Everyone’s Favorite Helper: Six Ways to Maximize the Productive Effects of Caffeine

“Coffee is a beverage that puts one to sleep when not drank.” –Alphonse Allais, French writer and humorist.

While not all office workers drink coffee, the clear majority imbibe some form of caffeine; and woe betide anyone who breaks the office coffee pot. If you don’t drink caffeine in the morning, you’re one of the few and the proud. I salute you—as long as you don’t get between me and my Keurig.

Tongue out of cheek, caffeine—most often in the form of coffee, tea, or soda—is actually a useful tool for boosting alertness and productivity. It doesn’t just perk you up; it also enhances your motor skills, improves cognitive performance, decreases mental fatigue, increases the efficiency of your daily energy expenditure, and more. While you can overdo it and end up with a caffeine crash—it’s legal, socially acceptable, and it tastes good—all good stuff.

Oddly enough, the way caffeine works jibes pretty well with Allais’ quote. Each time a neuron in your brain fires, it produces a neurochemical called adenosine. The more adenosine your brain absorbs, the more tired you get. Eventually, it puts you to sleep. Caffeine keeps your brain from absorbing adenosine, up to a point. Eventually, it gives in and lets your brain absorb the chemical. Meanwhile, theobromine—an important chemical in chocolate also found in most caffeinated drinks—triggers tiredness about half an hour after you have the drink.

The secret for effective caffeine usage is to drink your coffee, tea, or soda strategically. For the best effects (since you’re probably going to drink it in some form), here are some suggestions:

  1. Take a caffeine vacation. If you want the best possible productive enhancement from your caffeine, reduce your intake for a week. That will give your system a little time to flush out any existing caffeine, overcome its effects, and regain some sensitivity to it. By the time you start your normal levels again, caffeine will be more effective and give your productivity (and alertness) a noticeable boost. If you follow the remaining rules, you can maintain this caffeine streak indefinitely.

  2. Drink water first and often. Before you drink your first cup of brew in the morning, down a cup of water first. Then drink at a cup of water for every cup of caffeinated beverage to stay consistently hydrated.

  3. Don’t drink it immediately upon rising. Assuming you’re adapted for the standard day shift, you don’t need caffeine until after about 9:00 AM. That’s when the stress hormone cortisol, which gives you an alertness kick, hits its peak. Caffeine can interfere with your cortisol cycle (another reason water needs to come before caffeine). So, wake up a bit and then add the caffeine about 1-1.5 hours after you rise.

  4. Drink less overall. If you want to maintain your caffeine boost, don’t drink your drink all at once. Instead, spread out the same consumption across the workday, so you can keep a consistent level of caffeine in your system. Know your cut-off time so it doesn’t keep you up at night.

  5. Drink it black. If you can stand it (some of us can’t) drink your caffeine without any additives, especially sugar. Sugar has its own cascade of effects that may either stack with or interfere with caffeine’s effects. Low- or no-calorie sweeteners are okay, as well as some milk or low-cal creamer if you wish.

  6. Eat well. Maintain as healthy a diet as possible. A well-balanced meal of protein and complex carbohydrates will improve caffeine’s effects, since it doesn’t need to compete with junk in your bloodstream.

For many of us, getting a cup of a refreshing, hot, caffeinated beverage first thing in the morning is a welcome ritual that helps us get our motors running. Is it a crutch? Maybe, but it’s a gentler one than most, and offers a proven way to ratchet up your productivity as your physical processes, like adenosine production, work to ratchet it down. You can put caffeine to work effectively if you follow the simple rules I’ve listed above.


About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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