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Three days out of every week, I drive 40 miles back to the city. It’s partly because we want Orla to stay at her brilliant, please-be-my-mother childminder, but partly also because I just really like to work in cafes.

Generally, people’s reactions upon hearing of my cafe-loitering will fall into one of two camps: either they think I’m completely crazy, or crazily self-indulgent. & Hey, it’s possible they’re right.

That first response comes mainly from the older generation – my mother and grandmother, for example, whose entire notion of cafes involves plastic tablecloths & ‘greasy spoons’. ‘I bet they get annoyed with you sitting there all day‘ my Grandmother tuts in disapproval.No matter how many times I explain about free wifi, empty afternoon lulls and all the other people doing exactly the same as me, she shakes her head and vocally disapproves. [sidenote: I recently asked my Grandmother for her email address. ‘I don’t know!’ she said, ‘can’t you just look it up?’. Also, this note ??]

But it’s the latter response where I suspect the majority of opinions lie. Honestly, it’s where my own probably falls most of the time – cafes, home of cakes & overpriced coffee and lovely, rainy day ambience! Who wouldn’t love to spend the day there? Isn’t it just ravingly pretentious to lounge in brew bars all day when I’ve a perfectly good desk waiting at home?
What I’ve come to accept is that working from cafes is essential – to my productivity, my gainful employment and maybe most of all, to my mental health.

I cannot work at home. When I tell people this I like to cite all the usual reasons – laundry distractions, the temptation to nap…
These things are real and true, but in my case, they aren’t really the issue at play. The truth is, working from home gives me too much solitude. When it’s just me and my thoughts, my inner critic becomes increasingly chatty until I’m lost in a spiral of doubt, fear and self-loathing. Everything I do is awful. There’s no point even trying to do anything right.

Sometimes I’ll have such a lot on that, despite all of the above, I’ll ask Rory to take Orla out on a Saturday so I can work. Unfailingly, every time, I will call him after several hours in/close to hysterical tears, begging him to come back. I feel broken, both by my negative spiral of doom, plus the added guilt of achieving entirely nothing in the time R has made free for me. He’s so supportive, and I repay him by endlessly refreshing Twitter and picking at the ingrowing hairs in my legs for a day!

When I’m not home alone, however, I can work pretty well – when Orla is having a dance show in the living room, or popping in every ten minutes to invite me to play. My ideal home working environment is a group of people in the living room drinking tea, with me hiding away upstairs, lying foetal in bed with my laptop. I don’t know why this is, but I suspect it’s linked to the same pattern that means I can write most fluently and articulately whilst driving at 70mph, unable to write a single word; Why the best, most beautiful photographs occur to me when I’m trapped under a sleeping toddler and the sun is slipping behind the horizon for the day. Something about the constraints of real life make me more creative, and it’s confusing and fascinating and very, very infuriating.

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cafes also provide excellent instagram opportunities

So, I work from cafes. In cafes I am miraculously sane – Julian, my inner critic (yes he has a name, doesn’t yours?) stays mercifully silent, and though not quiiite as inspiring as a motorway drive, I find it’s a pretty good place to think.
In fact, in cafes I’m so focussed and productive that I often, ridiculously, forget to eat. I work so incessantly that I neglect to change positions frequently enough and get random pains in my back and neck. My coffee goes cold as I bash away, and so I order another, and that goes cold too.
This is such stark contrast to what happens when I try to work from home that I don’t mind the added cost. Yes, the coffee is free at home, but when I’m losing a whole day’s work and ALL my self-belief, it actually winds up being pretty expensive.

So for three days a week, I get up early, I sit in unnecessary traffic burning uncessessary fuel, and work in one of a dozen or so nearby cafes. I visit different places on different days, depending on my mood, what work I have on, or the kind of ‘fix’ I need.
Because cafes are a strange sort of self-medication, I’ve discovered – the scruffy student bar inspires different things to the shiny, on trend city-centre coffee shop. The different music & sounds & smells all trigger different responses in my brain, or something, and I find I’m much more able to immerse myself in whatever I need to create that day.

Ok, I still feel self-indulgent – I’m pretty sure any office with an unending supply of cake and a quiet soundtrack of William Fitzsimmons/Damien Rice would make me feel that way – & I guess I’m still figuring out how to be entirely ok with how much less ‘worthy’ my new life/work is. But it’s a life hack, or a productivity one, and I’m all about encouraging people to go with what works.

For me, that just happens to be cake. I guess I’m just naturally blessed. ??

Where do you find you’re most productive? Do you think I protest too much? 😉

21 Comments

  • one tiny leap

  • January 15, 2016

I love this post SO much! It’s everything I think and feel, and so glad to have read this. It’s strange, but true that at home I achieve about nothing, and when in a café I get everything done at light-speed. Thanks for sharing x

  • Emma

  • December 22, 2015

if truth be know I am the worst shop keeper, but it does give me some where that isn’t home from where I can write and edit my photos. Occasionally I sell stuff, sometimes to my surprise quite a lot of stuff. But really I’m just there because I like to watch the world go by and write my blog. It’s cheaper than an office and I don’t have to pay for the coffee.

  • Dixiezetha

  • December 11, 2015

It’s EXACTLY how I feel! I find working in a cafe is so much more effective, and I always work better there.

  • Skye O'Neill

  • December 10, 2015

I struggle to work from home too and always have, even as a student. For me, it’s the laundry and the chores etc, but I agree that being around other people somehow takes the edge off. I wonder if perhaps work (especially creative or original work) comes easiest when we take the pressure off by being somewhere not associated with “work” – a place whose primary purpose is something entirely different? Somehow that allows us the freedom to just play around and not take things so seriously, especially if we have a tendency to be overly self-critical.

  • Jessica Rose

  • December 10, 2015

I’ve never worked in a cafe but I always wonder what the cafe owners think if you sit there nursing the same coffee for two hours!! Do they not try to move you along?? I remember me and my sister trying to find a place to sit in a coffee house not long ago and it was full. So off we went, came back an hour later and the same people were sitting in the same place and their cups were empty. Me and my sister where hungry!!! I’m thinking…Move!! ;))

  • Kate Bilby

  • December 09, 2015

Oh my the inner critic which destroys all productivity…I know him well. This post feels like you’ve given voice to something which has been niggling away at me for some time.

A new area, the difficulties of making friends and a hard fought for, but latterly hard loathed, home working lifestyle have all led to me struggling to “create” in my own way, and feeling guilty about needing to base myself somewhere other than home or a soulless office to work.

I need to let go of the feeling “I have it too good” by being able to work like this and embrace it for what it is self indulgent cafe working and all.

Now I’m going to scare that inner angry voice away with some belated christmas cake baking and come back to writing a pithy meaningful strategy later with a glass of wine and an air of thankfulness instead of defeat.

  • woodenwindowsills

  • December 09, 2015

When I was at university I used to love working from cafes, which is unfortunately not something you can do so easily whilst working in an office environment. I’d quite like to work from home, to be able to choose the time I start and finish as long as I get a set number of hours done each day would be blissful. Alice xx

http://www.woodenwindowsills.co.uk

  • Sara Tasker

  • December 09, 2015

I feel the same! Thank goodness you commented and stopped me worrying if I’d just accidentally given away an undiagnosed mental condition! haha!
I’m definitely on the introvert side, and you’re so right – I love how eavesdropping on other people’s chats satisfies the social part of my brain without me having to put any actual effort in! I think there’s something in the fact that I have to get dressed & brush my hair to go there, too – if I stay at home, it’s easy to be stay in pyjamas and feel grotty.
Love the idea of revising in cafes, and suspect I’d have enjoyed exams a lot more if that had occurred to me! Definitely genius x

  • Jerace Garcia

  • December 09, 2015

We had this discussion when I was still in school, in our humanities course and our teacher decided to ask about our study habits and most of the students in my class answered the same thing, we all have our own “productivity time”. Apparently there is no such thing (well according to some studies at that time, I don’t know why). Maybe because there are really “morning people” and “night owls”? Or because of habit too I guess.

  • Laura

  • December 09, 2015

Oh gosh, this made so much sense to me. Right down to ‘ringing husband in hysterical tears asking him to come home’. I did all the revision for my exams in cafes, for exactly the same reason, and everyone gives me disbelieving looks when I say that.

I think it works well for both introverts – because you don’t have to talk to people cafes, but you’re not alone – and extroverts like me, because you can sometimes talk to people in cafes and even if you don’t, you’re not alone. The distractions are something to concentrate against because my inner critic is loudest in silence (I love the idea of naming them, what a genius idea!) but it’s not noise I have to listen to. Oxford’s another place where lots of cafes are horribly crowded, but pick you time and location right, and they’re immensely rewarding to work in.

It’s so reassuring to hear it’s not just me, thank you!

  • Rebecca Anderson

  • December 09, 2015

I lived in Manchester for 13 years – mainly W Didsbury – so I know there are some great ones in your neck of the woods. I used to love going to the Woodstock or the met in the summer in the afternoon to work, they’re so big I could tuck myself into a corner easily. Chorlton and n quarter have some great ones too, although I feel that they may all be about 1000% too trendy for me now! I totally agree about the passive socialising – the best kind(!) – there’s something about being immersed in a sea – or small pond – of other people that is equal parts soothing and energising and allows me to focus. I think it’s partly that the places I would work here are either too bar-ish or they shut too early – I like to get my ‘must do at home today’ work done first and then get out, and I just haven’t got my timing right with that set up! I had a year in Belfast in between Manchester and returning to Edinburgh, and because of their very specific licensing laws, they have it just right – for me, at any rate. Lots of cafes open from dawn til late, I loved it! Have you seen the slightly ludicrous app, coffitivity? I kind of secretly love it.

  • Sara Tasker

  • December 09, 2015

Thanks Kathryn! It’s a relief to hear someone else has the same weekend apathy – such a strange phenomenon! I sometimes wonder if it’s partly just that I feel sad to be missing out on the lovely family times.
Cafes are a life saver for social interaction. As I’ve got familiar with the ones I frequent I’ve realised they all have a set of lonely, slightly quirky individuals who visit every day to keep themselves sane. It’s sad to think it’s necessary, but sort of wonderful that this network of coffee-filled hangouts exist 🙂 x

  • Sara Tasker

  • December 09, 2015

Hi Ola! Love your comment, thank you – you’re so right. My fiancee doesn’t really get the whole ‘spending time in a cafe’ thing – he likes to go in, drink his coffee and move on. I’m much more into the Starbucks vibe you describe. I’m so glad it changed to be this way! 🙂

  • Sara Tasker

  • December 09, 2015

Ah yes, the thought of sorting beads and delicate work in a cafe is a bit frightening! But I can definitely relate to getting out. I like how in cafes you can socialise passively; sometimes I’d rather just listen to someone else’s conversation than have my own. It’s less effort! ??
Do you think Edinburgh struggles for quiet cafes due to the student population? I’m lucky that in Manchester there’s quite a few, so if I feel too conspicuous in one I can mix it up for a few weeks afterwards 🙂 xx

  • Sara Tasker

  • December 09, 2015

Yes! Finding the right amount of daytime quiet (but not too much – I hate being the only customer all day!) is essential. Yes yes yes to ‘productivity time’! I really thought that was just me – why does this happen??

  • Sara Tasker

  • December 09, 2015

Hahaha! I don’t know why that doesn’t happen, as I’m usually that exact type too – but it doesn’t! Probably because I am too lazy to get up and order/walk to the shops, and prefer to stay in my chair at my internets ?? xx

  • kathrynsharman

  • December 09, 2015

Really interesting post. I totally get what you mean, when Greig takes the kids out at the weekend so i can work I immediately lapse into total apathy, miss them, feel guilty, waste time and then feel even more frustrated. I do manage to work a fair bit at home during the week but i also slip in a visit to a cafe most days: I need the physical break, the social interaction, not to mention the coffee and cake of course!!! Thanks again for a lovely honest post xx

  • Ola z Apetycznego Wnętrza

  • December 09, 2015

Dear Sara, that post are so good! I
like it! Some weeks ago, I read book about Starbucks success. All what I read
about it is true. We love spent time in cafe room. Smell, taste and cozy nooks
are good for work, friends meeting or a date. It is a place between our homes
and workplace, so I am not suprissed that you spent your jobday in cafe, is so
inspiring! 🙂 Grandmother and Mum opinion? I think this generation doesn’t
understand it, like it: „why do you spend so much money for coffee, if you can
do it by yourself at home for free?”. I live in Poland and maybe 10 years ago I
will not work at cafe, because it was „so expensive then” to go for a coffee, now
everythings changed and it is popular 🙂 have a nice day!

  • Rebecca Anderson

  • December 09, 2015

Totally agree with this! Although for me, it’s all about the lack of distraction and focus when I do a lot of work at home. I am a jewellery designer but I also sell beads, so there’s lots of my work I *have* to do at home and when I have a lot of that on, I start to crave getting out to a cafe to work! I’m a bit gutted that i haven’t found many since moving back to Edinburgh – they’re all too blooming busy so either jam packed so I can’t get a look in or I feel horribly conspicuous as I ram myself and my work in beside someone at a counter. The search continues!

  • Jerace Garcia

  • December 09, 2015

Yes, cafes are a must when it comes to productivity. From where I am living, the lesser known cafes are the best places to work. They let me hang around longer plus the peace and quiet I get is very good in stimulating creativity. There is also this I call “productivity time”. For me it is usually around 9 in the evening up to the wee hours. I don’t know why but I get so much done when the clock strikes at 9 PM.

  • Old Fashioned Susie

  • December 09, 2015

Yey for cafe working!! Although I’m yet to try it, when smallest is a bit older I’ll probably be joining you… But I’m entirely unsure if I’d just get distracted by cake and then what to order for lunch, and then I might just pop to that shop I passed on the way in. And then oops it’s time to get eldest from school ??

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