Coffee Shops: The Worst Place to Work From as a Creative

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Being a freelancer, I used to love going to coffee shops and working away there. It seemed convenient at first, as there were plenty of like-minded people doing freelancer things. Little did I know that by going to coffee shops, I was actually harming my productivity.  

If you Google freelancer and go to pictures, it won’t take long to find a stock photo of a millennial sitting in a coffee shop at a laptop, doing some work. This stereotypical image is what most people see freelancers as. While that’s great for the amount of “local coffee shops supporting local artists,” it is actually pretty bad for the people inside. The coffee shop is originally designed to be a social space where you meet people, take breaks, and enjoy being social, not the opposite. Coffee shops are a great place to socialize, but not such a great place to get productive work done. Even then, most of the time, a meeting is unnecessary. I believe it was Tim Ferris in his book “4-Hour Work Week” who said to cut all unnecessary meetings. In this article, I collected some reasons why you should get out of the coffee shop as soon as possible.

Expensive

If you read my previous articles, you may know that I am not a fan of unnecessary spending. The markup on coffee varies from place to place, but one thing is true: it is often huge. The same cup of cappuccino could’ve cost you way less and probably would also taste better. Let us do some math. Every day you go to a coffee shop, you will probably end up drinking 1-2 cups of coffee, at $3-4 a cup, and have a sandwich, which is another $3-4. Overall, you are easily looking at a $6-12 spend a day. While it seems like not a significant sum, these things add up, and in a regular 5-day week, you will spend $60 just for coffee shops, which in a month, will amount to $240. No matter how much you make as a freelancer, spending such a large amount of money on coffee should set off some alarm bells ringing. Even when the price per cup is relatively low, depending on your city, a simple espresso can be as high as $5 or more. Simply taking into account your coffee spending, you can save up to $2,880 a year and spend it on improving your photography.

Distracting

Coffee shops are notoriously difficult to work in if you don’t have good noise cancellation headphones with fairly loud music playing. I don’t know about you, but I find it extremely hard to concentrate in loud environments. Just being able to cut out the surrounding noise has a hugely positive effect on my productivity. That said, you will still be distracted by everything around you, from loud kids to loud music in the cafe to the sound of coffee grinders. Oh, and make sure that there is a way to keep your eyes from wandering off to distractions and that nobody bumps your chair as well or spills their drink on you. After such a day of “working,” you are likely to get way less done and feel dissatisfied with your progress.

Unprofessional

Being in the era of zoom, it is not uncommon to see people taking calls from a cafe. Besides the fact that it is loud and hard to do the meeting, it just looks unprofessional. It sounds counterintuitive, but someone who takes calls with a plain white background sitting in a shirt and underwear will appear more professional than someone who wears a full suit but takes calls from a coffee shop. It just sends a message that you don’t really care about the other person and it is more important for you to be in your coffee shop than in a private meeting space with your interlocutor. Perhaps this depends on the office culture you are in, but I can’t imagine hopping on a creative call from a place where the whole conversation can be overheard.  

Strangers

A separate part has to be dedicated to overly social or sensitive strangers. One case stands out: I was told that I type too loud. Sure, a decade of piano may have made my fingers press harder than most people. What surprised me what that it was not anything else that was distracting in the place, everything else but my typing was fine. Not the coffee grinder, not the loud high-schoolers, not anything else. Another one has to be when people casually look at what you’re doing and start commenting on it. While it is great in terms of making friends, it is counterproductive when it comes to getting actual work done. 

Lacking Resources

While coffee shops might have great coffee and food, they lack other things a good office needs. Even though most freelancers need only a laptop to work, they still may want to plug it in, use a desk lamp, have a few hard drives, and perhaps even a mouse — all of this on a nice desk in a comfortable chair. While it is fine to get a few hours done in such a setup, it is not viable long-term. Having a good desk setup also increases productivity, meaning that you can make more money per unit of time while increasing the pleasure you get from working.

Wi-Fi is another problem in coffee shops. Due to the large number of people using it, uploading and downloading content will be largely impossible. If you ever tried to upload 10-20 images to WeTransfer on Starbucks Wi-Fi and succeeded, I want to know your secret.

Closing Thoughts

So, unless you are looking for an unproductive way of socializing at a high cost, coffee shops should be the last place to get work done. Perhaps I am easily distracted and greedy, but it just seems so unprofessional and counterproductive to me.

With all of this in mind, I do sometimes work in a coffee shop when I have to, just like I work on a plane, train, and even while commuting. There is no excuse for not working in a space that has the bare minimum, but I will not settle for the bare minimum in the long-term.





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