The Desk: Door to Your Home Office
What to think about when putting together your desk space
I’ll get this over with right now. DO NOT underthink your work-from-home desk space. Not doing so can severely affect your productivity and motivation, but most importantly it can affect your health in a real way. Take it from me. I’ve been working from home for about eight years and I am on month nine of physical therapy to rectify issues largely caused by poor planning in this arena.
Ok, now I’ll dive into the details. First, let’s talk about emotional/motivational aspects. Having a designated place to work is key. It’s your homebase. Your desk space should be the physical trigger that puts your mind in ‘work’ mode. It’s a nebulous concept, but there’s a whole lot of physiological research to support it. You can dive right in and trust me, or there are a bunch of books out there that discuss it. I’ve read a ton of them, but my two favorite takes are still from Marie Kondo and David Allen. Their approaches are not prescriptive. Instead, they encourage you to ask the right questions to figure out what you need to be in the right frame of mind to get things done.
When it comes to your physical needs from a desk space, many people just proceed with some standard, arbitrary checklist. I think this stems from the fact that when you start a job at an office, many choices are already made for you. There is often a desk, chair, computer, and phone already there. It may never occur to you to ask ‘is this keyboard at the right height for me?’ or ‘would a more ergonomic mouse keep my wrist from hurting by the end of the day?’ Often it’s not until one is already experiencing some kind of chronic pain that they start to question their equipment. Try to be proactive about it.
Even if you start putting together your space with intention, there may still be some trial and error in the execution. I am on my fifth work-from-home desk. My journey started in my mid-20s when my only intention was for my desk to look cute in my living room. Now I’m in my mid-30s and my main intention is to have a desk space that is comfortable for the length of time I need it without putting strain on my body. Side note, the same thing could be said for my wardrobe rationale from mid-20s to mid-30s. Thankfully, I have been able to sell most of my old desks to mitigate the cost of trying out new ones. In some cases, your employer might be willing to offset some of your costs. If you don’t know, it’s worth asking.
For some context as you explore, the desk I have now is height adjustable. It’s not a fancy hydraulic one or anything, but for around $80, it does everything I need. It allows me to customize the height of my keyboard, monitor and mouse independently. This is key for me because sometimes I like to stand and sometimes I like to sit. Furthermore, I find that some days my shoulders like a different height on the keyboard. I don’t know why, but hey, I have the option! (Note: I’m not making a commission on the product link. Also, prices change, it may no longer be available at the price I paid.)
Now, even if you love it, don’t only work at your desk. I know I just spent so much time stressing the importance of your desk, but that’s because you need a place that establishes in your mind: "I’m at work." Humans are fickle creatures with short attention spans. We need variety! I like to START my day at my desk space to get in the right frame of mind, but when things get stagnant, I pick a project that can be done with laptop, tablet or cell phone alone (emails, calls to return, etc.) and take off elsewhere. Sometimes I take calls on the treadmill at the gym, while making a cup of tea, or while brushing my cat. Sometimes I go outside to a picnic table to check email or move over to the dining table in my apartment. It doesn’t take a huge change to get yourself out of a motivational block (I’m grateful for this fact because I’ve WFH in a lot of teeny NYC apartments). In the framework of the aforementioned David Allen, I keep my to-do lists segmented by context. I have an ‘at desk’ list, a ‘laptop only’ list, a ‘mobile-friendly’ list, and a list of calls.
This need for freedom of movement in a remote work environment brings to mind one other important thing I have adopted. You might find this useful as well. I use one laptop to power all the other things at my desk (second monitor, keyboard, mouse, dock, etc.). I have learned that it is important to make the laptop removal process as slick as possible. I keep everything else plugged into a dock so that as I’m coming and going from desk space, I plug in one single cable and everything is ready to use. I would highly recommend not having your desk setup include a jungle of intertwined cables and apparatus that make it difficult to move away from your desk. That’s not just advice when you want to work elsewhere or have to travel for work, it’s also great for when it’s time to ‘leave the office’ for the day.
Final final note. This is not possible or applicable for everyone, but I also heed David Allen’s advice about not having a multi-purpose work space. This means your work space is for YOUR WORK, not your pleasure and not for anyone else’s work. If you can, try not to share a desk with others in your household. Also, if you can, have a separate space for creative projects or some physical trigger to get your mind out of the ‘office’ and into your more creative head space. I’ve been holding out on you this whole time. I actually have a whole other desk space (literally just adjacent to my work desk) that is for my creative work. I have a personal laptop setup there and it means I don’t have to move everything around when switching from work projects to personal projects. It doesn’t take up that much more space, and it’s one instance where I repurposed an old desk that wasn’t holding up to ergonomic standards ‘at the office’.
I hope you find this information helpful. Best of luck in your remote work endeavors!