Beer Mode and Coffee Mode

Creatives have two ways of working: beer mode and coffee mode.

Beer mode is a state of unfocused play where you discover new ideas. In contrast, coffee mode is a state of focus where you work towards a specific outcome.

The problem with traditional productivity advice is that it doesn’t take beer mode seriously. Standard tropes like turn off the Internet, tune out distractions, and turn towards your goals are all examples of coffee mode thinking. The productivity world is oriented around coffee mode because it’s easy to define, easy to measure, and therefore, easier to write about.

Meanwhile, beer mode is filled with surprises that are impossible to predict. On most days, you feel like you wasted time because you don’t make a breakthrough discovery. But once in a while, beer mode leads to an intellectual breakthrough that you would’ve never discovered in coffee mode. In turn, they improve how you allocate your coffee mode time.

John Cleese of Monty Python, who coined the analogous idea of open mode and closed mode, went as far as to say that “creativity is not possible in closed mode.” In closed mode, we’re too focused on our to-do lists and fueled by productive stress. Writing about open mode, he says:

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