It’s long been suspected that sneaking out of the office (or even home office) for a half day of work at the local coffee shop is great for productivity. The coffee jolt, being away from people who interrupt you, no bosses, nothing but a laptop and a latte in front of you.
It’s what’s known as the “coffee shop effect” and Onno van der Groen, a neuropsychology researcher from Edith Cowan University, has legitimized it–but not in the way you’d expect.
What his research shows is that a coffee shop (among other places) is filled with a productivity boosting element, what scientists call “stochastic resonance.”
Background noise helps your brain concentrate and perform better.
Van der Groen has been studying this phenomenon for a while now. The background noise stimulates sensory signals in the brain, and as his 2016 research shows, those triggered brain signals enhance mood, make you see, hear, and feel better, and incredibly, jumpstart human perception and decision making.
More recent research from van der Groen, published in March 2019, even shows that background-noise-induced sensory signals help the brain break out of a mental rut to see things from new perspectives.
All of these elements are enhancements leading directly to improved productivity. So now you have the justification to slap those i-buds in to keep that irritating co-worker at bay and/or to swing by Starbucks for a few hours.
The key is getting just the right amount of noise, as the principle of “stochastic resonance” indicates that when the music streaming into your ears is too loud or when the coffee house starts karaoke hour, your performance plummets.
Interestingly though, stochastic resonance dictates that some level of background noise is better than working in silence (bereft of those brain stimulating sensory signals). So it’s about finding the right level of noise that’s not too loud yet it’s not so low that you don’t notice it.
Making the most out of stochastic resonance.
When it comes to that background music, by the way, science shows us that for it to actually boost productivity not only does it have to be at the right level, it should be familiar music (so you’re not trying to sort out what it is)–and it should be music without lyrics.
And try using the Pomodoro technique in conjunction with background noise for a further productivity power-up. Set your iPhone or watch for 25 minutes and crank without pausing. The timer aspect is intended to create a sense of urgency to help you concentrate. Then, get up and stretch and clear your mind for 5 minutes. Then go right back at it for another 25 minutes, then another 5-minute break, and so on. After the fourth “Pomodoro” take a 15-minute break.
The result is that you feel less frazzled and frayed than if you just banged out four to five hours or so of straight, uninterrupted work.
Net, background noise plus a sense of urgency/discipline equals maximum performance and productivity.
So mosey on over to your warm, local coffee shop or slap on those earphones to take advantage of the coffee shop effect.
At last, a productivity hack you can warm up to.