Why Working in a Cafe Could Help or Hinder Your Productivity

With the move to remote work in 2020, most of us found ourselves in novel work environments — be it our studies, the kitchen table, or the local cafe.

Some thrived. Others faltered.

And when it comes to doing deep focused work, it turns out our environment, particularly how noisy it is, can play a significant role — and it depends on whether we are introverted or extroverted.

Noise and Mental Performance

A 2003 study on personality attributes and noise sensitivity found that extroverts — who demonstrate less arousability or sensitivity to external stressors than introverts — are more likely to better adapt to noise during mental performance.

Study participants were asked to play a challenging word game. It was discovered that subjective noise sensitivity was the primary factor responsible for significant differences in mental performance and short-term memory.

When participants were given the option to adjust the volume on their noise-emitting headsets, extroverts selected a noise level of 72 decibels and introverts 55 decibels. At these respective volumes, both groups were equally aroused and played equally well.

So what does this actually mean?

Well, a busy restaurant or cafe typically has a noise level of about 70 to 75 decibels (the WHO actually found that extensive exposure to noise at or above 85 decibels is a health hazard).

Open-plan offices, which have become all the rage in the past decade, generate about 60 to 65 decibels, whilst a quiet home office environment is likely to generate about 40 to 50 decibels of noise.

This explains why some people can get their best work done in a noisy cafe, whilst others prefer the peace and quiet of home or a quiet office.

Not sure which environment is best for you?

Complete this test to see where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, test different environments, and plan your days accordingly.

Of course, there are things you can do if you find the environment too noisy — like put on a pair of BOSE noise-canceling headphones or good old-fashioned earplugs.

Similarly, if it’s too quiet, you could try cranking some Slayer — okay, that might not be a good idea for everyone.