Silicon Valley is a weird and wonderful place. The original startup and venture capital hub, this area of California just south of San Francisco is home to many of the technologies that define our daily lives (like Google and Instagram), as well as many of the yet unreleased technologies that will shape our future.
And while we have a pretty amazing tech scene of our own in Toronto—the city we at Eighty-Eight call home—as the OG startup city, San Francisco/Silicon Valley still has tremendous influence over tech communities around the world. Many of the quirks and stereotypes that have come to define local startups and entrepreneurs are popularized in the Valley, including the productivity and creativity hacks you’ll find below.
**Warning: several of the trends (or biohacks) listed below are related to restrictive food intake. If you love snacking, please proceed with caution.
INTERMITTENT FASTING (IF) is one of the Valley’s hottest productivity hacks, not because it saves time, but because it’s shown to optimize energy. Done right, IF keeps your energy levels high throughout the day, meaning you have more time to work, read, exercise, etc.
There are several different methods of IF. Three of the most popular are:
- The 16/8 method: Consume meals during an 8-hour window and fast for 16 hours in between
- The 5:2 diet: Consume only 500–600 calories on two non-consecutive days of the week and eat normally the other 5 days
- Eat-Stop-Eat: Fast for 24 hours once or twice a week
A few months ago I tried IF after being alerted of its supposed energy benefits by two San Francisco-based investors. For five or six weeks I was intermittent fasting every day using the 16/8 method.
The first week was absolute torture; I felt weak and tired at every waking moment. But around the middle of week two, I noticed I no longer craved food in the morning (though I was still energetic and productive), and that after eating something light around 1PM I was able to avoid my usual late afternoon slump. It was great…until I realized I had become obsessive. I wouldn’t even entertain the idea of eating until a solid 14 hours after the previous night’s final bite of food, which sometimes meant I was going the better part of the workday on an empty stomach. I was no longer productive, I was just really REALLY hungry. Now I only fast about 40% of the time because although I like the effect, sometimes I just want a morning croissant.
For people in the Valley who are more concerned about saving time, MEAL REPLACEMENTS like Soylent (which is 400 calories and contains 26 vitamins and 20g of protein) are a favourable option. These high calorie and nutrient-rich drinks are consumed in lieu of full meals and were specifically created with the busy entrepreneur in mind.
Another emerging biohack is the KETOGENIC (“KETO”) DIET, in which people consume very little carbs and a very high amount of fat. This diet trains the body to burn fat for fuel, rather than the usual glucose—a state called KETOSIS. The ultimate goal of ketosis for Silicon Valley elites is greater physical and mental health, and many say the diet helps keep them lean and improves their energy and memory.
MEDITATION is also an exceedingly popular way entrepreneurs attempt to bolster productivity. It’s rare that I meet a founder who doesn’t meditate, and the rise of helpful intro to meditation apps like Headspace make this one the most accessible hacks on the list. Over time meditation can decrease negative feelings like anxiety and stress while making it easier to focus/resist distractions, and thereby easier to GET. SHIT. DONE.
But when you’re running—or even just working at—a high-growth startup, it’s not just productivity that’s important; it’s also necessary to be creatively nimble. Entrepreneurs are urged never to be married to a product or process as it currently exists, and to always be iterating. But regularly coming up with new ideas/solutions requires a lot of creativity, and even the most imaginative minds occasionally need help.
One popular way people in the Valley get their creative juices flowing is by MICRODOSING LSD or mushrooms. LSD is cited as the microdose drug of choice by people in the tech community because when done in small, 10-15 micrograms, doses it’s said to increase creativity (without causing hallucinations) and decrease stress and anxiety.
NOOTROPICS are yet another hack that have been gaining traction in tech communities over the past few years. These so-called “smart drugs” take the form of pills and are used to increase various cognitive functions, including creativity and memory. Two of the most popular nootropics for creativity are Aniracetam and Huperzine A, but it’s worth noting that since these pills are sold as ‘supplements,’ they’re unregulated, not widely tested and like any drug, user results vary.
There is clearly no shortage of brain-boosting tricks in the Valley. Hard work and creativity are necessary when you’re building the products and technologies of the future (which for the record, is happening in tech communities around the world, not just in San Francisco). My theory is that if you’re trying to boost your productivity, you’re probably already working pretty hard, and maybe you deserve a break. But if you don’t have time for that, you know what to do…get hacking my friends (but please, don’t sacrifice your health)!