How to Actually Get Work Done at a Coffee Shop

Long ago, I found that though there are many things I excel at doing from home, such as taking naps, watching television, and starting happy hour early; working is not one of them.  For that reason, I’m constantly commuting to coffee shops, internet cafes, and other spots that are conducive to my style and workflow.  I’ve learned that I can’t go just anywhere, because where a person chooses to work remotely is just as important as the specific company he or she chooses to work for.  It’s not about snagging the first thing that comes along, but about finding the place(s) where you can truly maximize your productivity and creativity.

Coffee shop work culture

There are plenty of WiFi hot spots where you can answer emails or crank out code, but if you’re anxious while you’re there, annoyed by the people around you, or put off by the overall scene, you’re going to be unhappy while you work- —and not just with the venue, but with the work you’re doing. I was living in a small town in south Florida, and struggling to find a good place to work.  I ended up settling for a few miserable spots and was frustrated and irritable while I was working in these inefficient spaces.  It made me think that I hated what I was doing, but after I left, I realized it wasn’t the work, but where I was doing it.  It completely changed the outlook I had on the projects I was involved with.

Nailing the vibe

If you travel often or work on the go, it’s not as easy to create a setting that’s conducive to you getting things done.  You can adjust the feng shui in an office, but you can’t just start hanging pictures up or moving furniture around in a coffee shop.  I keep three things in mind each time I suit up to find a working spot to ensure that I’ve nailed the positive vibe I need to get things done.

  1. Consider the context of your work
  2. Consider your basic needs
  3. Consider your neighbors

Consider the context of your work

This is simple.  Ask yourself what you need to accomplish today, and plan ahead for it.  If you’re doing busy-work, or something that doesn’t take much focus, go somewhere interesting and stimulating that will help you balance out and keep you occupied while you finish your tasks.

If you’re going to have to sit for a long time editing, reviewing, writing or coding, go somewhere where you can sit in a comfortable chair, or off in a corner where you wont be disturbed.  If you need to spread out with books, notes or a team of people, go somewhere where there’s plenty of large tables and community working space.

Set yourself up for success by choosing a spot that’s conducive to the type of work you need to get done, the amount of time you’ll need to be there, and the sort of surroundings you need to be comfortable and happy.

Consider your basic needs

I’ve found that it’s easy to get tied up in my work and deny my body of the nourishment it needs to reach peak productivity.  When this happens, I’m usually slamming cups of coffee and eating nothing, which ensures I’m going to be dehydrated, famished, and completely strung out on caffeine during the later part of my day.  That means I work slower, feel irritable, and usually end up burning myself out before I finish everything I need to.

For this reason, I’ve learned that you have to consider your basic human needs if you’re going to be at your best.  That means bring snacks, drink water (not just coffee), and take breaks.  If you’re a person that feeds off of social interaction, go somewhere friendly and open so you can strike up a conversation when you’re feeling antsy.  If you’re starving and uncomfortable two hours into your workday, you’ve set yourself up for failure.

Be a good neighbor

One of the best parts of working from a coffee shop vs. working from home is that you have an opportunity to meet new people every day.  Though this can serve as a distraction at times, I’ve found it to be mostly positive.

If you’re kind and considerate to those around you, you’ll find that it comes back full circle. Some examples of what can happen:

  • Conversing with another regular leads to that person becoming a client
  • Becoming friends with baristas leads to paying a lot less for drinks
  • Stepping outside to take calls leads to fewer dirty looks and more friendly nods

Your choice matters

When you work remotely, your work culture isn’t dictated by higher-ups or a company mission statement, but by the choices you make on a regular basis.  The places you choose to work, the mood of those places, and the people around you are not mutually exclusive from you, your work, and your ability to efficiently finish your projects.  I’ve found that no matter what I’m working on, the environment and cultural elements I experience on a regular basis are directly tied to my happiness, productivity, and creativity — and they are extremely vital to my success.

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