Office Upgrades

My office, like the British empire and confidence that my country won’t be led by a major nutjob this time next year, lay in ruins. All my life I’ve been pondering the paradox of creating a much bigger domestic mess in the interests of improving one’s living conditions. This is why vacuuming is widely considered to be a mug’s game. You gotta move the furniture, then you uncover socks that need to be taken to the laundry hamper, and you’ve probably dislodged some weird colony of fluff that gets kicked up to the windows. As I say: it’s a mug’s game.

(Nonetheless, I try to get that taken care of before the situation becomes so dire that when I tell guests “Take off your shoes before walking into the living room,” I’m trying to protect their nice shoes, not my carpet..)

But my focus has been on my office. As a nerd, I naturally associate “upgrades” with “beefier CPU with more cores; more memory; faster storage drives; new network services. It occurred to me recently that it’s been ages since I addressed productivity bottlenecks that are rather more basic in nature.

And so, at this point in the project, I’ve:

  • Finally replaced a beloved old wireless Logitech with my first premium mechanical keyboard in ages. I went all-out (-ish) on a WASD CODE.
  • Lowered the height of my writing desk so that my hands are at a more comfy level.
  • Finally replaced a not entirely beloved, but not exactly disliked, old Samsung monitor with a new Dell U2415.
  • Put the aforementioned screen on an Ergotron monitor arm.

An immediate effect of these first three upgrades is that I’ve stopped abusing the privilege of using a notebook as a primary PC. As soon as I got the keyboard — like, a month before the other two — I stopped even wanting to write on the sofa or in bed. The nice new screen, and the ability to position it wherever I like, has made the more disciplined arena of my office my preferred place to work.

I’ve also:

  • Replaced the freaking huge halogen video light I use in my podcasts with an LED panel with equivalent output. The light itself is only about the size of a Quaker Oats box. But it’s diffused by a big softbox that rather dominated the office and was also so bulky that it was a pain to keep moving it around. So now, there’s no elephant in the room, so to speak.
  • Pulled down the rather pretty vinyl backdrop. It was starting to sag a little (it’s technically a printed sign, not a backdrop) and it made it impossible to open up the curtains in front of the Lovely Big Window. I came up with a new idea for a podcast background that I easily move out of the way when I’m not recording.

Still to do:

  • Replace my (good God) twenty year old office chair and the four year old (when purchased) school chair (I think it was made in the 80s) with a proper, ergonomic one.
  • Move my two separate desks into one unified workspace.

Oh, and: lots more sweeping and cleaning, now that I’m moving furniture around and I have access to previously uncleanable parts of the floor.

All of this demonstrates two important lessons about home offices. First, that no plan survives contact with reality. The last time I changed the layout of the office, I imagined that I’d like to have a Podcasting Area and a Writing Area. It didn’t take long before the office’s center of gravity wound up at Broadcast Central. And not for any particular reason, either. This is why architects of public spaces lay down grass after the buildings have been completed and then, months later, lay paved paths along any ground that people have worn down into bare soil.

And secondly: you just can’t get any work done in a place that you don’t want to be. The idea of the rootless, vagabond creator making his or her Art wherever they are and wherever they’ve had a pad and pencil is romantic and it’s how I’d like to be remembered. In truth, creativity is a muscle that response to regular exercise and discipline. I can only speak for myself: that stuff is hard to achieve and maintain unless there’s a place I’m supposed to be, and when I’m there, I’m supposed to be working.

Productivity is a pillowcase full of jelly: easy to grab, hard to hold on to.

6 thoughts on “Office Upgrades”

  1. Fascinating choices. You don’t see many 16:10 monitors other than from Apple. Do you find 24″ is sufficient? I haven’t used anything less than 27″ in years.

  2. “Productivity is a pillowcase full of jelly: easy to grab, hard to hold on to.”

    Love this description. Mind if I borrow it? With due credit, of course.

  3. Just wanted to say I appreciate your thoughtful approach, and I look forward to periodic updates on your work-space improvements. I went through a similar little burst a few months ago, making my workstation both more comfortable and more productive with a small budget.

    Display Enhancement (~$250): Replaced my old 23″ 1920 x 1080 monitor with a new 25″ 2560 x 1440 model from Acer. I won’t be color-correcting anything on this, or playing games- but I can view much more of my Excel spreadsheets without scrolling.

    Productivity Enhancement (Free): Started using WindowPad so I can quickly and easily snap windows to any quadrant (Win key + 7, 9, 3 or 1). Combined with the larger, higher resolution monitor I can now have four active and visible windows.

    Input Enhancement (~$30): new larger mouse that better fit my hand, plus palm rests for mouse and keyboard. I can now type and mouse much longer without any hint of discomfort.

    Ergonomic Enhancement ($15): some inexpensive shelving stuff to raise both the monitor and my laptop so I’m not forced to angle my head down. As a bonus, my laptop camera is now higher and provides a more flattering angle for video calls.

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