Maintain your focus in a world of confusion
The nice thing about mobile computing is that we get the option to work anywhere we'd like. If the hot summer sun is beating down on your house, your air conditioning is broken, and you'd like a respite from the heat, it's easy to jaunt off to the local coffee shop to cool down and get some work done. After all, that's the romantic image we cultivate about laptops and the internet; we want to lazily sip from finely brewed espresso, tapping away on our laptops while sitting among the caffeinated elite.
As tempting as that image is to believe, getting work done in public can actually be a pain in the neck. You have the crashing of dishes behind the coffee bar, the constant bumps by strangers moving around, and the uncomfortable but persistent hum of people in the outside world. All this mayhem can be enough to drive even the most dutiful worker to distraction. Let's not even get into what happens if you can't score a comfortable chair near a table; typing with a cup of coffee in your lap is well-nigh impossible.
The good news for coffee-lovers is that we have options. Following a few tricks will help you be productive even in the hustle and bustle of a busy coffee shop, airport, or other public place. The idea behind these hints is to encourage your subconscious to get kicked into "work mode" and avoid distracting it back out of that mode.
Remember the MilkDefine your tasks
If your only goal is to "get some work done," unless you have a handle on what specific tasks you want to accomplish, you'll struggle to be productive even without the challenges of a noisy work place. We all have busy work queues; most people easily have dozens of items clogging their to-do list. Use a tool like Remember the Milk to define and track your tasks; that's the first step. A task list helps you define what needs to get done, lets you prioritize your work, and gives you a sense of satisfaction as you tick each item complete.
The second step is to know specifically what you want to accomplish while you're at the coffee shop (or other public place). This means more than just having a task list; which items do you want to tackle during this time frame? Do you want to grade a dozen papers? Finish reading a financial statement? Are you dedicated to reading all of your inbound email and responding to it? Make sure you know exactly what you want to get done. The added definition in your work tasks will make a huge difference subconsciously, moving you mentally from "I'm here in a coffee shop" to "I'm here in a coffee shop to get this done."
Carry the right gear
If you're getting started in the wide world of working in public, make sure you carry the right gear. Keeping a well-stocked work bag with you will help make sure you don't accidentally lose productivity time when you discover you forgot your phone, USB thumb drive, or other essential work gear. The other nice thing about your work bag is that it's another reminder to your subconscious that you're in work mode. You're not at this coffee shop to kick back and relax with a latte; you have tasks, and you're getting them done.
For the love of your laptop battery, don't forget to practice good power management while working in public. If you get the opportunity to snag a seat next to a power outlet, slide into that chair with ninja-like speed. Many laptops can last hours and hours on a single charge, but it's always better to have the choice to plug in to a power outlet. If you don't need it, great. If you do need it, though, you'll be thankful.
If you require internet access to get your job done, definitely consider carrying backup internet with you. Most public places where you would work offer some kind of free wifi connection. Still, if you're aiming for productivity, you should rely on someone else as little as possible.
Keeping focused is key to productivityMusic + earbuds = focus
If you have a good set of earbuds or headphones, kick back with some non-distracting tunes while you're working in public. The white noise of music will help drown out the world around you, forcing you to focus on your well-defined tasks at hand. We usually recommend music without words so that you don't find yourself analyzing the lyrics instead of getting work done. (Even Friday can spontaneously seem deep and engaging when there's work to be avoided.)
Obviously, don't crank up the music so loud that you disturb nearby strangers. There's no need to be rude about it.
Turn off the internet and chat services
One of the ideas behind leaving your home and working someplace like a coffee shop is that you avoid the distractions that lurk in your house. Once you're in place, though, the distractions on your computer screen take on a whole new life. Internet surfing and instant chatting become huge drains on your productivity.
Fight that urge; close down needless browser windows and turn off chat programs. If those tools aren't open and available, then hopefully you won't be tempted to Alt+Tab into them all the time. Consider Facebook and Twitter completely verboten.
Chatting can especially be a huge challenge if you need to maintain even a tenuous connection to team members. Friendly remote work teams like to joke and share humor in chat rooms; it's good team building. Still, that can be a time sink when you want to be focused on getting work done. Manage your chat time closely. Set your status to "Busy" to let folks know that you're, you know, busy. If that doesn't work, shut down your chat program until you get your tasks completely finished.
If you maintain your focus, you can get a lot done very quickly working in a public place. Don't forget to keep an eye on good privacy practices while you're computing in public, though.
When you're done, shut down your computer and go home comfortable in the knowledge that you can do this again in the future. Try not to linger around your new public office. The goal is to make sure your mind is in work mode when you're there; don't taint that subconscious hint by using the spot as a playplace, as well.
Post by Michael Gray
More from Tecca: