help me recreate my coffeeshop productivity!
December 17, 2012 8:13 PM   Subscribe

grad school filter: how do I become as productive in my home office (or my grad student office at school, or the library...anywhere free!) as I am in coffeeshops?

I am a grad student. Throughout the semester I have been finding that I am by far the most productive in a coffeeshop (specifically, Green Beanery in Toronto) than anywhere else. The second closest spot is the lobby of my building, followed by the park which is too cold now. I also read very well on the subway, but I live close to everything so I am never on the subway.

I get some stuff done between 11pm and about 5am in my little study nook at home. I get absolutely nothing done in the library or my office at school, ever, and when the sun is out I can't focus at home.

So my questions are:
1) are there any research out there about how people concentrate? I've played music and white noise and "nature sounds" when I am at home, but they are not too helpful. It seems like I need a ton of real life strangers around me to feel calm.

2) Is there any way I can reproduce the coffeeshop atmosphere at home? I spend so much money at Green Beanery and I drink way too much coffee.
posted by atetrachordofthree to Education (25 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
It could be the energy of those two places, relatively high energy with lots of people and things happening, that is inspiring you to get a lot done? I don't mean in a woo-woo way, though, but more of a hive mind-y kind of thing.
posted by two lights above the sea at 8:34 PM on December 17, 2012

I think you should just keep going to the coffee shop, but concentrate on spending less money on expensive stuff. I mean, you'd probably be spending money to recreate the coffee shop vibe anyway. Plus coffee shops are totally cool for running into your friends and etc.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:35 PM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, and consider an adhd diagnosis.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:36 PM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

You should consider the concept of social facilitation (and to a lesser degree social loafing) in picking out the best places to do your work. Variables to consider here are: could you possibly be evaluated and the difficultly of the task.
posted by Brent Parker at 8:44 PM on December 17, 2012

Whenever I go to a coffee shop, some part of me goes, "Oh shoot, I just spent $4 (or whatever), better squeeze $4 worth of productivity out of this!" And I end up getting more done than in libraries or my room, or yeah, other free places. Perhaps you're wired the same way, for better or worse? I'd argue for better, because while the coffees add up, at least you've found a consistent way of making yourself work! That's worth a lot.

Also, perhaps the ambient noise is good for you? People talking enough so you don't feel isolated, yet not talking about things pertaining you so you don't get distracted. Hmm, think about other places around campus that replicate that, and give them a shot.
posted by estlin at 8:46 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try going to a different library. I get noooothing done in school libraries (where I see other students playing WoW, browsing Tumblr and Facebook... so I get on Metafilter...) but I get things done in a public library where there's people who are actually WORKING on something or at least reading a newspaper.
posted by Hawk V at 8:54 PM on December 17, 2012

Could you take coffee from home with you to the coffee shop every other day or something, instead of buying it there?
posted by daisystomper at 9:13 PM on December 17, 2012

My school has like 13 libraries, and infinite study spaces. I find I get more done in an area that has an informal noise, people around, and some low talking as background noise, if I'm listening to the Lumineers on Spotify very quietly. It's like my "productive white noise."

I guess what I'm saying is you have an environment that works for you. I don't know anyone who says "I get so much done at home" -- it's always "I get nothing done at home." So I just pay attention to what kind of environment helps me focus, and go there when I need to be productive. If you have a 24-hour school library, try going there at night and going where the people are. You're bound to find a similar atmosphere to a coffee shop.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:22 PM on December 17, 2012

I'm a lot like you. I spent $4 a day on coffee shops until (not kidding) the coffeehouse jazz drove me out. I don't understand people who study "in the library" or "in silence." I try to recreate the environment by 1.) getting up earlier (for some reason I feel more "hive mind"y as someone said in the morning, when I know other people are getting up and going to work out there in the world), 2.) having six cups of tea and cookies, perhaps get a $2 latte from sheetz if you live near a sheetz, without some type of caffeine my brain just doesn't get that it's work time, and 3.) loud music (might not work so well for math or something, but it works when I have to write a paper and I'm in humanities).
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:23 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you say library, do you mean your university's library? If so, you might find the necessary levels of noise/activity at the local public library. I thought it was nicer to be surrounded by kids instead of other students. Alternatively, does your university have a student union or a food-court style cafeteria?
posted by tinymegalo at 9:32 PM on December 17, 2012

I can't help you, but I am exactly like you (to the point I wondered if I wrote this email last night and forgot about it ...). I'm still fighting it, but I'm starting to crack it. Listen to all the recommendations in here, and maybe check out this interesting article specifically about why some people work best at coffee shops.
posted by barnacles at 10:08 PM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I do this too. Its because I think everyone is looking at me and concluding I'm slacking off. So look for that in another setting.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:16 PM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I do this too. I've given into it. Other places that work well for me: hotel lobbies, late-night diners, other people's houses, co-working spaces, dive-y restaurants, and in cars.

I think we need background stimulation and a change of pace in order to focus. I can't recreate this at my own house. It works pretty well at other people's houses. So, maybe house-swap for studying with a friend?
posted by carolinaherrera at 11:39 PM on December 17, 2012

Kind of a left-field suggestion, but have you considered taking the subway explicitly for for the purposes of studying/reading?

I know it seems weird, but think of it this way: if you really do read well on the subway, it's just a mobile coffee shop! that's only $3 a pop! (less with reduced fares/student fares maybe!) and with no coffee! OK, so maybe my analogy isn't great, but I mean, no one says you can only take the subway when you're actually going somewhere, and it's not like reading on the subway is at all in any way strange. You could ride a line end to end and get some decent time in.

I got this idea after reading once on some Chicago board where a poster said he literally would take the Brown and Orange lines in Chicago, two of the lines with relatively smoother rides, just to get reading done. I'm the kind of guy who prefers silence or my own music, so I only work out of coffee shops out of necessity because I don't (yet) have a library, but it could work for you.
posted by andrewesque at 11:58 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone struggling to finish a dissertation, I say don't fight it. Take your productivity where you can. You can buy bottled water or decaf coffee and still be justified in using a table at your favorite coffee shop. Finding a new place to work and figuring out a new routine that works will cost you precious time, discomfort, and loss of focus while trying to "get it right."

Also, seconding the above suggestion of taking the subway just for reading sessions. I used to do that on the bus and worked great.
posted by Eumachia L F at 12:10 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Try steamed milk with a flavor shot or a cup of herbal tea. They're cheap and caffeine free!
posted by fullerenedream at 1:07 AM on December 18, 2012

I am in your boat! Unfortunately I'm also trying not to drink caffeine, sugar, or diary these days. So I end up paying £4 to sit at a Starbucks in York with my grande decaf soy latte with a shot of sugar-free vanilla syrup. It's a ridiculous solution to an annoying problem. And with the holiday shopping in town, it's becoming less of a viable option.

For a while I was using Self Control and that seemed to work when I was at my desk or at home and absolutely didn't need internet. I also discovered a few things that really hamper my productivity in ways that seemed innocuous, but were actually very real. For instance, I had always listened to music, but I discovered that I was way less productive than I realized when the music has words. I didn't even notice this. Also, I'm most productive when I'm in what I call my "needs window". To be productive I need: liquids, internet, warmth, an outlet for charging, a nearby toilet." If all of these things are overly accessible, like at home or the library, there's no tension and I slip into fuckaround mode. If these things are missing or too inaccessible (if the liquid is too expensive, the outlet too far away, the bathroom in another shop), I absolutely can't work at all. It's like there's a part of me that needs to go forage for what I need everyday, and then reward my brain with attention to my goal once I've jumped through the needs window. If this is true for you, then making your home/desk area slightly more challenging or official would help? Throwing some obstacles in your own way, so that it's not you waking up and opening your laptop and expecting to write something.

But I think you're onto something with the strangers around you bit. I don't care about my work when I'm surrounded by like-minded academic people, or no people at all. But when I'm surrounded by anonymous non-academic people, all of the sudden I am the academic, and going all method with it. There's some identity thing at play there, which doesn't factor at home or work. And it's that perceived image others have of me that somehow motivates me in a way that removing the potential for judgment (at home) or having it be automatically accepted (in my domain at the university) doesn't. Not sure how to fix this, other than finding a way to fold that back in, which is perhaps why I see many of my friends announcing their daily academic goals or what they've accomplished on Twitter or Facebook. Or perhaps why they show up to the library/desk all dressed up or doing other things that scream "I'm the most academic academic." Maybe they have found a way to get more evaluation and judgement in their lives. Or just playing the part in the movie about them in their heads.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:40 AM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

It seems like I need a ton of real life strangers around me to feel calm... Is there any way I can reproduce the coffeeshop atmosphere at home?

Is it possible you just need noise rather than silence? You could perhaps try streaming movies or television series at home? (But bad ones!)
posted by DarlingBri at 2:14 AM on December 18, 2012

Is there a coffee shop on your campus? I got a lot done at those sorts of places (the school where I did my PhD had three coffeeshops) and never felt guilty about not buying things there because of their markups and monopoly.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:35 AM on December 18, 2012

Stick with what works for you -- the coffee shop -- and just order herbal tea. It's cheap and not caffeinated! If you bring your own mug, a lot of places bring the price down even more.
posted by Pwoink at 6:05 AM on December 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

For me, the coffee shop seemed to have two main effects relative to more cloistered settings: 1) I didn't feel like I was depriving myself -- it felt a little indulgent, comfy
2) there was enough noise that I had to sort of set up a wall against it in order to focus. I don't think just running annoying sound at home would duplicate that, because it would just be distracting in that setting, but I feel like the part of my brain that builds that anti-distraction wall might be the part of my brain that is attuned to small distractions at home (the computer or watering my plants or whatever) and essentially it's kept busy in a helpful way instead. So that's hard to reproduce elsewhere.

I'm with those who suggest finding a cheaper and/or less caffeinated way to keep using the coffee shop, for at least part of the day, and do other sorts of tasks at home.
posted by acm at 6:53 AM on December 18, 2012

Maybe try playing talk radio in the background at home instead of white noise. I find NPR softly playing in the background gives the soft background noise of a coffee shop without the sudden heart attack inducing scream of the coffee grinder.

If you go to a library sit in a busier area instead of finding somewhere quiet. Sit near the front desk or entrance so you get more of the same hustle and bustle. The foyers of hotels are good for this too, if you dress in appropriate clothing a lot of hotels don't mind people sitting quietly and working.
posted by wwax at 10:12 AM on December 18, 2012

Fellow grad student here. I also struggle to be productive at home and at my office (...where I am now). My latest trick is to work at my school's Engineering library, in a big room with a bunch of tables. I only get anything done if I'm out in the open where other people can constantly see what I'm doing (in other words, similar to the coffee shop experience). The library has the potential bonus of being quieter than a coffee shop, and also free.

I think being around busy people is part of the productivity boost I get. But (as iamkimiam brought up) I think fear of judgment is the bigger thing. I'm a social scientist with engineer envy, so being up in their space makes me especially wary of judgment and I work harder to compensate. (side note: my dad is an engineer. I should really get myself psychoanalyzed). So my advice is: maybe try working around the kind of people you respect and fear?
posted by RandallStanhope at 2:09 PM on December 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Crowd noise! Get some good over-the-ear headphones; do a search on the free sound project, and embrace the focusing chatter!
posted by percor at 4:57 PM on December 18, 2012

I read about a study recently showing that ambient noise can help people concentrate (of course I can't find it now ...). Anyway, I've always found the same thing, that I work best in coffeeshops. However, I've found that I work almost as well in other places with lots of people going about their days.

Could you try the student union or similar place at your school?
posted by lunasol at 6:32 PM on December 18, 2012

« Older Help me find some music similar to Cloud Atlas   |   How do I sound like a wholesaler contacting... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.