wikiHow to Work From A Coffee Shop

For those who work for themselves or as freelancers, getting out of the home office is often a healthy change that provides social interaction and relieves boredom. It can also provide you with new ideas and motivation, as a change of environment is always energizing.

In many places it's now possible to work almost anywhere, and coffee shops are a popular place to spend time working in a mobile capacity. J.K. Rowling wrote a lot of her Harry Potter works in coffee shops, as she enjoyed the ambiance and the feeling that she wasn't in "solitary confinement" as she worked.

If you're trying to decide whether working from coffee shops is a good choice for you, here are some suggestions for the ways that you can work in a coffee shop effectively.


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    Decide how often you'll work from a coffee shop. It may not be practicable to work in a coffee shop daily, especially if you have a lot of reference texts, papers and other information you need to refer to situated in your home or studio space. However, every freelancer should be able to slot in at least one occasion a week that is marked "get out of the house", so that you can have the chance to mingle with the people and soak up the energy from working near others. Sometimes the time you can spend will depend on the ease of getting to a cafe; for a suburban worker it's going to take more effort than for someone already situated near a cafe and restaurant district. For some, factoring in the travel time will impact the decision as to how long and when you can work from a coffee shop, so be sure to bear that in mind. There are various possible approaches to the times for working in the coffee shop, such as:
    • Working a few hours of each day
    • Working one day a week
    • Working a few days a week
    • Working an hour here and there as an excuse to get out.
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    Focus on the cost. There are some expenses involved in working from a coffee shop, including the expected purchases from the coffee shop itself. Remember that the coffee shop is a business and they don't have to leave you undisturbed if you're not consuming what their business has to sell, so factor in the cost of at least having a coffee every hour or so. J.K. Rowling said that she orders coffees even if she doesn't drink them, so you may need to factor that in! Additional costs may include:
    • Laptop, iPad, other form of text processing or internet access – you may or may not need this; for some a simple notepad and pencil may suffice, depending on what your work consists of.
    • Internet access. If you need this, investigate what the coffee shop provides and the costs. Sometimes it's free with a purchase, other times it's an additional cost. Or, you can bypass the need to find free wi-fi and use roaming access instead through a provider of your own choosing. This won't be cheap though and if it expires quickly you'll need to weigh up the cost of roaming internet access with how many times you're likely to use it.
    • A suitable bag to carry your laptop, files, books, etc. Choose one that is comfortable to wear and sits well between your feet or next to you. A long strap that you can wrap around your leg is recommended if there are thieving concerns, as is a bag that does up firmly to prevent opportune thieving while you're distracted by writing, reading or doing your sums.
    • Clothing. If you've become accustomed to slothing around in PJs and comfy but not very street appropriate old clothes, spruce up for your coffee shop visits. Comfortable but elegant clothes will be a part of what makes your coffee shop experience more exciting and energizing for the home-most-of-the-time worker.
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    Find a suitable coffee shop. This may be the hardest part of your preparations for working in a coffee shop because there are a number of things that must be in place to ensure that your experience is pleasant, affordable and undisturbed. Coffee shops vary in ambiance and clientele, from the more relaxed internet cafe to the bustling, trendy bistro and it's important to find the right "fit" for your preferences and needs.

    It's also a sensible precaution to select a range of possible coffee shops to use at any one time; this gives you greater choice should one be too crowded or shut for any reason and as J.K. Rowling found, strolling from one coffee shop to the next can actually be a source or recharging your batteries and refreshing your work ideas. Things that are usually important when selecting a suitable coffee shop include:
    • A comfortable place to sit that is warm or cool enough for your liking.
    • Lack of crowds. A crowded coffee shop is a noisy one, making it hard to think.
    • Freedom from loud music or background noise. As with a crowded coffee shop, one that blares out the music or has lots of noise sources will distract you endlessly and drive out any thoughts of work.
    • A place where you can sit for long periods of time without being asked to leave outright... or subtly. This one is very important. Staff that stand around glaring and demanding with their eyes and actions that you move along is distracting and unpleasant, let alone unwelcoming. On the other hand, don't choose a place where the lines are long and lots of people want seating; that's asking to be moved on and it probably won't have the right ambiance anyway.
    • A menu that you enjoy. Even if it's just about drinks, they have to be ones you like.
    • Clientele of a similar age group or social status. This may or may not matter to you though, and if you're a writer, it may actually be a downside as you can't observe people very different from yourself, to draw on as characters or experiences. Decide on this suggestion according to your own personal preference.
    • A relaxed atmosphere. On the whole, this is a good thing unless you're seeking a really vibrant buzz. However, a relaxed atmosphere is more likely to be one that will allow you to while away a few hours undisturbed and in harmony with the environment, getting your work done.
    • Free internet access. This may or may not be something you want or need, so this is lower on the list of priorities.
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    Be organized and focused. The first visit to a coffee shop for working might give you a good idea of why it's important to have a plan in place for each visit. It can be very easy to get distracted and to allow your mind to wander to the sights, smells, conversations and other interesting elements surrounding you. It will get easier to resist the distractions and cope with the need to buckle down and work the more you visit coffee shops for work purposes but it will always be helpful to have your plan sorted out in advance. A plan also allows you to be sure you've brought along the right files, books, notes, etc. that are needed to get your work done in the coffee shop. Some things to help you get organized include:
    • Set goals for each coffee shop visit. It's going to be a very discrete chunk of time you're allowing yourself so how would you use this time best? Perhaps it's a chance to finish writing a chapter, to do the executive summary for a report, or to read the text that seemed so lifeless at home?
    • Allow yourself to be distracted now and then as a form of a "break". Just as we should refocus our eyes from staring at the computer screen every 50 minutes or so, you should be sure to do this in the coffee shop too. And take a stretch now and then, to refresh and restore the circulation. Then, get back to the work after the short break.
    • Use headphones to shut out some of the general hubbub. These can be an excellent way to stay focus amid the buzz.
    • Read How to focus and How to organize a virtual workspace for more ideas.
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    Be ready for dealing with interruptions. Sitting in a coffee shop appearing hard-working and studious in front of a laptop can attract unwanted attention sometimes. A curious bystander might try to strike up a conversation with you to find out what you're up to.

    Be your own judge as to whether or not the interruption is unwelcome but also realize that too much of this can severely distract you from the tasks you've set for yourself. If you don't wish to be disturbed, make that clear. Tell people politely that you're working and keep the exchange pleasant but short. While people watching and small exchanges are a nice diversion from the work day, long conversations will waste time and make you less productive. Friends and acquaintances may not realize that you are in the coffee shop to work and not socialize, so find a nice way to excuse yourself politely.
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    Be security conscious. You're out among all sorts of people when you're in a coffee shop and occasionally you'll be around an opportunistic person. Personal belongings left unattended can be a target of someone scouting for easily stolen objects, so be careful when you get up for a bathroom break or to pay for another drink. Consider buying and using a computer lock, asking someone next to you to watch over things if you know you can trust them, or hand your valuables to the counter staff while you're in the bathroom. And be careful if you're using free wi-fi; make sure that it is encrypted and avoid keying in personal account numbers and passwords while you're out in public.
    • When you leave, check that you haven't left anything behind.
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    Practice good manners while working from a coffee shop. Order enough coffee or food to justify your time there. Don't take up too much space; either choose a small table or offer to share a large one, and make sure your belongings are not taking up too much space. Don't hog bandwidth, play loud music or videos, or talk loudly on a cell phone.
    • Depending on the noise level of the shop, it may be best to go outside to take calls. It may be your outdoor office but it's someone else's peaceful retreat!


  • Factor in peak hours and peak hour public transportation costs. You can save a lot on fares if you travel non-peak times, and saving money is something many freelancers are always on the lookout to do!
  • Have a "prompts" notebook with you when you're out of the home working. This can be used to quickly scribble down what you were last working on when you got interrupted or asked to move on and it can also be the perfect place to jot down ideas and thoughts for exploration that require the use of materials not to hand or need more expansion later.
  • For some workers, cafes in bookstores are a good choice because of all the reference materials available! Be sure to choose one that allows reading of books you haven't yet purchased though, as some don't allow this habit. Alternatively, check out whether your local library has a cafe; some do!
  • It can take time to find a good balance between working at home and outside of it in hospitality related premises. Give yourself plenty of time to ease into a routine that works best for you and don't feel like a slave to any particular way. In fact, varying the routine each week can add some spice to your working arrangements and also allows you to work around bad weather days when you'd rather stay home. After all, freelancing is about choice and you need to be careful not to become rigid in your self-discipline!
  • Try different times of the day for working in the coffee shop before settling into a routine. You may discover that some times of the day work much better for you than others and you'll also work out when there are fewer people about or when you don't feel like you're intruding by staying a long time, etc.


  • If you're not feeling well, keep your cold or 'flu at home. It's bad enough when people bring sickness to the workplace but there is something particularly nasty about sharing your cold in an environment where people are consuming food and drinking!
  • Take care to avoid expressive behavior over instrumental behavior. Expressive behavior is when you look busy and look like you're taking things seriously but you're actually achieving nothing because you're too intent on demonstrating to others that you're mobile working. On the other hand, instrumental behavior is actually performing the goals that get you to the desired end (such as writing the page that will get published as the article). Expressive behavior is a risk wherever you're "on show" around people.
  • Be prepared to leave a busy cafe that cannot afford the space for a leisurely customer. It is their business and it's polite to acknowledge that they need the space for customers wanting meals, etc.
  • If you purchase roaming internet, be sure to configure it so that it is encrypted and safe to use. Also be aware of any hidden costs involved so that you don't get any ugly surprises.

Things You'll Need

  • Portable work electronics
  • Paper and pens
  • Diary
  • Notes, materials and other relevant items

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