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How to work productively at a coffee shop

Written 18 April, 2018, 4 minutes to read

Spending an afternoon working from a local café can provide a healthy dose of novelty for freelancers, remoters and office workers alike. And with studies suggesting it can actually boost our work productivity, there’s never been a better time to order a “Grande” (to stay). But coffee shop working is not as straightforward as it seems. We’ve condensed the art form of productive coffee shop working into this compact guide, to help you get the most from flexible working.

How to choose the right café for work

Before you can settle in for work, there’s a lot you need to consider about your new work haunt:

Is it work friendly? Clearly, you can’t comfortably work from a coffee shop that has an obvious policy against remote working. Look for wall sockets, free Wi-Fi signs and communal tables or check beforehand online. Apps like Work Hard Anywhere are can also help you find work-friendly cafes painlessly.

Wi-Fi We’re mentioning Wi-Fi for a second time. Even if it’s available for free, slow Wi-Fi speeds and usage time limits can kill your ability to lock into productive work.

Sockets Socket anxiety is a thing. If you’re going to be working in a café for a long time, make sure you can get to a socket when you need it. Just remember not to hog them when it gets busy and you’ve reached full juice.

Clientele Studies suggest the productive benefits of café working come from being around others who are focused on a task. It would seem concentration is infectious, and seeing people working hard is enough to encourage us to work harder. Try cafés where people are working (rather than just socializing), to test this theory out.

Pro-tip: Don’t misread that as meaning “pick a busy café.”

Bonus pro-tip: Avoid mum meetup cafes like the plague – no noise-cancelling headphones can mute your inbuilt baby cry reflexes.

Location Choose a location that fits with your own working feng shui. Do you like to be able to survey the whole room, or prefer a quiet corner where you won’t get visually distracted?

Comfort Cushions matter; productivity shouldn’t come at the expense of a numb butt. Assess your chosen space to see if you could comfortably work here for a few hours without developing a strain or headache. Think: table height, seat position and support, temperature, light source and ventilation. Can you see your own breath on the windows? Does it stink? Will the smell of fluffy pizzas gently cooking in the open-plan kitchen distract you from work?

Cost You should actually buy something while you’re there (more than one coffee if you’re in for a long haul)… so do you actually like the menu and is the price reasonable?

Time it right Always aim to do coffee shop work during off-peak times. You really don’t want to be there during the busy lunchtime rush (and neither do the staff – it’s their most profitable period and you’re taking up space).

Closing time If you’re travelling to an unfamiliar city for work, coffee shop working may be your easiest workspace option. So make sure it will actually stay open for the time you need it (and never overstay your welcome).

Have alternatives Don’t work from the same coffee shop over and over again, for your own sanity and the sake of the staff. It’s also just makes good sense to have ready alternatives in case your favourite café is full or closed.

Coffee shop work essentials

Bring all the materials you need to work with, but remember you probably won’t have a huge workspace. Always be mindful about the space you’re taking up, especially if it’s busy and seating is limited.

Chargers

Obviously, you’ll want to bring your laptop charger, but bring a phone USB connector for direct hotspot tethering in case you need to lean on your phone’s 4G when Wi-Fi speeds dip.

Headphones

Essential for blocking out noise when it gets too much, and basic café etiquette when you need to take a call or watch media.

Access

Make sure you can actually access all the documents and work apps you need when working off-site BEFORE you get to the café.

Security

It’s a mad world out there. Protect yourself when using public Wi-Fi by turning off sharing setting, enabling firewalls and even switching to a VPN while you work.

Be honest with yourself

So, you had a fun day out at that edgy art café with the cushion-less seats. But did you actually get any quality work done? Did the atmosphere distract more than motivate? Were you taking enough breaks (or more than usual)? How long did it take you to do regular tasks?

For a clear overview of your productivity, try using an automatic time tracking app. They track your activity while you work to break down exactly how you spent your time, so you can review how efficient you were and where you got distracted. Apps like Timely are built for flexible working, and capture time across all the devices you use for work.

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