The six perils of writing in public

You might have spotted from my previous posts that I like to work out and about. Cafes, pubs, bars … they’re all fair game for me and my little laptop.

I enjoy working on the move, but this very modern way of getting stuff done isn’t without its pitfalls.

Here are six situations to watch out for when it’s just you and your laptop:

  1. The lunchtime rush. At 10.30am, the cafe you’re in is nice and quiet. But at 11.30, something happens. The door doesn’t stop opening. People pile in, ordering take out or grabbing the last spare chairs. Nursing a small coffee while the world passes through, you feel conspicuous and in the way. Especially when some noisy office workers elbow their way to the table next to yours. Productive? You might as well give up now.
  2. The noisy children. These normally appear mid to late afternoon, though you can encounter babies and toddlers at any time of day. I’m undecided which is worse: the hyperactive ones who run about and push bits of furniture around, or the well-behaved, over-inquisitive ones who sit near you with their mum or dad and just won’t stop asking questions. Often about what the strange man with the computer is doing.
  3. The power crisis. Less than one cup of coffee into a stop at a café and my old laptop was gasping for juice. I constantly had my eye on the location of power sockets in the room, ready to shift tables when a prime spot became free. No matter what precautions I took, the machine would inevitably die during a highly productive spell. And have you ever had that awkward conversation when a member of café staff spots your unofficial power hook-up?
  4. The ergonomic nightmare. Starbucks chairs weren’t designed with the prevention of carpal tunnel syndrome in mind. In fact, they were probably designed to be uncomfortable to sit in for long periods, thus encouraging a fast customer turnover. (Ok, so maybe that’s just me being particularly cynical. But pay attention to what your body’s telling you. Wrists aching? Back sore? Time to find a proper desk.)
  5. The beer-on-tap temptation. One of my favourite spots to work is a bar/cafe just round the corner from my flat. The thing is, they have beer on tap. Good beer. A pint is ever-so-appealing, especially if I’m struggling with a tricky bit of work. I can usually resist the temptation, or postpone it by promising myself a glass when the job’s done, but every now and then (usually on a Friday afternoon) the pull is too strong.
  6. The toilet dilemma. Some cafés make you feel bad if you’re not constantly sipping while you work. With that much fluid intake, the inevitable tends to happen sooner rather than later. And that can lead to a difficult choice: do you pack everything up to guard against theft (in which case you might as well move venues), or trust the slightly shifty bloke on the next table to watch the laptop and papers you’ve spread out?

What obstacles have you faced when working out and about? Leave a comment and let me know.

2 responses to “The six perils of writing in public”

  1. Robert Clay says:

    This so rang a bell with me. I have been working my way up to being able to work completely independent of location for about 14 years. Have finally achieved it. Now working no more than 40 days a year with groups of clients, and 20 days a year attending board meetings, working one to one with clients. The rest of the year is devoted to research preparing for the other days I’m with clients, writing a series of articles and books … and I can work from anywhere I choose. I absolutely recognise everything you say, especially the battery issue, as mine’s on its last legs now. Excellent piece. Thank you!

  2. Roo Williams says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your comment on my post (Freelanceswitch forum) regarding the neo-nomad solution I’m working on. Appreciate you sharing this article with me; great material for my research!


    – Roo

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