The Caffeine-Fueled Productivity Myth
In the moment of writing this, it’s Saturday morning. I just got out of bed, did my poor man’s yoga sun salutation, had breakfast and took a shower. What’s the next logical step? Coffee… Yay! Yay?
After vehemently drinking coffee every morning for the last couple of years, it’s a ritual I don’t even question anymore. Do I actually need it to “wake up”? Light exercise and a shower should be enough for that. Do I need it for my morning productivity impulse and motivation? Basic passion for life and work should do that trick.
So, obviously, the answer is that I’m addicted to caffeine. But luckily, this addiction is completely socially and medically acceptable:
While most brain altering substances are outlawed or at least tightly controlled by the government, this entirely legal psychoactive drug is enjoyed by basically every person you know on a daily basis, completely unrestricted and with zero cultural stigma.
Now, let’s cut to the chase. Obviously, as a coffee drinker myself, I won’t pretend that I’m all for boycotting caffeine altogether. After all, it has some health benefits, and if you enjoy it, go for it.
What I’ll actually be focusing on is those moments when we reach for a cup of coffee when we’re in need of a productivity fuel, motivation or inspiration.
In the Myths about Focus article, I already mentioned that what we consider positive focus when we’re rolling on caffeine is not actually the healthy variety of productivity.
At the same time, many writers consider coffee their fuel. You have your “caffeine addiction” coffee in the morning, the “chatting with friends” coffee, “enjoying the afternoon” coffee and the mythical “let’s get to work” coffee.
But, will another cup of coffee actually put you in the work-mode?
Too much coffee can actually decrease your productivity
When you look at the symptoms of a caffeine overdose, you will see that these conditions are definitely not something that will fuel your writing and help you concentrate.
Just some of the symptoms of going one cup over the line are:
- anxiety & feeling jittery
- tummy issues
- rapid heart rate
- high blood pressure
When you’re writing on your computer, all of these symptoms can make it even harder to keep on working. So, if you go overboard and go into caffeine overdose, you will have to step away from the computer, lie down and hydrate for a couple of hours before you start symptoms subsiding.
Caffeine increases screen fatigue
If you’re a writer, it’s important that you can manage spending a prolonged period of time in front of a screen. Unfortunately, given that we are spending an increasing part of our day in front of screens, this is getting harder and becoming a strain on our eyes, back, muscles and overall health.
When you’re pumped on caffeine, you will have an even harder time spending hours in front of the screen. Since you will be more sensitive to light and the screen’s micro-flickers, a caffeine coupled with screen-time will be a recipe for a migraine.
Coffee has a questionable link to creativity
Many writers swear that caffeine helps them express themselves more easily and makes them more creative. However, there is conflicting research that says the link between caffeine and creativity is not so black and white.
In Idea To Value’s awesome blog post “That cup of coffee is killing your creativity, kid“, the author challenges the widely-accepted assumption that caffeine boosts creativity.
The two main arguments that the author poses are:
- An over-stimulated brain isn’t good for original ideas.
- Caffeine-induced insomnia and lack of sleep will decrease your brain’s ability to recover, rest and form fresh ideas.
So, the next time you reach for that next cup of coffee as a resort for a creativity boost, be mindful of whether it really makes you more creative or just more alert.
Coffee can cause energy crashes
Riding the wave of a just-right caffeine levels is a constant battle between preventing energy crashes and edging on too much coffee.
This is especially noticeable if you take your coffee with sugar (and most of us do). While the first hit of sugar intake can significantly increase your energy and alertness, you will have an equally dramatic experience of a comedown.
Most people prevent an energy crash from coffee by simply drinking another cup, which takes us back to our first point of the detrimental effects of caffeine overdose.
Like any other performance-enhancing substance, coffee is a good servant, but a bad master. However, if you have been drinking coffee for ages, I trust that you know your body well enough and you’re able to identify its exact relationship and reaction to caffeine.
The point of this overview is not to promote quitting coffee altogether, or even reducing the amount of caffeine you consume. Rather, I suggest that you challenge those assumptions that you may have about the link between caffeine and your productivity.
Try little experiments and tweaks to pinpoint those scenarios where coffee is actually harming your productivity, with the final aim of identifying the optimal strategy for coffee intake, where you will drink it consciously, deliberately and with a purpose.