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One Way to Fix a Dysfunctional Workspace

Returning at summer’s end from my computerless, Internet-less, cell phone-less, television-less vacation on beautiful Orcas Island, I suddenly realized my workspace was dysfunctional (see “What’s Wrong with My Desk?”).

Now I’ve fixed the problems, and today’s post, as promised, shares the solutions.

First, here’s the “before” photo, of one of the stupidest desk setups you’ll ever see:


There were two main problems:

1. Computer dominating desk
Positioning a computer smack in the middle of a desk is like installing a television there—except it’s worse, because with a TV at least I know I’m wasting time, whereas a computer creates the illusion of worthwhile activity, even while sucking time and attention away (see solution below).

2. Telephone and computer at same station
Having the telephone and computer at the same station assumes constantly sitting at the computer throughout the day. This is a dreadful violation of several of Clark’s Rules, something that I, being Clark, was mortified to discover (see solution below).

Those seventeen analog days revealed with stark clarity how my own work environment reflected a key theme here at Soul Shelter: the encroachment of technology upon our work and personal lives. I resolved to fundamentally redesign my work area. Here’s how I revamped it:

1. Separated computing from more important work
It’s taken an embarrassment of years to figure this out, but eliminating the computer from its central desktop position, where it can sap creativity, drain attention, and constantly interrupt was the single most important step. Now it sits on its own dedicated (small) desk, and using it requires getting up, changing seats, and turning it on (try as I might, I still spend too much time doing e-mail, checking Web sites, and responding to other trivia that lives only within the PC).

What a relief to make room for more important work: thinking, planning, writing, and editing! Here’s the “after” photo:


Now, all in-progress projects and reference works are in easy reach, and there’s plenty of room to spread out. Note, too, that repositioning the desk by a window affords a view of some backyard green. Nice.

2. Installed a dedicated, standalone, height-adjustable computer station
To deal simultaneously with the computer separation issue and my ongoing ergonomic challenges, I bought an ActiveWerks height adjustable electric table. The motor-driven legs adjust the tabletop height from 24 to 48 inches, providing two benefits. First, you can set your work surface at the precisely correct ergonomic height for seated computing. Second, you can set the table high so that you can stand while computing. Standing can help keep computing sessions shorter, and provide the postural and motion variety crucial to maintaining health (part of this variety is achieved by separating the computer from the main desk, so I have to get up and move around a bit when switching between computing and non-computing tasks).

Here’s what it looks like in a high position:


Now, readers, I know most of you, unlike me, can successfully control your Internet use and PC-fiddling, and therefore avoid my tortured love/hate relationship with computers. You may wonder, “Why in the world does Clark keep paper in binders all over his desk? Geez, I can make twelve hundred folders on my hard drive and call up documents with a few mouse clicks.”

You have a good point, and more power to you if you can work like that.

But there’s a reason more people are marveling at how their productivity soars when they work “off the grid” at the library or at a Starbucks. My intention is simple: to take myself “off the grid,” as much as possible, in my usual workspace.

Finally, a word about ergonomics.carpal_pain.jpg

If you start feeling even the slightest twinges of pain or discomfort from computer use, I urge you to act immediately. Get your workspace assessed by a qualified ergonomic consultant. Eliminate most of your typing by using the incredible NaturallySpeaking voice input program. Improve your work posture with a Nada Chair or a properly-designed work chair. Get a Wacom tablet or at least another mouse, and start sharing pointing and clicking tasks equally between your two hands. Make sure your chair, desk, and monitor are positioned at the correct height (many people unknowingly strain themselves simply by not having things set at the correct level). And if computers and the Internet are starting to strain your spirit, consider making some fundamental changes in your relationship with technology.

Well, there you have it—one way to fix a dysfunctional workspace (or more accurately, how I took a few steps toward fixing my dysfunctional workspace).

And on this, the first working day in my newly revamped space, I can testify to a soul-satisfying difference.

You may also enjoy:

The Office Worker’s Guide to Staying Swamped

Happiness is Turning Off the Computer

How to Be Late for Dinner

Fixing a Broken Work Model

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