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Forget working from home: why coffee shops are the key to freelance success

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When former speech therapist turned blogger Sara Tasker, of the lifestyle blog Meandorla.co.uk, gave up her full-time job she assumed that she would relish the opportunity to work from the comfort of her kitchen table. However, as the reality of everyday life got in the way, she turned to cafes for an alternative office and found she was much more productive for it. Here she explains why heading to your favourite coffee shop could be the best thing you do all day.

I write this sitting in a cafe. I’ve been here a couple of hours already; through the mid-morning lull and the lunchtime crowd. I’m on my third hot drink and halfway down my to-do list. 

When I first became self-employed I envisioned joyful days of pyjamas and sofas; a merry mental montage of me chewing pen-tops and ticking to-do lists over steaming coffee at my kitchen table.

The reality was different. Surrounded by the distractions and detritus of everyday life, my attention would invariably wander. I’ll just wash those dishes first; I’ll just feed the cat. The irrepressible urge to nap descended daily at 3pm and I was powerless to resist its call. At one point I even bought a CO2 detector, convinced it was the house itself making me sleepy – only to discover that it was, in fact, my own inherent laziness at play.

Shit was not getting done, and I was becoming increasingly cabin-feverish. With only the hum of the fridge to distract me, I began to converse loudly with my own self-doubt: 'I’m not in the right frame of mind for this', 'Who do I think I am, anyway?'

Cafe working

And so one day I packed my bag, drove 40 miles and sat in a favourite city cafe. The difference was immediate; up and dressed for the outside world (admittedly, in leggings, but a step up from pyjamas nevertheless), my working day began as my first Americano hit the table. Faced with the choice to do nothing or work, I worked – worked incessantly, worked without break, so my drink cooled and I forgot to order lunch.

Surrounded by the hum of cafe life – the hiss of the milk foamer, the background chatter of people’s lives – I found myself lulled into a creative and productive state of mind.

I’m not alone in this, either; visit any city-centre cafe on a weekday and you’ll find dozens of others doing just the same. There’s even an app now to simulate the white-noise of coffee shops for at-home cafe productivity. Apparently it works, too – but I’m not sure anything could fully match the power of the coffee house.

Perhaps it’s the smell of the coffee; the air lightly laced with caffeine and conversation. There’s a wonderful sort of anonymous social contact gained from a day in a cafe; the short exchanges with serving staff, the moments tuned in to other people’s gossip. As an introvert, this suits me – it distracts both me and my inner critic just enough to get stuff done, without causing me to lose focus.

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There are other benefits, too. Overheard snippets of conversation spark ideas and inspiration.

The decor and ambiance of each cafe is different, and so I can choose what sort of ‘lifestyle’ I want immerse myself in for my work that day. I’m never low on #fromabove Instagram coffee photographs, and as a mother of a toddler, the luxury of having somebody bring me hot drinks and leaving me to enjoy them undisturbed cannot be overstated. 

Yes, of course, it would be cheaper to stay home. The coffee is free there and there’s no commute, but losing a whole day’s work and my sanity at my kitchen table winds up being a much higher price than a sandwich and a couple of cups of tea.

It’s a life hack, and it works: more productivity, more fluids and more inspiration – and all to a quiet background track of folk acoustic hipster music.

And if that setting also offers a selection of cake to beat the 3pm energy drop? Well then, that’s all the better.

cafe working coffee

Top tips for working in cafes:

1.  Choose the right cafe. Somewhere spacious that is rarely completely full, has free Wi-Fi and a positive vibe is a good place to start.

2.  There’s a ratio of acceptable sitting-to-ordering time, and it’s worth figuring this out. One drink every 1.5 hours and a meal midway works well. And tip well, however much you’re spending.

3.  Pick a small table – don’t take up seating they could use for a bigger group over lunch.

4.  Be visible. You’ll help attract other customers in during quiet periods if they can see there’s somebody inside.

5.  Mix it up. I have a repertoire of around 6 cafes I favour, and tend to visit different ones depending on my mood, what sort of inspiration I need, and where I feel I’ve overstayed my welcome lately!

6.  If you’ve got writing to do, consider a cafe without Wi-Fi, or don’t ask for the password. No Twitter or Stylist to distract you.

7.  If you’re using a laptop, charge it up at home first. Plugging in is OK, but make it the exception instead of the norm.

8.  If in doubt, ask. A polite ‘would it be OK if I sat and got some work done here today?’ with your first order is a perfectly reasonable question – and I’ve never had a negative response.

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