I work out of my home these days, so I don´t spend much time around office buildings. I had to head downtown yesterday to meet with a client, though. I was early, so I grabbed a coffee and a chair in the lobby of the building and sat back and watched the world go by.
Soon after I sat down, two guys came down to grab a coffee. I wasn´t consciously eavesdropping, but they were speaking quite loud. One of the men was complaining to the other that going to coffee was such a waste of time. That seems to be the common wisdom — going for coffee is a drain on productivity. But is it? Let´s do the diplomatic thing and consider both sides.
Going for coffee can be a bad thing for a few reasons. There is, obviously, the time it takes. You can´t get up, run downstairs or out the door and around the corner, or wherever the nearest coffee shop is in less than 15 minutes if you reasonably consider everything from the time you get up until you sit back down and get to work. Then there´s the cost. The cost can add up, especially if you are a fan of the mocha-frappe-latte-ccino´s that cost more than my car. By definition, any expenditure needs to be balanced with the productive work that is needed to make that money. Finally, a trip for your java fix interrupts your work flow and can wreck any momentum you have built up.
Now the good side. By running out for joe you temporarily remove yourself from your work. Getting away from it for a second or two can help you see what you are missing and ultimately help you do it better. A trip for coffee can also be a routine. Many people fight routine at all costs, but having established routines, as long as they are relatively healthy, can often make you more productive. They train your body to perform. Finally, you might overhear something or see something while you are out that sparks a new idea or solves a problem that is stuck in your head. While I was out for coffee for a few minutes yesterday I came up with this article and two others based on what I heard and saw.
So, what´s the verdict? Is that afternoon trip down for a cup of black gold a good idea, or something that needs to be avoided at all costs. Well, both. Or neither. That´s the challenging thing about productivity, in my opinion. There are no black or white answers. The important thing is to look at what you do, and determine how well it is working for you. If you´re a coffee fiend, take a moment to honestly look at the impact that that has on your work. Write down your own pro and con list (maybe over a cup of coffee) and see where you come out.