Freelancers have a reputation for working from quaint corner cafes, earphoned and typing away on MacBooks in jeans and sneakers. Is it the allure of a constant caffeine supply, or the free wifi that makes independents and other creative types turn coffee shops into their home away from home?
It turns out that freelancers may be onto something. New research suggests that the link between creativity and coffee shops runs deeper than you think.
1. Background noise
You’d think that your quiet home office would make you more productive. Not so!
A study published in The Journal of Consumer Research found that the level of ambient noise of a bustling coffee shop (~70 decibels) enhanced creativity, compared with the quieter level of 50 decibels. Quiet makes you focus on any creative task because “distraction caused by a moderate (vs. low) level of noise will induce processing difficulty, leading to abstract processing and, consequently, to greater creativity.”
Ahem. What that means is: when you’re mildly distracted, all the judgmental, analytical, orderly parts of your brain are quieted so that out-of-the-box, unfiltered ideas can float up into your consciousness.
*2. Out of your comfort zone *
Your mind is literally wired to turn off repeat input and only focus on new information.
So trying new things, seeing new faces, and visiting new places stimulates your brain. There’s a reason that famous authors, for centuries, have sat and watched people pass them by and then went off to invent/write brilliant things. (OK, there were probably a few steps between those two things.)
You can’t take in all the things that are happening in a coffee shop and be productive simultaneously, though; too much stimulation is distracting. Try sitting for a while, looking around and enjoying the sights, and then focusing on your work. The bustle of others in your peripheral vision is the kind of low-level distraction that makes you creative but productive.
3. The faint whiff of history?
The final reason you’re more productive in a coffee shop is not based on research, but on personal experience and group behavior.
We’ve all seen the movies and other cultural images of the Faulkners or Fitzgeralds smoking and looking smart and sloppy in Paris cafes. Younger generations were raised with the knowledge that J.K. Rowling, summit of all things brilliant and wonderful, wrote the first Harry Potter books in a sleepy Scottish coffee shop.
As a result, there is an inexplicable sensation, upon walking into a wood-paneled, dimly lit, hole-in-the-wall coffee shop (sorry, Starbucks), that you’re somehow part of a grand tradition of independent-thinkers.
It’s just a little bit exciting.
Too ephemeral or warm-and-fuzzy for you? Try telling that to the hundreds of thousands of aspiring writers who flock to the cafe J.K. Rowling and Alexander McCall-Smith wrote in, or the owners of that cafe, who have probably made a small fortune off that fact.
Moods and emotions can “live” in places, too. We would argue that just being surrounded by the environment associated with great thinkers can make us (even if just in our imaginations) “feel” greater.
Do you work in coffee shops? Do you feel more productive?
Painting above is Night Cafe by Vincent van Gogh.