How to get out of a rut.

How much you eat

Digestion has unwanted biological and psychological effects on us, productivity nutjobs.

Biologically

Stuffing your face with food stifles the blood flow to your brain and skeletal muscles by expanding the blood vessels in your gut. Once your belly is full, insulin is released to regulate the glucose level. Insulin causes brain fog and the feeling of sluggishness (as you know, after a big Sunday lunch).

Moreover, by eating frequently, your body will be continuously exposed to insulin. The worrying fact is that the body adapts to insulin. So it requires higher and higher amounts of it to achieve the same result. All up to the point where your pancreas can’t take it anymore and simply burns out – leaving you with diabetes. Fun.

Psychologically

Once the body eats a large meal, it considers the day to be a success and can begin to shut down. If the organism is full, there is no reason to move or think. “Why expend more energy? We already have everything we need.”.

You might argue that you still can work after eating, or that you can’t work if you’re feeling hunger. The feeling of hunger is usually fleeting, and the fact that you can work doesn’t mean you function optimally.

As the saying goes: “A hungry dog hunts best.”


To unlock your tummy, eat foods that help keep your blood sugar stable (low glycemic foods), and are easily digestible at the same time. Moreover, eat less frequently. Try one of a dozen intermittent fasting routines, or even fasting focused lifestyle. Maybe eat only after your work for the day is done. This works best with a fixed-schedule productivity system, which I talked briefly about in this post (availible on 21.5.2020).

Purpose Lock

A special kind of lock. It has unlimited potential and can even counter the adverse effects of tummy and dopamine lock. In this section, I will not only show you how it works but also suggest what you can do every day to deepen it.

Two-Faced nature of dopamine

Let’s return to our good old friend, the dopaminergic circuitry.

Up until this point, we focused only on the consummatory nature of the circuit. You get rewarded for consuming something. Since 99% of things we nowadays consume are actually bad for us, we aren’t so thrilled about this side of the coin.

Luckily for us, the circuitry also has an incentive reward system. This is what keeps you moving when the going gets tough. The idea that if you just push yourself through pain and suffering, it will all be worth it in the end. A beautiful view from the mountain top, financial freedom, passing the exams, raising children, deepening a skillset, writing an elaborate post about productivity, an organized and stable life. All of these are worthwhile.

You can identify when the incentive reward system was in action by remembering a moment in your life when you toiled hard and suffered for a goal, but looking back, you still have pleasant memories of the process.

So it’s simple. We just say a goal and the incentive reward system will propel us towards our wildest desires. Easy peasy.

Yeah… No. There is a catch.

The incentive reward system can get activated only if you are successfully moving towards a goal that you genuinely value.

You see, it is not necessary that you will experience a firework of orgasmic sensations after reaching an incentive goal, as you do with consummatory rewards: eating sugar, binging TV, or shooting cocaine up your nose. It is that you will be happy while working towards the goal.

The place where meaning is born

Practically all “good” positive emotions in life emerge from pursuing goals. [7] If you don’t have a goal, or you don’t find it to be meaningful and worthwhile, then dopamine chemicals that keep you engaged won’t release. This will cause you to be deeply miserable, do subpar work, or even quit altogether. It is challenging to consistently invest a lot of effort into work you don’t find to be meaningful.

The incentive reward system even has an actual analgesic effect. Some athletes are so focused on the goal during the game, they might not even notice they sustained severe injuries, like broken bones and twisted ankles. They continue to play the game as if nothing happened. This is also what kept Elon Musk working ungodly amounts for decades – with no time off. The goal to technologically advance our species and make life on earth multi-planetary is a goal that is so deeply meaningful and worthwhile to him that he literary can’t do anything else. The same is true for any great person in history.


Once you start moving towards a goal that serves your ultimate purpose, you will notice you get easily absorbed in the activities. You will find them to be remarkably meaningful. This meaning is produced as a consequence of the activation of the exploratory circuit that is nested deep inside the hypothalamus. That is an ancient part of our brain that, among others, also regulates hunger and thirst.

Pause and imagine that for a moment…

Our need for purpose is as old as our need for food and water.

This sends chills down my spine every time I read it.

Meaning is as old as hunger and thirst.

It is such an essential part of being alive that it should not be trivial to say you don’t find your work or free time meaningful. Is it also okay to say you’re starving or dehydrated? It’s a crucial problem that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Finding Your North Star

It is challenging to find your calling. In a sense, you can never honestly know it. However, no matter where you are in life, your ultimate purpose leaves breadcrumbs on your way. These manifest in your life as interests. Follow them. Even if they lead you in a dead-end, at least now you moved somewhere. The world will look different from here. Find another breadcrumb. Keep moving. You will get lost a lot in the beginning. Don’t be afraid to experiment and change direction completely. The more experience you accumulate, the better you will be at knowing yourself, which is not much different than knowing your calling.

Here are some things you should consider.

  1. What are your values? Who do you look up to? What are his/hers values? Chances are you see an unexpressed part of yourself in the people you admire.
  2. What type of person are you? Are you logical and price or a builder and creator? Do you like to entertain and present, teach, or talk to people? Are you outgoing and social or reserved and introspective?
  3. Dig into your memory and look for events where you were fully absorbed in the thing you were doing.

If you don’t have interests, then just pick something at random and keep walking. Change direction often. See where the road will lead you. It’s not like you have anything better to do.

The best way to organize and become familiar with your mind is through journaling, which I will explain in an upcomming post. (available next week on 30.4.2020) Also, consider researching your personality type more rigorously. I have a post comming about The Big Five Personality Traits as well. (available on 14.5.2020) You can use these to help you find a meaningful vocation.

Closing thought on purpose

This was a complex section, so let’s create a final overview.

  1. Meaningless or no goals won’t produce any positive emotion.
  2. No positive emotion means you won’t be engaged in the activities you’re doing.
  3. If you aren’t engaged in what you’re doing, the exploratory circuit won’t activate.
  4. If the exploratory circuit lies dormant, it won’t produce the sensation of purpose, or meaning.
  5. Without meaning, you won’t be able to shield yourself from suffering and tragedy of life.

Meaning produces the strength to get you through hard times, and to persevere right to the end.

Developing your full potential as a human being requires the amounts of energy you can get only by living a deeply meaningful life. Therefore choosing a meaningless life is a crime against Humanity.

We are left with one more lock. Let’s keep it short and sweet.

Garbage Lock

Did you just get a new message?

Maybe you should glance at twitter to see what Trump is doing.

While you are at it, switch to a new tab and watch “I tried parenting with Kylie Jenner nails for a week”.


If you have carefully considered your purpose lock, then these calls to action leave a bitter taste. Compared to your purpose, you can now see how wasteful, and even harmful, such activities really are. To take it all the way home, consider this: Memento Mori.

Memento Mori means Remember Death. If you are lucky, you probably have about 40 good years left. That is 14 600 days or 2080 weeks. Now realize how short one day feels like. It passes by in an instant – a second. If one day was one second, you only have four hours left to live out your purpose.

Time is scarce. Be mindful of every moment.

As I have said in the first chapter, we live in a world filled with distractions. And not of the trivial kind like loud lawn mower on a Sunday morning. The distractions we are fighting are extremely challenging to resist and have the ability to hook you once you give in to temptation. Remember, these distractions will steal away your time and energy.

If you want to stay on the path, it is crucial you remove as many of these distractions as possible.

  • Embrace minimalism and clean your work/life environment.
  • Block Youtube or other distracting websites.
  • Become harder to reach. Put your phone on airplane mode.
  • Wear noise-canceling ear muffs while working.
  • Cancel your World of Warcraft and Netflix subscriptions.

Conclusion

Adjust your brain to be content with low-stimulus activities. Such activities might seem tedious at first but are extremely beneficial to your life and long-term well-being. Make sure you stay hungry while working. Then eat foods that regulate blood sugar and can be easily digested. To find meaning in life, follow the Breadcrumbs of Light. These will typically manifest as your interests. Pay close attention to them. They grip you for a reason. Finally, remove distracting triggers that send you down a spiral of bad habits.


Footnotes & Links

[1] Is Willpower a Limited Resource?
[2] Ego Depletion – Roy F. Baumeister
[3] Decision Fatigue
[4] Silicon Valley Insider On Why Smartphones Are Slot Machines
[5] How Social Media Is Rewiring Our Brain
[6] Specific Dynamic Action
[7] Why Work Towards A Goal?

Special thanks to Alex Becker – The Science to Destroy Low Motivation for inspiration.