How Quitting Coffee Doubled My Productivity

I had always been a big coffee drinker. I drank it every morning, right after waking up. It’s given me the energy to write hundreds of articles and consult over a dozen companies on marketing over the years. It made me more alert and seemingly smarter.

Leading up to the end of 2016, my coffee intake started to increase significantly. I had work deadline after work deadline. There was no time to rest. I had to barrel through.

So I kept drinking more coffee throughout the day and even into the night.

Drinking more coffee worked — temporarily. It helped me get those work deliverables done. But it was only a temporary mask to my underlying problems.

By Christmas morning I was completely shot. Burnt out. Stressed. And dependent on coffee to get me through what would have otherwise been an incredible morning with my family.

I had to quit.

Acknowledging my past failures at breaking habits, I didn’t try to stop caffeine completely on day one. I started small.

For the first three days, I drank several cups of black tea.

For the next three days, I drank several cups of green tea.

Since then, I’ve only been drinking one cup of green tea per day.

I was worried that quitting coffee would hurt my productivity. Instead, my focus is stronger and my energy levels are more consistent throughout the day. Here are the three ways quitting coffee has helped me and what I’m doing now to increase my productivity.

1. Play the long game

Entrepreneurship is stressful. There’s always something you could be doing. And there’s fear of downside (failing) and incentive on the upside (getting rich) to encourage acting on that feeling.

But I’ve been in the game long enough to:

  • Differentiate between what’s urgent and what’s not
  • Understand the importance of thinking long-term

I accept the fact that I can’t work 100 hour weeks for extended periods of time. Working a 100 hour week is like borrowing from my future energy levels. I’ll eventually have to pay it back with a period of burn out.

I get that some people — the Elon Musks of the world — can consistently work 100 hours per week throughout their careers. I’m not one of those people. Trying to be a 100 hour work week person and failing would make me much worse of than not having unreasonable expectations in the first place.

The takeaway here is that if you need coffee to get all your work done, it may not be a problem with your energy levels, it may be a problem with your work load, your management practices or the deadlines you’re setting for yourself. Question your assumptions before assuming more coffee is the answer.

2. Upgrade your physical health

If you need coffee in order to have sufficient energy, the coffee may be masking opportunities for improving your physical health. You’ve probably read articles about how bad most people’s diets are today. I used to have a horrible diet, too. In grade school, I ate pizza for lunch every single day.

However, I’ve been iteratively improving my diet and exercise regimen over the past several years. Now that I’m not drinking coffee, I can observe the positive and negative effects that various foods and workouts have on my body because I’m only testing one variable at a time. The coffee is not masking feelings of fatigue or giving me energy that I would have otherwise attributed to healthy food.

If you find yourself lacking energy or focus, try upgrading your diet and/or exercise regimen. This can of course have benefits far beyond productivity as well.

3. Focus on focus

Yes, without coffee, I do have less energy. However, the energy I gained from coffee was often a nervous energy — an energy that lead me to act more impulsively. In the early afternoons in particular, I find myself lacking energy, but not having that nervous energy helps me focus. I switch tasks less and take more (necessary) time to make decisions.

The energy I gained from coffee also had peaks and valleys. Right after drinking a cup of coffee, I definitely had more energy. But a few hours after drinking a cup of coffee, I had less energy than I did before drinking it. This is part of what lead me to drinking more and more coffee.

When I do feel a tired and need a pick me up, going for a walk outside, drinking water and/or eating healthy food helps.

The takeaway here is that more energy does not always equate to increased focus or productivity. Output is the metric that matters. By improving my focus, I increased my output.

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