It was suggested that in the same way agile teams rigorously apply a regime of inspect and adapt, the individual should do the same at a personal level. As an example, she asked why tea and coffee are so prevalent in the workplace and linked this back to the working practices of the industrial revolution. Specifically, that while caffeine was very useful in making sure unskilled workers arrived at the factory on time and alert, she questioned what penalties we incur force fitting these practices onto a skilled craft like software development?
Just to be clear, Linda Rising stood up in front of a room of computer people and said ‘Stop drinking coffee’ and at no point did anyone try and throw her out of the window. So it was a pretty good talk, so good in fact that immediately afterwards I decided to give up caffeine to see how I would react.
Firstly a bit of background. My company supplies free coffee beans and making coffee is a complex and communal ritual, verging on the sacrosanct. The etiquette has been built up over years, and even offers rival schools to subscribe to. We have Wiki pages detailing coffee brewing best practice and it’s no joke to say that my social standing and ability to make good coffee are linked. In short it’s a bigger part of my day than just a caffeine high.
I wasn’t a big coffee drinker by any stretch of the imagination, the coffee was definitely strong but I’d only have two or three cups a day. Nonetheless going fruit tea total came as a bit of a shock.
The first two weeks were pretty miserable, I found that I got very tired towards the end of the day, and where previously I might have stayed late if it meant finishing something off, I was pretty useless after 6pm. I also missed the ceremony and social interaction, sure I still went to the kitchen and brewed my cup of lemon and ginger (or whatever) but the whole process was deeply unsatisfying. I went through all manner of cravings which was strange since at weekends where coffee really isn’t part of my routine I hardly noticed the difference.
After having got through the hard part I started to notice some benefits, while the tiredness was still there, it was much more manageable, and crucially the knowledge that I couldn’t just stay late meant that I was more focussed during the day. I became more disciplined at trying to perform the tasks that required the most energy earlier leaving repetitive, less creative activities for the last few hours. Despite working less hours overall I think that I achieved a similar amount.
A second benefit that sounds silly in hindsight was that I started sleeping much better. As a student I wasn’t a big coffee drinker but I’d always been one to lay awake at night pondering some puzzle or other. So when this behaviour continued into my working life I didn’t consider it strange. Giving up caffeine meant that I had a fighting chance of falling asleep not long after I switched the lights out, which in turn meant I had less need for an early morning coffee.
As an Englishman, it was unlikely that I was ever going to last without tea in the long term. For a start my Nan would have struggled to comes to terms with the change. So after a few months I felt that I’d served my time and now allow myself tea and the odd coffee in the morning, interestingly though I can no longer run with my old coffee pals as the strength of their brew gives me headaches.
So the key points to take away are:-
- Stopping completely after only a few cups a day led to notable and sustained withdrawal symptoms.
- Not having the safety net of being able to stay late at work meant that I worked more effectively during the day.
- Cutting out caffeine in the afternoon made a real improvement to my sleep patterns.