Why Working in Coffee Shops Works

Grab your computer or your art materials and get thee to a coffee shop.
Vivian Helena wrote to ask why:

You mentioned going to a coffee shop to “work.” I have several friends that do this.. How do you concentrate with everything going on? I can create at home for many days with out a care in the world. Am curious why so many seem go to busy areas with their computers.

Artist Barbara McKee shared how/why she paints at coffee shops in this post. Now I'll tell you how and why I work in coffee shops.

Computer at Coffee Shop
My coffee shop desk at Higher Grounds in Golden, Colorado.

4 Reasons To Leave Home

  1. The main reason that I go to coffee shops is for a change of scenery. I have a home office, so I'm in that house most of my life. A new space gives me fresh perspective. I feel better. When I feel better, I'm more productive.
  2. People! The coffee shop is a community. I know my baristas by name, but I don't know anyone else in the joint. Still, we're together. I'm no longer alone, but part of the big, colorful, amazing world we live in. And it's kind of good that I don't know others because it keeps me from chatting with them.
  3. My home office has 3 cats, piles of paper, mail, ringing phones, and doorbells begging for my attention.
  4. At home, I get caught up in answering email and shuffling paper. The minute I head to the coffee shop, there is a mental switchover from “I'm in my office to work” to “I'm going to the coffee shop to write.” I don't go to coffee shops to just to work. I go with a single purpose: to write my newsletter, blog posts, and other content. Much of I'd Rather Be in the Studio was written in my favorite coffee shop.

White Noise

Sure, coffee shops have their own distractions. Sometimes there are especially loud people – like the guy that sat in the center of the shop about halfway through the draft of this post right next to me. Or the woman who is here now and finds it necessary to talk with someone two tables away. (See “ear buds” below.) Or the person who, I swear, didn't hesitate sharing her credit card number on a cell phone call.
But a full coffee shop provides just the right level of white noise, which is more conducive to certain kinds of writing and working than silence.

Necessary Gear

If you're going to work at a coffee shop on your computer, I suggest packing the following:

  • Ear buds. For reasons mentioned above, don't forget ear buds that you can plug into your favorite music to work to.
  • Mouse. I'm not a fan of using the built-in pad on my Mac. I have a compact mouse that I take everywhere with me. It's the only Microsoft product I don't gripe about. I'm on my second one and will be heartbroken if they ever quit making them.
  • Computer. You know.
  • Notebook. Because sometimes you just need paper.

Be sure to order water with your coffee so you hydrate!

Go With a Purpose

You could use the coffee shop just to get out of the office or studio. You could check email or Facebook. But I discourage you from wasting your time with these at coffee shops.
You will get a lot more accomplished if you know why you're going in the first place.
Coffee shop time is sacred time. It's my most productive content-generating time of all.
And, yes, this post was written first as a draft in the coffee shop and then later edited at the same café.
Do you work at coffee shops? What did I forget?

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52 thoughts on “Why Working in Coffee Shops Works”

  1. I use my in-town studio for what you use your coffee shop for. I could never use my coffee shop for work because it is delightfully like a town hall where everyone goes to chat and visit and start the day. Our shop is an excellent place for me to pick up some rocket fuel and interact with other human beings that I know and love before diving into writing & planning. It is vital for me to step away from the clothes line (I adore hanging out the wash), my tea kettle, and clay to get planing and writing done.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Susan: I guess that’s a little different. I sometimes run into someone I know there, but they also know I’m working and not to disturb.
      Sounds like the coffee shop might be a great place for you to do some social media interaction, too, something that doesn’t require lots of concentration.

  2. Hi Alyson,
    I have only rarely written my blog from a coffee shop, since I live so far away from one. However, I live out in the beautiful and peaceful countryside, where there’s an immense vista for me to concentrate on or use as “white noise” if I choose.
    My studio however is on the West side of the building and when I write my blog posts early in the morning, prefer to be located on the East side so I can watch the sunrise. So I pack up my laptop and take it into the living room and plop down right in front of the window that looks out into the field of willows, spruce trees and the sunrise.
    I’ve put up several bird feeders and humming bird feeders at the two windows to the East and North, so I can bird watch as I’m typing and open the windows so I can hear the tweeting of the goldfinches and robins and also hear the hum of the hummingbirds as they take the nectar from the feeder. This chirping, whistling and humming is my “white noise” and never ceases to amaze and amuse me while writing my blog posts.
    Signing off from the beautiful and peaceful area of northern eastern Minnesota only an hour south of the Canadian border, very near Lake Vermilion.
    The Wicker Woman–Cathryn Peters

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Aha! I think I had that in my original draft, but edited it out.
      For me: peppermint latte. Something I can’t make at home.

  3. I’ve never brought my laptop to a coffee shop for work. However, it occurs to me that doing so could be a bit of subtle marketing, especially for those of us who live in small towns and know many of the people who would be there.
    I can almost hear the conversation; Whatcha doin? is a lead-in to a conversation about my blog, updating my website, or organizing my art files – all of which I could actually be doing!
    Like you, Alyson, my office and studio are at home. Getting out more is something I will work on. Your post is a good reminder that just because I’m not in my workspace doesn’t mean I’m not working.

  4. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I do something similar with several different restaurants around town. I often take a sketchbook, notebook and other reference books and have long, two hour sit down lunches by myself to work out all kinds of new ideas and problem solve. I find it incredibly relaxing and it helps me to open up and really think, instead of worrying about all the tasks to get done at my home office or studio.
    In fact, most of the titles for the artworks in my last several shows were created at a restaurant, not in my studio.

  5. I love working on my photo journals and website, and sometimes taking photos, in my favorite coffee shops. Besides providing a much needed change of scenery, the atmosphere is invigorating. I find the light, colors, textures, and smells comforting and inspiring at the same time.
    Only a few things I’d add, one of which is to please be considerate of other customers and the coffee shop personnel. Don’t take up an entire 4-top table if it’s busy, keep your belongings together instead of scattered across the floor and tables, and chairs clean up after yourself, don’t take up space for hours on one cup of coffee, etc…
    The other thing I’d add occurred to me awhile back. During a quick coffee shop visit I overheard the following: “I really want somewhere to work outside of my house but I don’t want to have to pay for coffee all day long so I can stay.” What to do? Try your local library–it’s the original hipster thing to do! Depending on your library there should be free wifi, study/reading areas, and some even have little coffee shops. Word of warning: Libraries have all sorts of summer reading programs going on right now, so they might not be the ideal environment if you need peace and quiet!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Jamie: Your point about 4-top tables is a good one. What I do when I have a 4-top is keep an eye out for people who need a place to sit and offer them the extra space at my table.

  6. Victoria Pendragon

    I adore writing in coffee shops…though tea is my drink of choice.
    It’s not just the change of scenery, which I enjoy, but the white noise effect which I find curiously stimulating to my brain. Writing poolside – before I eschewed quite so much exposure – also worked beautifully for me. Sometimes with feet actually in the pool! Extra good.
    I especially like sketching in outdoor cafes as well for the same reasons.
    Libraries don’t have anywhere near the same effect on me…more like being at home…too quiet.

  7. I go to the same artisan bakery/café where I did the mural last year. I go when it isn’t crowded and I bring a sketch pad and pencils, writing pads and pens, and I wear my bead work. I tend to go when it’s not crowded and then I work with a nice coffee of some kind, a couple slices of his honey wheat bread and olive oil or butter. I try to do this once a week at least. It is my treat for getting away from being a primary family caregiver even more than a work place alternative, but I can do both (usually).

  8. I enjoy the coffee shop routine to keep up to date on my Facebook fan page, answer e-mails, and post to my blog. I do have trouble focusing in on anything more substantial than these things. Instead of fighting the urge to eavesdrop or ogle some fashion faux pas, I embrace my people watching tendencies. I gave up television about 6 years ago, so I really enjoy a good hour of watching reality in the real world, not how some producers and writers see the world. As with any artistic practice though, the coffee shop is what I make of it!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Nate: It sounds like coffee shops are visually stimulating for you – and, therefore, your art.

  9. Loved this article Alyson–especially the part about being specific on the agenda for heading to the coffee shop–it does block everything else out. Working out of the home has its own set of perils for sure—I’m a two cat mama myself (plus one dog;)) The reminder to head out is refreshing!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Dreama: The focused agenda is probably the most important piece to all of this. Without it, you end up doing the same thing you were doing at home.
      I KNOW you understand the pet issue!

  10. Working in coffee shops is a great way to refresh yourself and your work. However, aside from the “office” work, the sights, sounds and ambiance of a good neighbourhood gathering spot can sharpen your drawing skills! I like to work in a coffee shop with portable watercolour sketchbook. GREAT way to loosen up, work on gestural drawings and strike up a conversation. Folks are always curious when an artist is at work.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Absolutely! And that link to the Barbara McKee post has a photo of her painting in coffee shops.

  11. I am all for getting out of the house/office and getting some work done over a nice cappuccino! A change of scenery makes all the difference sometimes. I love that folks in this comment thread use it as an opportunity to chat with people about their work.
    In many cities around the world (mine included), there is a coffee shop alternative – coworking spaces. Here in Oklahoma City, we have the okcCoCo (short for Coworking Collaborative), which you can learn more about at okccoco.com.
    Coworking is perfect for when you need a little more quiet or elbow-room to focus on work, but don’t need the hassle of maintaining your own office. Many companies are maintaining memberships for employees to work in coworking spaces part-time. I’ve found the okcCoCo to be a wonderful place to meet smart, interesting people, and it’s opened up unexpected opportunities to talk about my work. Oh, and there’s coffee!
    Find a coworking space near you at http://wiki.coworking.info/w/page/29303049/Directory
    Who’s ready for another cup?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Sarah: Yes! Thank you for mentioning this. I’m thinking of a guest post. Want to write one on coworking spaces?

  12. We showed for 4 years in a row, just us, at our nearby cafe…It was in the best location & got 150 people a day at least…We were also there almost every day…We got to know basically everyone in the neighbourhood that way…It began in the same way-I used to hang out there to work…Years later a new owner has opened up there…As I chatted with her, she said she would love to have my art up on her walls…I declined(probably stupidly)…But the offer is almost an inevitable if you frequent a cafe with wall space…

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Aha! So another benefit to working in coffee shops would be that you could get a show there. Nice point, Sari.

  13. I did this during a residency because there was no internet where I stayed. Twice a week I’d travel to a nearby town and use their wifi to write blog posts, answer email, etc. It was a great way to concentrate on those jobs & enjoy a delicious drink for a few hours. I think I’ll give it a try here in my hometown since my studio & office are both in my home…along with the distractions that entails. Something similar that I do is to work the “slow” shifts at our coop gallery, although I’m always excited for visitors there can also be hours spent alone to get things accomplished while I am there. Internet access, iTunes and a list of computer-related chores or a portable art project to work on makes the time go fast. Too fast somedays, I end up staying late just to work in the peaceful atmosphere!

  14. An artist, I find endless subject matter in the coffee shop. Plus it’s air-conditioned – which my studio is not. I don’t own a laptop, but watercolors, pens and pencils are equally transportable.

  15. I’m an artist, writer, coach and I live on a very large ranch. I love it, but I find the isolation a bit much. I was having satellite internet problems, so I’d go to a coffee shop, or the library. The library was as noisy, or more so, than the coffee places! I find that I am more productive with a tight frame in which to accomplish what I need to do, and I love meeting new people. Heading out to have coffee and catch up this afternoon! BTW, JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter in a coffee shop! I’m all for it!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Teresa: Ha! Those librarians weren’t walking around ssshhhh-ing everyone?
      Oh, and thanks for the Rowling mention. Good to be reminded of those things.

  16. You make working in the coffee shop sound wonderful! I’ve brought my sketch pad into Rock City Cafe a couple of times. It was fun to have live models and no one seemed to mind. I tried to be inconspicuous. I’m inspired by your post to go back soon.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Beth: Be sure to read that link to the post about Barbara McKee painting in coffee shops. Why be inconspicuous?

  17. I love working in the local pub! It’s fairly quiet in the afternoons but I go with a specific job (finish that file, do my blogs, etc) and it’s a change of scenery. Since I work at home again going to the coffee shop is also a way to get a 10-15 minute walk into my day.
    When I visit in the US my parents have historically had ridiculously slow internet, dial up until only a couple years ago! Since I don’t drive and they were at work all day I would go to the only place in walking distance, Starbucks, for a break and to get more work done. They used to do free internet if you topped up a Starbucks card – which worked great for me since I tend to visit for a few weeks so can easily fund a card. So coffee shop was a mobile office while travelling for me!

  18. Dan(papadan)Fussell

    I have always worked alone. This article gives me new insight into the potentials of working in a situation with others around. I will try it. Thanks,

  19. What a good idea! I work full time as a customer rep answering the phone all day. I take my sketch book and work on my drawings when it slows down. I also need to get a laptop and try out the coffee shop/cafe. Thanks Alyson for all your great ideas.

  20. Hi Alyson,
    Thanks for this timely suggestion. I went to the coffee shop today and wrote 4 blog entries. That may not seem like a lot, but for me it equals the total number of blog entries ever written, so it was a huge coup! I had no idea how distracted I was by my own studio. The paint, the images, the unfinished work are total attention-grabbers, not to mention the kids and the housework. A coffee shop’s action was just what I needed to get the blogs done, now I need to make it a regular thing. Best, Elaine

  21. Hmmm, I went to our local coffee shop this morning to buy some coffee beans. I never thought of staying there to write for my color class. I wonder if I would be more efficient…?? I will have to give it a try.

  22. Hi Alyson,
    Good post. There is a restaurant that I go to about once a month for breakfast and I sit and the bar with sketchbook in hand. The restaurant is artsy and fun with lots of color and plenty of art on the wall. I can knock out a few sketches, get in a good meal, and converse with the waitress behind the bar and my seatmates. Overall just a pleasant experience and a nice way to start a Saturday morning.

  23. I have just finished a two hour session in a coffee shop and I worked my tail off! Thank you for planting the idea in my mind–it seemed so natural to drive here today to do this! My laptop battery is at 10% and the need to made dinner for the family calls…thanks Alyson!

  24. Pingback: How To Plan Your Perfect Art Studio in 11 Steps « Donna Branch

  25. To the previous commenter: Sundays are the busiest day on the internet…Saturdays a little less…It usually starts late Thursday & Friday gets slower…If you need to get work done try it mostly Mondays to Thursday morn…Weekends are full of casual surfers, so get your important internet stuff done before the rush…Kind of like weekend cottage traffic…

  26. Pingback: Working from third places: Boost for creativity? | CityWorkLife

  27. Pingback: Top Coffee s | Rebecca Coleman | Social Media Marketing

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