Coffee Shop Disasters and How to Survive Them

DSC_1606Part of the appeal of the freelance life is imagining yourself working happily from a beautiful coffee shop in Paris while you sip a cappuccino and nibble on a croissant on the sunny sidewalk patio of a tree-lined street bustling with interesting people. This does not happen. More often than not you’ll find yourself in a dirty coffee shop with slow wifi, no outlets, and an incredibly annoying New Yorker talking loudly on their phone.

I seek out coffee shops and do extensive research whenever I travel. Finding that one magical coffee shop from which you can work from for a morning or afternoon is HARD. Almost impossible. Why? Well, here are just some of the unforeseen issues and distractions I’ve had to overcome when trying to work from a coffee shop:

  • no food
  • 1 hour parking
  • flies
  • too cold
  • too hot
  • loud, terrible music
  • incredibly slow wifi that disconnects
  • wifi that’s free for only 2 hours
  • no wifi (to encourage CONVERSATION)
  • loud talkers
  • crying babies
  • gossiping mothers
  • crazy people who talk to themselves
  • overpriced drinks
  • no open tables
  • dirty tables
  • extremely uncomfortable chairs
  • assholes on their cellphones
  • extremely loud espresso machines
  • a friendly old man who wants to talk your face off
  • no bathroom (I’m not kidding)

Basically, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can work from a coffee shop for two to three hours and no longer. I also have to bring a back up plan. For example, my iPad so that if my laptop dies because I couldn’t find a plug at least I can respond to some email. Or a Kindle, so if the wifi is terrible I can read a book on writing and still feel like I accomplished some work today. Or a snack so that when I’m starving, I can eat something besides my arm.

If you live in surburbia — and I know there are some exceptions, at least I hope — you likely don’t have a local coffee shop except the green mermaid or [insert another national chain here]. It’s pretty safe to say that these places are totally uninspiring. Oh, but your Starbucks has an outdoor patio? Does it overlook the gas station or the grocery store parking lot? Exactly.

This is why I praise the home office. If you’re serious about being a freelancer of any kind or a solopreneur you need an inspiring home office with reliable wifi, a comfortable traditional desk with an ergonomic chair or a standing desk with an anti-fatigue mat, and good lighting. Coworking spaces are an incredible option, but they can be expensive and unless you live in a big city, it’s unlikely you even have this option.

I feel so lucky to have a home office and live in a city that is bursting with local coffee shops in unique spaces with great drinks, free wifi, and outlets. I frequent these kinds of coffee shops occasionally for a change of scenery and to get some exercise. (It’s impossible to reach 10,000 steps per day when you work from home. Thanks for the kick in the ass, FitBit Flex.) But let me reiterate that I’ve done extensive research via Yelp, Google, and in-person visits regarding which coffee shops are worth my time. Here is my extremely short list of shops I’ll work from in Chicago:

  • Filter Cafe on Milwaukee
  • Alliance Bakery on Division
  • Buzz Killer Espresso on Damen
  • Heritage Bicycles General Store on N. Lincoln

That’s it. Trust me, I’ve tried a lot of them all over the city. There are a couple more that *might* eventually make it onto my list like Big Shoulders on Chicago and Lovely: A Bake Shop on Milwaukee, but right now the list of tried-and-true coffee shops is firm at these four. I’m hoping to grow my list eventually, but that means many more mornings spent with uncomfortable chairs, slow wifi, bad music… you get the picture. For now, you can find me at my home office.

P.S. Speaking of pictures, I took that above photo in Salzburg, Austria not Paris.