From Coffee Shop To Office: Professionalizing a Highly Caffeinated Environment

One of the first thing you’ll realize as a freelancer is that home and work oftentimes don’t mix. Of course, you’ll try to make yourself a productive writer at the homestead — and for the rare few this is a doable — but oftentimes the amount of distraction inside your apartment can be overwhelming. This is where the coffee shop journalist is born, thanks to the plentiful caffeine available and quiet working environment. But even out of the house and away from your flat-screen TV and streaming Netflix set- up, there are ways working at the local java hut can still be an inefficient work zone. Here are a few suggestions on just what you’ll need to make a day at the local coffee shop a truly beneficial work environment and not just a way to surf the internet in public.

1. Find a coffee shop that has free or cheap wireless internet.
While this might sound sort of “duh,” there are still a surprising number of coffee shops, including the big mamma-jamma of them all, Starbucks, that charge for internet usage. And, in some cases, they want an astronomical amount for a day’s worth of use. This is usually avoidable as plenty of mom and pop coffee joints will usually let you use their wireless for a full day, provided you purchase at least a cup of coffee and/or something small to eat. Given how nice that is, it feels awfully fair to throw a few bucks their way and enjoy their free internet for the day.

2. Bring a nice pair of headphones along with all your supplies.
One of the hardest parts of working from a coffee shop is keeping yourself completely tuned into what you’re working on, even if that means transcribing a never-ending interview with the most monotone person alive. If you don’t already own a nice pair of headphones that can allow you to do this, it’s time to invest. While you can plop down hundreds of dollars, there are plenty of nice ones for under $100 that will allow you to be completely absorbed in what you’re listening to and drown out the clatter and chatter of the coffee shop. Pop it in your work bag along with a notepad, pens, dictaphone, and anything else you might need while out.

3. Face away from windows or any busy entry way.
Along the same lines as the headphones, the name of the game with working in public is staying focused on numero uno and your impending deadline, not what the two people across the coffee shop from you are catching up on. Being observant and interested in strangers is an inherent part of being a journalist, so don’t feel bad that you’re eavesdropping left and right, but do limit the distraction by isolating yourself as much as possible in the coffee shop. This means facing away from busy walkways, large social groups, and the entrance, where you’ll be tempted to peek at everyone coming and going throughout the day.

4. Don’t meet up with friends/work together.
While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, being a freelancer isn’t usually about teamwork. It’s tough enough to be a productive worker on your own and, while it can be a bundle of fun to work with fellow freelance writers or friends at the coffee shop, the distraction is usually more than you’d like to admit. Just like studying for exams back in college, it’s usually easiest to just hunker down and stay focused by yourself.

5. Make your work station feel as professional as an office desk would.
Just because you’re sitting at a cramped table in a coffee shop doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it as a professional work space. Keep the clutter to a minimum and avoid big, messy dishes of food just as you would at your cubicle. It can be helpful to replicate a work desk as much as possible, including having your supplies out in front of you and keeping anything distracting, like magazines or books, away from your sight.

6.  Reward yourself with “fun” computer time
The hardest part about a day of work at your computer for people that are interested in the world and pop culture is not becoming lost in a k-hole of web surfing and video watching. While checking news and entertainment sites throughout the day is absolutely reasonable, do yourself the favor of limiting the guilt by just acknowledging that you’ll probably lose a serious chunk of any work day to clicking around websites that are 100% not related to what you’re working on. But if 20 minutes of online shopping or watching videos of kittens falling asleep gets you back in the groove, don’t deny yourself. Just keep an eye on the clock and set a time when you’ll get back to meeting your deadline.


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