What is “clear working space” on a desk? Involuntary Clutter Makeover for RandsInRepose.com

Source: RandsInRepose.com’s CAVE ESSENTIALS

Introduction:

I’m still reflecting on RandsInRepose.com’s CAVE ESSENTIALS post. And while I think Rands has the perfect idea about the job of a desk:

“A desk’s job is to build productivity, and for me, it achieves this by first providing an immense amount of clear working space.”

I don’t think Rand’s desk meets his criteria. Why? Because:

  1. Rand’s desk is neither clear
    nor
  2. Immense

Wut?

Here is a close-up of Rand’s desk:

The elements of a desk being “not clear”

Clutter is the STRATEGIC enemy desk productivity.  It is impossible to remove all clutter, but the more you remove, the less brain energy wasted. For example, I think facial pictures are “the queen mother” of all clutter. Why? Because our brains are hardwired to recognize faces. Whenever a face is in front of your eyes, part of your brain is concentrating on an infinite decode loop (“Who is it? Who is it? …).

One of my MBA students heard me say facial pictures are the queen mother of clutter, and moved her daughter’s picture from next to her monitor, to out of her peripheral vision to the left. The pic is still there, she can look at the pic whenever she wants, but she is not burning energy decoding the picture when she’s trying to work. The result:

“I can’t believe how much less tired I feel at my desk.”

  1. Monitors are not on arms that would:
    1. Lift monitors clear of the work surface to allow the work surface to be used … for work!
    2. Allowing monitors to be effectively removed from the desk when one is not being used
    3. or both are not being used
    4. Allowing use of the desk space now taken up by the base of the monitor stands. Rands barely has space to lay down 3 3″x5″ cards, let alone to try to arrange cards to hot-boot a project.
      1. As my go-to hot-boot project methodology is Rough Organizing with 3×5 cards, this is a major defect in my eyes. *Note* Rands probably does not organize with 3×5 cards like I do. To each brain, it’s own organization scheme.
    5. Allow monitors to be precisely aligned/arranged
    6. Prevent the instinctive piling up of clutter on monitor bases
  2. Visible clutter on the desk
    1. What is visible clutter?
      1. Anything not being used to work, that is within the eyesight envelope of the person working.
      2. Take the above picture, and make the 0 degree line perpendicular to the center of each monitor, and then you can construct the full “clutter envelope” of a desk.
      3. I recently had a work desk that had 180 degrees of isolation when I was sitting. Action shot:
      4. Here is the close up of the work surface
      5. Sitting at this desk, the walls of the alcove were just long enough to shield my peripheral vision from any motion. And having all motion and clutter removed from peripheral vision is FANTASTIC!!!
  3. Wires, wires, everywhere.
    1. Can’t tell if Rand’s mouse is wired, but the keyboard looks wired.
    2. I switched to Apple’s Magic Keyboard 2 and Magic Trackpad 2 this summer and both are “Meh” not great, but they are … wireless and minimally increase clutter.
    3. *Note* that I have a Jabra 410 talking hockey puck speaker phone which is wired, mounted on the lower left hand corner of my iMac.
      1. I just recently discovered Velcro with “Rogue Adhesive” which allowed me to get the Jabra 410 off my desk surface, and removed 1 wire’s worth of clutter.
    4. Pay me now, pay me later.
      There is no such thing as a free lunch. I have just as much wire clutter as Rands, I just insure that I can’t see the wires when I’m working. Here is the back of my iMac:

      1. From left to right I also have a USB hub/DVD ROM driver,
      2. an extra Apple cable to charge my (Meh) Apple Keyboard and Mouse. Tucked in at top center under the Apple.
      3. And a 3×5 card/pen reservoir
      4. And last but not least, I have a low intensity under-counter LED light attached to the bottom of my imac so I can work in the dark on my (meh) keyboard and still see the letters.
      5. 1.E.i. above show the clutter seen when working

The elements of a desk not being immense

Rands’ desk looks like it is 2.5’x5′ which in inches is 30″x60″ which is not bad by today’s standards. But … the I would change about Rands’ desk is to make it deeper. Like a foot deeper. My IKEA conference table desk is 43″ deep, and 73″ long.  Rands likes having his couch super deep, he needs to do the same thing with his desk.

Surface to Arm Ratio

After using my IKEA conference table work surface for a year, I felt like I was not able to use enough of the desk surface, so in true barbarian style, I slid the work surface far forward on the support frame. This made the front overhang off the support by 15.5″ and allowed me to cut a 15″ diameter hemisphere out of the desk front.

I can now roll my chair all the way into the hemisphere and reach both the far left (with my left hand) and far (with my right hand) right corners of the desk. So the surface to arm ratio for me on this desk = 1.

Makeover Suggestions for Rands’ Desk

  1. Two VESA monitor arms + iMac VESA adapter
    1. If your two display devices are vesa, two $30 single monitor arms are the way to go. I’ve tried the dual monitor arms and they don’t allow enough freedom to arrange the monitors.
    2. If you like Rands, have a recent vintage iMac without VESA support, then you’ll need the $100 MacSales.com VESA adapter. 
  2. Larger desk surface
    1. Deeper by at least 12″ is a must
    2. Wider would be nice too
    3. I would look for a larger desk surface at IKEA’s clearance area. There are lacquer panels in blood red that might do nicely while costing next to nothing.
    4. Try mounting the new surface over the top of the existing surface. Height change will not be too great. Chair goes up and life goes on.
    5. Rands probably does not need as much desk space as I do because it looks like 300 3×5 cards are not a big part of his thinking life.
    6. So Rands won’t need the 15″ hemisphere cut out either.
  3. Clutter (pictures, polar bear, etc.) moves left until it is out of peripheral vision while looking straight at the left-hand monitor.
    1. There seems to be a credenza at left, I would move that 3′ into the room perpendicular to the front of the desk (to get stuff out of peripheral vision), and put the clutter on the credenza.
      1. Idea = Minimal change and clutter eliminated.
      2. As David Allen says, you want “just enough” organization.
  4. Wireless keyboard/mouse/trackpad
    1. I switched to a track pad because I move my right wrist less on a track pad, and less movement has led to zero wrist pain.
  5. Twist ties or cable ties to hide all the wires from view while working at the 2 monitors.
  6. ScanSnap iX500 next to the printer at right.
    1. Scansnap is the digital on-ramp to
    2. Evernote to go paperless
    3. Printer is the digital off-ramp

Dungeon Desk

NewImage
Source: 13th Age via Adam.Legendary.org

Introduction:

When was the last time you stopped working in your office, and started working on your office? Kind of like the E-Myth idea of not working your business and instead working on your business.

Well, this week I decided to spend my low-energy work time from 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm, working on my new office. I recently moved my home office into the furnace room, and as always, I’m having a lot of fun optimizing, without spending money.

Monday:

I discovered pre-cut white boards at Home Depot. Here is the in-aisle display for the 2’x3’ model:

IMG 20140102 151218e

In our furnace room we have two cabinets for storing canned goods.  The cabinets have sliding doors that were begging to have whiteboards on them. I bought one 2’x3’ board ($6.88) and one 2’x4’ board ($9.97) at Home Depot and then “hung” them on the food storage cabinets by putting 3/4” screws with large heads, around the edge of the board.  Here is what the cabinets look like now:

Presentation1 22

Alas, I found that the whiteboard was sagging away from the cabinet door 1/2 up.  So I added 2 middle screws 1/2 way up each board.  These middle screws pierce the board and hold it flat to the cabinet door.

I found Industrial strength Velcro® at Home Depot (UPC 0-75967-90595-8) and used this to attach a whiteboard eraser on edge and a whiteboard marker directly to the larger white board (see Cabinet 2). No hunting for writing implements!

Tuesday and Wednesday:

On Tuesday and Wednesday I added my 3 tier paper tray to my desk setup, and on Wednesday I added a 1’x1’ IKEA Lack shelf to hold the portable Canon inkjet printer I use in my office. Here is what they look like now:

IMG 20140104 142648 jpg 11

Thursday:

Light is luxury in a dungeon. So Thursday’s task was to get better light into the office without any cash changing hands. I was able to do this because I had an old Home Depot Hampton Bay track light setup from four home offices ago that I was able to repurpose. The only components I needed to buy were power connectors (2 @ $10 each = $20) to run the two separate tracks I set up.

Presentation1 6

Friday:

On Friday I spent an hour re-arranging the power setup for my desk. Step 1 was to test my UPS. It was dead. Bother! I pulled it out of the setup and re-wired. You can’t really see a re-wiring in a picture, but for me it *feels* like I’m taking next actions off my mind. Wiring gets tanglier and tanglier over time, and my brain apparently, is monitoring that.

So here is the Dungeon Desk:

IMG 20140104 143951

I’ve broken my own rule of “nothing on the desk” to implement my Bose Companion 5 computer speakers.

  • First, the sub-woofer is on the desk because the speakers get glitchy if the USB cable is longer than 5 or 6 feet.
  • Second, the speakers are on the desk because they sound fine on the desk, and I don’t see them while I’m working on the computer.  The sound reflects under the iMac and comes up over the keyboard and trackpad. *Note* I used to mount the speakers on the top of my 27” iMac, but they don’t stay well and it is just a hassle to have more weight on the arm.
  • Third the Bose “hockey puck” sound controller is on the desk because the cable is fraying by the hockey puck, so I can’t mount it on the lower right corner of my iMac any more. iMac mounting requires the cable to make tight turns that wear it out.

And, I’ve broken my rule to have Puffs on my desk because I have chronic rhionitis and I was sick for the month of December 2013. so it is just convenient to have tissues close at hand.

I’ve mounted a 12 outlet power bar at the left end of my desk’s work surface. This is handy for laptop repair and use. I also have another 12 outlet power bar behind my rolling file cabinet at the right of my desk.  This powers all the devices on to the right of my desk.

Out of Sight Infrastructure:

I’ve been evolving my out of sight-while-I-work-but-close-at-hand infrastructure lately, I’m pretty pleased with it so far. You may be able to file off the serial number on this idea and use it for yourself. Here is what the rolling file cabinet looks like:

IMG 20140104 142736

Here is an annotated shot:

IPhoto 50

Here is a closer shot:

IMG 20140104 142725

Support RestartGTD by buying your ScanSnap iX500, Label Printer, Cordless Phone, External DVD driveBose Companion 5 speakers, Apple Mac, or Windows Ultrabook at Amazon!

bill meade

RestartGTD is a blog about getting back on the GETTING THINGS DONE bandwagon after falling off.

How not to set up a Brother QL-570

Introduction

I had this great idea!  Take the QL-570 label printer that is 4x as fast as David Allen’s alphanumeric label printer, and mount it on the under side of my desk.  Then, whenever I print a label, I can just put my hand under my desk, wait for the label to drop into my hand, and *poof* a no-look label! 

The “mr blurry cam” picture looks like this: 

HowNotToQL570

To take this picture, I am laying on the floor, looking up at the under-side of my desk.  The QL-570 is in the lower right hand corner.  The silver objects are the Galant Legs and the white surface is the under side of the Galant conference table that has become SON OF THE PERFECT GTD DESK.  

Don’t do this at home

First, because the rolls of Brother file folder labels will not stay secure when the printer is upside down.  And second, because even if you secure the folder label tape into the printer, the paper handling and printing mechanisms don’t work upside down.  :-(

But, it was fun with double sided sticky tape!  And, if this had worked, I would have removed one more item of visual clutter from around my desk.  

 

bill meade 

The Perfect GETTING THINGS DONE (GTD) Desk

In this post, I’d like to dissect what I like about my current GETTING THINGS DONE desk, how it makes me feel, how it helps flow/mind-like-water, and how somehow, it magically helps me get a ton of work done.  See the previous Before/After post to get a fuller visual on my complete trusted system.

Desk 3.0 [*Note* Desk 4.0 has its own post and can be seen here]

OK, here is a picture of my 3rd generation GTD desk which includes the legs.  The rest of this post is a discussion of the elements of the perfect GTD desk.

GTDAfter2point0

  • Element #1: Clear desk surface

The longer I do GTD, the more I find that I need to spread paper out on the surface of my desk to organize it.  I keep parallel project folders: in atoms making up manilla folders, and in bits in Omnifocus projects.  I write one idea, one piece of paper into either atoms or bits, and I organize the pieces of paper on the surface of my desk.  It is just invaluable for me to put my ideas across the desk surface and then ask myself what the individual ideas are trying to tell me.

In addition, a clear desk surface lets you take a nice butcher block sized piece of paper to mind-map when you are kicking off a natural project management event.

Requirements for a clear desk are:

  1. Get the monitor on an arm that clears your desk (I use the Innovative 7500-hd-1500 arm because I’m holding 24 and 27 pound iMacs up.  I attempted to link to Amazon.com for this product but the links are not working, I bought my most recent arm from Seaboom.com as it was $65 to $110 cheaper than Amazon.  The three models at SeaBoom do not have pictures, but I figured out their colors and have a guide herethat you can use to pick your color.).
    1. Consider switching to a 27″ all-in-one computer (Mac, PC), makes a clean desk easy
    2. If you can’t swing an all-in-one, think hard about why your brain is not worth having a high resolution 27″ in monitor (Mac, PC). Do you cut from one window and paste into another for a living?  27″ monitors double efficiency!
  2. Get a wireless mouse, and
  3. Wireless keyboard (Mac, PC) so you can move keyboard and mouse off the desk and using the surface for your brain’s organizing pleasure.
  4. Resurface the desk, early and often.  I’ve had original veneer, maple veneer, and currently, a $45 sheet of Formica (works great as a whiteboard!) on the surface of my desk.  On my too-dark, too-depressing desk at home, I’ve resurfaced with whiteboard contact paper. Amazon has a veritable zoo of contact papers (easy on, easy off if you don’t like them) which allow your brain to employ whimsy to please itself as you work.  Experiment and enjoy!

I look forward to the day when I can remove the telephone from my desk!  I currently do about 90% of my phone calling with Skype and a wireless headset.  I’ve thought about suspending the computer from the ceiling or from a cart that can be driven away from the desk to leave the desk space 100% analogue, but these are not currently practical given all the cables that have to be run.

  • Element #2: Big desk surface

The best data I’ve seen on the surface area needed for information workers comes from Demarco and Lister’s book Peopleware.

Before drawing the plans for its new Santa Teresa facility, IBM violated all industry standards by carefully studying the work habits of those who would occupy the space. The study was designed by the architect Gerald McCue with the assistance of IBM area managers. Researchers observed the work processes in action in current workspaces and in mock-ups of proposed workspaces. They watched programmers, engineers, quality control workers, and managers go about their normal activities. From their studies, they concluded that a minimum accommodation for the mix of people slated to occupy the new space would be the following: 100 square feet of dedicated space per worker 30 square feet of work surface per person

DeMarco, Tom; Lister, Timothy R. (2010-04-15). Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams (Kindle Locations 812-818). Dorset House Publishing. Kindle Edition.

30 square feet of work surface is H-U-G-E.  My desk is 34″ deep, so to have 30 square feet of work area, my desk would need to be 10.5′ long! As my desk is merely 6′ long, I’m coming up short with a 17 square foot desk.  I forecast that GTD will be adding some desk space to my office before too long.  But for now, I’m squeaking by with a single work surface and living 13 square feet below my potential.  :-)

Another interesting aside is how many of my students are trying to live on tiny desks.  Here’s Paulina Menchaka’s before and after desks (Paulina has kindly granted me permission to share these pictures).  See if these pictures feel the same or different when you think about sitting down to work at these desks?

My friend s Messy Desk 089Photo

Here is what my desk looks like today.  The mouse and keyboard can be moved out of the way, and the monitor can be pushed back to free up desk surface.

D3M 2950

Summary, you need elbow room to think.  You need to work with your entire brain, that means spreading things out in front of it, moving things around, giving the brain time to compost, and then listening as your subconscious bubbles up ideas.  No substitute for lots of work surface and unrestricted access to that surface.

  • Element #3: Slide-to-side room

I think it is required that you have the ability to roll your chair to slide sideways across your desk.  This is required first, because it gives you a sense of freedom not having your knees crowded from both sides (John Niebergall, you know who you are!).  Second, as projects are underway, new projects have a way of finding their way on to your desk.  With a clear surface and sideways sliding room, you can be practically opportunistic in sliding sideways and setting up a 2nd (and sometimes a 3rd) project that you have to run in parallel with your starting project.  I just get a sense of release when I look at a desk that is flexible allowing side to side sitting.  Open-ness side to side also lets you invite people to work beside you at your desk.  For example, I often have my students put their laptops on the right hand end of my desk so they can step through an Excel exercise on their own computer as I step through it on my computer.

  • Element #4: Conference table legs

My desk was part of a very business-like Jesper office set I bought in Boise in 2002.  I’ve been refining the desk ever since.

ORIGINALJESPERDESK

When, in January 2011, I was trying to fit the desk and its side skirt supports into my office a Concordia, I realized that there just were not enough degrees of freedom with side skirt legs.  For example, you can’t really have a meeting with someone across a desk that has skirts like this.  What I really wanted was a conference table.  Once I realized this, I went to IKEA, and bought a Galant leg set and table frame (IKEA part number 101.501.69 I can’t find it on their web site) for $80 and make my modified Jesper desk into the conference table style desk.

Meade s Theory of the Perfect GETTING THINGS DONE  GTD Desk

The more I do GTD, the simpler I need my desk to be.  It takes a lot of complexity to make a desk appear simple and purely functional.  Note that I have 2 cable management systems under my desk.  The white box attached to the left two legs is a $10 IKEA cable management solution that confines power strips and extra lengths of cable beautifully.  I don’t care how messy the cables are as long as I can’t see and don’t think about them.  In addition to the cable management system I have a Trip-Lite 12 outlet strip attached underneath the work surface.

Geek readers will detect an external USB hard drive on the top of the cable management unit.  In 2011 I decided to squeeze another 2 years out of my 2008 iMac by replacing the boot disk with a solid state drive and moving the home folder to external USB drive.  Amazing speedup!

Twocablemanagers

The second cable management system is perpendicular to the white box, and consists of the dark felt trays with the light brackets holding them to the underside of the work surface.  IKEA has apparently killed both these cable management systems, but fortunately, they have introduced new systems as well.  So, for $40 you can have all the under-work surface cable management you need.

Cable management above the work surface is a matter of twist ties, cable ties, double-sided-sticky-tape, and corrugated finger-pinching tube.  Here is the behind the scenes cable management story of my desk.  Since this picture was taken, I’ve drilled a 3″ hole at the base of the monitor arm so I could route all the cables directly through the desk to the cable management trays beneath it.  Here is the right hand side of the monitor arm: Note my pen and trusty 3″x5″ cards at the ready behind the iMac monitor.

Red arrows show tools behind the monitor, yellow arrows in the following two pictures show the extensive re/use of double sided sticky tape in desk enginerding.

Cablemanagementabovedesk 1

On the left hand side of the monitor arm you can see two Bose speakers, a 7 port USB hub, a 5 port ethernet switch, and an $11 fluorescent light, all attached with double sided sticky tape. All this is a mess, but I don’t care, since I can’t see the mess. Out of sight means no open loop for my mind.

Abovedeskcablemgmt2 1

Note the white plastic objects in the yellow file folder fingers on the diagonal part of the monitor arm.  These are 3D printed objects that I need to have readily available.  They are clutter unless I need them, so I keep them behind my iMac screen.  I don’t see them and so am not bothered by them while I’m working.

  • Element #6: Killer Cool Paper Trays

The current state of GTD paper tray technology is deplorable!  Even before I discovered GTD, I conducted a frustrated search of the internet to find something that was not boring, something I called “goofy.”  What I found was a multiple tray system designed by Shaunn Fynn and sold by Custom Plastics Inc of Elk Grove Village, Il.  I think that Custom Plastics has given up on selling this multiple paper tray.  You can still find a very similar desk organization system at high end wood product components manufacturers like Doug Mockett but the series is being discontinued.  No matter.  I think the requirement is for some element of whimsy in your paper trays.  By whimsy, I think that GTDers need to go beyond tidy.  We need a dash of not-too-over-organized-and-fun, on our desks without introducing clutter.  Shaun Fynn’s elevated multiple trays, are a perfect entry point a fresh breath of creative desk whimsy!

Story: When I moved to Concordia University last January, I took my original paper tray system that looked like the 3 tray system in the right of this picture:

FYNN

And then I blatantly sucked up to the awesome physical plant team at CU, and they removed the base of the tray system, and then J-B Welded the paper tray base to the base of my monitor arm.  These paper trays are fun because they can rotate around the axis of the vertical post.  You can line them up one above the other if you are felling left brained, or you can align them asymmetrically if that is what pleases your muse.

I use the top tray for my inbox (please note that since having a week to work undisturbed in my office I’m at INBOX ZERO!), the second tray has my natural project management form (I turned GTD chapter 3’s natural project management process, into a 1 page form.  See Appendix A at the end of this post if you want a copy), and the bottom tray has blank white letter sized paper.

Killercoolpapertrays 1

I started doing GTD in March 2009 (after meeting Ian Watson at COMDEX 2009 at the end of January).  It took Ian a month to get me to promise to read GTD.  The time since then has been a roller coaster journey of increased productivity, decreased stress, then increased stress, decreased productivity.  In the process I’ve refined, refactored, rethought, and redesigned my desk.  When I sit down now at my desk, I feel pleasure at being able to work.  This is true at my office desk and at my home desk (BTW, stay tuned for a blog post on an upgrade to the home desk in January 2012).

I have learned, that if I am feeling pressure from work that there are two causes:

  • First, I have not done my review.  I don’t think weekly is enough for me to get current on everything.  But daily is too often.  I have an annoying meat brain and continue to search for the sweet spot of my meat spot.  :-)
  • Second, I am not organized enough.

My desk is a key component of my trusted system.  Desk is the place where I work on atoms and bits of my next actions.  As I’ve sharpened my desk, my physical filing, electronic filing (Evernote for documents + Kindle for ebooks), I’m becoming more productive and less stressed.  I see this working for my students as well.  I think it can work for you if you have that knot of doubt in your stomach about whether you can ever hear someone say “Your desk is awesome!” (My wife Beth said this 2 days ago about my 2nd-string home office desk, and it made my week!).  If I can implement GTD, anyone can (check out the before/after pics here if you haven’t seen them: http://restartgtd.com/2011/12/29/gtd-journey-after/).

For now, my theory of the perfect GTD desk is to bring together 6 elements (However, I reserve the right to add more elements if needed!):

  1. Clear desk surface
  2. Big (ideally 30 square feet)
  3. Slide to side (open front)
  4. Conference table legs
  5. Cable management
  6. Killer cool paper trays

In addition to my work desk, I have used GTD to redesign my wallet into a pico-desk, my BookBook laptop computer case as a nano-desk, and my Kensington rolling briefcase into a mobile desk.  More on these in later posts.

  • Appendix A: Meade’s Natural Project Management 1-Page Form

MeadeNaturalProjectManagment

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