Every week or two, I’ll stop by a local coffee shop to spend a little time ‘alone.’ And even though there are more people in the building than there would be at home, it’s usually easier for me to stay focused in that environment. I could stay in my home office and close the door. That would also give me some space, and theoretically, it should be the same. But in my experience, it’s not. Changing locations makes a difference.

Perhaps the issue is because I do all kinds of tasks in my home office. I do tasks for work, respond to emails, process paperwork, read, write, and so on. But if I head out to a coffee shop or a park or some other location, I usually have a specific purpose in mind. I may want to look over some notes from the previous week or journal some thoughts about recent experiences. I may want to think through some plans for the upcoming month. My mind doesn’t associate an off-site location with the same kinds of tasks I do in my home office. And that makes it easier to stay focused on what I came to do.

These other places also don’t provide the same kinds of potential distractions. There are fewer items to remind me of all the things I could be doing. A computer with an internet connection isn’t right at my fingertips. There are no books on the shelves or papers in the inbox to catch my eye. If anything, every time I look around and see I’m somewhere else, I’m reminded of why I came in the first place.

Now heading out does have an associated cost. Maybe it’s purchasing a coffee or paying for gas. And even if I purchase nothing, and decide to walk down to the river or head to a park, it still costs me some time to drive or walk there. But maybe that’s why it’s usually more effective. If I’m going to spend the time and effort to head somewhere else, I usually have a reason for doing so. And it’s that combination of both having a purpose and eliminating distractions that seems to makes all the difference.