How to Work From Coffee Shops and Other Public Places

Close up woman using a laptop in a cafefizkes / Shutterstock

Working in noisy and lively places such as cafes presents its own challenges. Let's see how to be productive wherever you work.

I have worked in cafes, museums, bars, hotels and other public places. It's surprisingly easy if you approach it the right way. On the other hand, expect everyone to respond to all your desires and you will be extremely disappointed. That's how I do it.

Choose the right place

Where you choose to work is 9 / 10th of the battle. Pick a busy little Starbucks coffee shop that does most of your shopping and you'll have a lot more trouble than if you choose a quiet cafe that serves mainly regular customers who also work from their laptop.

And while it's traditional, you do not have to work in a cafe. The libraries are fantastic and designed so that people work quietly, although you can not enjoy all the coffee. Do not be fooled by the optics of a day in a bar. It is also a nice place to work: many serve coffee and food and are not as full as other options until much later in the day.

NYPL websitePublic libraries are a seriously underrated place of work.

There are other small details to consider, such as the number of charge points. A café set up for remote workers will have one at almost every table. A take-away place could have only one. Do not try to work from a place that can not power you or that has a very slow Wi-Fi if you have other options.

Another thing you need to think about is to avoid places where you go socially or that you might see people you know. The goal here is to work not to argue. The last thing you need is to meet a friend who wants to do nothing more than catch up on his last Instagram-inspired journey.

Do the right kind of work

The choice of the type of work to be done is another critical factor for working in a public space. Do not expect nearby tables to be silent during an urgent call on Skype. And upside down, do not even think about making a Skype call using your computer's built-in microphone; you will annoy everyone.

The best work to do in public places is the kind of things you can do only with your laptop or pen and paper. If you need an extra monitor, a typewriter, a special keyboard or anything else, you're just going to complicate your life. Bonus points if the work is something you can get in a deep flow state when you do it. Nothing removes external distractions such as total concentration.

Take control of your environment

Although you do not have as much control over your environment as in a home office – no special potted plant collections or Zen-inspired wall quotes – that does not mean you can not put your mark on it.

The first thing to do is to choose the right place to sit. Do not sit near the bathroom, the door, the service door or any other place where people may spend all the time. I find few things more embarrassing than someone moving in my peripheral vision. If you can catch a booth without taking up more space than what is right, do it. Another reliable option is to share a table with someone who is also working.

My preference is to take a window table and face the window. I find that the people behind the window are much less distracting than those inside. Plus, it means that if you know someone who's coming, he's less likely to recognize you.

Post Rock playlistNoise reduction and music headphones can greatly reduce distractions.

Once you have mastered your personal space, the next thing to do is to control what you hear. Some people like to work at the sound of a busy public area, but this is not the case. This is where earmuffs are an absolute boon. Although they do not suppress all the noise, combined with electronic, post-rock or classical music, you will be practically in your own world. Increase the volume and get to work.

Being distracted by your surroundings can also cause you to be distracted on your devices. Put your phone in silent mode and store it. If you can, block distracting apps with something like FocusMe then do it. If your options are to work or get bored, then you are much more likely to work.

Keep the staff on board

Do not forget that you work in a company. If you sit at a table, you take the space of a paying customer, which means that you must behave as such. Do not assume that buying a single morning coffee means you can buy choice seats for the rest of the day without having to use wifi. Buy things regularly. A purchase every hour or every two hours is my general rule.

Also think of the space you occupy. In a small cafe, do not take a table at four. It's just inconsiderate.

If you work somewhere regularly, it's also worth it to tip well and become friendly with the staff. If you get a reputation as an ugly customer, they can make your life more difficult. On the other hand, if you get them on your side, you can expect special treatment and bonuses, such as free pastries, that would otherwise go to trash. It does not take much to smile, say please and thank you, and give the proper tip.

The cafes have this mythical reputation of an ideal place to work. Although they have their benefits, do not expect to be productive simply because you have left your home.

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