While this advice might seem ridiculously simple, the rationale behind it isn’t.
Research suggests that one reason why you’re more productive in coffee shops is that mental effort is “contagious.”
For the study, a trio of researchers in Belgium recruited about 40 participants to perform a reaction-time test: Every time a square of a certain colour appeared on a computer screen, they had to press a specific key on the keyboard. The task got alternately harder and easier.
Participants sat in pairs so that they could see the other person’s screen, even though the task wasn’t collaborative at all.
The researchers wanted to know: When one person was working on a super difficult task, but the person sitting next to them was only working on a medium-difficult task, would the second person work harder? (As in, would the second person’s accuracy increase?)
Sure enough, that second person did work harder. Even when the researchers placed a piece of cardboard between the two participants sitting next to each other — so that they could see each other, but not each other’s screens — the effects persisted.
In other words, it seems like simply noticing that their partner was working hard motivated people to work hard, too.
The researchers can’t say for sure what exactly people were picking up on that made them realise their partner was working hard. One possibility is that the hard workers’ body posture got noticeably more tense.
Another, “more radical” idea that the researchers put forth is that people exerting a lot of effort give off a particular scent.
While scientists try to explain these preliminary findings, everyone else can start taking advantage of this new knowledge. If you work in an office, try sitting next to a hard worker who doesn’t get easily distracted. Otherwise, consider high-tailing it to the nearest coffee shop where customers are obviously in the zone.
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