Self Improvement

How Quitting Caffeine Made Me More Productive

Matthew Hughes 31-08-2015

Giving up coffee is something that, for a lot of people, is simply not done.


Coffee isn’t just a drink. It’s a daily essential. A mandatory tool in the endless quest for mindless productivity. But it’s more than that though. Coffee is fundamentally ingrained in the geek identity.

Don’t believe me? Just look at nerd emporium, which sells 91 items tagged with “coffee”, compared to only 34 things for “code”, and 21 results for “Apple”.

Fledgling tech startups in the digital meccas of Shoreditch and San Francisco proudly offer gourmet coffee as a perk of employment, and there are thousands of coffee subscription companies that are all too happy to oblige them with regular deliveries of fresh, heirloom beans.

It seems that in order to be geek, you must also be twitchy and irritable, with a bad case of latte breath. But what happens when you give up caffeine, and why would you want to?

My Coffee Routine

This is something I’m intimately familiar with, because last month I renounced coffee. For good.


I’ve been a caffeine addict since I was about 11.

I started off by drinking extremely milky Nescafe (my pre-teen self was convinced it was the height of sophistication). By the time I’d reached the age of 14, I’d bought my first drip coffee maker, and was on the path to being a professional coffee junkie.


My tastes then began to refine. One birthday, I got my first bean grinder, and then my first Italian stove top coffee maker. Not long after, I was making smooth espressos and Americanos with an Aeropress. I was not just a coffee addict. I was a coffee snob.


Throughout this time period, my tolerance threshold for caffeine was constantly increasing, and I had to drink more and more coffee to get even the slightest buzz. Shots of espresso rapidly became doubles, and then triples. I was drinking enough coffee to give an elephant heart palpitations, and I was doing it every hour.

This, I noticed, was having a dire effect on my body and my personality.

In the most bluntest terms, I had become a jerk. I was constantly irritable, and snapping at people for the smallest things.

And I felt ill all the time. I was constantly suffering from the worst heartburn and stomach aches you could possibly imagine. Instead of being more alert and productive, I was constantly tired and anxious. Coffee just wasn’t all that fun anymore.


Something had to change.

What Changed?

So I quit. Cold turkey.

That wasn’t a fun couple of weeks. My productivity collapsed because I couldn’t concentrate. I was writing at a snail’s pace, and my head constantly throbbed. That, for a couple of weeks at least, was my existence.



But that rapidly abated, and it wasn’t long until I started to notice a marked improvement in the quality of my work, and the speed at which I did it. I was getting more stuff done.

The first major change was that I was no longer waking up craving coffee. This meant that, for the first time in forever, I was able to roll out of bed and start working. I didn’t have to wait to make caffeine to make its way into my bloodstream.

I also noticed a massive improvement in my stamina. I was able to pretty much sit and work, and I didn’t hit a “wall” at 4pm like many caffeine addicts do, or make a fresh pot of coffee to top up my levels.

And because my sleep was less disturbed, I woke up feeling fresher.

I also made the decision to substitute coffee with water. Every hour, I’d drink a pint of water. No more, no less. Consequently, I felt more refreshed and alert.


All things considered, ditching coffee has made me more productive. Healthier. Happier, even. But it wasn’t easy, however.

Tips For Giving Up Coffee

Caffeine, like any addiction Pornography Addiction: The Hidden Struggle & How to Break Free [Feature] Anon22 discovered Internet porn when he was just 12 years old. For around 10 years, Anon22 has enjoyed pornography using his computer once or twice a day, a compulsion that he claims ruined his social... Read More , is hard to give up. When you quit cold-turkey, you’ll inevitably feel some pretty awful physiological effects. These will range from sluggishness, to the worst headaches you’ll ever experience.

For the most part, there’s not a lot you can do about these. It’s just part and parcel of giving up coffee. However, there were a number of strategies that helped me cope.

Like I previously mentioned, I decided to replace coffee with healthy, cheap, natural tap water. This, undoubtedly, took the edge off the worst parts of quitting coffee. To ensure that I was drinking regularly, I employed the Pomodoro Method Cut Through Procrastination With These Pomodoro Technique Apps & Software Procrastination is a malady that pervades students and workers in all corners of the world and it infects amateurs and professionals alike. As a writer, I suffer from procrastination on a daily basis. Some people... Read More .


The Pomodoro Method uses a timer to break tasks into 25 minute blocks, with five minute breaks. During these five minute breaks, I’d drink half a pint of water. This ensured that my mind was always focused away from coffee and I was constantly hydrated.

If that doesn’t work, try gamifying your attempt Points For Everything: How I Tried to Win At Life With Gamification My brain is stupid. It thinks I can get done tomorrow what I need to do today, and that I can do this afternoon what I need to do this morning. It puts everything off.... Read More to go cold-turkey. Like the name suggests, this is where you turn something that isn’t especially fun into a game.

You could, for example, turn abstaining from coffee into an RPG where each day you don’t drink coffee, you gain a point. At the end of the week, if you’ve got seven points, you “level up”.

There are a number of incredible tools that make this easy, but none are better known than HabitRPG. We first looked at this HabitRPG Makes Improving Yourself Actually Addictive Change your habits for the better by tying them into challenges in a role playing game. Level up for doing things you know you should and lose hit points for indulging in habits you know... Read More in 2013, and we were immediately impressed.

If you’re not quite ready to go cold-turkey, try weaning yourself off coffee slowly. A good way to do this is to limit yourself to drinking coffee when it’s most effective, which is when your cortisol levels are at their lowest.

Cortisol is the hormone that controls our alertness. Levels of this compound usually start to dip around 90 minutes after you wake up, making it the perfect time to get a cup of Joe. A good way to stick to drinking coffee at those times is to set an occurring alarm on your phone.


Another strategy is to consciously take note of the caffeine you consume. There are a myriad of ways to do this. In the past, I’ve written about how Excel spreadsheets can be used for health tracking 10 Excel Templates To Track Your Health and Fitness Read More .

There are also some dedicated caffeine tracking apps, like Up Coffee by Jawbone. This can not only track how much you’re drinking, but can alert you to any signs of dependency.

The Best Health Decision I Ever Made

I’m not one to blow my own horn, but the decision to give up coffee is probably the best health decision I’ve ever made.

I’m more alert. I can work harder, for longer. I’m less tired. Less irritable. As a bonus, I know that if I go back to drinking coffee, it’ll have some effect on me, as my tolerance level would have diminished.

Have you given up coffee before? Any plans to give it up? I want to hear about them. Drop me a comment below and we’ll chat.

Image Credits: Coffee (Trophygeek), Man of Concern (Lisa Brewster), Glass of Water (Cipher)

Related topics: Addiction, Habits.

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  1. Andrew Bade
    November 2, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    I recently quit caffeine for 21 days. First 10 days were miserable, but by day 14 I was waking up more refreshed. However, after 21 days my productivity and workouts were still so poor that I couldn't justify the lost time and got back on the wagon. It's possible that if I gave it more time my productivity would have continued to improve but I don't have months to throw away to find out. The big benefit has been that the break completed reset my tolerance and removed my need for a morning cup - so even if I don't intent to quit for good I'll be likely to take short breaks periodically.

  2. Marshall Lentini
    August 26, 2017 at 10:27 pm

    You must really have quit, for all the lapses in grammar this article contains. ;)

    Good job though. It can be done!

  3. Francesco
    August 15, 2016 at 12:22 am

    I'm trying to stop for quite some years now, sometimes it works for a week or two, but I always relapse. I blame on my job, but that's a lame excuse. I'm writing articles, giving conferences, studying, and I never seem to get a month of to quit once and for all. It's wearing me out.

  4. Elizabeth
    April 22, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    Very similar experience. Quite coffee cold turkey and substituted water. However, I was withdrawing from just one 12 ounce coffee per day. Took me 1 week and I am starting to find myself much more alert. I found your story when searching if others experience the same thing or if I was just imagining it. I quite because I am pregnant but because I am loving how I feel without it, I don't think I will drink it again. Thanks for your story. Validates my experience.

  5. Rob Nightingale
    September 2, 2015 at 12:13 pm

    I remember seeing a photo of all the coffees you'd drank after writing your dissertation. Glad to see you've got things under control again! ;) ps. I'd be interested to hear what you think about decaf- if you've quit coffee, could/would you still go for a decaf?

    • Matthew Hughes
      September 2, 2015 at 12:15 pm

      I hold decaf coffee in the same esteem I hold alcohol free beer in.

      Enough said.

      • Rob Nightingale
        September 2, 2015 at 12:42 pm

        I guess if the primary reason you drink coffee for the caffeine hit... But for those who actually like the taste of coffee, but don't want the potaential addiction to ceffeince, perhaps it's a good compromise?

        I know it doesn't taste as potentially great, but a decent decaf (made by someone who knows what they're doing) usually tastes better than the rats urine served in Starbucks.

  6. Mihir Patkar
    September 1, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Coffee is awesome and Matt is my nemesis. En garde, Monsieur!

  7. Anonymous
    September 1, 2015 at 7:18 am

    Luckily my caffeine drug use is only three cups maximum per day. The reason for this contribution follows.
    I number of years ago I decided to drink nothing but camomile tea and enjoyed it. I can remember so clearly the first coffee after three months. What hit my brain/mind was not pleasant. In the UK we are mainly tea drinkers which has a much lower caffeine content.
    Water I believe is best.
    Funny isn't it how we mortals are prepared to pay stupid money for something which in fact is harmful to our minds.

    • Anonymous
      September 1, 2015 at 9:36 am

      My summary: drinking more than two cups of coffee per day is not good for your health. Avoid drinking anything with caffeine after 16:30. Drink water when you feel thirsty.

  8. Anonymous
    September 1, 2015 at 4:33 am

    I do genuinely enjoy the taste of good coffee but I have to admit the caffeine doesn't hurt. I can definitely attest to giving up coffee makes you sleep better.

    • Mihir Patkar
      September 1, 2015 at 7:30 am

      Sleep is for the weak. Don't validate Matty's false choices!

  9. Anonymous
    September 1, 2015 at 1:49 am

    If I'm not mistaken, and I may be, Matthew I think I recall reading a couple articles by you about coffee equipment (presses and such) a year or so ago. If that was you, (I believe this person was a newlywed), then I do indeed congratulate you, because the knowledge you showed in the articles indicated a true coffee junky lol.
    As a coffee lover who never thought he'd be one (testament to the possessive qualities of java), I salute you.
    Even if you didn't write the articles to which I refer...congrats. Major award to you! It ain't easy...

    • Mihir Patkar
      September 1, 2015 at 7:20 am

      Now if only he could beat junk food like that...

  10. Anonymous
    August 31, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    I had to give up coffee 25 years ago, for the simple reason that I had a problem of tachycardia. I drank tea every day for years. I no longer had the head aches that I used to, especially with I had to lay off of coffee for some reason. About a year ago, I started to consume coffee again, but, I made it around 60 % regular and 40 % decaf. I have noticed many positive things since doing so, I'll not enumerate them, but, I discovered that when I had to lay off of coffee for a day, because, I was just not able to stand the hit on my stomach, as I was sick that day. I expected to have a head ache from not getting my daily dose of caffeine. Not one head ache did I get. I was pleasantly surprised.

    • Mihir Patkar
      September 1, 2015 at 6:50 am

      Hmmm interesting, David. There has been some research in the past that links caffeine with chronic migraines. But I'm surprised going only 60% caffeine was still good enough to interrupt your headaches.

  11. Anonymous
    August 31, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    While excessive caffeine can be a problem... coffee itself is very good for you with lots of antioxidants and polyphenols. Don't take my word for it, look it up. There are plenty of good-health reasons to drink coffee (and some still work with decaf) :-)