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After working remotely and traveling for the last two years, I have gotten pretty good at seeking out the best coffee shops in my area to get some work done.
I typically house sit while traveling, which really helps in having a dedicated space to work, but sometimes I just need to get out of the house! Plus visiting local coffee shops helps me explore my temporary location. This means I’ve gotten really good at scouting out productive places to work while getting my daily caffeine intake.
Because being a digital nomad, is a working while traveling lifestyle, so I’ve got to make sure I’m still meeting client deadlines and following through with my responsibilities.
This article will share with you ALL my steps and best tips (and etiquette) for working in a cafe. Be sure to bookmark this page or download my free guide ⬇ for the next time you need to find a coworking coffee shop.
Before You Leave Home
If you are new to working remotely, or maybe you’re tired of working from home and ready to step outside, there are some things to do BEFORE you ever leave the house. These can be done the night before or right before you head out.
But doing these first few things will drastically increase your chances of finding a good coffee shop near you to spend a couple of hours working.
Know your priority list
The first thing to do is get very clear on your priority list. In other words, what do you intend to accomplish during your work period?
Sometimes I have projects where I would be better off completing while sitting in a closet with zero distractions. While other times, I want the energy of other people around me and outside noises like talking and music will stimulate not distract. So know what it is that you need to get done and what kind of atmosphere you’re looking for.
Research your destination
Now that you have a better idea of what you’re looking for, get out your phone or your computer and do some online stalking.
It’s so easy these days with Google maps, to type in “coffee shop” or “cafe” and get an immediate list of options. From here….
- Start by zooming in on an area nearest to you that has a cluster of options. (you always want to have multiple options)
- Then read the reviews of each option and take a look at the pictures. (reviews are good because people sometimes leave notes about the wifi or atmosphere such as music level or general comfort level)
- Think about if it feels like a place that would be a productive work location. (consider the menu, the size of location, if they have tables or is it more “to go coffee” venue, etc).
Sometimes I also try to see if people in the pictures have laptops out. If so, it’s always a good sign that it’s a laptop friendly location and that others have given it their approval. Pictures can be limited so it’s not a make or break thing, just something to consider.
Also, the reason you want to head to a general location with multiple options, is because if the first one you try doesn’t work out (already full, wifi not working, too loud, not comfortable enough, etc) then you can quickly get to another location nearby. The main reason for doing research ahead of time is so you don’t waste time searching for a good spot.
ALWAYS have a backup option.
Map your route & pack up
Once you’ve picked an area to head to, that has multiple options, map it out to know where you’re going and how long it will take to get there. Whether your destination is nearby or you’ve chosen to visit another part of the city, you’ll need to know if you can walk, take a cab, jump on public transit and how to get there without getting lost!
Then pack up all the items you’ll need for your work, based on your priority list. For me this typically looks like:
- Laptop & charger packed in my backpack ( I have an Macbook Air & this Away backpack )
- Cell phone for directions (My carrier is Google Fi and I get unlimited data no matter my location)
- Purse with my wallet, chapstick, & metro card (the Chase Sapphire Preferred is my favorite travel credit card)
- Outside weather dependent items like a jacket, raincoat or sunglasses
- Layering options for inside in case I get cold (which is usually the case)
- Notebook & pen (I like Moleskin notebooks)
- Reusable coffee mug (I’ve found Keep Cups to be the best)
When Your Arrive
This is the time to be really honest with yourself. I can usually tell within the first 10-15 seconds if a place is going to work for me or not. Here are some of the things to pay attention to.
Sweep the space
Upon arrival, scout out the place a little bit before you order anything. Because there’s nothing worse than ordering a drink or food and then discover it’s not going to work.
Maybe the wifi is down!
Oh no, there’s no place for you to sit!
I don’t see any charging outlets available! (<— I recommend charging your electronics before arriving to avoid this issue)
These are the things you want to make mental note of right when you arrive to manage your expectations. Maybe there is a table, but it’s in the corner with no light. Maybe you can’t get an outlet right away, but you see a possible opportunity in the near future.
So make sure to take a look around BEFORE you commit to staying.
Search for problems
If your first choice has passed general inspection, next search for problems that may limit productivity.
How are you feeling about the music?
Is the menu enough to satiate your hunger?
Are you already too cold / too hot / too stuffy?
Is there enough lighting so you won’t have to strain your eyes?
If you’re kind of like, “eh, and the menu is not super exciting”, don’t be afraid to leave. You can walk in and you can walk out and it’s not a big deal.
Be honest with yourself
I’ve done this plenty of times. I’ll go to my first coffee shop that I was really excited about and upon walking in think, “yes, this is perfect!” But then they have a really limited menu that isn’t working for me so I leave and go to my backup location nearby.
It’s totally fine. Only you can decide what will work for you.
Staying Productive & Coffee Shop Etiquette
Now that you’ve found a location it’s time to tackle that priority list! Here are some productivity tips while working in a coffee shop.
Fuel yourself (and your laptop)
First, be sure you order something. You should not go to a coffee shop or cafe to use their resources and not purchase anything. That’s no okay.
Second, if you can, find a spot near an outlet. Even if you don’t need it now, you probably will eventually. But DON’T be a socket hogget. Sharing is caring y’all.
Third, set up your space in a way that you need to be productive. Maybe it’s getting your notebook out or your favorite pens. Or making sure you have coffee, water & snacks.
Now, on that note, pay attention to how much space you are taking up if you are sharing a table. Try to not take up so much space that you’re now being inconsiderate to other people around you. You’re a guest in the space so don’t act like you own it.
Focus on your priorities
We’ve got out beverages, and food and our space set up – now it’s time to get to work!
If you don’t have one, maybe create a distraction plan. Such as turning off your notifications, putting your phone away, or knowing how you’ll respond if someone starts talking to you.
Ultimately you know your goal, so get to it!
If you’re struggling to find a productive workflow, (sometimes we just have those days!) try incorporating some tried and true productivity methods.
One of my favorites is doing Pomodoro sessions. This is where you set 25 minute timers to focus on work and then when the timer goes off you get a 5 minute break. I typically use the Timer Chrome extension for these.
Another consideration is to limit the amount of your context switching. There is a lot of data and science to how much time your waste switching between tasks and projects (ie context switching). Just like when you workout it’s more beneficial to focus on one muscle group at a time. Same thing with productivity. The less you switch between projects, you’ll achieve a better workflow.
Again, turning off notifications or putting in your headphones is another easy way to stay focused and productive. Don’t let the little things distract you!
Coffee Shop Etiquette
As Digital Nomads, we sometimes have to get work done whenever and wherever we can. I’ve worked on trains, planes, in public parks, and of course coffee shops and cafes.
Rule #1: Always order something
If you’re on a train or plane, then you’ve purchased your ticket for transport and can use the resources included in that ticket. But if you’re at a cafe or coffee shop, it’s etiquette to order something. And if hang around for awhile, you should be making multiple orders throughout your stay. One small coffee for 5 hours of taking up a table is not okay.
Rule #2: Follow the established rules
Some coffee shops have “work sections” and “social sections” where laptops aren’t allowed. Don’t be that jerk that thinks the rules don’t apply to you. Business owners typically do this to keep the balance and give space for people to socialize. So be considerate and respectful of the rules, but also that others may have different reasons for being in the space. Not everything is about you and your wants.
Rule #3: Don’t be a socket hogget
You read that right. Don’t hog all the charging sockets! If your computer is charged, and there are other people around you with laptops, maybe just offer, “Hey guys, my computer’s charged. Anyone else need this?” Or even just unplug your computer so that they know that it’s available. This is especially true if you know the charging stations are limited.
Rule #4: Try to avoid places during their busiest hours
This isn’t a hard and fast rule, and I’ve definitely gone to some cafes during brunch hours (like these amazing cafes in Washington D.C.) but in general, don’t sit and work in cafes at the height of their busy periods. If I do this, I always make sure I’m taking up very little space, maybe even just sitting at the bar, and I order food and a couple of drinks. If they can’t flip your spot because you won’t leave, you should at least make it worth it to them. But if you can, try making a point to visit off hours.
Rule #5: Don’t use up all the Wifi
if you are working on a project that needs a lot of power, be aware of how much wifi you’re using up. If you’re slowing down the internet so much that others can’t use it, then you’re not being very considerate. Try doing the bulk of the project from your home or accommodation. Or find something else to work on. Seriously, just don’t be a jerk.
The more practice you have the more you’ll get the hang of it and the first few steps won’t take you long at all. I focused on working in a coffee shop, but really can these steps can be applied to working from anywhere. And if you work and travel the world, you’ll be working from all sorts of places you never thought of!
Be sure to grab my free my remote working guide. You can keep on you as you travel around so you can always find the best coffee shop.
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