My eighth grade science project focused on caffeine.
Specially, I wanted to study caffeine’s addictive qualities. What would happen if someone with a regular caffeine habit suddenly went cold turkey for a day?
The experiment required a group of people to agree to participate. I turned to the only place I could think of where I had easy access to a bunch of coffee drinkers.
That’s right. I somehow convinced most of the teachers and staff at my junior high school to stop drinking coffee for a day. Yikes!
Most of us know what eighth grade me discovered. Going without your morning coffee (or Monster Energy Drink, or Red Bull, or whatever) is a recipe for a bad day.
Typical withdrawal symptoms include:
- Difficulty concentrating
These symptoms may seem ironclad proof that your morning coffee is an important, perhaps necessary, part of your work day. It’s certainly a part of mine.
We might be wrong.
Is Coffee Really Bad?
Travis Bradberry recently wrote a blog post called Caffeine: The Silent Killer of Success. In it, he identifies several ways that our caffeine habits can hurt our performance.
The first is addiction.
That feeling you have each morning before the caffeine kicks in? Bradberry cites new research that shows those are really caffeine withdrawal symptoms. We wouldn't feel that way in the morning if we didn't have a caffeine addiction in the first place.
Pity the poor customer or co-worker who encounters us before we start the caffeine infusion.
The second is adrenaline.
Caffeine causes our bodies to produce adrenaline. That’s what causes that amped up, alert feeling. Unfortunately, adrenaline also amplifies our edginess and makes it harder to control our fight or flight response.
The fight or flight response is an instinct that’s really bad in customer service situations.
The third is sleep.
We don’t get enough sleep. Caffeine makes this worse. Bradberry cites research that suggests it takes 24 hours for caffeine to completely work its way out of our systems. That means your morning coffee is still jumping around in your system when you go to bed.
It’s hard to be at your best when you’re sleep-deprived, and that includes serving customers.
The Chronic Cycle
Bradberry’s article suggests that coffee contributes to a chronic cycle of habitual behavior that makes it hard for us to focus on our customers.
We start our day with coffee or some other source of caffeine. That makes it hard to focus.
On top of caffeine, we’re also addicted to multitasking. We can’t stop jumping from one task to another. Customer service jobs fuel this, with the latest estimates from ICMI indicating that the average contact center agent must use seven different software programs to serve customers.
The chronic multitasking leads to a condition called Directed Attention Fatigue or DAF. As the name implies, people experiencing DAF have a hard time paying attention. Psychologists have said the symptoms mirror those of ADD.
What You Can Do
You’re probably thinking, “That’s interesting, but I’m not quitting.”
I’m right there with you. Coffee is too delicious to give up cold turkey. And decaf? Don’t even get me started on decaf.
What we can do is be aware of the problems caused by caffeine and try to address it without going overboard. You might start by figuring out just how much caffeine you’re consuming on a daily basis. Here’s an article listing the caffeine content for many sources.
For many of us, that means cutting back a little bit. Most of the articles I read, like this one, suggest doing this gradually to minimize the symptoms.
I’ve also found that drinking more water and trying to be more physically active in the morning helps.
Whatever you decide, try to be mindful about the impact caffeine can have on your day. And, on your customers.