‘How productive are you on a regular day out of 10?’
Warning: This 7 minute read/distraction from your core work might give you fresh ideas to optimise the rest of your week.
The main purpose of our study was to understand not only what people already do — but how they evaluated themselves on a regular day so we had a good steer of how people ‘just like us’ considered their output. Once we have this information, we can begin to understand the various opportunities and behaviours required to increase and maintain it, and in so doing, achieve more.
Only 4 people out of 200 answered ‘10’.
The average answer was ‘6.5’. Lots of room for improvement then.
Of the entrepreneur group — the most common number was ‘7’.
This is somewhat concerning if you consider this is a group of people whose livelihoods depend entirely on being as close to 10 as possible.
The group that identified the highest generally were the lawyers — with an average of 8, good news given they aren’t really allowed to make mistakes.
Bankers cited the worst with an average of 6.5 — but they blamed their lifestyle involving client entertaining and lots of alcohol as pretty common (and a very valid excuse).
Why Are We Asking People This?
After shutting down our last company, Mobula — my business partner Joel and I spent the summer reflecting on what had gone wrong and why. One of the things we had always been interested in, as entrepreneurs, was how to make the most of our productivity, in order to achieve our goals.
We both read, watched, and listened to a plethora of voices and influencers in the space but we always struggled to find a ‘single source of truth’ or a single trusted place we both enjoyed spending our time reading and learning from.
At various times we tried all sorts of different diets, supplements, routines, and practices to get more out of our day. There were many things we held our hands up for with regards to what went wrong in the last business, but whilst neither of us felt like ‘focus’ or ‘productivity’ were the major weak links, we certainly believe we can achieve more.
So we decided to discover what our peers did, how they thought about the topic — where they went for their information, what they took, their routines, and more. Worst case scenario — we would gain fresh insights and things to try for ourselves. Instead, we’ve come away invigorated with ideas to start testing for our new startup.
Understand Your Customer
I had been ‘biohacking’, supplementing, trying different sleep patterns, different diets, microdosing, fasting and paying attention to my mood, focus, and energy whilst measuring the broader health effects with blood tests before and after.
Truth be told, a lot of what ‘works’ and what ‘doesn’t’ really comes down to your own psychology — if you are deeply cynical that this is going to have an effect, it probably won't.
Given that I really wanted it to, I would go into each test with a really open mind and consequently found myself happier, more productive and energetic.
But this isn’t about me, my business partner Joel, nor this stash of stuff we tried at different intervals.
We wanted to know what others did. So we dusted off our GDPR friendly Typeforms and got to work.
The main thing we were trying to understand was what ‘cognitive/mental performance’ meant to people, and how they rated theirs.
First, we needed to identify the ‘type’ of person. We were aiming to interview people who categorically defined themselves as ‘ambitious’ and who’s career choices demonstrated this too.
Out of 200 responses (50–50 male/female, with everyone between the ages of 25–45) most conducted face to face or over the phone/video call) this was the demographic mix:
16% Bankers, Professional Investors or Traders
13% Management Consultants or Strategy Consultants
9% Advertising or Media Executives
7% Medical/Healthcare Professionals
What Does ‘Mental Performance’ Mean To You?
This question brought up a great variety of responses — but 90% of respondents linked it directly to performing ‘at work’ or on ‘tasks related to work’. They broadly spoke of wanting, essentially, a ‘switch’ that they could also ‘switch off’ to unwind at the end of the day.
Almost all of our respondents remarked on not really hearing the term ‘mental performance’ before nor really giving it too much thought as a stand-alone process.
Here are 3 of the anonymized answers;
“Not to be confused with intellectual output, the ability to think carefully & clearly about certain tasks and when planning to start them, the ability to hit my target of finishing them”.
“The ability to absorb a lot of information, digest it logically, and then work through it with great focus and minimal distraction”
“A combination of Mental Well-Being and Productivity”.
A really crucial commonly cited comment was that people considered cognitive performance to include the ability to relax, unwind, and avoid anxiety by spending appropriate down-time with family, fiction or just doing nothing.
What Do You Take To Enhance Your Cognitive Performance?
92% of our respondents answered with the world’s most popular choice — coffee, of course. Some had up to 9 cups a day, but the average was 3.
Good news for those that chose to drink more — it’s actually great for your brain health, but more on that another time.
68% of all respondents said they took supplements, though only 40% of those said they had taken supplements to optimise their mind/cognitive performance.
Of those that did, over 50% continued to take them every day and swore by their efficacy as part of their own process to improve their productivity.
73% of our respondents cited a great exercise regime as the most important factor for a clear and productive mind on a regular basis.
35% suggested having a plan or list for the next day was a major difference between having a ‘good day and a bad day’.
28% meditated or took ‘mindful’ time off tasks every day.
66% cited ‘good relationships’ with people they cared about as crucial to their ability to focus on key tasks.
The Most Important Measure of Optimised Mental Performance?
Yup, you guessed it, sleep.
On average our respondents received 6.5 hours of sleep per night and said that if they didn’t get it, they expected to perform poorly the next day.
Interestingly, a third cited fairly poor or interrupted sleep regularly with anxiety the biggest contributing factor to that.
27% of respondents said they had something to help them sleep in the last year.
The Most Detrimental Things for Optimised Mental Performance
In order (and no surprise)
A poor night’s sleep
High-stress levels, most commonly from personal circumstances/relationships.
The Most Popular ‘Hacks’ For Mental Performance?
Aside from the stuff they were directly asked about — sleep, diet, exercise and supplementation, respondents were pretty consistent with their other ‘hacks’ — 68% had ‘no other hacks’ beyond the above — but for those pushing out extra gains;
Some form of coaching/therapy/mentoring was the most popular answer with 23% of people saying this was one of the more meaningful ways to boost their personal effectiveness every week/month.
Intermittent Fasting — minimum of 12 hours. Not so hard. Most people tend to do this anyway but 17% of people interviewed cited this as their top personal hack.
Gratitude and noting down things that went well that day in a journal was mentioned by 14% of interviewees.
11% of respondents cited ‘giving back/being of service’ at least once a month
It’s a small sample size for sure, and everyone was earning between £45,000 — £250,000 per year so it’s certainly a very specific type of respondent providing insight into how they go about optimising their own cognitive performance, but within it, a broad mix of backgrounds, industries, and experience. What we can conclude so far, is clear;
98% of respondents admitted to feeling like they could definitely achieve more, every single day, and would be open-minded to most suggestions in how to achieve that.
63% of entrepreneurs spent up to 2 hours a week researching content in the form of books, podcasts or articles on how to be more productive. This number dropped to 35% as an average between the other groups.
The majority of our recipients that engaged in trying out new habits, products or content would like to find a more inclusive or community-driven approach to learning and understanding the various approaches available.
About 30% took some form of supplement or ‘adaptogen’ regularly to optimise their mind in some form (whether for alertness, relaxation or mood).
Close relationships with real people (not just social media), and the ability to get feedback (mentoring/coaching, etc) had a huge impact on their mood, confidence, and effectiveness at work.
So, what next?
Well, we’ve decided to work in an area we are both deeply passionate about — and we are merely hundreds more customer interviews short of all the answers, but we are building something intentional and purposeful together.
“A Human Potential Company”
This is our ‘North Star’, and for now we’ve called the company ‘Dawn’, as we believe there’s something beautifully representative of a new Dawn of Human Potential. Then again it’s also the ‘Fairy Liquid’ of North America, so it might change but it’s just a name…
What really matters to us is how we help our customers optimise their daily cognitive performance and achieve their potential — and we will find the answers to this by working with our community. We need regular iteration and constant feedback.
For now — we are starting our journey by sharing a short & insightful, weekly newsletter covering the best motivational and actionable scientific content from the worlds of neuroscience, psychology, and nutrition — written in clear, concise English to kick-start your week.
If you want to join us on our journey to achieve our Human Potential, and in so doing, help you achieve yours — then sign up to our newsletter here.
If you want to see what you’ve already missed — such as why blueberries are so good for you, why ‘action bias’ means you should do less and how learning dance routines are the ultimate brain teaser, check out our archive here.