If you’re engaged in any type of creative vocation, cultivating a good café work routine is almost a necessity. Whether you’re a screenwriter in Los Angeles, trying to emulate Hemingway in Paris, or a nomadic entrepreneur/writer such as myself, one cannot overstate the benefits to finding a good local coffeehouse in which to turn on, plug in, and get some serious work done.
It’s not easy; Facebook, friends, texts, and all manner of external and internal distractions threaten to impede on your progress at any moment. But when you approach these diversions with the right attitude—keeping in mind that, pleasant though they may sometimes be, they are diversions—it becomes easier to triumph over them.
This article has been gestating in the back of my consciousness for some time, and I write as much to amuse and inspire the reader (or so I hope) as I do to make sure I remember these things myself. And, at the risk of being labeled an incorrigible, anti-social prick, here’s my take on how to get more work done in a cafe:
Find your local
Though it is acceptable to have a few frequent haunts, in my experience it’s best to have one primary “local” café in which to work. To be labelled a good work cafe, in my book, it’s best to have at least three of the following attributes:
1.) Close to home
When hangovers, rainy and cold weather, and other deterrents are compelling you to either stay in bed, or halfheartedly “work from home” (which, let’s be honest, is harder than working in a cafe) it’s best if your local is a short distance away. It becomes harder to justify taking a day off if the only thing keeping you from getting some good work done is a five minute walk.
2.) Good, strong coffee
This isn’t essential (coffee snob though I may be), but a bold dark roast goes a long way to getting off on the right foot work-wise. I take my coffee black, the stronger the better, because it’s both delicious and makes me feel like a bit of a bad-ass as I settle into my laptop. I feel like the late John Wayne would have a little more respect for me, even with my pink shirt, flip-flops, bermuda shorts, and shiny MacBook, if he could only peer into my cup.
3.) Tall enough tables, and comfortable chairs
For obvious reasons. I’m sure my posture is not as good as it could be purely based on the fact that I’ve widdled away several thousand hours of my life in ergonomically-sub-par coffeehouses.
4.) Pleasant, though not distracting, ambience
A bit of non-intrusive music is nice, as long as it’s not too loud. The staff should give you a smile when you walk in the door, but not want to talk your ear off. (Bonus points if they know your drink without you having to tell them.) An intermittent stream of attractive passersby is also pleasant, but again—there’s a balance to be struck. There should be the odd head-turning beauty, but not an endless barrage of head-turners. If your local is located next door to a modelling agency, or in the Parque Lleras district of Medellín, Colombia, you run the risk of getting both whiplash, and not nearly enough work done. I write from experience.
Which brings me to another crucial point: do not, under any circumstances, enter any kind of intimate relationship/romantic entanglement with cafe employees. Just trust me on this.
Bring some F- Off headphones
This is one of the best-kept secrets to dominating work in a cafe, particularly if you live in a small-town where you know everyone, or are part of a tight-knit creative community.
F- Off headphones are not earbuds; they’re big, closed-ear, beastly things, the type of ear-gear you’re more likely to see in a recording studio than on the subway. And while they can be expensive, heavy in your bag, and cumbersome to carry around, the benefits are twofold.
One, a good pair will block out most outside noise and allow you to delve deep into your work and/or background music, and two, if someone you know walks in, your headphones (should) convey the message that you’re not up for a lengthy conversation. You came here to work and avoid distraction, as the FO ‘phones make plain.
Now and then, a short chat with a friend can be a refreshing hiccup in your work flow, but remember: you are in a cafe to be productive, not social. And keeping a pair of intimidating ear-cans either on your head, or your table, will limit the chances that your friend will linger for too long. There are, of course, limits to their efficacy in this regard if the person you’re dealing with is particularly obtuse, and/or blind to basic social cues, but, more often than not, FO headphones send a clear message.
Turn off your phone
Unless your work, in that moment, is dependent on maintaining constant connection to the outside world, turn the damned thing off. You may be surprised to feel briefly liberated upon doing so, and believe me: your work will benefit. The human mind did not evolve so that you can concurrently focus on work, as well as a beeping, buzzing, pinging, vibrating contraption containing all manner of friends, news, gossip, and validation.
Turn off your browser
Again, unless you need it for work. And even if your name is Mark Zuckerberg, don’t fool yourself into thinking you “need” to be connected to Facebook all day as part of your work. You don’t.
Remember your purpose
If you find yourself getting distracted, taking frequent or overlong breaks, or become mired in existential despair, remember your purpose. Remember why you’re there. Remember what you’re doing.
You came here to work.
Not to socialize, not to feel sorry for yourself, not to check in on your friends, and not to play footsies with the cutie sitting opposite you. Of course, take a quick break when you feel you need one, say a quick hello (keeping your FO headphones on hand) to a friend, indulge in the odd brownie. But keep your purpose in the forefront of your consciousness, always, and you will train yourself to limit distraction. Your brain will start to do the real work of cultivating discipline, settling into a good, natural routine, and focusing on creativity, rather than consumption.
Believe it or not, I like people very much. But as much as I enjoy being social, at the same time it will come as no surprise to the reader that I am, fundamentally, an introvert. And, like most creative-types, I feel most relaxed, happy, and freely social in the evening only after I’ve accomplished a solid amount of meaningful, solitary work during the day.
When I retire for the night I can sleep soundly with the knowledge that I stayed committed to my purpose for another day; in my case, being a writer who writes, unlike my former charlatan self who called himself a “writer” without actually putting many words on the page.
There is no greater feeling than going to bed at night feeling like you made the best possible use of your day. And, for me, getting some good work done in my local is crucial for attaining that satisfaction.