When you need a change of scenery

photo-93I work late roughly one night a week. When I do, I go to the library. The easiest option is just to go to my local branch, which is only half a mile away, though it’s fairly small, and it isn’t open until 9 every night.  On the nights it’s not open, or if I’m looking to be around people other than the librarians, I go to a bigger branch that’s about 10 minutes away. There are options to sit in comfy chairs, or at tables, or deep in the stacks, or in the windows that look out on the street. When I take a break, there are more books to paw through than my local place. I have kind of pawed through most of my favorite spots in the Dewey decimal system in my local library.

I tend to go to the library, rather than a coffee shop, because coffee shops feature people talking. I have a hard time ignoring their conversations and just working. Not always. I wrote What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast in (irony alert!) a coffee shop at night. But I don’t do that regularly. I have the same problem on Amtrak, which is why I have to sit in the quiet car. However, if I’m meeting someone, I usually go to a coffee shop that is not Starbucks that’s on the main drag around here. I have nothing against Starbucks, but it is located perilously close to the Banana Republic and J. Crew. Since I have to walk past these stores to reach the parking lot, I sometimes slip in “just to take a look” and risk losing another half hour of my work day. To say nothing of the cash.

I tend to get a lot of work done in my car dealership’s waiting area, but I haven’t tried going there when I don’t need an oil change or inspection.

I have had some success in out-of-the-way diners. If they’re busy, you need to move along, but if you buy a reasonable amount of stuff and are there at non-peak hours (2 p.m., or maybe 4 a.m.) you might be OK.

I have holed myself up in a hotel room for a few days to crank things out. I also find it an intriguing idea to work in someone else’s house. One’s own house has all sorts of distractions. The most dangerous are the useful distractions, like taking an hour out to organize the basement. You are highly unlikely to organize someone else’s basement.

I’m making a list of remote places to work — beyond home, the coffee shop, and an official co-working type space.

Where have you done remote work successfully? Any other ideas for places I should include on this list? 

27 thoughts on “When you need a change of scenery

  1. Um, I have gotten quite a bit done in doctors office waiting rooms… but that probably works best if you’re say, going to see a doctor on a regular basis. (Like for fertility-related reasons.) Similar to the car dealership, I guess.
    p.s. I would totally prefer organizing someone else’s stuff to my own. I’m a bit like Sheldon Cooper given the chance to organize. http://bigbangtheory.wikia.com/wiki/The_Closet_Reconfiguration Best party ever.

    1. Yes. I clicked through to comment that I’d much rather organize someone else’s basement. Ours is a disordered pile of model train gear (no functioning layout, just pieces), 3-D printer parts and old cabinets.

  2. Lately planes proved to be really good places to work: brainstorming ideas/planning with paper and pen when you electronic devices have to be switched off and later really doing a lot (i would attribute it to the forced no phone/no internet policy of the airlines 🙂

    1. I think that’s part of it for me with the library — people can’t chat on their phones, and I haven’t bothered hooking my computer up to the wifi there — precisely because I don’t want to be tempted…

      1. Makes a lot of sense – a forced offline state :))) Library wifi would be sorely tempting though… And i want to use this opportunity to thank you for your books and blog, helped me a lot through a really tough career/life spot to view things in terms of limited time and internal locus of control. Thank you.

        1. @Ekaterina- thank you so much! I’m glad you found the books and blog helpful. I really appreciate that.

    1. @Sarah- I would imagine many casual restaurants might be good places, though, again, you have to be mindful of their business. If I’ve used a coffee shop for more than, say, an hour, I try to keep buying stuff so I’m roughly the equivalent of a new patron.

  3. When you have children in travel sports, you master this. So, I have done everything on your list, but in libraries/diners all over the region. Even if you dutifully watch your child’s games, you don’t have to watch all of the practices or the hour before the game that the coach told them to show up early.

    If all else fails, then, the parked car is a decent workplace. Not a decent workplace: the rink, the edge of the soccer field, etc. The other parents will want to talk.

    There is an app called Liquid Space. I have used it to get a day pass at a real office when I am traveling (I spent $30 for a day pass in midtown manhattan). Under certain circumstances it makes sense to get a scheme to get yourself into one of the airline lounges at the airport.

  4. In 2003 there was a Barnes and Noble across the street from my apartment that was a great place to work. I’m sure it’s closed now. I also like working on airplanes.

    1. I was going to say Barnes and Nobles, too. I did a lot of my med school studying either at a table in the cafe or at one of the tucked away tables in the stacks.

  5. I’ve often wondered why so many people say they work in coffeeshops when libraries are so comfortable, so convenient, and so quiet. That’s my go-to as well.

    I also like car rides. My husband and I go on short buying trips, and that’s 6 hours in the car to work. I really like not having to drive. 🙂

    1. @Shanna – I just can’t read in the car. Makes me ill. I wish I could because my husband usually drives on trips as well!

  6. I work only at my desk at home… I have tried working in a coffee shop – we have Cafe Coffe Day in India, I tried Gloria Jeans in Sydney. I could not even work at my desk in the lab. I just finished and submitted by PhD thesis – 90% of which was written wherever it was that I called home and my desk. I need access to ALL my books – a crazy addiction. I need access to ALL my writing material – stationey, pens, pencils, etc. Since I cannot carry 30 cartons of books everywhere I go, I stay at home and work at my desk. Boring but effective for me… 🙂

  7. I just cleaned out my home office today as an attempt to both procrastinate and create a good workspace (it’s been my dumping ground since we moved in 10 months ago). Sadly, I’ve been sitting here for two hours so far doing a lot of nothing, besides typing up one invoice. Whoops.

    I like the library — something about other people looking over my shoulder as they walk by makes me feel like I have to be productive and not just goof around on the internet. Accountability to total strangers is weird, but it works for me. Coffee shops are sometimes good, but the music was way too loud and distracting this morning. I was tempted to set up in the Starbucks at Target, and might try that next time, if I can ignore the stale popcorn smell! I like to spread out, so airports and airplanes are terrible, and the conversations in restaurants tend to be too distracting for me (but not coffee places usually, strangely). Last week, I even worked for a couple of hours in the grocery store’s cafe. I prefer places with limited or slow internet, so I don’t spend time down rabbit holes.

    1. @Meghan – what is with the smell of popcorn at Target? I think I’d have to spend the whole time with my nose buried in my coffee not to smell it…

  8. When I was moving, I would use hotel lobbies to get in a few hours of work. If you ask nicely and let the staff know what you’re there for, sometimes they will charge you $5 and sometimes they will let you hang out for free.

    1. @Chrissy- this is a good idea. I imagine in a hotel lobby with a bar, if you order a drink, you can stay for quite a while.

  9. I find my church parish hall is nice and quiet. I have gone there after lunch with a friend, morning meetings, or doctors appointments in town. I don’t want to drive all the way home ( I live out in the boonies) because I would just have to get back out to pick kids up from school. Youth group night and choir practice night are completely counter productive times but during the day it is oh, so, peaceful.

    1. That’s genius, Elizabeth Judy! I hadn’t thought of the family room at our church, but I have a key, so that could be just the ticket.

      I rarely utilize the library, because all the books are a huge distraction to me. A less trafficked coffee shop in town during non peak hours is better for me than the library, because I feel the pressure of not taking up their space too long – that helps me focus.

      When at home, we have a farm office detached from our home – and I have my own portion of that space. It’s only a short walk across the back deck, but it’s far enough from home to keep me from getting distracted…as long as I have a timer. I take a break every 45 minutes (timers are incredibly helpful when working at home). It dings and I run back in the house and switch out laundry, etc., before heading back to the office for another rotation.

      Great post! Really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments, too.

  10. Catching up on posts 🙂 This is a nice list of alternate places to work. I’m about to start working from home for a couple of contract gigs, and am trying to figure out how that’s going to work since my home office is also my craft room. (And not get super distracted by shiny projects-in-progress.)

  11. I don’t like Starbucks’ over-roasted, improperly prepared coffee (ask an Italian to elaborate), but if that’s your only option, I discovered in grad school that different Starbucks franchises play different kinds of music, which may be more or less distracting, depending on your musical taste (though sadly the coffee’s all the same). I also discovered there are some kinds of work I do better in coffee shops (grading papers) and other kinds (writing) I can’t do there at all, so I need to know what I’ll be doing before deciding where to do it.

    For getting a lot of writing done in a little time, I’m a big fan of the vast (two city blocks long) Rose Reading Room in the New York Public Library’s main branch on 5th Avenue/42nd Street. As well as the library advantages already mentioned of enforced quiet, unreliable wifi, and being surrounded and supported by the collective concentration of dozens (or in this case, hundreds) of other people, large, lofty spaces like this (it’s also several stories tall) make it easy to relieve the eyestrain (and concomitant brain strain) engendered by staring at computer screens simply by looking up into the middle distance for a few minutes. Looking out the window into the distance–especially at nature, as opposed to buildings or streets–has the same refreshing effect on the eyes and brain, so it’s worthwhile to consider the location and layout as well as the noise level of wherever you go to work.

    I find that bars are often emptier and quieter than coffee shops during off-times like mid-afternoon, and sometimes have wifi.

    If I’m doing work on paper (reading books for research, editing manuscripts, etc.) and it’s nice weather, I go to the park.

    One place I’m never able to work is bakeries, as the relentless hum of the refrigeration units in their display cases drives me crazy.

    As for getting work done at other people’s houses, that depends on the house and the circumstances. I can’t focus when I’m surrounded by clutter, no matter who it belongs to, and if I’m somewhere I’ve never visited before, I’m surrounded by too much new information to process to settle down and do much else. But a pleasant space I’m already familiar with and comfortable in but not responsible for can definitely be far less distracting than working at home.

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