Post-PhD, pre-job, I’ve been mobile office-ing a lot.
And by “mobile office”, I mean anywhere-with-my-laptop.
I’ve been a nocturnal writer most of my life, and usually work best between midnight and around 0500hrs. But since January this year, I’ve been trying to reeducate my writing habits and rewire my routine. I’ve mostly taken to writing in various places outside the house in the daytime. (And because daytime means sunlight, I always secretly feel a bit healthier inside.)
I write in spurts whenever I find the time – on the bus journey to places, in church before worship band rehearsals, in the field during the boys’ weekly football friendlies. Most weekdays, I write in cafes around my partner’s workplace so we can catch up over lunch. But this can be tricky at times, and I’ve been developing some sort of coping routine while cafe-hopping with my new writing practice.
I present to you, first world problems from a “mobile office”:
1) Seats near power sockets are prized and rare. I’ve roughly worked out the different peak and off-peak times for the cafes I frequent and know where all the power sockets are. But sometimes these seats aren’t available, and I feel helpless watching my laptop battery drain and die before heading to another cafe with better luck. Most cafes don’t mind you working away during off-peak times, and I always try to remove myself during the lunch and tea time periods to work in a nearby park or garden.
2) Wifi access is intermittent and transient. I try to download + save all the things I need before leaving the house, and tether Internet connection from my iPhone to my laptop whenever I need to send off work. One cafe I used to write in had free wifi access but would ban websites such as Facebook (whose messaging feature I use for work) and Twitter (which I use for fieldwork). Most other cafes have password-protected wifi access, and I usually find myself politely negotiating access after I’ve become a regular.
3) The crowd is unpredictable but sometimes exciting. I am generally flexible with working in noisy environments. While I prefer writing to set soundtracks and associate different albums with distinct writing rhythms, I rarely tune in when I’m cafe-hopping. The ambient noise is easy to block out, and sometimes I think it helps me think. I like the fleshiness of being around strangers with whom I can share a space with minimal social interaction. Somehow it makes the writing process feel less lonely inside. Plus, sometimes one observes the most curious of social exchanges.
4) Daily expenditures have to be managed. I haven’t been on a stable wage for several months now and payment from my intermittent research work often takes a long time to come through, especially when they are transnational transactions. I used to feel really guilty about spending on drinks I can probably make on my own or pastries that I can get for a steal from the grocery store. But I rationalized that I enjoyed this form of self-care because it eased the chores of writing and broke the monotony of my routine – I try to order a new thing each time, and this mystery new thing, small as it may be, always gave me something to look forward to. Most days, I start the writing morning with a drink, break for lunch, then wrap up the writing afternoon with another drink and said mystery new thing.
5) Toilet breaks have to be timed. This. Is. So. Tricky. For starters, not all cafes have attached toilets. Working out this map is a tricky endeavour in itself. Even if cafes do have attached toilets, I never ever leave my laptop unattended, and feel comfortable leaving my drink to sit unattended while I run off. Most times, I end up pausing my work, packing up, doing a bathroom run, and start all over at another cafe. Otherwise, I try to convince my organs to time all my pee breaks during lunch while my partner watches over my things. Mundane as it sounds, this was the most unexpected firstworldproblem when I began cafe-hopping to write. I don’t know how other people do this.
Do you work from a mobile office too? What sort of issues do you encounter? (Have you worked out a toilet break system yet?)