Tag Archives: Productivity

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.

“Fast Eddie…let’s play some pool.”

Minnesota Fats (played by Jackie Gleason) is on the ropes. He’s been shooting high-stakes pool against Fast Eddie (Paul Newman) all through the night and into the morning. He’s been beaten and everyone in the pool hall knows it. The only reason why Fast Eddie hasn’t collected the victory and the stakes is the fact that when you play against a legend like Fats, “The game isn’t over until Fats says it’s over.”

That’s fine by Eddie. He came here to prove something. He wants the money but just as strongly, he wants the concession that he’s the better player.

Fats is slumped in the chair, disheveled, sweaty, exhausted. The cue rests against his open hand.

He excuses himself. He sends a kid out to buy a bottle of top-drawer booze. He goes into the washroom and washes his face and hands carefully, and then he powders both. He combs his hair. He changes into a fresh shirt. He puts his jacket back on and fixes his boutonniére.

He emerges a new man. “Fast Eddie,” he says, adjusting his cuffs and smiling, “Let’s play some pool.” From that point on, the ending is inevitable.

When I’m having a bad workday — when it’s X o’clock and I’ve only accomplished Y of the Z things I’d hoped to finish by now, where Y divided by Z is heartbreakingly closer to 0 than to 1 — I think of this scene and reflect upon its lessons:

  1. It’s not over until you say it’s over. In most situations, you didn’t lose because you got beat. You lost because you accepted the loss while there was still time left on the clock, when instead you should have focused on the ways you could still win. And maybe you actually can’t win…but at minimum, you can do a better job of losing.
  2. Sometimes the stink of failure is a physical thing. Wash it off. No kidding. Brush your teeth, wash your face, change into a clean shirt. Move to a different workspace. Once you’ve left behind all of the sights and smells of your Ungodly Unproductive Morning, your brain restarts and reboots.
  3. The good news is, the whiskey works. Yes. Pour yourself a drink. Have a cookie. Slice yourself a bit of that nice Y Fenni cheese you bought a few days ago. And don’t just gobble it down. Nibble, sip, savor. It’ll help put some sensory distance between now and the time when you were having such a horribly unproductive day and doing such terrible work.

Then I sit back down, rub my hands together, and say “Fast Eddie…let’s play some pool.” Because nothing counts if you don’t keep trying.