Work Wonders

Caffeine|Issue 41

Work Wonders
Coffee gets people through the working day. So it stands to reason that better coffee produces better work – and in some places the two are in perfect harmony, says Phil Wain
Phil Wain

Facing a dreary commute? Compensating for overindulgence? Trying desperately to concentrate on those spreadsheets? Coffee is the answer. Coffee is the fuel of labor.

The effects of caffeine are well documented by research: it increases attention and alertness, improves short-term memory and enhances productivity, especially when you’re involved in less stimulating tasks. This is thanks to caffeine’s ability to suppress the lethargy-inducing adenosine neurotransmitter. With adenosine blocked, adrenaline and dopamine are produced, giving you that feelgood alertness. Your vision is sharpened and co-ordination enhanced by serotonin. No wonder caffeine was once banned in sports.

But it’s even been found that the noise of coffee shops aids concentration while working. A peer-reviewed study from the University of Chicago concluded that “a moderate level of ambient noise is conducive to creative cognition”. The website helpfully has audio tracks of coffee shop noise to play while you toil away.

Small wander

Caffeine can boost performance in dull, repetitive tasks, but what about creative ones? Could it even inhibit creativity? Writing in the New Yorker, psychologist Maria Konnikova stressed that creating ideas depends on a wandering mind, the very thing that caffeine discourages. “Creative insights and imaginative solutions often occur when we stop working on a particular problem and let our mind move on to something unrelated.”


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Issue 41