Millions of people start their day with a steaming cup of coffee, and then follow it up with another morning “coffee break” once they’re on the job.

You may even be sipping a cup as you read this! Coffee, of course, contains a stimulant – caffeine – which most of us feel gives us the boost we need to get going and keep going throughout the day.

The great Coffee debate

Consider this. A recent study in the UK conducted by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that shift-workers who drink coffee on the job improve alertness and reduce their risk for accidents.

U.S. business publications such as Entrepreneur and Fortune magazines, also cite benefits delivered by a cup of Joe, claiming such perks as “heightened powers of concentration”, “stiffening” and “strengthening” your willpower and self-control” and “improving cognitive function overall as we age”.

But as with anything, coffee also has its downsides. The effects of caffeine are long-lasting and can disrupt sleep patterns, which isn’t going to help increase your productivity in the long term. (If anything, a chronically sleep-deprived person is going to be less productive and more prone to errors and/or accidents!)

In addition, drinking coffee when you’re stressed out — as many of us tend to be at times during our working hours — can make a bad situation worse by raising blood pressure and adrenaline levels.

Consider also the fact that coffee tends to be enjoyed with unhealthy snacks such as doughnuts or pastries, which make blood sugar levels spike producing a temporary “boost” in energy levels, followed by an inevitable crash.

Is there a better way to boost productivity and increase alertness?

While an occasional cup of coffee is probably okay, it’s safe to say that overindulging is probably not a great idea. Tech giant Google thinks educating workers on healthier ways to eat, drink and snack is probably a better way to improve both employee health and productivity over the long term, and recently put their theory to the test by implementing a healthy eating program in their cafeterias.

Always the innovators, they relied on research to “nudge” workers to make healthier choices. Here’s a sampling of the changes they’ve made and the results of those changes:

  • The salad bar is the first thing you see when you walk into one of Google’s cafeterias. Why? Because, they say, “studies show” that people have a tendency to fill their plates with the first thing they see when entering. (Desserts, meanwhile, are harder to spot!)
  • You can choose between a standard sized dinner plate or a more modest “luncheon” plate, but there’s a sign right above both stacks reminding workers that people with bigger dishes tend to eat more. This simple tactic has already caused a 32% increase in those who choose the smaller plate.
  • The obligatory “break room” fridge, meanwhile, places bottled water at eye level, and moves sugary soft drinks down to a lower shelf. That small shift in placement increased water intake by 47%, while calories from soft drinks fell by 7%. (Water makes you feel better, since it’s the liquid your body needs most!)
  • Google has also come up with clever ways to reduce employees’ intake of sweet treats by downsizing desserts and putting candy in opaque containers and healthier options like nuts or dried fruits in clear containers, thereby discouraging binging by forcing employees to think about what they’re choosing rather than making unhealthy choices mindlessly easy to get. ………

So what about that cup of Coffee?

We’re not saying that you should never have a cup of coffee, but rather that you needn’t rely on it as the only way to perk up and pay attention to your work when you need a boost. In fact, say researchers, if you’re going to drink it drink it when it’s least likely to coincide with high levels of cortisol (the so-called stress hormone) in your body.

That rules out the first thing in the morning, when cortisol levels are quite high. The best time to indulge in your daily cuppa, they say, is between 10 a.m. and 12 noon, and again between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Companies that want to improve the health and happiness — and thus the productivity — of their employees can learn a thing or two by the Google model outlined above. Employees, meanwhile, can learn to moderate their caffeine consumption by cutting back on coffee and drinking it when they’re likely to reap its benefits and sideline its downsides!

Also read: Ten Ways to Reduce Stress, Switch Off, and Increase Downtime

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