How to live more productively is a topic that has been almost beaten to death on blogs and forums. It’s the million dollar question, with a million different answers. Well here’s another one – try giving up coffee!
I’ve binged my way through hundreds of articles, and damn near entire libraries of self-help books that promise to answer ‘the question’ of how to be super productive.
Most times I’ll see progress for a week or two, but it’s typically because of a surge in motivation rather than a genuine lifestyle change. Eventually my habits slip away and I’ll find myself back in the library, or reading more self-help articles, pleading with cyberspace to solve the chronic 24/7 stress and the nagging sense of underachievement.
For all the thousands of words I’ve read that were designed to inspire productivity, perhaps the most noticeable improvement came when I did something that would be deemed unthinkable by many.
I gave up coffee.
Over 80% of the United States confesses to drinking coffee and experiencing a significant energy boost after doing so. On that basis, why would I even dream of giving up my trips to Starbucks? I said I wanted to improve productivity, not shoot my hopes and dreams in the ass. What gives?
The Short Highs and Damaging Lows of Caffeine
The magic ingredient that makes coffee such a famous energizer is, of course, caffeine.
Caffeine is the third most popular drug in the world, trailing only nicotine and alcohol. It has been glorified by a generation of Starbucks lovers, and until about 3 years ago, I was an addicted member of that crowd.
Giving up Coffee? Prepare for a struggle!
The alleged health benefits of caffeine are regularly contested by people like myself, who are quick to point out the health risks. But I don’t want to get in to a debate over the long-term side effects of drinking coffee. I’d prefer to focus on how this widely adored drug can be a crippling burden on your efforts to stay productive.
Caffeine works by releasing adrenaline in to the blood stream, which raises your alertness and speeds up reaction times. Unfortunately, these properties make it a doubled edged sword. While many caffeine users thrive on the short energy boost – and the delicious taste – as soon as the ‘high’ has passed, caffeine becomes a force that works against you.
A common hindrance with caffeine it its harmful effect on our ability to focus on one task. The drug is notorious for encouraging the mind to wander, hyperactively throwing one thought after another until our narrow attention span is spinning in the tracks. Procrastination is the result of this inability to focus, and caffeine is one of the agents pulling the strings behind the scenes.
How many times have you been sitting at your desk at 11.30am, unable to focus on what needs doing, and growing increasingly irritable? You’ve probably justified the feeling as a marker of your hunger, the need to pillage a sandwich (and fast), but it’s just as attributable to the side-effects of caffeine. Caffeine makes concentration a struggle. It also wreaks havoc on your ability to deal with stressful situations.
The very nature of caffeine, the reaction that sends adrenaline bubbling through your veins, is a hallmark of anxiety and nerves. When you remove caffeine from your diet, the mind operates at its optimal performance level. You begin to process thoughts, plans and to-do lists without the rollercoaster nervous energy that tears you away from tasks and blurs your mind with distractions. This is a hugely powerful asset at your disposal – and yet 80% of America is too caffeinated up to the eyeballs to even relate to it.
It amazes me that so many people set New Year’s Resolutions to ‘procrastinate less’, without considering the source of procrastination. Admittedly, some people are just lacking when it comes to execution. But so many others suffer needlessly by relying on a steady drip-feed of caffeine to supply energy throughout the day. That energy is artificial, false and damaging. It provides a short high at the expense of the serenity and concentration of your natural mind.
I’m sure these words will be met with skepticism, especially by those who have attempted to give up caffeine in the past and fallen prey to the occasionally horrific withdrawal effects of quitting.
Giving up caffeine is not a pleasant experience. It’s likely that you’ll want to bite somebody’s head off before the temptation for that next high passes. But is it worth it in the long run? To take back control of your mind and body, I would vote a resounding yes.
My Lessons Learned
I used to swear by caffeine to get me through the day. It was the elixir of life that powered me through Monday mornings and kept me from falling asleep at my desk.
It wasn’t just the caffeine that I took comfort in. It was the routine of carrying a warm delicious friend in to work. A tasty Mocha was one of the few bright spots that I looked forward to when I rolled out of bed. But in reflection, my addiction to caffeine was doing much more harm than good.
I was riddled with nervous energy. Have you ever had the shakes after too much caffeine? Symptoms vary from person to person, but I was definitely a ‘coffee lightweight’. Too much of the drink and I’d be sat at my desk with shaky hands and heart palpitations. More importantly, my productivity nosedived after the initial high.
It was only when I finally axed caffeine from my life that I managed to regain some focus and concentration.
Most of us associate caffeine with bursts of hyperactive productivity, like popping a mushroom on Mario Kart and speeding at your goals. There are times where I envy colleagues as caffeine powers them in to a frenzy of activity, but most of all, I’m grateful that my bigger problems are no more.
I procrastinate far less since quitting caffeine. My energy levels remain stable throughout the day, and I can focus on my goals much more easily. Even more impressively, it no longer takes seventeen alarm calls to drag myself out of bed.
So, is giving up caffeine worth the struggle? Can it really aid productivity? Well, there’s the challenge. Give it up for a month and see. I hope you see the same results as I have!
You can read all about my experience quitting caffeine, and how I managed to stay sane, by picking up a copy of The Complete Guide to Quitting Caffeine. It’s on sale through this very site for $14.95!