I have a fairly flexible schedule, so I can work remotely a couple days a week if I want. You’d think I’d end up working from home a lot in this situation, but actually I very much prefer going to one of my local coffee shops instead.
Why leave the comforts of my own home with fast wifi, no distractions, and a cup of coffee just the way I like it? There’s actually a lot of benefits to working in coffee shops, but first let’s explore the history of the coffee shop to truly understand how they came about.
The Rise of Coffee
The coffeehouse has been around for centuries, but it exploded in Western countries around the 18th century, in parallel to the Age of Enlightenment. This was no mere coincidence. Many have theorized that the rise of the coffeehouse was precisely why this age came about in the first place. Sounds a bit crazy, but when you look at things a bit closer, it may be close to the truth.
Before the rise of our favorite caffeinated beverage, everyone was pretty much drunk ALL THE TIME. I’m not even joking. Due to poor water quality, people turned to beer and alcohol as their refreshment of choice. Some even started their day with beer soup, a concoction of eggs, beer, butter, and salt, all whisked together. Sounds pretty terrible, but it was a thing back then.
You can only imagine how well this combination of constant drinking impacted our ability to actually work. Despite how great getting drunk everyday sounds in my head, it would be pretty awful. The rise of coffee provided an alternative and a preferable one at that. People were much more receptive to being wired than to being buzzed. Moreover, coffee greatly changed the culture and way of life in that time period and onward.
Coffee created a common ritual among the people, as it quickly replaced beer and became the beverage of choice in the mornings. This simple transition changed many things. It led to an organization of labor that become the hallmark of the Industrial Revolution, and ultimately transformed into what we now know as the typical 9–5 workday. Coffee not only created this natural schedule in our day, but it was also the perfect tool to help us work harder and longer than we normally did.
Coffee changed everything.
A man throw’s coffee in another mans face, during an argument at a coffeehouse.
An integral part of this change was the rise of coffeehouses throughout Europe. These establishments provided a place for every man to congregate, smoke their pipe, have their coffee, read the paper, and converse with other patrons. It broke barriers, created routines, and provided the perfect place to share ideas and information. Combining the informal nature of the coffeehouse with men and women of all walks of life, created a breeding ground for novelty and sharing.
Even Benjamin Franklin and his Club of Honest Whigs, would meet at the historic London Coffeehouse regularly to share their thoughts and ideas. As you can see, the coffeehouse is far more than just a place to buy and drink coffee, it is a hub for creativity, discourse, and innovation. One that changed the world in ways that we often overlook.
Now coffeehouses today may not be as exciting, but they still provide a lot of value when it comes to getting work down and being creative. Here’s why.
Right Amount of Noise
It may sound counter-intuitive, but a certain level of distraction or ambient noise actually has a positive impact on creativity. The premise here is that the natural distractions of a coffee shop breaks people out of their usual way of thinking and pushes them to let their mind wander, without completely breaking their focus. It’s a perfect balance, but the coffee shop has some how mastered it.
When you’re in this sort of environment, you’re much more attuned to creative thinking. That’s exactly why we have apps out there like Coffitivity that simulate the coffee shop ambiance. You can read the study here.
Sure there’s the ambient noise, but as we learned above, that’s a positive. What isn’t a positive though is constantly being bothered by employees, managers, meetings, and phone calls. Getting out of the office gets you away from all the usual distractions.
At a coffee shop you’ll be left alone to work, unless you seek out interaction. More likely than not, no one will know who you are or need you for anything. You can focus on your task at hand, without any worry and still enjoy the lively environment around you.
Connect with Others
If you want, a coffee shop can be a great place to connect with other people. The staff, the regulars of that location, and other customers are always around to interact and engage with at your liking. The casual and relaxed environment of the coffee shop is well suited to meeting new, diverse, and interesting people.
It’s also perfect for meeting with colleagues and friends, as it represents neutral ground that is informal, making it easier to have conversations about pretty much anything. At the same time, there’s something to be said of just being in the presence of others without the need of conversation at all. If you’re often working alone, having people around and about could be exactly what you need.
Change of Scenery
Finally, the simple act of working in a new environment can make all the difference. When we fall into our routines, things can get stale pretty fast. We lose inspiration, willpower, and focus. Going to a coffee shop can re-invigorate you, as they often have a sort of energy that instantly makes you feel like you’re DOING something of value. I can’t quite explain it, but I’m sure you know what I mean.
And the funny thing is, that’s exactly how we tend to use them. We often decide to go to a coffee shop with a specific goal in mind: write a paper, study for an exam, finish a project, have a meeting, and so on. Combining that goal with that environment is a powerful match for being productive.
Of course, there’s value in working in solitude as well, which comes with it’s own benefits. You can read about it here.
In meantime, if you need some creative inspiration or a change of pace, try working at a coffee shop.
Originally published at alyjuma.com on January 5, 2016.