I completed one Master’s degree working where most graduate students do, at the computer desk in my bedroom, at the university library, in coffee shops, and the odd day out on the quad with my laptop in the grass. If I was really lucky I could borrow my desk at my internship for a few hours to do my own work rather than theirs.

I realized after that experience that I get so much more work done when I’m in a space that’s actually designated for work. Such a revolutionary concept, right? Counselors have known this for years. We always tell teenagers that doing homework on your bed is a bad idea because you will either sleep terrible after that end of semester push, or you’ll be nodding off while trying to get your work done. I have the same problem writing papers at the same desk I play video games and making phone calls in the same room I veg out and watch T.V.

When I am at my internship, even with time for lunch and quick breaks, I have no problem getting a full six hours of actual work done in an eight hour day. At my apartment or at the coffee shop, four of every eight hours might be fairly productive, but not even close to the laser focus I can set on a task when I’m “at work”. Oh sure, I’ll get a project done, but it will take twice as long.

The answer to this problem is fairly obvious, office space. But of course most universities barely have enough desk space for professors, let alone grad students. So if we want functional work space, we will have to go out on our own. Many people think renting office space has to be hugely expensive, with rent, utilities, furniture, ect. It doesn’t have to be that complex. There are a few options graduate students can look at.

The first option grad students can consider a large step up from coffee shops are called Co-Working centers. These are big with techies and writers, but are still relatively unknown to most everyone else. Co-Working centers charge a monthly fee (typically $100-$500 depending on the package) for unlimited access to an open shared work space during business hours.

A list of operating co-working spaces in most US cities can be found at coworking.pbworks.com.

The next step up from Co-Working is Business Centers, sometimes called Executive Suites. These spaces run by companies such as Regus and Carr Workspaces offer leases on full-time offices down to what are called Virtual Offices in a managed space. A Business Center is usually comprised of a reception area with many small (100 sq ft or so) single and double occupancy offices leased separately. A customer would have access to their own office along with a common conference room and business services such as faxing. These offices can be rented either full-time or more importantly for our purposes, for a set number of hours per month. Depending on location, prices range from $95 to $300 a month for the use of a private office one day per week, plus a few hours a month of conference room access.

A final option that grad students should consider if they find the need for work space, is subletting. In the current economic times, many companies have empty desks. While colleges and universities are hurting for space, many large companies have unused space. If you have worked as an intern at a company or know a business owner, you could likely set your price for the use of empty desk space a day or two per week. You get space in an environment conductive to getting work done, and the company improves their image of a productive company. If you have a particular skill and a few hours free, it may even be possible to barter for the use of a desk during normal hours. The power is on anyway, someone might as well be using an empty desk or cubical.

So if you find yourself unhappily rubbing elbows at Starbucks during finals week, or you’re just sick of working in your bedroom, take a little bit of time to look at other options. You might be able to find yourself in a professional office being more productive than ever, all for the price of most cable T.V. packages.