Outfitted & Equipped: Working at a Coffee Shop

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 17, 2013 · 30 Comments

in Dress & Grooming, Outfitted & Equipped, Visual Guides

Coffee Shop 1

0713_SennheiserLogo_125x125 This post is brought to you by Sennheiser MOMENTUM Headphones. Find out more here. How does Outfitted & Equipped work? The FAQ.

Whether you’re self-employed, a student, a freelancer, or simply have an office job where your boss lets your roam, working in a coffee shop occasionally can be both enjoyable and beneficial. Changing up your environment can spur your creativity, and our fear of being out in public alone without a purpose can motivate us to keep busy and stay on task. Plus, if you work at home, you know it can occasionally get a little isolated and lonely – it’s nice to go out and be surrounded by humanity now and again. When I head to a coffee shop to get some work done, here are the kinds of things I like to bring along.

1. The Headphones: Sennheiser Momentum Headphones. Researchers have actually found that a moderate amount of ambient noise – the background sounds of a coffee shop — can spur more creative thoughts than working in a quiet or very loud environment. It’s what Atlantic columnist Conor Friedersdorf calls “just enough distraction” – a happy place between onerous interruptions and stultifying silence. But if I’m seated by people having a loud conversation, the noise of a coffee shop quickly goes from just enough to highly distracting – I want to listen to what they’re saying. So I always bring a pair of headphones – the music blocks out the yakking while still letting in some ambient buzz. These Sennheiser Momentum headphones fit the bill nicely and combine old-school style with modern high-tech, high-fidelity performance. They produce a naturally rich and clear sound with expertly rendered mids, and smooth highs.

2. The Laptop: MacBook Air. I always try to bring my laptop fully charged. Sometimes there isn’t a seat by an outlet, so you’ll need all the reserve juice you can get. The MacBook Air has got some fantastic battery life.

3. The Tunes: Les Baxter Space Escapade. I need music with “just the right amount of distraction” while I work. Songs with lyrics throw me off and sometimes classical music is just too heavy. That’s why my go-to soundtrack when I’m working is exotica music. It’s pleasant, light, and reminds you of 1950s suburbia. Les Baxter’s Space Escapade is a good album to start with. It’s filled with great tunes that will keep you productive during your coffee shop work session.

4. The Shoes: Jack Purcell from Converse. Go with a classic canvas sneaker rather than flip-flops in the summer for a more mature and put-together look.

5. The Shorts: Flat-front Shorts from Old Navy. An affordable, good-looking pair of khaki shorts.

6. The Shirt: Linen shirt from Gap. You don’t need to get all gussied up to go down to a coffee shop, but you shouldn’t schlep in wearing your pajama pants either. You never know when working in a coffee shop will turn into a networking opportunity (or a social one), so aim for something comfortable but also a little stylish. My mind also feels sharper and more alert when I’m in “real” clothes rather than lounge wear, and even if a shirt is casual, wearing a button-down of any sort seems to heighten this effect.

7. The Writing Utensil: Pilot G2. My go-to pen for everyday work. Writes like a champ, but cheap enough that you won’t lose any sleep if you accidentally leave it behind.

8. The Scratch Pad: Yellow Legal Pad. When I get stuck while writing on my laptop, I start sketching out notes or an outline on a legal pad. I like the yellow expansive canvas to work upon and changing up my medium can often help me overcome a bout of writer’s block.

9. The Authorized Distraction: Tides of War by Steven Pressfield. Whether I’m working at home or at a coffee shop, I like to employ a Pomodoro-type method to keep myself productive and on track. I work for a set amount of time, such as 50 minutes, and then take a 10 minute break to do whatever I want. This can mean getting a snack or taking a walk, or reading a book for enjoyment. I just finished The Tides of War. Awesome book about the Peloponnesian War that will inspire your manly thumos.

10. The Beverage. When you’re working at a coffee shop, you’re squatting on a piece of real estate the owners pay rent for, using the wi-fi they get a bill for, and enjoying the air conditioning that costs them money. So don’t be a leech. Buy a drink every couple hours you’re there. A cup of joe or tea will keep you alert and give you something enjoyable to sip on.

11. The Briefcase: Saddleback Thin Briefcase. You’ll need something to haul your supplies in. Any bag that comfortably fits and organizes all your stuff will do, but if you’re looking for something rugged and handsome that will last a lifetime, look no further than a bag from Saddleback. I myself have the classic briefcase, but were I to do it over again, I’d probably choose this thin version. The classic is a beast, which is great for traveling, but for my more frequent day-to-day needs, its trimmer brother would have fit the bill better. Whatever kind of bag you get, look for one with a buckle strap you can latch down for security; when you get up to grab something, would-be thieves won’t be able to casually dip their hand into your bag.


{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alberto July 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm

I’ve already the Senheiser headphones :)

2 OkieRover July 17, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Tunes. I too have this issue. I listen to Pandora during the work day.
Stations I find that fit this need are:
Beats Antique Radio – Indian, gypsy and quirky music, mostly lyric free.
Man or Astro-Man? Radio – Mostly instrumental Surf rock.
Road Kings Radio – Standards you’ve heard 100 times and songs that sound a lot like them. Upbeat blues, outlaw country, easy to ignore but fun.
My briefcase is a classic 1960s Samsonite. I love the smell inside, old documents and awesomeness.
Good Luck.

3 Mark July 17, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Seems like a fountain pen should fit in this collection instead of the Pilot G-2… There’s just something about writing with a fountain pen that is magical and marvelous.

4 max July 17, 2013 at 2:53 pm

what’s your favorite coffee shop in tulsa?

5 Fife July 17, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Holy cow, I own literally all of these things (except the headphones). Maybe I should be working in a coffee shop.

6 OkieRover July 17, 2013 at 2:58 pm

I have to agree with Brett, this is my go to pen as well. I hide them at home because I want them where I use them. Great writing utensil.

7 Steve July 17, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Background music for me: baroque keyboards.

8 Lee Blanchard July 17, 2013 at 3:26 pm

You’ve really improved on making the “outfitted and equipped” section more realistic for real guys. Thanks for that.

9 Brian July 17, 2013 at 4:52 pm

My go-to study music while at coffee shops back in college: the 1971 soundtrack to Shaft. Pretty ambient and low-key, but every 60 minutes or so you get that “Who’s the [etc etc]? SHAFT!” bit to sing along with.

10 Max Nachamkin July 17, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Rockin’ the Jack Purcells, so good to go.

I’ve never had great experiences with Sennhesier’s (can’t speak for this model), but I 100% recommend
V-Moda Crossfades. They aren’t cheap (~$100) but if you listen to music with a lot of bass-y undertones, these will rock your socks. (http://www.amazon.com/Crossfade-Over-Ear-Noise-Isolating-Headphone-Gunmetal/dp/B003BYRGKY)

Working at coffee shops are great because you get changing scenery,a great smell, and familiar faces. Met some cool people just by introducing myself to regulars at the coffee shop ;)

11 Brett McKay July 17, 2013 at 10:35 pm


I really don’t have a favorite coffee shop truth be told. I go most frequently to Kaffe Bona on 91st and Yale because it’s really close to my house, but I don’t like the atmosphere, or lack thereof there. It still provides a needed change of pace on occasion though. I’ve also gone to Nordaggios a few times, and it’s okay. I hear there are some cooler coffee shops in the midtown and downtown area, but I can’t justify wasting 40 minutes of my work day driving there and back. So I just stick with what’s closest….

12 James July 18, 2013 at 5:31 am

Tides of War is an incredible book and should be read by all. I’ve read it twice myself and it is actually recommended reading by some armed forces.

13 Ben July 18, 2013 at 9:11 am

A Night In Italy
It’s Italian cafe music, perfect for drowning out noise but not too distracting because it’s all in Italian.
Unless I’m designing, then I prefer dubstep.

14 Eric July 18, 2013 at 9:15 am

In some cases, I wouldn’t even bring my laptop. As a student, I’ll bring the books I need and what not, and go to work. The main reason I’ll go to a coffee shop to work is to avoid the distractions of my apartment.

15 Jon July 18, 2013 at 11:23 am

While Tides of War is good, I think Gates of Fire was even better.

16 Andrew July 18, 2013 at 8:32 pm

I love the V-Moda crossfade headphones for my coffee shop hijinks. Also, Groove Salad and Secret Agent Radio on soma.fm is great soundtrack music for work.

17 Justin July 18, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Get the classic Saddleback backpack! It is the best!

18 Matthew Brainard July 19, 2013 at 11:18 am

Good recommendation on the tunes. I added it to my Pandora playlist, so I get a variety of artists, but all have been good “working music” so far.

19 Ruffun July 20, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Anything by Brian Eno is always a winner for the music problem. Autobahn by Kraftwerk also has some very relaxing vibes to it.

20 Omar July 22, 2013 at 4:18 am

Some tips for working from a coffee shop

Work tips
Look up every 20 mins or so and look up standard work ergonomic tips
A Samsung series 9 is s good alternative for pc guys
Tip a buck per drink. The barristas will get to know you quicker and be nicer to you.
You have work, but don’t avoid conversations or at least learn how to end a conversation politely
Go to a non wifi coffee shop for more productivity (good for reading, writing, and especially grading)

21 Antonio July 22, 2013 at 7:36 pm

Songza is a great way for me to find the perfect mix for studying or working. I suggest the Old european movie soundtracks for a dramatic yet classy and slightly exotic feel, this always keeps me relishing an intellectual challenge and itching for more nino rota. I have reloops and while they are DJ headphones they are a cheap($80) aternative to other high end headphones yet provide fantastic quality. I always have difficulty knowing how to get up out of my chair and leave my laptop, books bag and everything alone while I buy a cofee, any suggestions?

22 Omar July 23, 2013 at 3:45 am

Usually I don’t worry about leaving my stuff while buying coffee. I figure I can always run after someone if they do. If you still worry, ask someone to watch your stuff. The more difficult trip for me is the restroom. My advice is to get work buddy. Just Avoid chatty work buddies.

23 Tank July 24, 2013 at 11:47 am

My go to pen is a Cross Tech3. It has two pens and a pencil in one instrument. You really can’t beat it for all purposes.

24 Matt Inglot July 24, 2013 at 8:38 pm

That’s my exact briefcase and yes it does work well and I’m glad I went for thin version. Really good for meetings as it leaves a nice impression, but it’s also a very practical briefcase and not too large.

Another plus – it fits, if just barely, under any plane seat I’ve had to squeeze it under.

25 Isaac July 27, 2013 at 11:23 am

I find it fascinating how much more productive I am at a coffee shop vs. being at my work site or home. I’ve tried to replicate it in those places without much success. Really good coffee or music kind of helps, but it’s just not the same – so it must be the public motivation thing. Interestingly enough, there’s an app out now that tries to recreate the coffeehouse atmosphere via background noise. I believe it’s called coffitivity?

26 Kenneth July 28, 2013 at 7:53 pm

I thought this was going to be tips for becoming a better barista. Oh well!

27 Michael August 3, 2013 at 12:08 am

Great collection!!!
I love the Pilot pen, I always use those.
I don’t have a Saddleback brief, but about three months ago I purchased the AmeriLeather Classical Leather Organizer
It’s only $90 dollars on here and so far has been wonderful.
As far as tunes go, I love to listen to classical guitar. I enjoy Sergio and Oddair Assad very much. If you want a little more flamenco feel for something with more kick, the Gipsy Kings are always great. There’s also a cool folky album called the Goat Rodeo Sessions that’s worth checking out.

28 Zach August 4, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Authorized distraction? Art of Manliness website of course!

Alright…back to studying…

29 Rob August 9, 2013 at 10:39 am

Brett/Kate – love these articles. Would you be up for doing one on first week at a high profile job? I’m starting a new job at a place where everyone dresses very nicely and I’m lost on what brands to buy. I’ve read the article on assembling a wardrobe, but it doesnt mention where to go to get the suit, shirts, and ties. Any help would be great!

30 Ernie December 30, 2013 at 5:30 am

Les Baxter….now those are some sweet sounds. You expect to look up from your laptop and see Derek Flint knocking back an espresso!

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