The Coffee Routine Question


Last week, I heard a high-level nurse executive describe her morning coffee routine to a large group. I haven’t been able to part with her description: Keurig. She seemed proud of the fact that she put the sugar and cream into the empty cup before pressing the button to brew.

Doesn’t everybody do it this way? 

Every morning since, I’ve compared my own ritual to hers. I use a French press. It is incredibly inefficient. Try as I may, I cannot streamline. Every time, I must fill the kettle with water, and light the flame on the stove. I must open the cabinet door and retrieve the jar of coffee beans. I must retrieve the grinder, scoop the coffee beans into it, and pulse for a few seconds. I must dump the grinds, and then the water that I waited to come to a boil, into the press’ base. I must place the plunger into the base, and even still, I must wait before plunging, pouring, and finally drinking.

This comparison really has nagged at me, to be quite honest.

Am I wrong to spend so much time on a routine that I daily wonder how to tailor? Where can I cut steps? I don’t really mind the process, but maybe I should switch to ground coffee? Automated machines with tiny pods, really? 

Then, early this week, I had an extremely inefficient encounter at work. It frustrated me, because it didn’t require much organization or skill to avoid, and instead caused me a lot of inconvenience. However, the person responsible was someone that I highly respect, and very much like. Although it caused me extra work, I stuck to my goals. I wanted to push past the disorganization for this person, because their character motivated me.

That same day, I went for lunch at a shop I like. After gathering my food for purchase, I went to pay. Two people stood at the cashier’s desk, one working the register, and another bagging. My entire exchange, which took less than thirty seconds, included fairly routine procedures like weighing, swiping, and signing. But neither person looked at me or addressed me in a manner even close to engaging. I was reduced to a task, and left feeling demoralized, half-wishing I had encountered a wait.

And this is when I figured out the coffee routine thing. I will never choose a Keurig, because it is impersonal, automated and disengaged, just like my lunch encounter. However, while I like the quality of the coffee and the intentional engagement that my French press gives to my mornings, there is no point in obliging in regular inefficiency for the sake of affection.

I wonder if things are much different in the hospital. Often, we’re either hyper-inefficient and missing the mark (sometimes not even making up for it with a smile!), or hyper-efficient, turning patients and their families into duties to complete. Perhaps there’s a way to engage in the nuances of both types of efficiency: No one can automate a back rub, or argue that it’s efficient. And while we can’t stand the rigidity of hourly rounding scripts, the practice saves lives. Half-caf?

As I ponder the perfect blend, I must be honest. A few days a week, I ditch my home rituals and visit my friend Hicham at his coffee cart near my hospital. Some of the time, he gives me my coffee for free, even though I object. Every time, though, he’s fast, but chats a bit, and his coffee is hot and perfect. I always leave smiling. Perhaps my friend’s middle ground is where this nurse executive and I could get our best morning cup.

2 thoughts on “The Coffee Routine Question

  1. Your post makes an important point about routines and the slippery slope to forgetting the patient. One of my loved ones recently had a major medical event, so I’ve spent the past few months in the hospital and at various health care appointments. What strikes me in many officesl offices is how few caregivers (medical assistants, CNAs, nurses) actually introduce themselves and their position. Often just hear a quick “How ya doing, come on back to the room” then the computer becomes the patient.

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