How to Work from a Coffee Shop and Keep Your Productivity High

How to Work from a Coffee Shop and Keep Your Productivity

As a remote worker, I know the pain of finding the perfect spot in a busy cafe (outlet at my disposal, right next to the router, comfiest chairs) and then realizing I have to go to the bathroom. This post is designed to help remote workers everywhere optimize their task list, schedule, and even drink orders to get the most when working from a coffee shop.

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Selecting your coffee shop

What to look for in a coffee shop | How to Work from a Coffee Shop and Keep Your ProductivityYour coffee shop story doesn’t start when you step into the cafe. It starts when you select it.

One thing I look at when I decide where to work is the cafe location. If it’s in the center of Main St., it’s more likely to be busy, which means more people and noise, fewer chairs and available outlets, and longer lines for the bathroom. It also means they can afford to charge more for their drinks and snacks, which can add up over time. I like my cafes a little out of the way (see: hidden) but still close enough to other establishments that I can step out for a walk if I need to stretch. In an ideal world, the coffee shop would be within walking distance of my apartment, too.

You should also look at the logistics of how the coffee shop works. Are there outlets? Are there enough that you could reliably get one before your laptop runs out of battery, even if it’s busy? Tip: I try to keep my laptop fully charged when I go to a cafe, just in case I have to work while waiting for an outlet to open up.

Do their bathrooms have stalls, or single person restrooms? I prefer single person facilities because it’s safer to put down your items in them, but if it’s a fairly busy day the lines may get long.

Ask about the WiFi situation. Do they charge to use the Internet, does each user have a WiFi time limit, or do you have to make a minimum purchase before connecting? Even if you have your own Internet connection like tethering mobile data, it’s good to have WiFi around to fall back on if your Internet is slow or doesn’t work.

The ideal coffee shop is: close to home, not too busy, has affordable coffee (or tea, or whatever you enjoy while working), has outlets, and offers fast (& free) WiFi.

What to order

Keep in mind you’re taking up electricity (if you’re plugged in), bandwidth, and a seat where another paying customer might sit. Be considerate of your coffee shop and baristas by ordering at least one item every hour you’re there, and leaving a nice tip.

I try to limit myself to one cup of coffee a day and at least one healthier menu item. So if I’m at a coffee shop for 4 hours, I might start out with a latte, then go to a salad, then a cup of tea and honey, and then a baked good.

Be sure to keep yourself hydrated in between your orders. If you can drink 3 cups of coffee in one sitting, be sure to sip on water as well, or order tea or juice in between them. Beware of all that liquid, though, because they quickly lead to bathroom breaks…

Going to the bathroom

Some remote workers like to work in pairs, which solves the bathroom issue completely. One person can use the restroom while the other watches the laptops and other valuable items. However, if you didn’t bring a friend to the coffee shop, going to the bathroom is at best an inconvenience and at worst a security risk.

If you’re alone, when you go to the bathroom you should bring your wallet, phone, and anything else that’s valuable and can easily be carried away. If the coffee shop is fairly empty, you might consider leaving your laptop while you run to the restroom. If it’s a busy day, some remote workers ask their neighbors to keep an eye on their items (I don’t really recommend this) so they don’t lose their spot.

I highly recommend getting a laptop lock so you can take your bag to the bathroom and have your spot and laptop waiting for you when you return.

I usually use the restroom when I arrive, and then when I’m done with work, pack everything up, use the restroom again, and head out.

Type of work

What kind of work can you do in a coffee shop? If you need a huge table, a whiteboard, or to make/take a lot of calls, coffee shops probably aren’t for you. Try a coworking space instead.

However, if you can do most of your work from a laptop without taking up your neighbors’ tables, a coffee shop is a nice haven to work from. I know programmers and writers who love coffee shops, and designers who enjoy working from home because of the volume of equipment they use (second monitor, tablet to draw on, etc.).

Working in a coffee shop is great for tasks that aren’t loud, don’t take up much space, and don’t require a lot of extra equipment. If you aren’t sure about whether your work is great for coffee shops, try it out with one or two quiet coffee shops around your area to test it out.

Avoiding distractions

Avoiding distractions while working in a coffee shop | How to Work from a Coffee Shop and Keep Your ProductivityThe smell of coffee and baked goods is a great distraction, but coffee shops also come with other inconveniences. Someone might be taking a call next to you, a couple may be arguing a few tables over, and there might be a cute dog sitting close enough for you to play with.

Your first defense against distractions is selecting a good spot. You should have access to an outlet, but your spot should be somewhere more secluded. If you can choose a corner spot, all the better. You may even benefit from a spot looking out the window, so if your eyes wander there’s a sheet of glass preventing you from eavesdropping on the people you watch or going and saying hello to someone you think you recognize.

You can stay productive by tracking your time. I use Hubstaff, and when I start my timer I tend to hone in on my task since I know I’m recording billable time.

Use headphones and ambient noise to block out the sounds of a coffee shop, especially if there are people nearby talking more loudly than the background noise. I recommend Noisli to customize your ambient noise, or, ironically, Coffitivity to simulate the sounds of a coffee shop (ha-ha!).

What are your tips for working in a coffee shop?

I hope these practical tips help you in your remote work journey. If I’ve missed any, please add them in the comments below!

  • Hey Rachel, great article 🙂
    Things I would add: go to an ‘anti-coffee shop’. In this type of establishment you don’t pay for what you order, but for the time you spend there. Basically, if you do an 8-hour work-day at an anti-coffee shop it’s a lot cheaper than buying a product every hour.
    Also, I think you can avoid distractions by listening to music on your headphones, which is slightly anti-social, but effective 😀

    • Rachel G

      Hi Ioana, thanks for checking the article out! I agree that ‘anti-coffee shops’ are nice as well (they’re like co-working spaces, yes?). There’s one near me that charges by the hour and comes with free coffee.