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How I Work, 2020 Edition: The Office

For more than a decade, I’ve been writing for a living. And while the nature of that writing has ebbed and flowed over the years, the fact remains that I sit at a desk for hours every weekday, trying to force myself to tap words onto a screen for money.

What does that even look like?

I was once fascinated with a series called How I Work on Lifehacker. I’ve fallen away from Lifehacker in the past few years thanks to a large influx of political content, but the concept is still interesting to me. I guess that’s why I’ve subscribed to a few email lists where people share what they carry with themselves every day, or their favorite tools for working.

Why not me too?

I’ve moved twice since the last time I did one of these, so my working situation has drastically changed.

Let’s kick it off with a quick overview of that featured image above.

That desk, though

I took up woodworking as another way to keep income flowing (and made a poorly-planned attempt at doing so full-time in 2018). When we moved into our current townhouse and designated the third bedroom as my office, I wanted a desk that was mine.

This desk was built from a set of plans I found online somewhere, and it is both a testament to the ability to make something from scratch as well as a glaring spotlight on all the mistakes I made in my early days of woodworking.

The desk is not level – if I set anything that rolls onto the top, it will roll into my lap. I’ve learned to deal with that. The top has bumps and ridges because I didn’t join the wood very well.

The legs are quite ugly because I used sandwiched 2x4s instead of 4x4s, and I made zero attempt to fill or hide the pocket holes.

All of that being said, it’s the perfect size and height for me, it feels like a nice desk, and darn it, I built the thing with my own two hands. There’s something to be said for that.

Now we’ll look at everything on and around the desk.

  1. Used Steelcase Leap Chair. No, I don’t know what version it is. I got this thing years ago and, while it’s not much to look at with its fraying fabric and stains of various origin, it’s a pretty great chair. Most of the things in this list have links, but not this one because, well, it’s expensive and I didn’t pay sticker price for it. I drove to the north side of Milwaukee to a used office furniture store and managed to grab one of these for hundreds of dollars less. It’s purple, which isn’t a great color for me, but hey… the price was right. When you sit all day, you don’t want to skimp on ergonomics.
  2. Hanes EcoSmart Hooded Sweatshirt. One theme you’ll see is that, this time of year, I’m battling the cold. We live in a pretty drafty and poorly-insulated house with probably the worst duct work I’ve ever seen, so the cold is always a problem. Most days, I’ve got one of these sweatshirts hanging on the back of the chair to fight off the chills. They’re cheap and warm.
  1. Cactus. Greenery is important in an office! My wife added a few low-maintenance plants to the house at some point in the last year, and this cactus found its way onto my desk. Why not? It’s small and it adds something to the atmosphere.
  2. TheDad Calendar of Dad-isms. A Christmas gift from my kids. Good for a fresh laugh every day when I sit down to my desk. My favorite so far is, “Dads love saying Look at this guy! when they see someone they know out in public.” I totally do that.
  3. Tealight candle in glass holder. There’s something about a burning flame. I don’t know. I used to try to find expensive scented candles (manly, of course), but I switched to this because it was just so much more cost effective. I bought a box of tea lights for cheap and keep them in the office closet.
  4. Google Pixelbook. This thing is the best computer I’ve ever owned, hands down. It’s fast, it’s a Chromebook (my favorite operating system), updates often and quickly, and converts into a tablet. As you can see here, I keep it on my desk folded into tablet mode. It’s plugged into desktop computer peripherals, but I can use the tablet mode as a notebook in the meantime. I can take notes during client meetings and manage my to-do list via handwriting, which is way more effective than typing. The Pixelbook is expensive, but I bought it lightly used on Swappa for half the retail price at the time. Still, I’d buy it again. It’s that good. And I just checked Swappa – it’s hundreds of dollars cheaper now than it was when I bought it. It’s worth every dime. Look for one that includes the Pen for added savings.
  5. USB-C Hub Adapter. The Pixelbook only has a couple of USB-C ports, and I wanted to use an external monitor with my setup. This hub lets me connect a monitor to my Pixelbook with an HDMI cable, and adds a regular USB port to it. Because my keyboard and trackpad are Bluetooth, all I have to do is flip the laptop into tablet mode and plug this one cable in, and I’m set up to work at my desk. I can’t find it anywhere right now, but here’s one that is similar (and probably better).
  1. Slippers. My feet get cold very often, so these slippers are usually under my desk. They were a gift, as I get together with a group of buddies every December to throw down a few beers and exchange slippers as Christmas presents. It’s become one of my favorite holiday traditions.
  2. Space heater. Again with the cold. It works off of a remote, and it pumps some seriously hot air. I keep it just under the top of my desk so that the bottom half of my body heats up, and the air blows up my body to my face. It’s as efficient as I can get for heating in here. I’ve had it for years, so here’s a similar one.
  1. Brydge C-Type Chrome OS Bluetooth Keyboard. Chromebooks will work with most bluetooth keyboards at this point, but their native keyboards are a little different (including a search key and a Google Assistant key). I bought this as soon as it was released. It looks great and works like a dream.
  2. Apple Magic Trackpad 2. Brydge is supposed to release a trackpad to go with their keyboard. But the release date was supposed to be Fall 2019. There’s been no updates or word on when it will come out, if ever. Tired of using my cheap USB mouse, I hopped on Amazon and bought this trackpad used for a good discount, and I bought it in the darker slate color to match my other stuff. It works perfectly with Chromebooks now, so it was worth it.
  3. Spinny Ball thing. Another Christmas gift. I actually really love this thing, because I fidget a lot. Whenever I feel the need to fidget, I just give this thing a spin. It has a bit of an optical illusion built into it. It’s fun, and you have to have fun while you work, right?
  4. Pixelbook Pen. Not much to add to this, but it’s the official stylus for the Pixelbook. It feels great, and I can write all day with it. It’s expensive on its own, so I would recommend buying used, or even better, do what I did and make sure the used Pixelbook you buy on Swappa includes the pen. It’s worth having.
  5. Google Home Mini. We have one of these in every room of the house. I can ask questions quickly, set timers, tell it to play music, or even connect it to my laptop via Bluetooth and use it as a regular speaker. One of those things that you don’t know why you would use it… until you start using it. And they’re affordable, so that makes it even better.
  6. TicWatch E with charging stand. It’s not the fanciest smartwatch. And it’s Wear OS, which isn’t great right now. But it’s affordable as heck, and it does what I want it to do. The charging stand makes it look sharp even when I’m not using it. No, it’s not a necessity, but the watch was a Christmas gift last year, and I still find myself enjoying it to this day. As I write this, I just placed an order for a couple of replacement watch bands for it to freshen the look. I’m excited.
  1. 27-inch LED Monitor from HP. I used to be a card-carrying member of the Dual Monitor Club. Then, one day, I decided I thought I would like a larger single monitor instead. I bought this one over three years ago and made the switch. Honestly, I love the simplicity of one monitor. Thanks to its size, I can run windows on a split-screen, as there is plenty of real estate to work with. Highly recommended.
  2. JLab JBuds Air wireless earbuds. I’ve been skeptical of the true wireless earbuds phenomenon for a while, but last year, I wanted to try it. These earbuds have decent battery life, and the case adds hours of charging time to them. And you know what? I really love them. They were fairly comfortable, but I replaced the pads on them with these memory foam pads and now they are very secure and comfortable. I could wear these for hours. Whenever I open the case and pull them out, they automatically connect to my phone and I can play music to drown out the loud, loud children in my house. These are a necessity.
  3. Homemade monitor riser. I looked for an embarrassingly-long time for a monitor riser to bring my monitor up and help my posture. Then I realized that I had a ton of scrap wood down in my wood shop. Why not build it exactly how I want? I haven’t gotten around to staining this piece, but hey, it adds more space on my desktop and lifts my monitor to a comfortable height. Less slouching!
  1. Mr. Coffee Mug Warmer. I drink one cup of coffee per day. That’s it (and sometimes not even that much). I also drink coffee very slowly. I’ve tasted too much cold coffee as a result, so I spent less than ten bucks on this thing. It keeps every last drop of my coffee nice and hot. Can’t complain.
  2. Water. We drink out of mason jars in our house, in the interest of not having to keep so many different glass containers. I am pretty much always thirsty, and hydration is important for focus. Water is essential.
  3. LED Desk Lamp with USB port. I don’t get a ton of light in my office from the window, especially during the gray winter months, so another source of light is crucial to keeping my eyes from screaming at me. I do have an overhead light and ceiling fan, but it’s overkill when I just want a little extra light. For Christmas, I got this LED lamp, and it’s great. With an extra USB port on the side, I can charge my earbuds case quickly and easily. Nice to quickly tap and add a little eye-relaxing light (which I did in the last ten minutes of writing this).
  4. Essential Oil Diffuser. Remember when I said I quit getting scented candles? That’s because I can just put water in this thing with a couple drops of essential oil and have the same effect. It’s economical, and it fills the air with whatever I want. I have a Brain Power essential oil mix that helps keep me awake and energized, and it only takes a drop or two in this diffuser to give me an all-day scent.
  5. Extra phone charger with cord clip. I have a charger in here, down in the kitchen, and in my to-go bag. I’ve learned that phone batteries last a lot longer if you don’t charge them overnight, so I try to let it get sips of energy throughout the day. And with this cool cord clip, the charger cord stays where it needs to every day.

I think that’s everything…

I love my desk setup and my office. It’s a great place for me to get some serious work done (usually).

The only thing I didn’t mention was my power strip, which I have mounted to the side of my desk so that only one thick cord is running along the rug. This makes it easier for me to set up the room for our robot vacuum to come in and clean the place.

I hope you found something in here that you like – that’s just a little peek behind the scenes of where I work!