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How to think about reported life hacks?

Interesting juxtaposition as two interesting pieces of spam happened to appear in my inbox on the same day:

1. Subject line “Why the power stance will be your go-to move in 2019”:

The power stance has been highlighted as one way to show your dominance at work and move through the ranks. While moving up in your career comes down to so much more, there may be a way to make your power stance practical while also boosting your motivation and energy at the office.

**’s range of standing desks is the perfect way to bring your power stance to your office while also helping you stay organized, motivated and energized during the typical 9-5. . . . not only are you able to move from sitting to standing (or power stand) with the push of a button, but you are able to completely customize your desk for optimal organization and efficiency. For example, you can customize your desk to include the keyboard platform and dual monitor arms to keep the top of your desk clean and organized to help keep your creativity flowing. . . . the perfect way to help you show your power stance off in the office without ever having to leave your desk.

A standing desk could be cool, but color me skeptical on the power stance. Last time I saw a review of the evidence on that claim, there didn’t seem to be much there.

2. Subject line “Why you’re more productive in a coffee shop…”:

Why “one step at a time” is scientifically proven to help you get more done. Say hello to microproductivity . . .

Readers’ Choice 2018 ⭐️ Why you get more done when you relocate to a coffee shop. Plot twist: it’s not the caffeine. . . .

Feel like you’re constantly working but never accomplishing anything? Use this sage advice to be more strategic.

I clicked on the link for why you get more done when you relocate to a coffee shop, and it all seemed plausible to me. I’ve long noticed that I can get lots more work done on a train ride than in the equivalent number of hours at my desk. The webpage on “the coffee shop effect” has various links, including an article in Psychology Today on “The Science of Accomplishing Your Goals” and a university press release from 2006 reporting on an FMRI study (uh oh) containing several experiments, each on N=14 people (!) such as a statistically significant interaction (p = 0.048!!) and this beauty: “A post hoc analysis showed a significant difference . . . in substantia nigra (one sample t test, p = 0.05, one tailed) . . . but not in the amygdala . . .” So, no, this doesn’t look like high-quality science.

On the other hand, I often am more productive on the train, and I could well believe that I could be more productive in the coffee shop. So what’s the role of the scientific research here? I have no doubt that research on productivity in coffee shops could have value. But does the existing work have any value at all? I have no idea.

10 Comments

  1. Jeff says:

    Easy. You’re more productive in the coffee shop because you’re not surrounded by people trying to show their dominance at you. Once everyone figures it out there will be an arms race of portable standing desks designed to perch atop tiny coffee shop tables.

  2. Nick says:

    A few years ago I had a job where I split my week between 3 days in the office and 2 working from home, and found that I was much, much more productive at home. My explanations for this, which might also explain why you’re more productive in a coffee shop:
    1. I wasn’t wasting 2 morning hours (when I do my best work) commuting.
    2. All my meetings would get scheduled for my office days, which would chew up a lot of time and keep me from uninterrupted focus on what I was doing.
    3. It’s easy to underestimate how many casual interruptions occur in the average office day. At home or in a coffee shop, it’s easy to shut out distractions and focus, but in the office, it’s not considered rude to poke your head into someone’s office to ask them a question.

  3. Martha (Smith) says:

    A comment slightly tangential to the topic, but involving power stance and somewhat amusing:

    All too often, I find that the city recycling truck has left my recycling cart open but un-emptied. One day, I happened to notice when the recycling truck was in the alley, so went out into the (open) garage to watch to make sure they emptied my cart. Then I realized that I was standing in what we used to call “arms akimbo”, but is now called “power pose” or “power stance” — and then realized that I think of it as an older woman’s posture.

  4. Ethan Bolker says:

    Did you think confronting the truck would shame it into emptying your cart? Did it work?

    • Martha (Smith) says:

      OK, you’ve caught my sloppy grammar. Here’s a try to be more clearer:

      “All too often, I find that the city recycling crew has left my recycling cart open but un-emptied. One day, I happened to notice when the recycling truck was in the alley, so went out into the (open) garage to watch to make sure the crew emptied my cart. Then I realized that I was standing in what we used to call “arms akimbo”, but is now called “power pose” or “power stance” — and then realized that I think of it as an older woman’s posture.”

      To answer your question revised to fit the revised version:

      No, I didn’t think that confronting the crew would shame them into emptying your cart. I did think that if I saw them leaving my cart open without emptying it, I would go out and point out the problem, and presumably they would correct it and be less likely to leave the cart un-emptied in the future. As it happens, I don’t think they saw me, but they did empty the cart.

      As an addendum: a couple of weeks later, I happened to be looking out my kitchen window when the recycling truck came by. I saw a crew member opening the lid of my cart, looking in, and pushing it back in my yard rather than emptying it. So I dashed out and pointed out (with no “power pose”) that he hadn’t emptied it. He said, “There’s nothing in it,” which was an exaggeration (I took it to mean that there was not enough in it for him to think it was worth lift up to empty it). But he then did his job of emptying the cart into the truck. I haven’t had the un-emptied cart problem since, but it hasn’t been long enough to conjecture if the problem will repeat or not.

      PS: Re my comment, “and then realized that I think of it as an older woman’s posture.”– I’m an “older woman” (mid seventies).

  5. Roy says:

    The “coffee car” in the train would be doubly effective.

  6. Terry says:

    Have to be careful about what counts as “productive”. How much of the “unproductive” work is stuff you have to do, but doesn’t feel “productive” (like the meetings mentioned above). Answering questions can be part of your job, but doesn’t feel “productive”.

    Can the “coffee shop” environment be created at work? Some offices have a policy where you don’t bother someone if their door is closed because they want to concentrate on something. Does this accomplish the same thing?

    How many hours can you be productive at a coffee shop/train level? Sure, you can be super concentrated for an hour or two or three, but can you do it all day long? Does the coffee shop scale? I’m guessing it doesn’t. If so, then there is a natural rhythm where you are super productive for a few hours a day, and the rest of the day, you go to meetings, answer questions, and take care of all the small, “unproductive” cr*p that makes an office run.

  7. jim says:

    I can move from sitting to standing – or even to the *POWER STAND!!!* – just by pushing a button?!!!! That’s almost as revolutionary as being able to call an Uber instead of a cab!

  8. Andre says:

    Let’s do the National inquirer next. Then religion, please?

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