Location Matters: Where You Work is Just as Important as When and How

Doing freelance work, I often find myself working in many different locations. Most of the time all I need to be productive is my laptop, phone, and great WiFi signal. However, the longer I do this, the more I realize that I am not equally productive in every location. Certain environments can bring out the best in me while others leave me less inspired surfing the internet instead of cranking out great work. Have you noticed the same about your own work habits? There are countless articles and research on how to be productive, but the best advice is often the simplest.

Know Thyself.

Find what works for you. Be a student of your own work habits and productivity. For example, current work culture and habit research suggest that a strict daily habit with structured work hours produces the greatest results. Well, that may be fine and good for some, that does not create a good workflow for me or fit into my schedule. I have learned through trial and error what works for me and I now have a great list of criteria for determining where I can and cannot work most efficiently.

Noise

There must be some noise for me to focus. A coffee shop or cafe is great, the library is not. Too quiet and I’m self-conscious that people can hear me typing or mumbling to myself. What if I have to take a client call? A serious no-no in those super quiet spaces. The noise and bustle help me feel like I’m blending in. On the flip side- too loud and I’m distracted. A quick solution to this is my headphones. Find a pair that block out the world and add your own desired level of noise- music and podcasts are my go-to.

Lighting

Harsh florescent lighting does no one favors and exhausts my eyes. Staring at a screen most of the day is tiring enough, once you add fluorescent lighting, I’m done. This was something I didn’t notice about myself until I was leaving my full-time job. My office had the worst lighting and I was always irritable after working there. By moving to another space for screen-heavy work I found that concentration and creativity came easier to me. Video conferences are challenging in this light as well.

I look for spaces that have bright but not blinding lights with access to natural light. Natural light can do wonders for your energy level. According to the Harvard Business Review, 47% of employees admit they feel tired or very tired from the absence of natural light or a window at their office. In a cafe, I look for a seat near the window, without glare, but not next to the door.

Temperature

The debate over office temperature no longer matters as a freelance worker. I am in complete control of my location choices. I have made some less-than-ideal choices in the past that I have learned from. First of all- unless it is the perfectly temperate day- do not sit by the door. The temperature fluctuation becomes a distraction. Many places are overly air-conditioned – think coffee shops trying to sell more hot beverages. If creating high-quality work on the go is the goal, be prepared. Being comfortable should be a standard to keep you focused and not concerned about heat, cold, noise, hard chairs, etc.

Variety

I need variety. I cannot work in the same location all day every day. I go crazy. But you could be different. I know other freelancers who need the stability of ONE designated workspace in their home where they create their best work. Sure, I love working at home but the dog needs walked and the dishes/laundry are piling up. I work best at home when everything is clean and put away. I also vary where I work at home. Lots of ‘work from home’ articles advice against this but again- know thyself. I can work on the back porch when it’s nice out. Write in the kitchen while the tea kettle boils, or at my desk in the early morning hours.

Get away sometimes so home can feel like home. I look for different locations when I’m working on the way to or from meeting a client or between events with the kids. Find the coffee shop where the music isn’t too loud or the sandwich shop with the killer WiFi.

Obvious Stuff

Don’t lose precious productivity time by missing the basics- power ports, WiFi, and free parking are a must. A quick google search should give you all of that info. I like choosing out of the way spots to avoid running into people I know. Now that you think I’m anti-social, that’s the point. I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to work while enjoying this delicious chai tea. Which leads to my final point….

Be a patron! It is quite rude to hunker down with that manuscript when you won’t even purchase something. These places have overhead too. Be friendly, support the business, and you may even get a few referrals when the staff knows you and what you do.

Once you start paying attention to the environment you work best in, it becomes much easier to get into the zone. Look for those places, support them, and get your work on.