Stimulants & "Slow Productivity"

I’m a big fan of Cal Newport’s approach to work (check out his books/podcast and now YT channel).

Recently he’s been talking a lot about “slow productivity” – basically, getting more done by taking a very gradual approach, not trying to do too much in one day (see also “Effortless” by Greg McKweon) but instead focusing on the long-term output. According to Cal, “The central goal of Slow Productivity is to keep an individual worker’s volume at a sustainable level.”

I’m also a big fan of stimulants…namely coffee. I like the “get after it” induced by a few cups in the morning, which helps users produce good workouts and work output.

Nonetheless, I’m starting to wonder if stimulants are antithetic to the idea of slow productivity…they may induce one to try to do too much at once. For all their advantages, they can also make the user feel a bit frenetic.

Just something I’ve been chewing on; would love input. Fellow stimulant/productivity nerds – what are your thoughts?

I’m not read up on the “slow productivity” methods, but I’ll break down my interpretation of it, then relate to stimulants. To preface: no one has ever been accused of being too productive.

Considering the average American/human is unproductive as fuck, taking steps towards “slow productivity” certainly would be considered an improvement. For others who are actually extremely productive, taking the ‘slower’ approach is likely a good move - or in line with what they already do. If your goal was to build a house and you just started doing everything all at once, you’ll probably find you’ve wasted a ton of time on stuff that you didn’t need to do; thus slowing down and focusing on maintainable progress is better than biting off more than you can chew. Much akin to a diet, this would prevent burnout and increase compliance.

As for stimulants…

I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Adderall… as far as stims go, they don’t get much stronger. It took some time adjusting to the medication so I could focus my efforts, because when you take this medication - you have to do something or you’ll go insane. You’ll be productive, but that doesn’t mean you’re being effective. This isn’t dissimilar from coffee/caffeine; if you find yourself itching to start doing something productive - you can very well end up wasting your time if focusing your efforts on the wrong tasks.

So long as you can focus your efforts effectively, I see no reason why stopping stimulants would help.

TL;DR: Work smarter, nor harder

P.S I agree that all things should be maintainable in life, this includes work volume, diet, and budget.


Two bulls stand atop a hill, looking down at a field of cows.

The younger bull says, “Dad, let’s run down there and fuck one of those cows.”

The mature bull replied, “No son, let’s walk down there and fuck them all.”


I agree, which is funny given that the average American is anxious/stressed out as fuck lol

Excellent analogy…I’ve really been noticing the correlation between analogical thinking and communication proficiency since reading Range.

Funny enough, I gave my wife her first Addy last week. I’ve taken it off and on, maybe once every year or two, since college. The wife LOVED it…maybe too much. She wants me to get her more and wants to take it 1x/month for maximum productive output. She’s great at her job and gets shit done; this would take her to another level. But I’m hesitant for obvious reasons

I agree with this for folks like you, but don’t think it’s necessarily the case for most people. Some say they have more sustained energy without stims (e.g., I get less done across 1 hour, but more done across 8 hours).

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Might I recommend taking it in a prescribed setting? It’s only effective for about 12 hours, and that’s if you use the extended release formula. Nothing wrong with stims, its when they are taken at a whim or ‘as needed’ that people tend to abuse them… but if you get a steady supply via prescription, there’s no feast or famine mindset behind it - thus making it safer.

Agree, depending the potency. I drink Reign energy drinks - only one per day. I could chug the can and have lots of energy for about 3 hours, then be burnt out the rest of the day… or I could nurse it for 6-8 hours and have a little extra energy all day long. The latter of these two options makes FAR more sense to me (YMMV).

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I would absolutely do this – and prefer it – but frankly have no idea how I’d get it prescribed, as I don’t have ADHD

I have seen first hand how productivity slows when you place more work demand on the workforce. I was supervisor for an Instrument & Control group in an electric power generation plant. We typically worked 5 days per week, 8 hours per day.

During outages where we cleaned and calibrated numerous instruments, Management would instill a much greater time coverage. Normally we would work 6 days per week, 10 hours per day (unless we got behind schedule).

What I found was that after about 2 weeks, our productivity dropped back to amount the same amount of work we could do 5 days per week, 8 hours per day. The workforce just slowed, I supposed to pace themselves.

Granted, this has nothing to do with stimulants, but I would guess more coffee was consumed when they weren’t actually working.


100% understand this. Work can inflate to fit the time allotted to it. So many office workers are just BS-ing the vast majority of the week. They’re straight out of Office Space lol. I think you’d dig Cal’s work if you haven’t checked it out; he talks a lot about stuff like this.

“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” is called Parkinson’s Law

He first wrote this in his essay published in The Economist” in 1955

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When my bros eat adderall before a job they wander around in circles, fidgeting with stuff but not getting anything done.

Cannabis pre-work seems to do better. Everyone can settle in for the long slow slog and keep their heads down for a couple hours.

The Economist! Hey Oh!

Did you seen much other stuff out of books that was applicable to the plant?

A multitude of theories on work movement and process. I was a member of our Corporate Strategy Team for 2 years.

There is a wealth of corporate knowledge in the Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. One of his 11 Laws of the Fifth Discipline got a lot of traction during the Covid pandemic. “Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.” But that just is not even the tip of the iceberg. One of my favorite skills is acquiring the ability to suspend my assumptions when forming mental models of ideas.

Built to Last has one of my favorites: Reject the tyranny of the “or” and embrace the genius of the “and”.

I don’t know where this originated but it is great to keep a work force or business flexible to change when situations change: “Nothing Fails Like Success.”

And more…

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I couldn’t remember the name; thanks man

How does the concept of slow productivity apply in a highly competitive environment?

I think it applies even more so there…the idea is that you produce more, over time, than your competition. While everyone else is freaking out about getting everything done today, you’ve got your eye on the long term.

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I agree, and it can apply in multiple arenas as well.

Things get rushed for all kinds of reasons in business. Bad promises made to customers, various balls getting dropped and plain old bad managers and bad employees can contribute to this.

The older I get the more I value being deliberate about what I do. I function better when I take the time to understand what I’m trying to accomplish, arm myself with the knowledge to do so and then proceed with execution.

If I’m ever in doubt about what to do next, I ask myself a simple question. Why am I even doing this?

A guy named Simon Sinek wrote a good book about this concept. Start With “Why?”

The basic idea of slowing things down a bit and making sure you move deliberately even translates into good outcomes in some of the most chaotic situations I’ve found myself in, which are fights while working bar security.

BJJ as I’ve learned it emphasizes this concept of slow productivity. Moving with a purpose ensures that you aren’t wasting your valuable energy on movement that’s unlikely to lead to a better outcome. You become accustomed to thinking clearly under great physical pressure and then putting a deliberate plan into place, emphasizing methodical movement over trying to brute force your desired outcome.

This is a core component of learning how to fight. Having a measured, deliberate response to violence ensures that you are not burning all of your fuel too fast, too soon.

The better you get at this slow-ish, deliberate process of learning how to move well, the smoother and more rapidly you’ll be able to execute your very deliberate plan. Compare this to the guy you are fighting who is totally spazzing out, swinging like a madman or “seeing red”. Maybe he wins the first fight you guys have, long before you learn what you’re doing, because he’s more aggressive and takes more initiative.

A few years of slow and deliberate combat training can change this dynamic in dramatic and easily observable ways.


I’m not gonna lie dude, I think you might need to do some research on addiction. Prescriptions are step one in the vast majority of crippling addictions. Suggesting that someone who doesn’t have severe ADHD - which is the only instance in which adderall should be prescribed (it is vastly overprescribed) should just get a prescription for speed is pretty wild, and suggesting that having a steady supply of it makes it safer is even wilder.

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I never suggested it to be used “for speed”. Considering it is a highly controlled substance and can only be legally obtained via prescription from a psychiatrist, I think the people who went to school for this shit for 8-12 years would be able to better decide if a prescription for this is warranted. Thinking that one can just mosey up to any doctor and get it prescribed shows a lack of knowledge on this substance.

I don’t deny that prescriptions are the first step in addiction, but this isn’t one of those things that has you giving out handy-J’s under the overpass just to get a hit either. This isn’t an opioid, but yes - it can be addictive and abused like anything else (let’s not get into the number of people on “TRT” who are convinced they feel best on 250mg/wk).

Do you think people should trust UGL sources more than highly controlled pharma grade? THAT is what I was advocating for, NOT the outright abuse of it. Honestly a little upset you think I was advocating this. Adderall has helped me tremendously in my personal and professional life, and I have no thoughts of abusing the medication; this is my experience YMMV.

If someone has an addictive personality and has access to these drugs without the prescription (as indicated by OP), do you really think this situation is safer?

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Plenty of folks use all kinds of drugs without getting addicted. I view ADD meds the same as any other PED… if the cost benefit ratio is worth it to you personally, go for it. Waaay safer (and more justifiable) getting a Rx for Ritalin to help at work than it is to run a cycle or two a year. IMO.

I’d rather be fast and productive than slow and productive. Move fast, minimize mistakes, set yourself up to do better tomorrow. Thinking before acting is important, but urgency is also important (many times more so).