Creative brain - with, without and beyond coffee
Our brains function at high efficiency and more creativity on caffeine. Then it becomes an addiction, at which point, to get high efficiency we need more caffeine. I have tried various things on this subject, and here are my thoughts so far.
I took my interest in coffee seriously this time. Which means, I read about types of coffee beans, ways to brew, taste wheels; tried out coffee from well-known and little known brewers, asking them to brew in certain ways I came up with while reading; buying various coffee beans and trying them out.
I have been an occasional coffee drinker since last 3 years. Which occasions, you ask? Very irregular, I tell you. Mostly it has been beers, but at office, alcohol is a dangerous game. Times when the brain randomly thought of having coffee or I was walking by a cafe - I have grabbed coffee.
Since I have been an occasional drinker, my brain boosts. Really. I can think much more, faster and out-of-the-box. Example: a book I was reading told me to think of a story using words “teeth, brush, dentist” and I came up with a sci-fi. I stopped building much on the story because it was turning out to be a rather long one. Similar things have happened with code writing.
Observing these effects, I have decided to see if I can get into this state of the brain without coffee. What does it take? What situations should one create? What daily schedule should one have? What should one eat? When should one sleep and wake up? Whom should one talk to? What should one talk about? What should one think? There are many such variables. I honestly don’t yet know the answers. (Yes, some of these questions are ridiculous, but they’re for fun). I have some observations which seem promising.
First thing I have done is to fix a schedule - with 7-8 hours of sleep, one can stay awake for approximately 15 hours a day. I have built a schedule which accounts for every hour of the wakeful state. I have intentionally allowed hours of chaos - where I do not know what I’m going to do. Let’s break it down step by step.
I think it is healthy to wake up early - before sunrise, and that it is important to do so without missing. No breaks - weekdays or weekends, the time to wake up must remain the same. I wake up at 05:00. I have been successful 62% of the time so far - partly because I had traveled for a week, where my whole schedule broke apart like dominos. Think of it, by 09:00 it has been 4 hours clocked in for the day!
I had joined gym - treadmill, weight lifting - for previous 3 months. When I started this experiment, I concluded that I am spending way too much time for exercise. 15min of preparation; 20min of travel (to+fro); 90min at gym; after exercise, my day would end because I would be exhausted. So, I moved to “Surya Namaskara”. I do 15-20 cycles each day and I have been 63% consistent. I will not say much about this exercise, but it is definitely enough for someone who doesn’t want to have bulk, but lean muscles.
I have made drastic changes to my food. I read various works regarding nutritional requirements, and adjusted it to my body. I have not been tracking this properly, because it is not easy to know exactly what constituents I had in meals. Summary is: I eat significantly less, think before I eat, do nothing except eating during meals, dynamically adjust what to eat based on previous observations (I now completely avoid potatoes).
1 hour of reading every day apart from technical reading. Currently I am reading Prime Obsession. I have been only 43% consistent unfortunately. My longest streak has been 5 days.
Planning is another aspect I have added in the routine. I plan the next day before going to sleep. Various strategies are applied - having weekly goals, which I can work on if I manage to achieve daily goals and giving free space to allow for unpredictable work. I have been 82% consistent.
A technique was suggested by collegeinfogeek to clean the workspace (physical and virtual) before ending the day. I liked it, and started doing it. I clean my table and close all files and tabs (filing todo as needed) before I stop working. I have been 82% consistent.
There are minor habits such as brushing at least twice a day at which I have been 90-92% consistent.
Wakeup and sleep time, planning for the weekdays, cleaning workspace, exercise, daily reading are continued on weekends. Weekends are open for anything other than that. I have delivered talks at University; have been on hill climbs; hung out with friends and students among other things during the weekends.
I have planned all this, so that I know when I am going to focus on what. This gives a clear brain to focus on exact tasks. When I wake up, there is a clean workspace, clean room and I know what is to be done.
Results are: I can work longer without fatigue, faster; I am almost never bored; ability to focus and avoid all distractions is increasing; patterns are emerging where I think I should improve.
Another important result is that coffee’s effects have increased. When I drink coffee, for a short burst of time (around 30 minutes to 1 hour), the efficiency boosts even further. All the work I have been doing - I start thinking about it differently; I get creative; more logical. There are some effects I am not clear about, so I will refrain from describing those.
I generally avoid coffee during weekdays. On weekends, I hang out with people and have coffee. However, during weekdays, I randomly decide to have coffee. I make sure that I do not drink coffee while the brain is feeling tired. For example, right after waking up or after 18:00. The reasoning behind this is that when brain is tired, coffee makes it think it is not tired and so the brain keeps going (along with the rest of the body, of course) which is not healthy - it has higher risk of addiction too. I drink coffee at around 11:00 at which point I would have been 6 hours in the day. The coffee during weekdays is with milk, and contains around 10ml of coffee and 50ml of milk.
Now, the goal has been to achieve boosted performance without coffee. For me, boosted means high focus and creativity. Let me give you two examples.
First, high focus. If I am reading SICP, the higher the focus - the higher the recall, higher concentration, brain ignores outside voices, world would cease to exist (in a manner of speaking). If I am programming, I should be able to hold large portions of interfaces and algorithms at once, compare them, find improvements and implement better interactions.
Second, creativity. I have recently wanted to draw/design spaceships! Very unusual for me, but I want to. A creative brain would be able to design, well, creative spaceships. Finding out new ways to implement some parts of programs; ability to listen to the same music in different ways are more examples. I also want to learn more mathematics (I consider math to be artistically logical).
Having said all this, I still do not think I am able to reach the levels that are (personally) achieved with the help of coffee. And now that coffee affects more, I want to be able to be at that improved level without coffee. I think the performance has certainly improved.
Other than these techniques, I have also begun reading Messy. I am hoping to improve from there. Next in sequence is of course, Deep Work.
I use Loop Habit Tracker on Android and calendar to keep track of daily routines. Tasks, notes etc all go in org-mode.
I am not planning to post any short term update to this. Next one will probably come after 6 months.
Please share your views, ask questions, suggest improvements, suggest new experiments! Feel free to contact me!