When coffee doesn’t cut it: how to keep going

“There are a few optimal windows for doing your most creative and focused work,” [Assistant Professor Christopher] Barnes says. Most people are at their best in the mid-morning and late afternoon. You might match your circadian rhythm to your schedule by organizing your to-do list around these peaks and valleys. Tate recommends doing “any type of highly detailed work,” such as writing, important decision-making, or technical coding during high-energy hours. During the lulls, you can then turn to tasks that don’t require a great deal of focus: cleaning out your inbox, filling out expense reports, or returning phone calls. “That’s when to do tasks that are like muscle memory work,” she says.

How to Overcome the Midday Slump – Carolyn O’Hara, Harvard Business Review (1 July 2015)

Are we sure coffee doesn’t do the job? It would be helpful. Tea would be even better. But according to O’Hara, moving around and then the opposite, mediation, are what you need. There are reasons and there are more ways to get yourself moving, though: Read the full piece.

One writer on a date, one nearby

Why did he have to say he’s a writer? A real one, Anne Thériault, was sitting next to – well, here’s what she tweeted first:

Watching a couple on what appears to be a terrible first coffee date at the table next to me. Dude is [a very] precious self-involved writer.

A Woman Live-Tweeted the Worst First Date in the World and it was Brilliant – David Elkin, TheJournal.ie (7 July 2015)

They’re in Toronto, it’s 3:12pm and the whole shebang is reported in TheJournal.ie (via Yahoo Tech). Now read on, if you can bear it.

Seinfeld’s technique for small talk

Following on from a piece about how to handle the way we writers feel in social gatherings – seriously, normal people say parties, I am such a writer – there is this. Jerry Seinfeld has advice for what to do when talking to someone and it’s getting tricky.

It’s from his web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and an edition with comedian Amy Schumer. Here’s the whole episode, on account of a) I can’t just link to the tiny segment and 2) I enjoyed the whole episode while trying to get you a link.

But the technique is just this: ask questions – and specifically ask people questions that require numbers in the answer. Now watch on for why.

The coffee pot that only works in windy weather

Seriously. Coffee when it’s windy. Not because it’s cold outside and the coffee is warming. Instead because it’s windy outside and it’s the power from a turbine that’s warming the coffee. Researchers at Lancaster University have developed the Windy Brew, a kettle which can only boil when there is exactly enough energy from a nearby wind turbine.

Read more about how and in particular why.

Do you want caffeine to be good for you or what?

Here’s the thing. If you want it to be an aid to your writing, there are reasons to be cheerful. If you want to think that it’s dangerous in any way, here you go.

There are a lot of people who don’t drink coffee, and it is easy to assume that there are plenty of writers who are very creative without resorting to caffeine intake at all. Coffee may stimulate creativity for some, while for others it may result in the mind’s being too alert for creativity to freely flow. Coffee may have health benefits, but there may also be negative effects if one drinks too much of the beverage.

As for me? I started writing this article while drinking a hot cup of coffee, but now my cup is empty. The buzz of caffeine alertness is gone, and I’m considering having a second cup. Or, perhaps to encourage creativity, I should just let my mind wander instead.

Ellis Shuman Writes: Does Caffeine Make You a Better Writer? – Ellis Shuman (19 March 2014)

Read the full piecefor balanced but leaning-toward-coffee detail.

Use your phone to make coffee

Not by stirring. By tapping. On the WeMo app that I’m sure is used for far more sensible things but now is how to control the Mr Coffee 10-Cup Smart Optimal Brew machine from Belkin. Basically, it’s a kettle.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 08.57.47

Bean there, done that? If you’re instant-ly sure you want this then let me take you off the boil for a second and say it’s currently only in America. But don’t hold back: go buy it from Amazon USA for around $142 US (prices vary a tiny bit).

You’re smart, you know what it does. It makes coffee. You tell it to by tapping on your phone. And yes, it sends messages back. But there is more.

Sleep in a little longer by setting up a brewing schedule in advance. Then monitor your brew status from your smart device to make sure you don’t get out of bed before the coffee’s ready. The free WeMo® app lets you configure weeks’ worth of brew times at once.

Mr Coffee 10-Cup Smart Optimal Brew official site

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve though, hmm, it’s nearly December, better get my early morning coffee kettle sorted out for the month.

Actually, I’m more of a tea drinker. Ever since I worked in a pub lugging barrels around and coffee was the only thing available, I’ve come to associate it with being outside and working so I will often have it then. Always black, always very strong. If you can’t chew it, I don’t want to know. But for the rest of the time when I’m in my office or at my desk – and I’m a writer, the rest of the time is a lot of time to rest in – then I’m a tea jenny.

Which means it is my civic duty to point out that there is already a tea iKettle and it is available in the UK. Here it is on Amazon UK. Curiously, Amazon USA doesn’t stock the tea kettle, only this new coffee one. Is this national stereotyping gone mad?

Caffeine Naps

There’s a bit in The Blank Screen book where I quote songwriter Dar Williams. I’m prone to quoting her a lot but in this case it was to do with inspiration and specifically to do with caffeine.

Asked by someone about getting into the mood to write and create, she said:

You have to walk around a lot of museums, a lot of sculpture parks.
And time your caffeine so that you are in an open, wide, contemplative space for when it takes hold.

I like that and I like it a lot and I intend to do it more, but I’ve not connected it with another caffeine option before. The Caffeine Nap. When you’re tired and have to press on, drink some strong coffee, set your alarm for twenty minutes and have a nap.

Twenty minutes later, you’re woken by the alarm and the caffeine is in your bloodstream doing its wonderful job.

One (I Mean Six) Better Alternatives to Coffee

Guess which of these appeals to me most. If you’re needing a productivity or energy boost, do you:

a) work out at a gym
b) eat chocolate

If you chose c) Drink Tea then I knew I liked you.

Productivity blog Procrastinate Away argues that you should have green tea and I turn my face against them for that. Real tea, please. Is there a Campaign for Real Tea? Strictly speaking I would like a Campaign for Real Yorkshire Tea in a Teabag No Sugar and Just a Little Milk.

Excuse me while I go register the website www.cfrytiatnsajalm.com.

It’s not that I disagree with Procrastinate Away’s reasoning, they’ve just transgressed my religion, so.

Read why they say gym and chocolate and green tea and three more things – including one surprise about temperature – are so much better than coffee.

Have a coffee and tell me all about it

Caffeine may give you the shakes but at least if it’s keeping you up at night, it’s because of its chemistry and not because you sleepily agreed to some really morally questionable ideas at the office today.

“When you’re sleep deprived at work, it’s much easier to simply go along with unethical suggestions from your boss because resistance takes effort and you’re already worn down,” said David Welsh, an organizational behavior professor at the University of Washington. “However, we found that caffeine can give sleep-deprived individuals the extra energy needed to resist unethical behavior.”

“Our research shows that sleep deprivation contributes to unethical behavior at work by making you more susceptible to social influences, such as a boss who tells you to do something deceptive or unethical,” said Michael Christian, an organizational behavior professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School. “Caffeine can help you resist by strengthening your self-control and willpower when you’re exhausted.”

Coffee: Cup o’ ethics – UNC Kenan-Flagler News (2 April 2014)

Nod to Lifehacker for spotting this and making a more readable account than the official paper.

Coffee with[out] me

Right. Your problem is that you don’t get enough time to write. And when you do, when you could devote a chunk of time to it, you either feel obligated to do something else – or you feel tempted.


Put this in your diary. This coming Sunday 22 June, from noon to 2pm, you’re meeting me. Write it down: 12-2, coffee with William.

For this to work, the coffee must be at your place and I must not come. If you schedule this, I promise I won’t turn up.

So you might as well write for the two hours.