Coffee + Clouds: The Unlikely Formula for Maximising Productivity

Perhaps it’s a side effect of the new year, but advice on how to be more productive seems to be popping up all over the place at the moment. And it is almost always contradictory: drink coffee, cut out caffeine. Get more sleep, get up earlier.

Expert Market actually released its own ranking of the most productive countries in 2017, and using this data we decided to drill down into the stats behind the advice. We compared productivity and coffee consumption, exercise, sleep and sunshine hours across various countries.

The results were surprising to say the least.

Coffee: does the slump trump the buzz?

Any coffee drinkers will be familiar with the buzz that comes after their daily flat white. It’s during this spurt of energy that people find they are able to achieve the most. However, it’s often followed by a huge slump that can counteract your earlier efforts.

That’s why we were both surprised and delighted when we compared the coffee consumption per capita in each country with productivity and found a strong positive correlation.

It seems the solution to dodging the slump is just to take a leaf out of Finland’s book, and drink back-to-back coffees all day.

Sunshine: motivational or distracting?

There’s no denying the positive uplift that a sunny day can bring. In fact, a lack of sunshine can lead to SAD (a type of depression), and to vitamin D deficiency. But what effect does sunshine really have on our productivity?

Surprisingly, the most productive countries have on average the lowest number of sunshine hours per day. This is particularly apparent among the nordic countries, which are famously the most productive, but are also synonymous with long winters and short days.

Sleep: is more really better?

In amongst the standard advice for getting eight hours of sleep a night sits a myriad of sleep ‘hacks’ that claim to boost your productivity. Whether it’s a 30 minute afternoon nap, or getting up at some ungodly hour (like Apple CEO, Tim Cook, who starts his day at 3.45am) advice surrounding sleep can be conflicting and confusing to say the least.

We cross referenced the time people spend sleeping in each country with its productivity, and guess what? It appears to make absolutely no difference whatsoever. The moral of the story? Find the sleeping pattern that works for you, and stick with it.

Exercise: what are those endorphins worth?

The benefits of exercise for a person’s health, both mental and physical, are undisputed. But what about its impact on productivity – is exercise getting in the way of the working day?

It may not come as a surprise that increased exercise time appeared to have a positive uplift on productivity, albeit a more subtle one than coffee. This link is no secret to big companies like Google, who have been championing exercise at work for years.

Research from the American College of Sports Medicine actually reported a 15% uplift in employee performance after spending 30-60 minutes exercising at lunchtime. With results like that, it’s no wonder that booming businesses are building biceps.

“If companies are able to provide on-site health and fitness classes as an extra bonus for employees it not only says ‘we care’, it creates a great culture within the company” says Mark, co-founder of Mobfit, which offers personal training classes to office groups.

The magic productivity formula

If this research has taught us anything, it’s that there isn’t a foolproof formula for ultimate productivity.

Take Finland, for example. They have the highest coffee consumption of any country we looked at by a 20% margin. They also manage to squeeze in the most exercise. And yet they are only the 12th most productive workforce.

We can’t tell you the perfect formula for productivity. We can, however, tell you that you’re likely to be at your best on a cloudy day, after a workout and with a coffee in hand.