Coffee Breaks and Productivity – Do They Help or Hurt?

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world along with beer, water, and tea. Coffee is also credited with making the industrial revolution possible, or at least with helping to sustain it. Caffeine provided a very different effect than ale or beer, which had been the common drink of most people. It woke people up and got their brain gears moving, which fostered the creativity and ingenuity of that Industrial boom. Drinking coffee before work and at meal breaks also kept workers’ energy sustained and their productivity high. The difference between those workers and the modern office worker, besides air conditioning and swivel chairs, is that the coffee has gotten better. Or, at least, we’ve got more variety of it.

Productivity-hounding managers and CEO’s may not like to see their employees taking a ten-minute coffee break (or three) throughout the day, especially if that break is shared with other coworkers who aren’t at their desks contributing to the assembly line. What they don’t realize is that the conversations had around a nice cup of coffee can have significantly positive effects on productivity.

First thing’s first, working nonstop at full capacity only ever leads to burnout. You churn out some good work right off the bat, and then you crash, your brain gives out on you, and you essentially end up useless until you can get some sleep in. Breaks are vital to productivity. Taking a few moments away from the task at hand, giving your brain and body a chance to relax and regroup act in a similar way to sleep. Short breaks allow the brain to recharge so that it can continue to be super-productive and not just short-circuit.

Something else that coffee breaks offer is the chance for socialization. While those higher-ups may see this as wasting time and goofing off, the truth is, interacting with your coworkers is really good for you. Catching up, small talk, whatever the topic of conversation, fosters a sense of community and trust that contributes to good feelings about the job in general. When someone has good feelings about their job, they are much more likely to produce, if not exceed, the quality and quantity expected of them. Additionally, these brief interactions can assist problem-solving and lead to creativity-enhancing collaborations. If you’ve been stuck on a problem for hours, the solution very well could lie in the brain of the person in the cubicle next to you. Having a casual chat about your frustrations could solve everything. Likewise, bringing up the project you’re working on could inspire a great idea from someone else that would take your project to the next level.

And then, there’s the coffee itself. Caffeine is a stimulant (that’s why we use it to wake up). Caffeine, in manageable amounts, increases alertness. Technically, caffeine works not by “waking you up,” but by silencing the sensors in your brain that tell you you’re sleepy. Essentially, you’re tricking your brain into being awake. If you feel awake, you’re going to be more productive than if you’re drooling all over your desk. Caffeine also increases the energy levels in your brain, which enhances memory and focus, improves your problem-solving skills and cognitive abilities.

Sometimes being too alert can kill creativity; your imagination doesn’t produce the wonders it’s capable of because you’re too focused to let your mind wander. For a lot of people, however, coffee stimulates the brain in just the right way to clear away the fog and help them spot the solution or idea they’ve been searching for. This is part of the reason that so many people work best in a public coffee shop: constant access to that brain boost. (The other part of that reason is the ambient noise that is usually present in those shops.) The low rumble of your fellow patron’s conversations tends to be just indistinguishable enough for your brain to focus on the task at hand and engage more efficiently in creative problem solving and abstract thinking.

Finally, that boost you get from caffeine can improve your learning capabilities as well as speed them up. Caffeine has been shown to help people learn new information more quickly and to retain it more efficiently. In an office setting, no matter what type of business you’re in, this can help to improve your abilities. There’s always something new to learn, even in the most mundane jobs. People thrive when they are stimulated by new learning, they’re happier; this will further increase your productivity. If you’re learning faster, remembering better, and feeling good, your bosses are sure to take notice.

The caveat to all of this is that caffeine is a drug, technically. That means you can overdose on it. That’s why you get the shakes, or your face gets flushed, or you get a headache if you’ve had too much of it. The best benefits from caffeine intake come from small, regulated “doses.” Everyone is different, so this just means listen to your body, stay hydrated (even though coffee is made with water, caffeine has a dehydration effect) and reap those productivity rewards!

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