Okay. So I recognize the title of this post might stir up some controversy, especially among my fellow coffee enthusiasts. Not to mention it undoubtedly puts me at risk of getting exiled from my beloved adopted home, Seattle. And yes, perhaps it even seems a tad hypocritical how I’m writing this while enjoying a double shot at my local overpriced third wave roastery.
But I digress…
First off, I am in no way suggesting you – or we – instead consume thimbles of “energizing” wheatgrass rather than continue our relationship with our BFF, Joe. Let’s be honest, Joe energizes us, he makes us alert. He leaves us happy. Sure, these effects can be fleeting, the result of the temporary dopamine response – “the motivation molecule” – caffeine triggers in our brain. This causes us to build up our tolerance and increase our dependence on Joe’s services more often than we might take notice of. And when we try to fight our need for Joe, his absence leaves us tired, and cranky, impairing our focus, our memory, our ability to plan, our processing speed, and our decision-making capabilities. All that notwithstanding, Joe’s often the first one we call on to boost our mental acuity and usher us through our midday slump.
Now I respect the power of confirmation bias enough to know that at this point, I could take this post in one of two directions. There’s a surfeit of scientific research out there that supports the link between coffee and productivity and conversely, enough to suggest it wrecks havoc on our teeth, bones, liver…in addition to our productivity.
Neither of those are where I am going with this.
My issue is with reliance on coffee as a first responder – for motivation, for making us less anxious, for combatting the brain fog so many of us knowledge workers experience. In those cases where our mental performance needs a boost, the dopamine release we chase through the caffeine in our coffee is little more than a quick fix. The short bursts of energy we experience simply aren’t sustainable, and so we’re forced to reach for yet another double- or triple-shot to maintain its effects. When we do, the resulting adrenaline rush proves counterproductive, leading to more irritability, more stress and ultimately, we crash.
That’s the thing about Joe: he’s temporary. Joe has commitment issues. And while he breeds dependency he’s simply not in it for the duration.
Clarity? Now clarity is in it for the long haul. You want to tame anxiety, elevate your mood, achieve focus at a sustainable pace while creating good work habits in the process?
Clarity’s your huckleberry.
That’s because the brain hates ambiguity. In fact, it LOATHES it. Two of the brain’s primary functions are to reduce risk and optimize rewards. It satisfies the second need with coffee. It satisfies both with, well, care to venture a guess?
You got it. With clarity.
We fear what we can’t see, what we don’t understand. By their very nature knowledge workers – creating “products” that often have no tangible steps, no physical output – operate in a world of ambiguity. And we know how the brain feels about that. The brain wants assurances. It wants to know upfront what output it can expect from an input and so it wants to be certain it’s equipped with all the (pre-existing) knowledge it needs to address any situation. When it has too little information to go on, when it encounters the unfamiliar and perceives it as a threat (whether real or imagined), its fight or flight mechanism is engaged and anxiety results.
Studies show anxiety diminishes and success rates soar when abstract goals – the very nature of knowledge work – are clarified, when they are transformed into concrete and attainable steps. Such is the case when we visualize work on a Personal Kanban. Especially for knowledge workers, getting all those amorphous tasks out of your head and easily visualized on a board demystifies your priorities, your tradeoffs, and makes work manageable. Evolutionary biology teaches us that having processed images long before it did text or language, the brain deciphers images tens of thousands of times faster than it does text. Not only does externalizing goals by mapping them out on a kanban increase the likelihood of achieving them, visualizing progress big or small results in a rewarding boost of dopamine.
As we see with our reaction to coffee, we then chase that dopamine release. We adjust our behavior to trigger a consistent flow of it by perpetuating the very action that makes us happy. Clarity and the completion it fosters gives us the focus, and the motivation to continue this virtuous work cycle.
So the next time your brain needs a boost, consider getting your dopamine-fix from your board…not your barista.
For more on how visualizing your work (and limiting your WIP!) with Personal Kanban can improve your clarity and ultimately, your effectiveness, register for our FREE webinar.