Staying Focused at the Coffice

You’ve bitten the non-fat, half-sweet bullet, read the research reports and bought into the fascinating global phenomenon of The Coffice.

After split testing, focus grouping, placebo ingesting, and defragging various Coffices, the one you’ve decided on is perfect – a freelancer’s heaven!

It’s walking distance from home; it has plenty of tables even at peak hours; the baristas are uber-friendly; the coffee/food selection is varied and tasty; the wifi is actually better than your home Internet; and the vibe is just everything you want/need/love in a Coffice.

There’s just one problem – you can’t stay focused on your work.

How frustrating is that?! You’re pretty disciplined most of the time. In your “other life” (i.e., the one you had prior to becoming a Cofficer), you had no problem getting work done. You sat down at your desk, and when the proverbial whistle was blown, it was down to business.

“WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?!” you scream at the ceiling while shaking your fists skyward. And then you apologize to your nearby co-Cofficers for the outburst…

Wait! That’s it!

Your beloved freelancer’s Utopia of a Coffice may be perfect in every way…but there are too many things going on around you. There are too many interruptions and distractions – not to mention the raving kooky blogger howling rhetorical questions at the light fixtures.

Sigh. What now?!

OKAY! BREAK TIME! Go do something else now for 10 minutes and come back to this article. Now. Go….




Feel better? Great. Now keep reading…

The greatest thing about becoming a Cofficer is the ability to control your environment – not what’s in it – but where you choose to be, and in particular, your relationship to the space, its inhabitants and (yes) its flaws – which you’re positive weren’t there when you had your “EUREKA” moment of Coffice discovery. Don’t worry. We’ve all been there.

This solution isn’t as Zen or feng shui as it sounds.

While you may not have co-pilot status with the music blaring from the amp above your head, or have the ability to shush the extremely loud mobile phone talker behind you, or stop Stanley the chatty stranger fromgoing on about four different things simultaneously, or move fast to pacify someone else’s crying baby, you CAN do some (or all) of the following things to help you stay focused:

Location, location, location

Okay, I’ll admit – having a favourite Coffice mere minutes from home is really awesome. But let’s face it: deadlines are deadlines and you can’t afford to “uh huh” and “yup” Stanley until he goes away. He won’t. But you can.

This also applies to our friends, colleagues, siblings and cousins who come to your Coffice and sit down to chat. Despite the pleasure of familiar faces and the odd coffee chat, most of these people will (or will come to) understand when you politely or playfully let them know you can’t chat today. Thinking back, in a traditional office setting you probably wouldn’t have thought twice about telling someone you’re on deadline and that you’ll catch up with them later. Just because the setting has changed doesn’t mean the need to define your needs has.

Solution: Move…to another table or another Coffice. Remember The Coffice is a community – don’t be shy. Tweet @TheCoffice and another Cofficer is bound to help you find another Coffice.

(Afterthought: Switching seats or locations may also help with mental blocks and actually aid in refocusing yourself for work. I’ve moved Coffices many times just in a single day.)

“Hey bud. What’s your sign?”

I say this a lot:

One of the most important accessories you need to bring with you to your Coffice is eargear. Headphones, earbuds, SkullCandy, whatever you want to call them, you must have at least one set of these with you at all times. And the bigger and more noticeable the better!

Solution: Eargear is your way of hanging a proverbial “Do not disturb” sign on the door. It tells people you’re not available. Keep your head down and eyes on what you’re doing. You don’t even have to be listening to anything on your eargear…or even plug them in.

Pshaw to plush!

The comfy seats in a Coffice are the devil not only for your posture – unless you’re in your teens – but they also scream, “Well hello there neighbor. Whatcha workin’ on?”

More often then not, there’s more than one comfy seat in a coffee shop and they’re almost always clustered together. It’s too conducive to socializing.

Plush sofas are also far too easy to fall asleep on. Who hasn’t seen that person using their laptop as a pillow while napping on a cold winter Wednesday afternoon?

Solution: Avoid the plush comfy seats at all costs if you want to be productive, back-pain free and fully awake. Save the naps for when you get home – stay put on the wooden Coffice chairs.

FREEZE! DON’T READ ON YET. Stand up and have a stretch. Go check your Facebook alerts and Twitter replies. Five minutes. Go.




Welcome back. Before you read on, if you’re at a Coffice now, get your shiny ball fix and snap a photo of your Coffice POV (laptop, coffee, happy baristas) and post it on The Coffice Facebook page. It may be used for a future cover photo.

Now, shut off your social alerts and keep reading.

How much is that writer in the window…?

With summer around the corner for us in the northern hemisphere (sorry Australia/New Zealand), it’s only natural to want to sit as close to a Coffice window as possible. I get it: if you can’t be out in the sun, gosh darn it, you’ll sit close enough to a window to see it – maybe even feel its heat coming through.

Moreover, while you’re sitting there pining to be one with nature, others around you are doing the same. And what’s the number one conversation starter when all else fails? C’mon. Say it with me: “Great weather we’re having today, huh?”

You might as well be sitting in a crowded pub after having bought everyone a pint.

Solution: Move to a dark and isolated corner. If there aren’t any, sit in a spot where you can face a wall. Seriously. It only looks weird if you’re not doing anything.

Communications break

Email, text messaging, social network alerts, phone calls and the odd well-thrown paper airplane from the other side of the Coffice are all very distracting…and tempting! You can’t possibly focus on your impending deadline if all you’re doing is checking Facebook to see how people responded to the Star Wars parody video you posted last night.

Solution: If you can’t bear to be completely incommunicado for too long, book some “going-dark” periods throughout the day. Start small: shut off all (or the most distracting) network notifications and gadgets and your wifi for five minutes every hour. Or try going radio silent for the amount of time it takes you to finish drinking each cup of coffee.

Music depreciation

By all means, if you’re going to have earbuds stuck in your head while at your Coffice, put on some tunes. However, the following quote from this Ragan PR Daily blog illustrates really well why you should be very selective when compiling your work playlists and mix tapes:

“Say you’re listening to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and after you’ve done the “Wayne’s World” head bob, you turn in your report.  Your boss calls you into her office to explain why the phrase “Galileo, Galileo” is in the midst of your solicitation letter to your top clients. You can only respond by saying, “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for meeeeeee.” And it’s downhill from there.” (Thanks to Ragan Executive Editor Rob Reinalda for this vivid image.)

Solution: Make a working playlist of music that doesn’t cause you to involuntarily mouth the lyrics or sing along in that low whisper you think others can’t hear (we can). Try jazz, classical or ambient lounge. Anything without lyrics – except the karaoke versions of your favorite songs. I dare you to try not to sing along to Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” (you will).

BREAK TIME! Go get another cup of coffee or tea…hot or cold. Doesn’t matter. Just get up and go refill.




Before you read on to the end of this blog, instead of your usual Twitter fix (you know you want one), how about replying to @TheCoffice and give some kudos to your favourite Coffice spot. (For example, “@TheCoffice #CofficeKudosTo @AromaEspresso for their chocolate croissants and light speed fast wifi!”)

Thanks! See you at the end of this blog.

What I don’t know…

As much as I’d love to have Dr. Manhattan-like powers of infinite wisdom, it’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime. As a supplement to the stuff I do know from above, I’ve done some distraction-free legwork to find other resources/tools with additional tips and tricks on how to maintain laser-like focus at your Coffice. Check them out below.

I hope they work. Of course, if you have a tip, trick or technique you’d like to share, I’m all ears – as soon I’m done with the actual work I have to focus on and finish.

This is the official end of this blog post. You may move on to your other activities. If you choose to read on now – great. Otherwise, the rest of these things are additional resources and tools to help you improve your focus and concentration at the Coffice – read them when you’re not supposed to be focused on something else.

Other resources/tools

Lifehacker: Train Your Brain for Monk-Like Focus

Psychology Today: Anytime, Anywhere Meditation

Music and playlist sharing websites: Do playlist searches using terms such as ambient, productivity, concentration, focus, working, meditation, etc.

iTunes Radio: Launch your iTunes app (ideally on your laptop). In the menus on the left, select the Radio option. Try the Ambient & Classical streams.

Please add your tips, tricks and tools to this list.

One Response to Staying Focused at the Coffice

  1. Chris:

    Thanks so much for running this piece!

    The amount of focus and concentration that went into writing it was off — the — charts!

    Great work on your blog. Keep it up! Freelancers deserve it.


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