Give up caffeine, improve productivity

By Stephen Kellett
5 August, 2010

Give up caffeine, improve productivity – yes I am serious.

Just recently I found out that I was allergic to several things, one of them being caffeine.

My history with caffeine

I really like tea, but dislike coffee, having announced to my mother at age 5 that I didn’t like coffee. Seems to have stuck with me. I drink tea with no milk and have done for years. A little bit of sugar to take the edge off the black tea and its fine. And I loved the caffeine. I could never see the point of caffeine free tea. Until I found out I was allergic to caffeine.

Giving up caffeine

At the same time, I had noticed that a lot of the time I was distracted, unable to relax, always casting about for something to do. Granted, folks with active minds are like this a bit, I guess thats why I like to write software. But this was different, even when too tired to write software I’d still be this coiled spring.

Then I gave up drinking caffeine in any drinks. Apparently if you drink more than a few cups of tea a day you are classed as addicted to caffeine. I guess you could say I was easily addicted to caffeine. According to Wikipedia there are caffeine withdrawal symptoms but I can’t say I noticed any.

A few days after I stopped drinking caffeinated tea, my distracted state of mind went away. Easier to focus on software, on bugs, reading books, watching movies, whatever the thing was.

Caffeine also affects your blood sugar levels, causing a boost. This in turn can lead to up and down swings in your blood sugar with a possible change of mood.

The problem with energy drinks and software

Its not uncommon to see physically active people consuming lots of calories, either in the form of food or drink. Or even drinking an energy drink which may also contain caffeine. That is fine because the physical activity will consume the calories and burn them leaving your blood sugar levels relatively normal.

However if you are sitting at your desk (or in your car) then an energy drink or high carbohydrate food is just going to put a big spike into your blood sugar to which your body will have to react with some insulin to regulate it. Not so long later (hour or two) you’ll feel lethargic as you get the counter effects of the insulin kicking in.

As such I’ve never understood the idea of consuming energy drinks if you are writing software – you are winding yourself up, and also setting yourself up for a blood sugar trough after the spike. If you are taking an energy drink so you can stay awake and code that is a sign you are too tired anyway. You should take 20 minutes out and have a short sleep. Drink half a pint to a pint of water before you go to sleep. It surprising how much this short break can help. The water is to rehydrate you while you sleep – tiredness is a sign of being dehydrated.

It is not uncommon for me to wake from a short nap with the solution to a problem and the also the correct approach to implementing the solution. Try it for yourself.

You can have a similar problem with food

The same problem with energy drinks applies to fast acting carbohydrate foods. Basically anything filled with sugar (energy bars, cakes, sweets…). You’ll get a blood sugar spike followed by a trough as your body overcompensates with insulin. These foods are great if you are active and on the go and need a boost but totally counter productive if you are not physically active (typing does not count!).

You will be much better served eating something that is more slowly processed by your body. Namely protein. Vegetable protein (beans, pulses) or meat protein, it does not matter which. Protein takes time for your body to convert into energy. As a result the energy is released in a much slower, more controlled manner, supplying you with energy without any blood sugar spikes or troughs.

What do I drink instead of caffeinated tea?

I now drink the redbush caffeine free tea, various herbal fruit teas and water. I drink water because a 5% drop in your body hydration leads to a significant drop in your ability to concentrate.


  • Avoid caffeine and other stimulants. More focus, less distractedness, better productivity.
  • Drink water, do not work dehydrated.
  • Drinking caffeinated drinks will dehydrate you – caffeine is a directic.
  • Keep your blood sugar even, improve your productivity.

Fully functional, free for 30 days