Why coffee shops are great places to write and work

There’s been a lot of conversation lately about how getting out of the traditional office helps your concentration and productivity. But it’s been more specific — just getting out of the traditional office isn’t enough. Apparently, heading home won’t work as well and taking a left to the nearest coffee shop. Even a simple Google search turned up these articles:

Why Ditching the Office Could Help You Be More Creative
[Replace shitty coffee shop chain name with “Coffee Shops”] May Help You Do Your Job Better
Study of the Day: Why Crowded Coffee Shops Fire Up Your Creativity
There are many others like it. Seems a few things might be going on here.

First, is everyone in agreement that coffee houses increase productivity. Well, it turns out, according to the Interwebs, they are. I had a hell of a time finding any dissension on this matter. Just a couple crazies on fringe forums and their main arguments seemed odd — either coffee is killing people, hipsters are killing people or productivity itself is killing people. Basically it all boiled down to killing.

Second, if coffee houses do increase productivity, why?

Could be the caffeine. I heard once that caffeine makes you swim faster. Maybe it’s the drug. Of course, wouldn’t that increase productivity wherever folks can get the drug? I remember there being coffee machines in the last offices I worked in. Crap coffee, but coffee. Maybe that’s they key — it has to be good coffee. But the second article above says the magic is even happening at Starbucks and few would agree that, after you strip away the cream and sugar you’re getting anything better than office coffee.

It must be the atmosphere. But what part is doing it for you?

Could be the bustle. So why not head to an emergency room? Well, folks who have looked at this seem to think it has more to do with the noise level and the type of noise than the action. Isolated action gets you the opposite result — decreased productivity. The place you work has to not only have a fairly steady come-and-go — no sudden, distracting peaks and valleys — but it also has to be noisy. And the noise has to be real noise, not loud music. Again, distraction. The noise has to be a general buzz — white noise. Or, as I’ve learned, brown noise. That’s the good stuff. It’s white noise without the hearing ruining high-end. All the shhhhhh without the khhhhhh, if you follow.

Though the studies touch on it, they seem to be focusing more on the coffee shop is rather than the important things it isn’t.

It ain’t the office. You don’t have the forced mix of different personalities. The atmosphere is changeable, if necessary. You also don’t have the boss or other coworkers popping in with their special projects. To seek out workers/coworkers, you need to apply more effort than simply standing up. You need to craft emails, copy and paste links. Then you have to hunt down the other party. Email, IM, call. The higher requirements better insure that you actually need the help in the first place. So the benefits are two-fold: you become a better thinker/problem solver because you will be more likely to face the fire or face more fire before you go groveling for help; and, as a result, you’ll have fewer distractions throughout the day.

It ain’t home. This, in my opinion, is a biggie. At home, you have couches, TVs, beds, bathtubs, back yards, undone laundry, messy floors and cluttered counter spaces. Everyone talks about the distractions of the home. It takes a Spartan to remain disciplined when you’re being constantly tempted away from your work to-do list. Getting out of the house insures a few other things: you to get dressed because you can’t be productive in your PJs — no, you can’t; you get fed because you know you’ll be out for a while; you get groomed because you have to show up in public.

Somewhat related to the last point, you’ll find — or I hope you don’t have to — that working from home tends to bring your crazy out. You become a dog, a homeless person, the couch itself. You HAVE to get out in order to avoid become nothing.

So it turns out there’s a recipe for a great remote work place.
coffee shoppe (not shitty)
1 cup of coffee (refillable)
1 steady loud buzz (avoid explosive interruptions)
Begin with a routine: emails, FB, etc. out of the way BEFORE starting the day ONLY
Limit acquaintances & set boundaries: Make friends if you must but train them to kindly leave you the hell alone once your head is down or your earbuds are in.
Take scheduled breaks: stretch, set break timers — when to go and when to come back, and go to the bathroom when you need to, for goodness sake. If you have to pee, you’re not at your best.

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