Pros and Cons of Writing in a Coffee Shop: The life of a Latte Entrepreneur

I’m a latte entrepreneur.

I am 100% self-employed which means I can work on whatever I want, wherever I want. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in cafes and coffee shops here in Japan.

This is my pros and cons list for working in a cafe (in Japan) – written [of course] in a cafe.

Pro: It’s a great way to stay motivated

Working from home all day every day can really kill your motivation. I try to work at a coffee shop or cafe a once a week (at most), to maximize efficiency and productivity. It’s also nice to get away from all the distractions at home (for me, my husband and/or the couch I take naps on).

Con: The chairs usually suck

The first big purchase I made when I started working from home was a nice office chair with good back support. To date, it’s the best career-related purchase I’ve ever made.

Sitting all day isn’t good for you. At all.

Sitting in a chair with poor back support is even worse.

Pro: There is good, relaxing background music (soft rock or instrumental) – that you don’t have to pick!

I can’t work unless I have some good jams playing. I prefer listening to music without words while I write (to increase the flow of creativity)… but it’s frustrating and distracting always having to find, pick, and skip through my music. I like it when the café does that for me, especially when the instrumental is mixed with the sound of customers murmuring, glasses clinking, and people walking around.

Con: But sometimes the background music gets annoying. Especially if they’ve been playing the same jazz trumpet CD on repeat for the last four hours (which is exactly what I’m listening to right now)

Whoever is running the café I’m at right now obviously never got the memo that it’s poor customer service to play the same twenty-minute trumpet assortment on repeat all afternoon. Or perhaps they just want me to leave.

I swear, if I hear this trumpet solo one more time I’m going to scream. Of all the days I forgot to pack a pair of headphones…

Pro: You can people-watch during breaks (instead of walking to the refrigerator, opening it, and just staring at your food every time you’re bored)

I tend to snack a lot less when I’m working at a cafe because I don’t like paying for expensive, cafe food.

I also really like people watching. My current spot is right next to the outlets and offers a panoramic view of the cafe, so I can get some good people-watching done (without looking like a total creep). Seeing other people concentrating on their own work makes me feel motivated.

Con: Distractions. Distractions everywhere.

The current bane of my existence is Japanese people asking for free English lessons (for more on that, read this post I wrote). I doesn’t happen terribly often, maybe once out of every five times I work at a coffee shop in Tokyo. It’s never happened out in the countryside, so I stick to coffee shops near my house now.

I know that some people come to coffee shops to socialize with friends. Good for them.

But I go to coffee shops to write. And work. If I have my headphones in and am typing furiously at the computer, I don’t want to talk.

Con: Finding an outlet. Some places have them, some don’t.

Thankfully, out here in the Japanese countryside, most of the larger cafes have a row of counters with outlets. It’s funny because coffee chains that specifically do not have power outlets in their shops in downtown Tokyo have power outlets in rural Japan.

Go figure?

At this point, I’ve learned to celebrate the little things.

My two favorite chain coffee shops always have open chairs, no matter what time of day it is. I love the countryside.

Pro: Good coffee

My husband and I are kind of coffee snobs. Like, we don’t look down on cheap coffee… but we can taste the difference. We’ve been grinding and making our own coffee since the day after we signed on our first apartment together.

When Ryosuke used to work at his old company, he would buy coffee beans locally every time he went on a business trip. I (almost) miss those days. Those days were full of good coffee.

Now when someone is visiting us, we ask them to bring us coffee beans. That’s the best present ever.

I’ve recently learned how to make lattes. We have no fewer than seven bags of coffee beans sitting near the coffee machine, depending on our mood that morning. We like coffee.

I love being able to order types of drinks that I don’t know how to make. Or just being able to enjoy high quality coffee while working on a project.

Con: … but it’s overpriced coffee

I know how much high-quality coffee beans cost. There is no reason to charge $5.50 for a cup of coffee, other for the fact that they can and people will still pay for it, since it’s good coffee and I really want to sit in your café for three hours working on this project.

Pro: Good atmosphere

Or at least it’s a new atmosphere. And new atmospheres are great for creativity.

Con: Except when it’s a crappy atmosphere

It’s a coin toss, really.

Some places seem to be reasonable, but after an hour you’re shivering like crazy because the heat isn’t on.

Some places seem to have clean air, but thirty minutes later a group of business men sit down next to you and chain-smoke through a pack of cigarettes.

Some chair seem to be comfortable, but after an hour and a half your back is killing your and your wrists hurt from the awkward table height.

Some places seem to have outlets, but when you plus your computer in they magically don’t work.

Some places seem to be quiet, but then a group of job hunting college students, junior high girls, little old ladies, boys playing loud games, or rowdy businessmen come in and ruin the atmosphere.

Pro: Since there are tons of people around you working, you’re too embarrassed to check Facebook/social media every 10 minutes.

Or at least I am. And trust me, this is a good thing.

I really ought to just delete all my social media accounts (I know that would help with my creativity and output), but I get a lot of jobs through social media. And I have friends all over the world that I would probably lose contact with if Facebook ever just magically disappeared.

Con: Every time you go to the bathroom, you (kinda) have to worry that someone will steal your stuff

I know Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, especially for personal property but I feel mad uncomfortably just leaving my iPod, computer, wallet, and bad on my chair when I go to the bathroom.

And I’m usually always working alone, so I can’t exactly ask someone to watch my stuff for me.

I know the lady next to me just disappeared for twenty minutes and left just her wallet to reserve her seat… but knowing my luck, the second I do that my wallet will grow legs and disappear.

Pro: Air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter

For some reason, houses and apartments in Japan have incredibly poor insulation. Our current place (two rooms plus a large living room and kitchen) only has one air conditioning/heating unit, mounted to the wall in the smaller of the two rooms. That became our work room.

Even if we blast the air conditioning, it can’t reach the kitchen or bedroom.

It’s kind of nice being able to work all day in a comfortable environment (without worrying about the electric bill).

Con: Assuming you do the polite thing and order a new drink every 2 hours, you’re roughly drinking your weight in coffee every other month. That can’t be healthy.

I cut back to one cup of coffee a day, max. The caffeine was making it impossible to sleep at night. So I try not to stay at a cafe for longer than three hours (even if it’s really empty).

Pro: It gets you out of the house (and more importantly, gives you the motivation to put on pants)

Pants make a huge difference. You have to dress the part, to get work done. Wearing sweatpants all day every day might be comfortable, but somehow it messes with your productivity.

Con: You have to put on pants. And a bra. Ugh. 

I hate bras. And pants.

Clothes that look professional are usually freakishly uncomfortable. I work from home so that I don’t have to put on makeup, a pencil skirt, and high heels every day. And I’ve gotten so used to this relaxed wardrobe that putting on jeans to go to a cafe sometimes seems like too much work.

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What about you? What have you learned about working at a cafe?

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

16 Comments on Pros and Cons of Writing in a Coffee Shop: The life of a Latte Entrepreneur

  1. Do you some times work in the library?

  2. Well if you have an Aeon lounge in your area it is free for shareowner and unlimited use during weekday :) I sometimes give my daughter lessons there and she studies faster as she cannot pet the rabbit or play with her toys. But I rarely do it as it is noisy .

  3. Goodness, I can relate to so many of your points. I didn’t realise I wasn’t the only one who gets motivated by *other* people working. If I see someone studying hard at another table, I feel horrible checking my notifications or quickly doing my daily rewards collection in a game.

    Unless Hubby joins me during his lunch break, I can usually only last a maximum of about 90 minutes before I “have to” pack up my stuff to use the restroom. Darn hydration obsession.

  4. Yes!! I totally agree about the wearing proper clothes to go out! I spent every day wearing pyjamas when I was revising for my last set of exams and it seemed like such an effort to even wear real clothes for the exams!!

  5. I agree with chairs being so uncomfortable!!!!!! I also don’t like when people sip their coffee loudly :)

  6. So true about the sweatpants messing with productivity. I’m not to sure how jeans make it better, but somehow they really do. I’ve been working at home for almost 3 months now. I’m thinking I might need to start venturing over to Dunkin Donuts. I could definitely use the change of scenery.

  7. Hi;
    Couple of thoughts, please feel free to hate me. The first being…
    ” I don’t happen terribly often, maybe once out of every five times I work at a coffees shop in Tokyo.”
    Doesn’t and coffee. You are smart, this was an oversight and there was the terrible music playing but…

    I used to carry a laptop everywhere. I spent the time doing things that didn’t need the power of the laptop. I have replaced it with a tablet, a Bluetooth keyboard and two 10,000mah power bricks. I can work all day and the equipment fits in a smaller bag than the laptop did. Couple this with Dropbox or any other reasonable cloud app and no worries.
    I can’t see using this option to edit video but for writing it is an option.

  8. Two thoughts for you about this post. First, after living and teaching English in Japan for a year or so I got tired of people coming up to me on trains, etc with requests to speak English. I finally figured out a way to avoid these conversations without being rude: I told them in halting English that I was French and did not speak English. They always apologized and went away.

    Second, if you love good coffee you should try a brand called Peets’. It is made here in the SF Bay Area of Calif where I live. It is very tasty!

  9. Bbc radio three has a show through the night which plays without much speaking between pieces. Should be on during the day time in Japan.

    Japan hasn’t banned smoking in pubs or cafes? Here in the UK you see groups of people on the pavement having a fag (smoke that is).

  10. Sometimes when I work at Starbucks, some guy with a hyperactive (read noisy and rude) kid comes there. Everyone is sighing, but nobody says a word.

  11. So, on the chair thing, you might seriously look into invest into something called “cello blocks.” You get two (they usually come in pairs), you put one under each back leg of your chair, and you sit on the edge of the seat on your sitz bones. This may sound like you’re sitting up super straight, but you should be seated into your pelvis (and using a tri-pod fashion of sitting with your feet flat on the floor and your spine aligned with your body) and you can sit for a ridiculously long amount of time this way. It’s the healthiest way to sit, and also has the added benefit of being super comfortable. It’ll take some getting used to, but the payoff of how much longer you can sit is amazing.

  12. I like how your brain works. :)

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