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The Starbucks Effect

The Starbucks Effect - How working at a coffee shop can increase your productivity. From Judith Kolberg,

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It wasn’t a scientific survey. The results would never hold up under academic scrutiny, but when 50 people were asked the same question and 97% of their responses were the same, it’s safe to conclude you’re onto something. That’s what happened to me when I discovered what I call “The Starbucks Effect”™. I carried a clipboard to make me look official, and a couple of copies of my books proving that I am a published author. Choosing people way in the back of the coffee shop to interview (so I would not attract the attention of management), I put on a big smile and approached Starbucks customers who seemed to be working, rather than just hanging out.

“Hi, I’m sorry to interrupt. I’m Judith Kolberg, a local author doing research for my next book about getting organized. My survey takes less than 6 minutes. Mind if I ask you two brief questions?” For those agreeable, I asked: “Do you think Starbucks is a good place to get work done?” If they said, “No” I thanked them for their time and gave them a 10% off coupon on my books. I was looking for the people who said, “Yes, I think Starbucks is a good place to get work done.”

I made a wild assumption that chocolate and caffeine figured high into people’s explanation of why Starbucks is a good place to get work done. But I wanted to understand how a place as noisy and busy as Starbucks could be a good place to accomplish work. Thus, my second question: “It’s noisy in here,” I commented to each of my interviewees over the roar of the espresso machines, clatter of cups and loud din of voices. “Don’t you find the noise and commotion distracting?” To a person, the response was either “No” or “I don’t even notice it.”

Survey results

Is Starbucks a good place to get work done?

Yes          No          Total

38            12            50

Do you find the noise and commotion distracting?

Yes          No          Total

0              38            38

Huh? I’d always thought the best condition for getting work done was quiet places like libraries or cubicles. How can a place as noisy and busy as Starbucks not only be non-distracting, but actually be conducive to productivity? I call it the Starbucks Effect. Using the latest research on the brain and multitasking (check out The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin) I believe it works something like this: The external distractions (voices, people coming and going, clattering plates, etc.) cancels out internal distractions such as random thoughts, ideas, worries, and that mental to-do list we all carry around with us. Once the external and internal distractions are roughly zeroed out, the task-at-hand comes into focus. More support: some people find a quiet environment devoid of activity very distracting. It lets those internal distractions run wild. This explains why some people go nuts in a library or can’t concentrate in a cubicle. I have to turn on a radio or TV when I’m writing in my office. Gotta have some noise.

So my questions to you are:

  1. Is a coffee shop a good place to get work done?

  2. Do you find the noise and commotion distracting?

If you want to learn more about how our world has changed into one full of infinite information, constant distractions and boundless stuff, I recommend my book Getting Organized in the Era of Endless: What to Do When Information, Interruption, Work and Stuff are Endless But Time is Not.

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