10 Tools for Getting Sh*t Done in Coffee Shops

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Freelance ProgrammingLaptop Life
It’s really fun – and can be super productive – to work from a good “coffice” (a cafe you work from. Google it.). I’ve been a serial cafe worker for a number of years now, so I’ve learned all the ins and outs of it. There are a few things I take on the road with me all the time that have made my cafe work experience better.
TL;DR: Scroll to the summary at the bottom for a cheat sheet.
Here they are: 5 things worth buying, and 5 apps I use regularly.

Things worth buying

A good backpack
If you carry a laptop regularly, hopefully you have the good sense not to toss it in a crappy carrying case. Take it a step further: spend some money on a great bag for it.
My kickass backpack. Only thing it ain’t is bulletproof.
Why? If you’re like me, your laptop is like your baby. If you’re a MacBook owner, it’s a $1000-$2000 investment (or more, if you include the costs of software, and your data which is invaluable). So spending $100 or so to protect it is nothing.
I chose a backpack instead of the over-the-shoulder bag since I use it for everything: I carry my gym clothes in it, power charger and so on. I don’t like my neck and back hurting.
I also picked one that is

water resistant.

This is vital – you still can’t drop the thing in a pool, but if it rains, I don’t want a single drop getting into my keyboard or ports.
What to look for in a laptop backpack:
  • Water resistant.

     ESSENTIAL. Protect your shit.
  • Enough space.

     I carry my workout clothes and other stuff in it.
  • Rugged & comfortable.

     Keep your back happy.
  • Versatile.

     For $100+, I’m gonna use mine when I go hiking too.
  • Pockets.

     Especially if you carry a water bottle.
Portable power charger
A lot of places with free wifi do not have power outlets available! Which means you’re limited to a couple hours of work, and that can kill a day. In New York City, most of the Starbucks locations even covered their outlets up to save money.

Portable power charger

Having a portable charger opens up a lot of other cafes for you to work from for extended periods of time. ALSO – if the weather is great, and you can find outdoor wifi,  you can work with the sun at your back which is freaking awesome. I’ve gotten stuff done on beaches, in parks, and hiking trails at times.
The one I’ve got is the Lenmar Chugplug. It adds a little weight, but worth it for the prospect of outdoor work or more cafe options. I also leave it at home when I know I’ll be working from somewhere with an outlet.
Good headphones
I know everyone has the cheap earbuds that come with their mobile phone, but they kinda suck. In my experience they break easily too.
A solid pair of quality earbuds, or even better – noise canceling over-ear headphones, can give you a serious productivity boost. This is especially true if you end up in a noisy cafe (it happens often), or ever have trouble concentrating. Take it from a guy with ADHD and a learning disability, these are a sound long-term investment for GSD – getting shit done.
I’ve used the below headphones and recommend them.

Sony MDR-Series Noise Cancelling Headphones

Jabra VOX Earbuds

Water bottle

Hot / Cold Travel Mug

Staying hydrated is important, especially if you drink a fair amount of coffee. If you’re working outdoors, you’ll want to have it with you before you sit. Buying bottle water all the time adds up, and isn’t eco-friendly. Plus, a good bottle will keep it cold longer, or handle coffee as well.
This is the one I have right now. It’s great for water or coffee, and keeps the temperature steady for 8 hours without a problem. Doesn’t hold a ton though, so I do have to refill it often. Luckily many cafes are cool with giving out water freely as long as you buy an occasional coffee or snack. 
External Mouse

Logitech M510 Mouse

Maybe I’m old school, but trackpads feel pretty slow to me. They also don’t feel great on my wrist after a while. I keep one of these guys with me whenever I’ll be sitting at a cafe with a table (as opposed to actually having the laptop on my lap, which I rarely do).
It’s good to avoid glass tables and certain other surfaces though – otherwise the laser won’t work well, and you’ll have to use the trackpad as a backup.
I also prefer a USB mouse to a bluetooth one. I’ve often run into connectivity headaches with the bluetooth ones for some reason, but the USB ones seem to stay connected no matter what I do.

Must have apps for coffee shop work

Generally speaking, there are 2 categories of app you need specifically for coffice work.
First, anything that keeps your important data out in the cloud automatically. This ensures that you don’t lose anything if the wifi hiccups. Or worse – if your laptop gets damaged, stolen or whatever. I’ve never had either happen to me (knock on wood), but there’s always a small possibility so you never know.
The other category is security. When working on a public wifi network, your information could be viewed by anyone. So you’ll want to encrypt your internet use (especially if you use your credit card anywhere), and use secure passwords.
HTTPS Everywhere
This is a free browser extension that will encrypt your use of many websites that are by default unencrypted. You can install it and forget it, and it’ll make your browsing a lot more secure. Get it here.
VPN Client
I use TorGuard which is as easy as pie to set up. There are a bunch of other options, just pick one and run it whenever you work from a public place – ESPECIALLY when working with your financial info (bank, online purchases, etc) or other private info.
Password Manager
LastPass is my app of choice, but there are a bunch of others out there like 1Password. These work across devices as well so you can generate hard-to-crack passwords, and let the app remember them for you.
Keeping your data in the cloud
Dropbox and Evernote are the big ones. I don’t write a single thought down that doesn’t go into Evernote – not so much as a grocery list. It backs up so fast that I never lose anything, and if needs be I can work offline. And I keep most of my important files in dropbox by default so that they’re automatically backed up as well.
I also make use of web-based apps as much as possible – Google Docs, Gmail, Github, etc. If I’m coding anything, it’s in source control, and I push it often.

Summary: all the cafe work tools

To recap, here’s the list of stuff I recommend you buy to make the most of coffee shop work. Also here’s some other stuff to bring with you daily as a reminder.
Things worth buying
  • A good backpack
  • Portable power charger
  • Good headphones
  • Water bottle
  • External mouse
Apps worth getting
  • Evernote
  • Dropbox
  • HTTPS Everywhere
  • A VPN Client (TorGuard for me)
  • A Password Manager (LastPass for me)

What gadgets / apps do you bring when you work from cafes? Reply in the comments below.