Caffeine has probably emerged as the ‘most addictive drug’ over the last few decades, and completely legal of course. I mean, as you are reading this article, there is a chance you are sipping a cup of coffee – either home-made or one from your local coffee shop.
In fact, you might even find a lot of people sitting at their tables by themselves, working on their laptops or tablets for hours on end. Turn away and look elsewhere, and you might find some people having a business meeting.
Of course, coffee shops have become a common ‘hang-out’ for the current generation. The environment is social and quite relaxed. And often, it is not noisy either.
As I write this article, I too am sat at my local Starbucks, and I look around me and see the same thing. People just meeting up with friends or youngsters working on their computers (it’s free WiFi, after all!).
If I think back to my research days, I recollect that a large portion of time I spent writing my thesis was spent in a coffee shop. I had a perfectly good table and chair at home, but for some reason I found myself to be a lot more focused when I was at the coffee shop.
I still can’t figure out why that is – was it the coffee, was the social influence of being among other people and being comfortable, or was it the soft music playing in the background?
Just sitting here today with my laptop has brought back memories from nearly 10 years ago. And for some reason, I decided to look up why it is I feel so comfortable here when I work on my computer and type this out.
So, being me, I decided to research it a little. Here is what I found.
It’s The Coffee, Is It?
Caffeine has been called ‘a drug that permeates every level of society’. The health effects of coffee notwithstanding, it is a substance that we often work under the influence of.
For example, when you drove to work today, had you had your morning cup of coffee? Then you drove under the influence of coffee.
Are you about to attend an important meeting and just need to perk up a bit with your favourite cup of Joe? Then you are just about to attend your meeting under the influence of caffeine.
The coffee industry has seen a big boom in India and across the globe over the years. In the 1990’s, the industry that was once worth $30 billion rose to a whopping $50 billion.
In India, coffee exports between April 2016 to March 2017 stood at ‘358,458 tonnes valued at US$ 848.60 million, registering a year-on-year growth of 12.70 per cent’. India is the 6th largest exporter of coffee in the world, and the third largest in Asia. We account for nearly 4% of the world’s total coffee production.
Quite remarkable, right?
The caffeine in coffee has a number of effects on the body, and two in particular stand out.
Firstly, caffeine can affect the levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a stimulant which when increased in the brain can give you a feeling of being relaxed and even euphoric.
This effect also influences our feelings of being rewarded. In other words, as we enjoy coffee more, the feeling associated with it is one of satisfaction, like we deserved it.
It is similar to a feeling we experience when we are rewarded for an act of kindness or something similar.
It is this feeling of being rewarded that leads to a process of ‘reinforcement’. Have you ever commented on how your coffee was not strong enough or how the sugar content in it was a little less than what you prefer?
The constant rewarding influence that coffee has can impact our behavior. In fact, certain ‘coffee connoisseurs’ might even be irritated should their coffee be prepared in any other way than what they enjoy.
In addition to its effect on dopamine, coffee also influences the level of adenosine in the blood stream.
Adenosine is a chemical compound that can influence mood, alter secretion of acid in the stomach and even affect how fast the heart beats. In the medical world, adenosine is used to slow down fast heart rates.
By acting against adenosine, coffee can elevate your mood, stimulate gastric acid production and even increase your heart rate. These are all the feelings that you get if you are ‘high’ (apparently). No wonder many choose coffee as their ‘morning tonic‘.
In essence, coffee is an ‘addictive fluid’. It boosts your brain and your heart, making you more alert and probably even more productive.
The Effect Of The Coffee Shop
In 1999, author Ray Oldenburg coined a term ‘third places’ in his book The Great Good Place, referring to neighborhood gathering areas where people could meet and socialise. These places excluded an individual’s home and place of work, and rather included places where people could meet and discuss ideas and exchange news.
Interestingly, what Ray Oldenburg also discussed that most of these third places comprised of venues where beverages were served, including coffee shops. Over the years, the consumption of coffee at coffee houses has increased, which could indicate the significance of the environment itself rather than the coffee that you would drink.
(If you are interested in reading this book, you can buy it here – click here)
But that’s not all. People who frequent coffee shops consider cleanliness, furniture, natural light, a view of the outside and the music playing.
In 1998, Watts and Strogatz published a paper on ‘small worlds’. This is a complex concept but let me simplify it a little for you.
We all live within our own little bubble. Some of our bubbles are larger than those of others.
Our bubbles primary comprise of our home and work place, and the space in between. It includes our families, our friends and even our pets.
Imagine another world that you are a part of – the world of the coffee shop. This is a small world – one where there is familiarity looming amongst unfamiliarity.
Do you ever feel that you know someone a little bit better if they turned out to be a friend of a friend of yours? You feel a sense of familiarity, even if you have never met them before in your life.
The same feeling is what you experience when you are in a cafe. You build a connection with total strangers, all of whom are enjoying coffee.
Better Productivity In The Coffee Shop
Now that you understand what coffee shops mean to some people, lets take a look at how it can boost creativity.
Firstly, if you work from home or from an office, you are in the same environment everyday. Many of us hate monotony, so a coffee shop becomes a welcome change. The new environment has a different effect on inspiration and creativity, so many find that they work better when outside their usual work place.
Interestingly, you might be lesser distracted if you are in a coffee shop. While this sounds odd I know, the usual colleagues and friends you work with are not around to distract you.
Water cooler talk and the occasional ‘whats up!’ no longer takes place, making you more focused on the work at hand.
Not only that, remember you are going to the coffee shop with a purpose of having a cup of coffee and finishing some work you have assigned yourself. You will very likely finish it sooner than you would have in your own work environment.
In addition to this, coffee shops enhance cognition, as has been shown in clinical trials.
This concept of better productivity in coffee shops is not new.
In a study conducted by researchers at Belgium, the presence of people around someone working only boosted them to work harder. This finding was irrespective of what the other person was working on (they might even be browsing social media for all you know!).
They rightly point out that the ‘exertion of effort is contagious’.
What does this mean? You see someone working hard at a desk near you, chances are you will try to work harder.
By the way, you may want to choose a coffee shop where you see a lot of people working. If you enter a cafe where everyone is just socialising and having a laugh, chances are you will not get your work done!
Keep It To A Limit
Okay, so a cup of coffee or 2 a day may make you a productivity wizard, but any more than that and you could just start to get all jittery.
Excess caffeine (over 500 to 600 mg per day) can not only give you the shakes; it could cause an upset stomach, nervousness and insomnia.
Some people are quite sensitive to coffee, while some find that even 6 cups does literally nothing.
Either way, keep it to a limit – mostly because of the effects but also because coffee shops are not cheap!!!
Taking The Last Sip
Coffee shops have been proven to increase productivity, and I can certainly vouch for it, given that it helped me through my research time. If you find yourself stuck with an assignment, or just need time for yourself, head down to your local cafe and enjoy that hot latte!