Chances are you’ve been getting work done at a coffee shop recently. 2017 has most of us with passion projects, side hustles, or homework to do, on top of our “normal lives”. Your blog, book, online business etc, is most likely pretty hungry for your time. Time that you don’t always want to spend cooped up at home…
Which is why for the past few weeks, I’ve been business planning and outlining Pretty Weird Bombshell projects (stay tuned for a new product in October!) like a mother. Let’s just say I spent 18 hardcore days blogging and working from local Vancouver coffee shops.Working from coffee shops provided me the space I needed to focus on and complete a major project, and I’d recommend it for just about anyone. Which got me to thinking about the science of working at cafes and how be more productive in public workspaces.
Even if you’re not a full time remote worker looking for some good old human contact, working from coffee shops and cafes can be a great creative asset – IF you know how to leverage it effectively.
Working at coffee shops:
One of the many things people covet about working remotely is the ability to skip the commute and just stay home. On the surface, paying for an over-priced cup of coffee only to fight for a spot to sit and the right to use unreliable wifi doesn’t sound like it’d be worth the hassle. But it turns out there are a couple major benefits that come with working from cafes and coffee shops.
1. The Atmosphere/Noise Makes You More Creative
Researchers indicate that moderate background noise (similar to what can be found in a cafe) can actually improve your ability to come up with innovative ideas. According to studies done at my alma mater, the University of British Columbia, moderate noise distraction can also aid in abstract thinking. In fact, the coffee shop environment has proven so effective that there is actually an online app that allows you to simulate the sounds of a bustling cafe wherever you are. Check out Coffitivity! Personally, I need the foam in person to feel the love, but do what works for you!
2. A Change of Pace
It would be great if we could just summon the ability to focus and do deep work whenever and wherever we want, but even the most creative people frequently hit a wall. When this happens, changing your work environment is an effective strategy to help get your creative juices flowing again. Sometimes just changing up your scenery can be enough to get you unstuck.
A number of creative people build in regular trips to coffee shops and cafes as part of their regular rotation. Even if you’re not a full time remote worker looking for some good old human contact, working from coffee shops and cafes can be a great creative asset – IF you know how to leverage it effectively.
Of course, while working from coffee shops and cafes can be stimulating and productive, it can also be a pain in the butt.
Going to the Restroom
The simplest solution is if you have friends around, have them watch your stuff. And if you’ve developed relationships with the baristas and staff, they may also offer to keep an eye on your stuff for you. But if you are alone at a shop that you don’t frequent very often, you can do one of two things:
Bring you items with you – This is the safest option. You may lose your place, but it is better than losing your laptop. While it’s not likely, it does happen.
Take your chances – If you decide you don’t want to pack up your stuff every time you go to the bathroom, it will probably be ok to leave your gear for a very short period of time.
Cafes are usually quite relaxed and the noise is usually low-to-moderate. But every now and then there’s that couple or group of people who are talking a little bit too loudly, or inappropriately playing something on their laptop speakers.
The easiest way to protect yourself against this is to invest in quality noise-cancelling headphones. Good noise-cancelling headphones allow me to essentially create a private office anywhere, any time. They are expensive, but I consider it an investment because they really do allow me to control my environment to a degree that I really didn’t think was possible in public places. In my opinion, the ability to instantly “close my office door” is well worth the price.
Essential Gear for Working Productively at Cafes and Coffee Shops
To work productively from a cafe (or any other location that isn’t your regular work setup) you need the right tools. Here’s some of the things you may need:
▪ Device to get your work done – While this has traditionally been a laptop, there are other devices that actually make it even easier to get work done on the go. My MacBook Pro is almost always with me, but my absolute favourite mobile device is a 9.7-inch iPad Pro.
▪ Power adaptor – Nothing is worse than getting to your favourite coffee shop, ordering your favourite drink, sitting down for a work session – and realizing that your battery is dead.
Layers- being cold or too hot, you want to be cozy!
▪ Noise-cancelling headphones – Coffee shops can be noisy places, and your Apple EarPods are not going to cut if you intend to get some serious work done. You need something with active noise-cancelling that can drown out the guy trying to make sales calls behind you or the moms’ group with their screaming two-year-olds.
▪ A good travel bag/ briefcase – Finally, if you’re going to work on the go, you’ll want a bag that can keep up. The best travel bags maintain a slim profile while still allowing you to pack them full of everything that you need. There are many stunning briefcase options out there. But to be honest, I’m still a backpack girl! What I keep in my backpack:
▪ Noise cancelling Beats
▪ Moleskine notebook
▪ Apple AirPods (for Skype calls)
▪ In-ear monitors
▪ fuji xt2
Protective case for loose papers
▪ Highlighters, pens
▪ light sweater
▪ Whatever book I happen to be reading at the moment
I’d love to say I always pack my bag the night before, so that it’s ready to go when I get up in the morning. But we’re still working on that habit!
5 Quick Tips for Picking the Right Cafe
The energy coffee shops provide can actually help you get work done. But you do give up a lot of the control over how you set up your work environment. There are a lot of things that make a particular cafe a suitable work environment. Here are some to take into consideration:
1. Location, Location, Location
Ideally you want somewhere close by – the closer the better. Your definition of close may vary based on where you live. The principle is simple: the less time you spend traveling, the more time you have to get actual work done.
This is quickly becoming a necessity, but fortunately it’s also widely available. Very few cafes and coffee shops do not have wifi these days. However, they do have varying rules and regulations surrounding use. Some coffee shops have open wifi and are very tolerant or welcoming of people who camp out for long periods to get work done. Others require temporary access codes that are limited based on time or bandwidth. Make sure that the place you choose can support your wifi needs.
3. Access to Power
Shops that invite or welcome people working for longer periods will often strategically place power outlets near booths or tables. If you bring your laptop, you’ll probably need to find a place that has easy access to power. For this reason, you can also skip the laptop and use something more portable with a longer-lasting battery (like the iPad Pro). You won’t be as reliant on being plugged in.
I like to say “the bigger the table the better”. Some cafes offer couches arranged in such a way to make it easy to interact with other guests. Which sucks if you want to get work done. You’ll want a space with lots of tables or workspace where you can stay somewhat secluded and has enough space for your stuff.
4 Quick Coffee Shop Productivity Tips
▪ The coffee shop environment is the perfect place to implement the Pomodoro method to get your work done. Set a 25-minute timer and get to work on your task, then take a 5 minute break. Immerse yourself in the atmosphere or get up and walk around a bit before sitting down for another work session.
▪ Try to plan your tasks accordingly. For example, don’t plan on attending a webinar or doing any online task that requires a strong, consistent internet connection. Most coffee shops and cafes don’t bother paying for strong internet. Which makes it easy for someone else to eat up the bandwidth, leaving you with annoyingly slow internet. Ugh. You never know what the guy in the corner is uploading or downloading.
▪ If you’re going to use the internet, use a VPN to protect yourself on unsecured networks (which most coffee shops are).
▪ If you’re lucky enough to have the space, try using multiple devices. I do this occasionally with my iPad & MacBook Pro using an awesome app called Duet, which turns your iPad into a second display. A mobile dual-monitor setup? It’s possible (and as awesome as it sounds)!