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Close up woman using laptop in coffee shop

Working from noisy, bustling places like coffee shops presents its own set of challenges. Let’s look at how to be productive no matter where you work.

I’ve done my fair share of working from coffee shops, museums, hotel bars, and other public places. It’s surprisingly easy if you approach it in the right way. On the other hand, go in expecting everyone to cater to your every whim, and you’ll be sorely disappointed. This is how I do it.

Pick the Right Place

Where you choose to work is 9/10ths of the battle. Pick a small, busy Starbucks that does most of its trade as takeout, and you’ll have a much harder time of things than if you pick a quiet local coffee place that mostly serves regulars who also work from their laptops.

And while it’s traditional, you don’t have to work from a coffee shop. Libraries are fantastic and geared for people to work quietly, although you won’t be able to enjoy the whole coffee part of things. Get past the optics of being in a bar during the day, and they can also be a great place to work: many serve coffee and food, and aren’t as packed as other options until much later in the day.

NYPL website
Public libraries are a seriously underrated work spot.

There are other smaller details to be aware of like how many charging spots there are. A coffee shop set up for remote workers will have one at pretty much every table. A takeaway place might only have a single one. Don’t try and work from a place that can’t give you power—or has super slow Wi-Fi—if you have any other options.

One other thing to think about is to avoid places you go socially or that you might see people you know. The objective here is to work not to chat. The last thing you need is to run into a friend who wants to do nothing more than catch up about their latest Instagram-inspired trip.

Do the Right Kind of Work

Another critical factor in working from a public space is choosing the right kind of work to do. Don’t expect nearby tables to keep quiet while you have an urgent Skype call. And on the flipside, absolutely don’t even think about making a Skype call using your computer’s built-in microphone; you will annoy the hell out of everyone.

The best work to do in public places is the kind of thing you can do with just your laptop or a pen and paper. If you need an extra monitor, a typewriter, a special keyboard, or anything else, you’re just going to make your life more difficult. Bonus points if the work is something that you can get into a deep flow state when you’re doing it. Nothing cuts out external distractions like total focus.

Take Control of Your Environment

While you don’t have as much control over your environment as you do in a home office—no special potted plant collections or Zen-inspired wall quotes—that doesn’t mean you can’t put your stamp on it.

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