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Coffee: Words from a Grad Student/Addict

How to effectively use coffee as a productivity tool.

February 8, 2015
 

Erin Bedford (@erinellyse) is a PhD student in Nanotechnology Engineering at the University of Waterloo and the Pierre and Marie Curie University (Paris VI) in a co-supervised program. Illustrations are by Geoff Lee who is currently working at the University of Waterloo after finishing his masters degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. He also draws for the blog Sketchy Science (Twitter).

 

In terms of drug addictions, addiction to caffeine is a pretty easy one to have—our drug dealers are everywhere and they let the stuff go for pretty cheap. In general, it’s also not a bad one to have. Research shows that there aren’t too many health risks (although it can worsen conditions like anxiety and insomnia) and even some evidence of health benefits, like lowered risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and liver disease. While caffeine can be found in many forms, my personal favorite source is coffee (tea drinkers, check out our post on making good tea).

Within the top coffee-drinking professions are scientists (number one!), writers, and professors—pretty much exactly what many of us grad students are working on becoming. Since all signs point to our coffee drinking being a life-long habit, it makes sense to consider how we’re drinking it.

Where Are You Getting It?

I love my French press. Not only does it make a great cup of coffee, it’s also saved me a ton of money. That $2 (minimum!) spent every morning at Starbucks may not seem like much, but it adds up—two cups a day will set you back almost $1500 a year! Compare that with making your own coffee, which easily costs under $0.50 per cup, and you’re looking at well over $1000 in savings every year. Not too bad, right?

The other nice thing about making your own coffee is the choice. You can choose where your coffee is coming from—if it’s fair trade, sustainable, or locally roasted, for example—and how it tastes—light and fruity, deep and chocolaty… The choices can be overwhelming, but if you’re drinking it every day, you have time to figure out what you like. For some other tips on buying and making coffee, check out our previous post on how to make a good cup of coffee.

So making your own coffee might work for the morning, but what about that coffee after lunch? The lazy solution, but perfectly good one, is to make a few cups of it in the morning, keep it in a good travel mug, and drink it later in the day. I’m amazed at how hot my Thermos keeps my coffee—I’m still burning my tongue at lunch—and it’s totally leak proof; when I’m racing out the door, I can throw it in my bag and catch the bus on time without worrying about spilling a drop.

The alternative option is making your own coffee on campus. If you don’t have a grad lounge with a coffee maker of some sort, pick up a cheap one for your office. It’s amazing how big a motivator the smell of brewing coffee can be.

As a self-proclaimed coffee addict, I will quickly admit that bad coffee is better than no coffee, but given the choice, I’d rather drink the good stuff, especially if it also means spending less!

When Are You Drinking It?

Check out this great infographic on the best time to drink coffee, based on this blog post. The idea is that our bodies produce different amounts of cortisol—a hormone that, among other things, makes you feel awake and alert—in a natural rhythm throughout the day. According to the posts, the ideal times to drink coffee for maximum buzz are when your cortisol levels are lower and you’re not being “naturally caffeinated,” which tends to occur from 9:30-11:30am and from 1:30-5:00pm. Are you drinking coffee at the time of day when you really need it? Coffee drinking often becomes pretty habitual, but if you can make your habits occur at the right time, you can make the most of it.

How Does It Make You Feel?

Do you ever feel like this guy? (The song is in French, but the animations do a pretty good job of showing extreme overcaffeination.) If so, it might be time to cut back. On the other hand, some people claim to just not be affected by coffee. It turns out that our genes play a role in how we respond to coffee. What this means is that until the research is further advanced, there aren’t too many guidelines regarding how much you, as an individual, should be drinking. Pay attention to how you feel and adjust accordingly. That first cup might seem to double your efficiency, but if the second cup makes your mind race, note it and avoid it next time.

I like to think of coffee as a productivity tool. When used well, it can lead to increased productivity and happiness (what coffee drinker doesn’t smile when they think of their morning cup?). But like all tools, it can also be misused. If you’re regularly using coffee to avoid sleep, it might be time to rethink your coffee habits, because getting a good night's sleep is really important. Coffee can keep you up, but you’ll probably be more efficient if you go to sleep and finish your work in the morning.

Use it well, but most of all, enjoy your coffee!

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