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The magic coffee shop

Writing this, I’m sitting in the magic coffee shop I’ve discovered close to where I live. I suspect that in ancient times, there might have been a shrine in the vicinity where people sacrificed beautiful shells or precious pearls to the gods of plenty and productivity. Then, as the sprawl of the modern city of Taipei expanded and building in the suburbs increased, this long-forgotten holy site was buried under resident buildings, roads and supermarkets. And a coffee shop. Although the secret of this shrine is lost in the mists of time, its ability to enchant and inspire still lingers, enabling me to be more productive than anywhere else in the world. Welcome to the magic coffee shop!

On a more serious note, I’ve recently explored the well-known productivity trick to simply change environment when productivity is running low. Although this is not entirely new, I haven’t fully realised the potential of different environments before (if you are in any way interested in increasing productive output, I would be very surprised if this post contains anything new, its simply a personal account of a fortunate discovery). Leaving home for a coffee shop seems to enable me to keep on going with whatever I want to do (working, studying, creative writing) for at least as long as my battery lasts, which is at least four hours. Four hours of close to 100% productivity constitutes a significant impetus to any project.

Why is this true, then? Ignoring explanations involving shrines and magic, my pseudo-psychological explanation is that we tend to associate different behavioural patterns and habits with certain places, which would mean that if you usually do something in a certain environment, you would be prone to do that again later in the same environment. Following this line of reasoning, home is a very bad place to be productive, because at least I do all sorts of different things at home (surfing, playing games, chatting), whereas the coffee shop was a tabula rasa the first time I went there. Since then, I’ve only inscribed the patterns of studying and working on that blank slate, meaning that when i go there now, it’s not that difficult to continue doing what I’ve always done there.

However, it might be tempting to focus too much on this explanation, although I’m sure it has some merits. For instance, it’s also true that usually have no internet access when I’m at the magic coffee shop, which makes it easier to focus. On the other hand, this cannot be the main explanation, because the few times I’ve been able to connect to someone else’s wireless network, productivity has still been close to 100%. Another contributing factor might be that it feels more serious to go somewhere else. Even if I don’t think other people really care what I’m doing, i still feel a bit more exposed in public and it heightens my motivation, although perhaps not by very much.

In the future, I will try to explore, expand and exploit this phenomenon, try to see how far I can push this and if I might learn more about environment’s effect on productivity. For instance, would it be possible to create specific places for specific tasks like studying or creative writing? Would it be advantageous to keep different productive activities apart? Would it be possible to create a miniature version of this phenomenon at home, without leaving the apartment? If I find anything interesting, I’ll be back later to tell you about it. In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing what other people think about this. What are your experiences? What questions would you like to have answered?

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  1. Xhakhal’s avatar

    The ‘changing environments’ is the main reason I like having two rooms now: One for play, one for sleep. The only things I do in the bedroom are play tetris when I’m tired, and sleep. Or well, I sometimes fetch clothes and a book or so, but that doesn’t count.

    However, the fun and games-room didn’t work as intended since I do so many things by the computer (and my only chair is by the computer), I never really managed to condition myself to -only- work or -only- draw at certain places. If we had an armchair, I’m sure I could make myself -only- read in it, or something. That’d be neat. More designated places = easier to optimise activity.

    Of course, I understand it’s not as simple as that, and the bedroom was my main concern since I have a certain sleeping problem but… yeah. Drawing/doing arts in a coffee shop also has a few advantages, by the way. If you know people may be watching, many people are less likely to ‘cheat’ ;) Or procrastinate, of course. Also, there’s hot beverages!

    Reply

    1. Olle Linge’s avatar

      “That’d be neat. More designated places = easier to optimise activity.”

      This is what I hope, although as you say, it might not be that simple. I do think that environment can help, but I’m not sure how or to what extent yet! If you do some experimenting on your own, be sure to let me know!

      Reply

      1. Xhakhal’s avatar

        I will do some experimenting as soon as we get new furniture! We plan on a small kitchen table maybe, and an armchair. I’ll be sure to give you progress reports. However the sleep thing is working slightly! I now actually get a bit drowsy from just being in the bedroom. It doesn’t necessarily help with the sleeping problem, it just makes me less annoyed at being inactive – which is the next best thing. Sleep is better than rest, but rest is better than unrest.
        Man I love conditioning.

        Reply

        1. Olle Linge’s avatar

          Conditioning for the win! And yes, you do need a kitchen table, regardless of what we’ve talked about so far here. :)

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        2. Svante’s avatar

          I write a lot better when not sitting at a computer with internet access; nowadays I usually do my writing (thesis, fiction, RPGs) at the laptop at my desk, not at the computer in the living room. It’s mostly because of less distraction, but I’m not sure that’s all. The different environments might have something to do with it. I haven’t explored it enough at all. Mostly because I prefer staying at home to going away to say a library or coffee shop to study or write.

          The subject is interesting. I trust that with time, you will look into it deeply enough. :)

          Reply

          1. Olle Linge’s avatar

            That’s partly what I was talking about when I asked whether it would be possible or not to do the same thing without leaving home. I’m not as fortunate to have more than one table/desk, but moving around is still possible.

            I did have something else in mind, too, though. For instance, environment consists of lots more than just coordinates and a spatial room. I haven’t even started thinking about this seriously, but sound (music) and light immediately comes to mind.

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