A Love Letter to Lattes
My permanent companion through early morning meetings and late-night marking alike, here I write a letter to my ever faithful love - coffee.
If PhD students were a country, I think coffee would be our national drink. The most common statement uttered in my office, and doubtlessly PhD offices across the world, is a long sigh followed by "I need a coffee" (bonus points if it's said with your head in your hands). Every social activity I plan (before 5pm) is centred around getting coffee.
I'm not a particularly materialistic person, but there is no item in my house I value more than my coffee machine. I don't claim to be a coffee-connoisseur, I love a basic iced-latte with syrup in the summer and a festive-flavoured drink in the winter. But my coffee machine is the object to which I attribute most of my success. If I ever win an award for which I need to give an acceptance speech, my coffee machine will be the first person I thank. There are many mornings where the promise of a coffee is the main, if not only, thing encouraging me out of bed and to my desk.
Is there anything more motivating in the last weeks of work than a festive-flavoured coffee and a Christmas sweater?
But more than coaxing myself to be productive, drinking coffee is an act of self-care. On days full of meetings or paper reviews, I cherish the excuse to take a 5 minute break and walk away from my computer. Objectively, I know that taking breaks are important but when it comes to my own time-management, I often struggle to implement this. I've found that having a "purpose" to taking a break makes it much easier for me to justify it to the toxic-productivity voice that lives rent-free in my head.
It's an incredibly cathartic experience to push away from your desk, stretch and walk downstairs. You open the pot of coffee grounds and breathe in the invigorating scent as you fill the portafilter and tamp it down. Once it's heated, you're treated to the satisfying noise of espresso dripping into your cup. If, like me, you're not quite at the black espresso stage of your coffee-drinking career, you add milk. I'm deafened for 30 seconds by the sound of the milk frother squealing into life. At the end of it, I have a beautifully, steaming mug to carry back upstairs to my desk. Nothing makes going back to your desk seem more okay than clutching at a mug of warm coffee. But it's not just the reward at the end, it's whole process that I find soothing. There are specific steps involved, nothing overly complicated but just requiring enough focus to stop you thinking about whatever is open on your computer upstairs. It's both a physical and mental break from your work.
It doesn't have to be "making a coffee". The actual end-product is irrelevant. The intention is to find things in your day that you can justify leaving your work behind for, just for a few minutes. We shouldn't have to justify taking a break, but I find a really helpful to feel like I have an "excuse" to get up. "Making a coffee" can be taking all the snacks out of your study so you need to get up and fetch them, buying fun flavoured fruit teas or juice that you make cups of every couple of hours, even using a smaller water bottle so you're forced to get up more regularly to refill it. Enjoy the time you spend away from your desk and find ways to work it into your daily routine. It doesn't have to be an hour-long break multiple times a day, but getting up for something nice every hour or so makes the working day go by a lot easier. An eight-hour working day should never be eight solid hours sat at a desk. Your body and mind stagnate and you need to take a break.