“Katelyn, your chai tea latte is ready.” I swiftly step over to the counter to take my drink from the barista and meander back to my table. After setting my drink down, I reach for my backpack, and pull out my laptop and notepad. A quick glance at my to-do list reminds me of the twenty pages I have to read by tomorrow and the five-page paper I must draft by next week. Empowered by my caffeinated beverage, I set out to work on writing my paper.
Is this a familiar scene? Even though I could have easily stayed home or gone to the library to work on my paper, I chose the coffeehouse because I wanted a change of scenery or thought that drinking a nice chai latte would alleviate the stress of writing a paper. Now that I’m sitting in the coffeehouse, I wonder if coming here to work was such a great idea.
As the bell on the door rings each time it’s opened, I find myself looking up from my screen to see who just walked in.
The fresh aroma of chocolate chip cookies wafts past my nose as the barista puts a fresh batch behind the glass bakery display case.
A song I like comes on softly through the overhead speakers, and I start lip syncing the words.
Two people at a table near me are talking loudly about politics, and try as I might to ignore them, their conversation sidetracks me from working on the paper I have to write.
With all these distractions, are coffeehouses really such a good place to work?
The Power of Ambient Noise
In spite of the distractions, coffeehouses can provide supposedly helpful ambient noise. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research pointed out that a moderate level of ambient noise (about the level of background sound at a bustling cafe) enhances creativity and encourages the purchase of innovative products.
A new ambient noise industry has been developed around the notion that certain levels of background sound can increase creativity and productivity. Noisli offers different types of ambient sound that visitors can layer on top of one another. For example, I layered ocean waves and a crackling fire, reminiscent of a beachside bonfire.
Alternatively, Coffitivity replicates coffeehouse sounds for your working pleasure—pick from “morning murmur” to “lunchtime lounge” and even “university undertones,” if you are missing your favorite college hangout.
Cutting the Tension of Silence
The soft ambient noise of a coffeehouse can make it a little easier to get our ideas out by eliminating the barrier of silence. Library-like silence can sometimes feel restrictive—much like a blank piece of paper can intimidate a writer. The silence amplifies the sound of our typing, which can subconsciously put pressure on us to make every word count, forcing us to over-think—heaven forbid we need to use the backspace key!
In addition to the energy in most coffeehouse drinks, the vicarious energy from other people coming and going within the coffeehouse can spill over into our own psyche and increase motivation and productivity.
I’ve been in a number of libraries surrounded by dozing students using textbooks as pillows, and that kind of environment was the opposite of energizing. Although you might find the occasional napper in a coffeehouse, most of the time the bustling energy of the baristas and customers is enough to keep you from yawning that second or third time.
For a Creativity Boost, Try a Coffeehouse
Although coffeehouses are not the best location for increased productivity because of all the distractions they provide, changing up your work environment now and then by going to a coffeehouse is worth a try. You might be surprised the kinds of ideas you come up with while sipping on a mocha.
Do you think coffeehouses increase creativity? What have your experiences been?