Offices are so last season.
In 2017, more people than ever are ditching conventional workplaces and taking their laptops on the road, or at least around the block the local coffee shop with free WiFi.
Comfortable seats, tasty snacks, a relaxed atmosphere and no coworkers or boss hanging over your shoulder. What could be better?
Working in a coffee shop comes with its own challenges though. Many people struggle to be productive and focused.
There’s an art to it, and with the right habits (and the right Chrome browser extensions) you might find yourself getting more done than ever while you sip your cappuccino.
Scope out the shop before you commit
What’s the most frustrating thing that can happen when you’re trying to work in a café?
For me, it’s this scenario: I walk into a new coffee shop, grab the last available seat, order a large cinnamon vegan chai latte, and I’m all ready to work… except it turns out the WiFi is down, or my laptop is out of battery and there aren’t any outlets.
$5 down and a lot of wasted time.
Before you order and get settled, make sure the coffee shop has everything you need. Check for power outlets, that the WiFi works and you can get a table with enough space for all your stuff. (If you can’t sign into the WiFi without ordering, see if there are other people on laptops and just ask if it’s working well for them.)
If the coffee shop is playing music, notice whether it’s too loud or distracting.
In general, see if it’s a place you’ll be comfortable and focused working for however long you need.
Also – and you should do this before you leave your house – make sure you’re prepared with everything you need! Chargers for your laptop and phone are essential, plus a pen and paper, headphones and business cards.
Choose a place and stick with it
Once you find that gem of a coffee shop, the one with great drinks, fast WiFi, plenty of space and just the right atmosphere, hold onto it.
I’ve spent a lot of time traveling and working all the time from new cafés in new cities. While it’s fun to check out a new place, there’s usually some loss in productivity when you’re in an unfamiliar place.
You have to get settled in a new environment, find the best seat and decide what to order from an unfamiliar menu. You’re more likely to be distracted by new sights and sounds. It’s little things, but when you’re really trying to buckle down and finish a project, it can make all the difference.
When you’re working a lot in the same space, it’s easier to get into a flow. Your mind will start to associate that coffee shop with being focused and in “work mode.”
Be a courteous customer
This might not directly affect your productivity, but as we move into the age of digital nomads and remote working, it’s important for us to keep the baristas of the world on our side.
So many of us are dependent on coffee shops as our primary workspace. We want to keep it a good, symbiotic relationship so we won’t end up paying for WiFi or asked to leave after sitting for too long.
- Tip well and be friendly to the baristas – no making business calls while paying for your coffee.
- Be mindful of the space you are taking up. If it’s crowded, condense your stuff and offer for other customers to share your table. And if it’s really crowded, consider taking your long project to your backup café.
- Order something for every two hours you are sitting there, and every hour if it’s busy.
- Don’t stay past closing time. If the employees are sweeping the floor around you, it’s time to close your laptop and wrap up your project at home.
- Quiet phone calls are ok, but if it’s going to be long and/or emotive, take it outside.
- Use the bandwidth sparingly. Using BitTorrent, uploading or downloading large files, or watching long videos might slow the connection for other customers.
Be considerate and aware of other customers, and you’ll keep your favorite café as a great workplace for everyone.
The main disadvantage for many people of working in a coffee shop rather than in an office is the abundance of distractions.
Music, people coming in and out, chance encounters with friends, the informal atmosphere… It definitely requires more focus and discipline than a traditional workplace.
As a general rule, come into the coffee shop with the strong intention of being productive. Stick with it from the beginning: no “just 5 minutes on Facebook and then I’ll get started.” (It’s never just 5 minutes.)
Take your breaks only at set times. While you’re working, try to keep your eyes on the screen and a strict moratorium on distracting sites like social media.
To keep technology from dragging you off track, turn off your phone when you’re not using it. If you need any information from it, copy it down before you start working. You can also set certain times to check it, like once every hour.
If you have trouble staying off social media, log out of your accounts. Making it slightly inconvenient to access it might give just enough of a boost to your self-control.
“Real life” distractions can be even more difficult.
When you’re working in a café, your “office” is someone else’s coffee break or date spot. So how do you get anything done when your friends who have the day off come in all smiles?
First of all, try if possible to work somewhere no-one will find you. Set up shop in a less popular café that’s off the beaten track for people you know.
I recommend wearing headphones even if you’re not listening to music. This will make people more reluctant to disturb you. It will also make you less distracted by overhearing conversations and less likely to notice if a friend walks in.
Take care of your body and mind
Take regular breaks to preserve your focus and mental clarity. Stretch out, maybe take a walk around the block.
It’s especially important to rest your eyes. Here are a few tips:
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
- Take “mini-breaks” of about five minutes away from the screen every hour or so.
- Stretch your eye muscles by slowly rolling your eyes in full circles, clockwise and counterclockwise.
- Download an app like f.lux that reduces blue glare and adapts your computer screen to the time of day.
Do you fall into the trap of taking lots of unnecessary breaks when you’re unfocused and then powering through for 3 hours when you get in the zone? Even if you get everything done, it will make you less efficient in the long run and you might burn out.
To avoid this, choose certain times to take your breaks and be consistent. Your mind will be more settled and focused if you’re not always thinking about when you can stretch your legs.
Finally, be careful not to overdose on caffeine! It’s easy to just keep ordering latte after latte after cappuccino, and before you know it you’ve had five coffees in one afternoon.
I like to limit my caffeine intake to one coffee beverage per work session. After that, I’ll alternate between teas, snacks, juices or whatever else the café has to offer. some more “chair yoga” exercises could be found here.
Make use of productivity apps
There are so many great apps to help you become more productive at work.
One of my favorites is Limestone, a clever new Chrome extension.
Whenever you open a new tab, instead of Google or whatever your default page is, Limestone greets you with an inspiring background image, a motivational quote, and links to your favorite sites.
Best of all, you can write your to-do list on it, making it much easier to manage all your tasks.
If you keep getting distracted by certain sites, I recommend SelfControl. It’s a free app that will allow you to block these sites for a set period of time. You can learn more about revitalizing your body and mind with Chrome newtab can be found this post
At the end of the day, it all comes down to cultivating an attitude of efficiency. Take your work seriously, even if your “office” sells muffins and espresso. We have to break the association between coffee shops and hanging out.
But once you get in the flow of it, I find that the energy and low-key atmosphere of cafés makes me much more productive than a traditional workplace.
So stay firm and consistent in your habits, be considerate of the space around you, and the world is your remote-working oyster.