The Coffee Shop

The Coffee Shop

I start my mornings the same way each day – up at 5:45, shower, breakfast and coffee while I read the paper, then by 6:45 I’m at my desk and working. That is where I stay until about noon. During those hours my only goal is to keep moving, to outrun my internal critic and to not waste time.

By noon I’m hungry and in need of a break. After I eat my lunch there is only one thing that I am interested in: getting the hell out of the house. I’m happy and lucky to be able to work at home, to manage my own time and not have someone looking over my shoulder, but I can stand only so much time in the same environment where I sleep.

And so, in the afternoon I get out. My first destination is almost always a coffee shop, my second office that rotates locations depending on the number of coffee shops available within a 10-mile radius. I’ve spent most of the last four years in one of two cities in Oregon: Portland and Eugene. Both cities have many coffee shops to chose from, which is a blessing because I would feel silly if I showed up to the same coffee shop at the same time every single day.

I enjoy starting my afternoon in a coffee shop for three reasons – the caffeine boost, the change in scenery, and, most importantly, the people. I go to coffee shops to get work done, but it is the human interaction that makes my time spent there worthwhile. I miss the casual interactions with others that occur in most work environments, and the ability to build friendships over time from even a brief daily chat. But as I spend more and more time in coffee shops, and particularly the same few coffee shops, I’m seeing the same thing happen in that setting, though on a smaller scale. The more you frequent a particular coffee shop, the more often you see the same baristas. Eventually you might even exchange greetings by name, and have the briefest conversation prior to ordering, ever-vigilant about the line forming behind you as you chat. And less frequently (though still surprisingly often) you run into other patrons of that coffee shop on a regular basis, others that use that same location as a second, third, or fourth office.

In addition to that much-needed human interaction during the second half of my work day, doing my work in a public place such as a coffee shop has another benefit – it keeps me on task. If I remained in the comfort and privacy of my own home during the afternoon, it would be all to easy to spend hours on YouTube watching Jennifer Lawrence interviews, or any other time-suck that the internet provides. Yes, I could do that in a coffee shop, but the mere thought of a stranger noticing me doing that is enough motivation for me not to.

And I don’t think I’m being self-centered in thinking that others are paying attention to what I do in a coffee shop. I say that because I do watch what others do with their time in a coffee shop. One of my ongoing goals in life is simply to notice more, to pay attention to the things going on around me. Coffee shops are a great place to notice things. You notice how people great each other, how strangers interact, and, with a bit of eavesdropping, how people talk to each other and what they decide to talk about in such a public setting, knowing that creepers like me might be listening in.

But again, the fear of public shaming keeps you from spending too much doing that observing. Glancing up from time to time and surveying the room while you take a sip of coffee is a natural thing to do in a coffee shop. Staring intently at the couple across the room from you is not. So you stick to the former, and then get back to whatever book you are reading or work you are doing.

They say that coffee shops are good for creativity, and I see why. There’s an energy to the environment. And it’s not just the space and the people. It’s the noise too. Some combination of music, conversation, and the occasional clang of a dropped item of silverware. The sounds of urban life. I like my solitude and my ability to focus during my morning work session at home, but I equally enjoy my afternoon coffee shop session surrounded by such life. I think that it helps me to include more humanity in my work. Stephen King suggests that you write your first draft with the door closed, and the second with it open. My home office is where I write my first draft, and coffee shops are great for the second.