I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately, and the one place that is consistent is the classic coffee shop. Whether it’s a Starbucks or local caffeine stop, the one thing I always find, besides the coffee, is the “mobile worker” and the “mobile disaster.”

The mobile worker is the person who has the corner table setup to function like the top floor of a major office building in a three and half foot square space. They are completely in the zone and incredibly productive.  They have the look of someone who can handle any crisis, connect across the globe, and ignore the person who just spilled the large latte all over the floor 3 feet to their left.  I think it’s impressive.  However, I always ask the question “How did they get to that place?”  What skills are necessary to function in this cacophony?  How did they determine their setup and needs to be productive?

The mobile disaster reminds me of some of the middle school boys that I used to work with at my previous school.  You could find them anytime by simply following the trail of papers, office supplies, and sometimes food falling from their unzipped backpacks.  At points, it seemed as if there was some sort of competition to see who could have the most pockets fully unzipped at once.  Those skills, or lack thereof, translate directly into an adult version.  Instead of in a middle school hallway, I tend to find them in coffee shops.  A laptop perched on a folder with webinar-feature-usparandom documents trying to escape.  The classic coffee ring stain on the most important document and crumbs from another muffin all over the keyboard.  They are easily distracted, partly because they forgot their earbuds and partly because they are adjusting to the new environment.  Their bag is half full alongside them, but escaping out into the walkway so there is a constant flow of people trying to walk by and each interruption results in a slight move and an apology.  They spend inordinate amounts of time looking for things in the escaping bag, but seem to never find what they need.  Production suffers and the level of caffeine reaches epic proportions until, shaking, they move on to lunch.  I was that person.  I just couldn’t figure out the mobile thing.  It took 5 more visits before I realized I was approaching the issue from the wrong angle.  It wasn’t about setting up the table to mimic the office.  It was all about the backpack.

My routine was completely off.  In fact, I didn’t even have one.  So I sat down and started by dumping my backpack out and sorting through the mess.  What did I need?   Where should it go?  How do I pack and unpack? The result was a spot for everything; earbuds, chargers, notebooks, and of course the laptop.  Next, a routine.  Where should I sit?  What are the considerations?  Traffic?  Outlet locations?  Did I like the normal coffee shop noise, or do I want music?  If so, should I make a mix?  There has been a lot of trial and error, but now I am far more comfortable and productive on the road.  I’m not the full-on mobile worker, but I’m far from my days as a mobile disaster.

The best part is that it’s preventable, and at USPA it is a skill that we believe is really important to our student athletes.   We ask our students to identify and answer the questions that I posed above, but before they leave our community.   It’s the age old dilemma of time.  In a traditional school model, time is very valuable commodity, and in many schools teachers simply don’t have the time to look at skills and applying them the way that we do at USPA.  Our students travel a great deal, and developing these skills is critical to them succeeding in both their academic and athletic environments.  The power of routine, organization, and understanding who they are as a learner, and what they need in order to be successful is very important.  It isn’t necessarily taught in a textbook nor is it the same for each person.  Therefore, the questions we ask our students to answer about their own learning styles become the foundation for them to develop their own skill set.

The idea is to enable them to avoid being that person with papers everywhere and the coffee stained papers and things trying to escape from their bag.  Nor do we need the high end mobile worker. It’s been really challenging and fun to develop lessons that are specific to our student body and in the end we want them to feel empowered to be the mobile student athlete, who is successful in applying what they know and how they learn best.

I know I could have used those skills well ahead of when I developed them, and possibly avoided the coffee, crumbs, and caffeine fueled mornings of trying to work in a different environment.

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