The Science Behind Why We’re More Productive in Coffee Shops (that isn’t just the caffeine)

June 10, 2019

Productivity is not a topic I shy away from. From actionable tips to manage small chunks of time better to bigger, habit-changing productivity strategies that promise to improve your life, I’m probably on it. So why don’t we talk about keeping productive in coffee shops this time?

We’ve all done it: picked up our laptops from our desks, headed to a nearby café, and sat down with all intents and purposes to get. things. done. And, for many of us, we really do get things done. Why is that so? Is it just the caffeine?

Keep reading to see what the research might tell us about why we might be more productive in coffee shops (that isn’t just the caffeine).

Ever wondered why we seem more productive in coffee shops? Read on to find out! Also see extra productivity tips for working in coffee shops for your next cafe work date.
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Neuroscience has shown that the human brain is stimulated in new situations

With all things productivity, I like to see what neuroscience and psychology have to say. And to help me in my quest to figure out why we’re more productive in coffee shops, I turned to my good old friend called novelty.

Now, I’ve already written about novelty before – about how trying new things can make us happier and healthier. But I didn’t think novelty was one explanation for us being more productive in cafés until I read about the effect of novelty yet again.

Research has shown time and time again that trying new things or having some sense of novelty stimulates the brain.

That’s why it seems exciting to pick up a new hobby. It’s why we’re happier when we explore a new city or country. Why we’re so glad when we meet a new friend who shares our interests. Heck, that even explains cash register happiness – or that feeling of joy you get after having just bought a new thing.

New situations stimulate the brain. Note: “stimulation” doesn’t necessarily connote a conscious feeling of joy or happiness. (Why do you think we get all our best ideas when in the shower?)

When our brains are stimulated in some way, we can also be inspired or touched or moved.


Related: Want to Know the Real Reason You’re Not Getting Anything Done? (Hint: It’s not social media.)

Novelty is a good way to trick your brain into being more productive every time

I’m a self-confessed coffee shop-hopper. While I’m loyal to the cafés on my block (for convenience reasons), I’m equally likely to want to hit up a new joint.

Later on, I realized this might be my brain subconsciously telling me that I’m in need of a change. Maybe sitting at my desk all day, every day just doesn’t cut it sometimes.

So when I find myself losing focus, getting distracted, or just feeling antsy or overwhelmed, I’ve resorted to packing up my work things and getting myself away from my desk. The change in atmosphere always works – I’m suddenly more productive in coffee shops than I was at my own work space.

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Note: I’ve already designed my work space so that it’s organized and I’m motivated to get things done. So even when my constantly changing vision board, desk planners, and other what-have-yous no longer cut it, I pack up my things and get a change of space.

This works because the brain, as complex as it might be, can be trained. When you go to a café to do productive work every time, your brain is going to say, “Hey. I’m going to get so much done every time we’re in a coffee shop.”

This is explained by the concepts of association and neuroplasticity. Much like you can train your dog to only do their business in a certain corner of your home, you can also train your brain to being more productive in coffee shops.

Quite possibly, it might also just be the caffeine

Caffeine stimulates the brain too! 😉

Extra tips to stay productive in coffee shops

Regardless if it’s the novelty of being in a new space or if it’s the caffeine rushing through your veins, if you’re hitting a café to get some work done, there are some additional things you can do to make sure you keep productive in coffee shops.

Check out these four additional tips you can try next time you work remotely:

Turn off the WiFi and work as Zen as possible

I don’t know about you, but I do my best writing when I’m in a complete state of flow. And the only way I can get in this state is when I have zero distractions – distractions that often arise because of WiFi.

You know what kind of distractions I’m talking about, right?

  • A ping from Facebook (someone just commented on your photo!)
  • A chime on iMessage (friend was wondering if I wanted to have dinner tonight?)
  • A ding from Instagram (@yourfavoriteonlineshop just posted a new photo!)

It’s no wonder we have the attention spans of goldfish.

Luckily, one easy remedy for this is to switch off that WiFi. If you needed references from the internet, have them already saved offline somewhere or in a handy app.

Is the task you’re doing only possible with the internet on? Close any irrelevant tabs – yes, especially your email – and turn on an app to block other sites temporarily.

Work on full-screen as much as possible. Turn off all notifications. Play around with your phone settings so that only very important calls come through. (If you’re on iPhone, turn on Do Not Disturb, then toggle on Repeated Calls, so you know that something is really urgent.)

Related: Check Out These 14 Free Apps to Help You Get Your Life Together

Work in the cafe without a charger

Why not up the stakes a little and head to the café without your charger?

This is yet another way to trick your brain into feeling some sense of urgency with your tasks. After all, when you only have 20% battery left and, say, 10 more photos to post-process for a client, then you probably won’t be wasting any time.

I’ve found that this works because the brain thrives when there are deadlines involved. Any kind of healthy pressure is good for your productivity, and a dying laptop battery can count as an extra (and very effective) deadline.

I actually discovered this trick when I accidentally left my laptop charger at home, with all the intent to finish an article for a client that day. When I later found out my laptop only had 40% battery left, I wasted no time and wrote that article draft like I’d just downed three energy drinks.

Not kidding. It really works.

And I was thankful for that experience because I’d finished that article draft way faster than I’d originally planned. So, yup. Healthy pressure is good pressure.

Drown out the noise with your own ambient noises

You know how coffee shops can be notorious spots for having meetings? And for some reason, the table right next to you always seems to be occupied by a big group of businessmen talking up business really…loudly?

Yeah, I’ve been there, my friend.

Luckily I discovered a quick fix for this: ambient noise apps! I personally use Noizio on Mac. I especially love the feature that lets you mix and match all sorts of sounds together. Personally, one of the ambient noises that really gets me in the mood to writewritewrite is the soft sound of typewriter keys. (Yes, I am using Noizio to mimic coffee shop noises as I type this.)

Noizio isn’t free on the App Store, but you can always opt for playlists on Spotify or YouTube. (Just be sure to have these available offline, so we’re still keeping up with the less-WiFi strategy.)

Pressed for time? Set one big “mission”

Jumping off the topic of adding a little pressure to get things done, reframe your next coffee shop visit as the time and place you’ll get one major thing done. Whether that thing can be done in an hour or two or three is entirely up to you, but be sure it’s something you know you can do in one sitting.

Whether you’re going off to finish reading three chapters of a book, outlining a new blog post, designing slides for a presentation, have just one goal that you must, must, must accomplish in your café visit.

Related: 5 Actionable Steps to Help You Actually Achieve Your Goals This Month

Leave a comment!

What do you think about keeping productive in coffee shops? Do you do this? What other strategies can you think to do to get things done at your favorite café?

ABOUT Mica Gonzalez

Mica (hey, that's me!) provides resources for content creators and creative entrepreneurs to design their days with more purpose, impact, and creativity.

Her workshops, courses, and programs are all designed with her commitment to slow growth, anti-hustle culture, and success on our own terms.

When she's not referring to herself in the third person on her blog, she's sharing cool things she's into and up to on Instagram @micaangelicagonz.


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