Make Working at a Coffee Shop Work for You

by Ashley Eneriz · 5 comments

coffee shop
Our homes aren’t always the most productive place to work even though many of us choose to work from home, especially if you have young children needing your attention every few minutes. Renting your own office space isn’t always ideal either, as it can cost quite a bit per month.

That’s why coffee shops are the makeshift work-on-the-go spot for most workers and students. Who can blame them – free WiFi and an endless supply of caffeine make coffee shops an appealing office. Here are a few tips I’ve learnt to make a coffee shop work, no matter what you do.

Buy Noise-Cancelling Headphones

I enjoy working at my local Starbucks with all the commotion. My most productive days are when the coffee shop is full and there is a dull buzz in the air from the different conversations happening. However, there are always those few times when the music played is horrible or when one or two other guests are distracting or rude. This is where noise-cancelling headphones come in handy.

The headphones allow you to shut out the world when things are a bit too noisy. If you still like to work with noise, just not the unpredictable noises of the café, then playing white noise or calm music through your headphones is also a great idea. Brian Tracy, success expert and author of over 77 books, found that he was able to write more each day without burning out by listening to quiet classical music while working. Headphones can work for you too.

Avoid Lunch Hours

If you choose to work from a Panera Bread, Chick-fil-A, or McDonalds, then try to avoid working during the lunch rush. Not only can it be busier, but you will also be sharing the internet connection with many more people, which can slow your work productivity down immensely. Also, if the restaurant is full and someone is looking for a seat while you are working away, you will get some nasty looks and comments. It’s just common courtesy to not hog the seat if others are waiting.

Utilize Rewards Programs

It would be considered rude to work for hours without buying any food. Don’t feel like you have to spend a lot of money though. Many times I will bring a protein bar or shake and then order a coffee or tea. This allows me to work for five to six hours and only pay Starbucks less than $2.

Even better, my frequent trips earn me points through my rewards card, and I receive free refills. Panera and Chick-fil-A also offer free Wi-Fi and have great rewards programs.

Find the Place Where You Can Get in the Flow

When I first started designating time to work on my laptop away from home, I thought I should be able to work anywhere. I was wrong. Certain places cramped up my productivity levels, while other places made it harder for me to get into my work groove. Now I’m dedicated to only one Starbucks café. Since I have made it a habit, my mind automatically “clicks” that it is work time when I sit down.

If you are having a hard time getting into your work flow while away from home, know that it might be the place, or it might take some practice. You might need to create a trigger routine that kicks you into high gear. For example, try sitting in the same spot each time (if possible), breaking down your work tasks in small steps or 15 minute increments, and listening to a specific song each time. Basically, you are training your brain, saying, I am doing A+B+C, so now you are to output D. Again, it will take a few iterations to hard wire this into your brain, so don’t give up just because it didn’t work the second time around.

Do you ever work or study in a coffee shop or restaurant? Share your experiences and tips for staying focused and concentrated.

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  • Mike says:

    I’ve been waiting to ask this question for a while so I’m glad you posted this. How does one go about handling bathroom breaks if you’re working for more than a few hours? Sure if you meet someone there in a similar position they can watch your stuff and save your spot. But I don’t want to pack everything up and take it to the restroom with me but I also don’t want to leave it unattended either. What to do?!

    • Great question! So I have done both and I just judge it on the day and where I am sitting. If I can only get a seat near the door, then I would grab my laptop, phone, and wallet and head to the bathroom, leaving my drink and charger at my table.

      But if I can sit next to the bathroom, far away from the door, and there are similar people working, I will leave everything and go. Stealing a laptop at the back of the store that needs to be unplugged and packed up makes quite a scene.

      Also, I have trackers on my devices, so if something were to happen, hopefully that would help. But there is no shame in doing either. Whatever you are comfortable with.

  • freebird says:

    Good timing for me, I work in a satellite office that’s rumored to be closing by year end, so I’m looking for options. Home is not one of them!

    But I think a restaurant would be an even worse choice for me. That’s one of the reasons I need an office– as a compulsive eater I need to stay away from food during the day. I also find it hard to concentrate in a crowded and noisy environment.

    I’ve seen ads for co-working spots in my city, but none are located near where I live. These are places where you rent a desk for a day, and the coffee is free (just like my office).

    Another idea is I see empty desks at local businesses like insurance agents, realtors, or dentists offices, and if they have internet maybe they’d rent me one of those?

    My cheapest idea is working in our local branch library which has free wifi access. We’re allowed to remote access virtual machines through our VPN so we don’t need much bandwidth even though we work with mountains of data.

    My most expensive idea is to buy beachfront property with a nice view, set up a cabana outside with wifi and rent out chaise desks.

    • Obviously my vote is for the last option – that sounds divine. I used to not be able to work in a noisy environment, but after doing it so many times, it has become like a white noise. Funny how the brain works.

      Do you have any colleges or universities nearby? Many of them have rooms in the library that can be reserved. And even the college libraries can be a quiet place, especially during the off seasons. I know wifi is usually free for students, but I’m not sure for others.

    • David Ning says:

      I like the idea of a shared office, since you get to still interact with those around you. Of course, a beach front office would be even better 🙂

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