One of the hardest things I’ve encountered when working from home is, well, not leaving home. If you have kids, you drop them off at their respective places and then come back home to work. If you have no kids, you change into usual clothes (never, ever, stay in your PJs just because you’re working from home. Never. I cannot stress this often enough: people in PJs do not work. It’s okay if you’ve given yourself a day off, but if you’re thinking about working, don’t do it. Believe me; I’ve tried it too many times for the result to be random. Work wear it is, bra included).
And then you sit at home and work. You go out to pick up the kids or for a short visit to the supermarket, and then you get back home. Again. You’re home in the evening as well, with your partner or your kids or both, or just resting and watching TV. Turns out you’re home most of the day, and how long can a person stare at the same four walls? Sometimes they actually seem to be closing in to get you.
For this purpose, ladies, coffee shops where you can put some work in were invented. You pack your laptop, your wireless mouse (buy one. I know one can do without, but it’s just wasted energy) and some change for the obligatory coffee, and you leave the house. And it’s morning, and you’re facing the question: where will I park my laptop today?
Here are some things we already know about what makes a coffee shop a place to get work done:
- Comfortable seating arrangement: pick a place with tables at a comfortable height, and chairs that fit the height of the tables. The tables should be comfortably distanced from each other, so you don’t have to hear what the lady at the next table is telling her friend about her husband. And if at all possible, the chairs need to be comfortable enough so you can sit there for hours on end.
- Stable WiFi connection: pick a place with a fast, stable internet connection. You don’t have time to waste pestering the waitress to reboot the router. You’re not being self-indulgent here, most jobs nowadays require a good connection – it’s a basic working condition.
- The right level of noise: we all need a certain level of noise to concentrate. Take me for example, I could never work from a library – it’s just too quiet. The books are all whispering to me: You can’t do this, you’re not a good enough writer, and the librarians shush me for hitting the keys on the keyboard too hard. Coffee shops, in contrast, have people talking amongst themselves, doors closing and opening, background music. Things are happening there. I put on my superpower cape that says nothing will break my concentration now, and I write like the wind. I do know, however, that other people need for things to be quieter. You know yourself best, so treat yourself to an environment you’ll be the most comfortable in.
- Good service: not all coffee shops are buying into this concept (Have you watched the New Gilmore Girls? Think about Luke). I can understand that: people who order little and sit around for hours can’t be the best customers. So visit the coffee shop you want to work in before you try to meet a deadline, just to see if you’re welcomed.
3 more things to take into account: the TAD principle
All these conditions I’ve mentioned are must-haves, but they’re still not enough. If you’re living in a mid to large sized city, there must be several coffee shops which meet these basic requirements, but the question remains – which of them will you be working in today? To answer that question for myself, I use the TAD principle:
- Target: modern office work is diverse. My work, for example, encompasses different fields that demand different levels of concentration: there are days I schedule several online meetings, and I always prefer to do this from home (expect a home office design post soon); there are days I need to read a lot, and those days demand a quiet environment; there are days for research and data gathering, when I need a little more life around me so I don’t get too bored; and there are days that I dedicate to optimizing complex marketing systems, for which I need coffee shops with good food so my mind is kept sharp. Each of these days may lead me to different working environments and therefore, to different coffee shops.
- Distance: not all days are born equal. Some days, your tasks clash in with your anxieties and what ensues is a huge lump of incompetence. One of the best ways I’ve found to dissipate this lump is by walking or riding my bike. Somehow, when the legs move, the mind finds itself “breathing” easier. When I have one of those mornings, when everything seems unsolvable and I can hardly move myself to turn on my laptop, I select a coffee shop far enough from home so I can soothe myself on the way over.
- Alienation: Occasionally, I take on some tasks I’m not one hundred percent sure I can tackle. I’ve found that by going to a new coffee shop, something about its strangeness helps me to fear things less and dare more. I guess that’s my work version of talking to a nice barman in a strange city at night.