I’ve reorganized my office at least four times in the past year or so, and recently, I did it again. Now, a few weeks in, how does it feel?
It sucks, and it needs to change.
I’ve written at length about my requirements with an office, so there’s no reason to rehash that all here. At the core of it all though, I need a few essentials.
These are all pretty simple things, and most of them have been addressed. I have a small couch in the corner that I use for daytime retreats, or when I need my inspiration to come forth from a place other than my desk. I have a comfortable chair, that, for the most part, does pretty good. It’s easy for me to move around and get to my stuff, it’s flexible enough for me to find what I need, and I have lots of storage. But the problem is putting all that in a 10X11 space.
The way things are configured currently, my walkways are pretty tight. It’s easy for me to catch my belt on a cabinet handle, or feel cramped when moving from one area or another. It’s so tight that KJ even has issues walking through, and that’s just not right.
Ultimately, the problem comes down to my couch. It’s a “necessity” that doesn’t easily fit in this space, particularly when I have a big desk in the middle. But it is used daily by either myself or my family, and it’s funny how often it becomes a place for us to all hang together. KJ likes to play “hide” with the pillows, and my wife and I will chat throughout the day there just to keep each other motivated. It’s cool.
So the couch has to stay. The desk, well that’s the next question. I’ve decided I’m going to buy a Geekdesk Max after recommendations from friends. It’s pricey, but compared to the competition, it’s a steal. If I get the 63-inch desk size, I’m exactly where I am today. I could drop to the 48-inch, but that’s pretty tiny; I can’t imagine losing seven inches or so on either side.
The final option here is storage. Right now, my storage is packed with LEGO sets, mostly because my toddler loves to play with them, and I’d rather that not happen. Until I give them all to him in a few years, I need someplace to put them, and I have no idea where that is. But because of them, I have two cabinets that would otherwise be unnecessary. I’m hoping to consolidate them or put them in some kind of storage so that I can keep them safe for KJ in the future, but get them out of my office.
There is another option, that’s a bit more complex. My office closet is fairly decent at 48X51 or so. Currently it stores our Christmas tree, a bunch of framed art, my monitor’s box (handy for moving), magazines in storage boxes, misc. equipment and my camera gear. Mostly, it’s a bunch of stuff in plastic bins, stacked high and sorted. The problem is that when it comes time to get out the tree, it’s a goddamned nightmare to pull it out.
So my thought is that if I restructure my closet a bit, add some shelves here and there, that I can have more room for more stuff. Should that happen, I may be able to get rid of the storage I have that’s holding my LEGO, which means that I’m clear and good to go.
There’s lots still to debate here, but until I rustle up the cash for the desk, I don’t see it happening anytime soon. For the moment, I’ve just got to deal with the weird placement of everything and figure it out from there.
That’s what she said. ↩
So how did my weekend go? How was the mammoth work bender that I scheduled for myself? Well I’ll get to that, but let’s start off at the beginning.
Friday was good. Worked until 11:30 or so, woke up at 6am and got cranking on the day. By lunch I had already crossed off a good portion of my to-do list, and I was feeling really good about my progress. So good that I decided to take a quick nap with the wifey.
To give a little bit of backstory here, back when my wife and I thought we were rich, we went out and bought ourselves a duvet and comforter that was super nice. It came with matching sheets, but we soon replaced those with some fancy thread count versions that were blue in color. We were fancy.
But it’s been a bit since we thought we were rich, so the sheets had seen better days. No holes or anything, and of course they were regularly washed, but things were a bit beat up. So I guess it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me when I adjusted my feet to get comfortable and my entire right foot went through the sheet into the mattress. Fuck. We’re going to have to buy new sheets today.
We had a few 20% off coupons from Bed Bath & Beyond, so we headed out to buy new sheets. Of course, this turned from a one-hour trip into four, but at the end we had some comfortable new stuff for the bed, in a mid-range thread count that seemed pretty good. All was well.
I worked until 2:30am that night, and I was super productive. I cleared out most of my queue for the day, and even though I had more to do for Sunday, it was OK, I could catch up. The light was appearing at the end of the tunnel.
As a result, I didn’t pay much attention to the new sheets when I fell asleep, but I did notice when I took a quick nap that afternoon. They felt a bit scratchy, but being new I figured that we’d just have to wash them a few dozen times and we’d be fine. After accomplishing a ton for the day, I went to bed and tried to get some sleep. That was when the problems started.
In what could only be described as a perfect storm of shit, a few things happened.
Finally, it’s 3am or so in the morning and I’ve had enough. I pick up KJ and take him out to sleep on the couch with me, which usually keeps him quiet. But now he’s at this perfect height where his head fits under my chin but his feet are right at crotch height. As he’s tossing and turning — right as I’m starting to nod off, mind you — he kicks me in the dick multiple times. That was it. I’m done. Call it. I start yelling for my wife.
“Kirsten. Kirsten. KIRSTEN! GET UP! GET UP!”
Nothing. Seriously, I’m trying to keep the boy somewhat still, and my wife is dead to the world. Finally, after five minutes of this, she wakes up.
“I need you to take the boy. I’m sleeping in my office tonight, because of the stupid farting and the dick kicking and sheets are dumb …”
I wasn’t making a lot of sense at that point.
We have this air mattress that we take out for company (because we’re classy people, natch) so I pull that out of the closet and take it into the garage to pump it up. I’ve got this 60 gallon air compressor that works great, but since I don’t use it as often as I used to, I turn it off most of the time. Fortunately, it had about 100 psi in the tank, so I figure I’m OK. I start filling up the mattress.
Thirty fucking minutes later, I have the mattress aired up most of the way. There’s a bit of give there, but I figure it’s not too bad, I’ll be OK. I move the chairs out of the back of my office, and position the mattress such that it’s parallel to my desk, that way I can put on a movie to sleep as I usually do. I grab a throw blanket, take the pillowcase off of the pillow and nestle in. It’s 3:30am.
Shit. I need to piss, so I roll towards the desk when WHAM! I fall right the fuck off the mattress.
Since it wasn’t inflated all the way, the sides collapsed under my weight, tossing me on the ground. But to make things even better, the other side of the mattress pops up into the air, almost toppling over me and onto my computer. Oh, I was in a good mood now.
Not a single fuck was given when I decided to use the loud air compressor that came with the mattress to fill it up. I bumped the pressure up to small bomb status, and settled back in. I look at the clock. It’s 3:45 am and the slightest glimpse of daylight is peering through the window. I close the blinds and pass out.
6:15am hits, and I hear screaming directly outside my door. It’s KJ. He’s upset because he wants to see me, but can’t find me. I fall out of bed. Again.
So to answer the original question, my weekend went just fine, thanks. I hope it never happens again.
There’s this one thing that I see every time I walk into my office to work, and it almost always makes me smile. It’s this little bundle of wires that comes out of the back of my monitor. There are four of them total, three white and the other black, and the way they’re routed and secured with zip ties just makes things look nice and organized. I like that.
That’s been a theme in my life for a long time. I enjoy building LEGO because it’s about meticulously putting together little pieces in just the right way to form the perfect little object. It’s why one of my favorite parts about building cars is the wiring, because I get to route them in just the right way to make them look clean and pretty. To me, that’s fun.
It’s also a curse. I don’t necessarily need things to always be nice and orderly, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. And sometimes, it actually does cause me pain if things are in disarray.
Take the house, for example. Ten years ago, I could’ve given a shit if I had mopped in the previous month, but today, I’ve got to make sure that the laundry is always kept up to date and the cleaning is kept up to standards. If the bathroom hasn’t been cleaned in two weeks, I go nutty. And it gets bad.
It eats away at me. I sit at my desk and try to get stuff done, but I can’t stop thinking about the dirty whatever it happens to be, and it consumes me. And it will continue to do that until I either fix the problem or get someone else to fix it for me.
This is just one of the reasons that I’m not the easiest guy in the world to live with (throw hogging the covers and hating to wear pants into the top 5).
Just the other day, things were out of sorts in the main area of our home. Who’s fault was it? Mine. I hadn’t put something away correctly a few days prior, and that set me off. It caused me to look a little bit closer at other things that were wrong in the house, and I got into that loop I get into when things go pear shaped. Next thing I know, I’m stewing, and since my wife and son were out at his swimming lesson, I had to figure out a way to cope.
A sane person would say that the obvious solution is to fix whatever was out of sorts. And although that’s a great idea, the mind of someone like me doesn’t always go in that direction. It becomes, fix that, but also fix five other things as well. It’s this endless cycle that causes my productivity to go out the window and my life to run into chaos.
In this particular instance, I handled the problem by fixing what was out of sorts, then mopping and vacuuming every square inch of the house. But there are times when the problem isn’t solved with a quick application of Mr. Clean. That’s when I really go nuts.
These situations often come up with clients in one form or another. Often times it’s not their fault, they have systems in place that they like and work for them. But it doesn’t work for me, so I have to find a way to adjust or leave. One client wanted me to name my files in a very specific sequence, one which wouldn’t have worked in my particular file structure. Another wanted me to use a certain task manager that was outdated and looked horrible. Yet another formatted their dates so that it was impossible to automate when it came time to add new lines to the spreadsheet.
These are all little annoyances to everyone else in the world, but they’re not for me. They’re time sucks. Friction. And I hate it. I always figure out a way to manage the problem, but it’s this general dissatisfaction that I hate living with.
I’ve never been diagnosed, but I’ve joked around for a long time now that I have OCD. Not the “all the fibers on the carpet have to fall the same way” kind of OCD, but the kind that makes me really organized and constantly trying to get things done. Recently, I’ve wondered if that’s really it, or if I’m just an asshole (well, I know I’m an asshole, it’s just to what level I’ve achieved). Am I just a pain in the ass who has to have things their way like a spoiled child? Or is it more a symptom of a greater problem with my head. I wish I knew.
In the meantime, I’m going to continue to do what I’ve always done, and try to use my “OCD” to my advantage. In the coming months, my wife and I are going through the house to make it as efficient as possible. We now have a laundry room with individual bins, each one containing specific cleaning products for a particular task. This way, when it comes time for me to freak out and clean a room, I just have to go one place and pick up one bin and I’m set. We’re going to continue to do this until the entire house is this efficient, that way should we be lucky enough to have another child, we’re prepared for the onslaught.
I’d say it’s not easy being me, but I’m not sure that’s the right way to put it. Maybe it’s better like this: It’s not necessarily difficult to be me, but I wouldn’t call it easy, either.
I’ve always known that I was a nerd, it was just the levels of nerdom that I was at that I wasn’t quite ready to accept. Sure, I liked Star Wars more than any adult male should, and yes, my collection of LEGO was out of hand for a man in his 30s. Yet, there was something that was holding me back from really accepting it the way I probably should have at this point in my life. I have no idea what it was.
Recently, I’ve sought to amend that problem by doing the geeky things that I’ve always wanted to do but haven’t for one reason or another. One of those things was automation, specifically, on my computer. Although I had dabbled in it before, again, I hadn’t embraced the process. Like many things, I wish I had done it a long time ago, because it would’ve saved me hours of time.
The stimulus came from two primary sources. First, I had been reading about Keyboard Maestro and Hazel for a long time now, and had even downloaded demos of each. But time got in the way, and I never really utilized either one the way I should have. I decided to change that after reading yet another article about how it saved the writer so much time, and finally bought the apps.
The second stimulus came from reading Paperless by David Sparks. The basic concept of the book is to learn how to create a perfectly paperless environment for yourself using the tools you have on your iPhone, iPad and Mac. Key to the workflow is Hazel, and that was just another nail in my nerdy coffin.
After reading his book and playing with some macros, I solved a problem that I’ve been having for years. See, when I send out an invoice, I copy it to two distinct locations. One is my hard drive on my MacBook Air, the other is on my storage drive connected to my iMac, the drive named Nibbler. I used to have to do this manually, but now I just drag the file into a folder named Action that lives in my Dock. Hazel scans that file constantly, and when it finds a file with the word “invoice” in it that is also a PDF, it automatically changes the icon color, moves it to one invoices folder and copies it to another. I don’t have to do a thing.
This simple process saved me precious seconds every day, and if you add all that up, that could be hours long term. It’s a huge improvement in my workflow.
As for Keyboard Maestro, here’s a simple macro I just worked up today. When I’m in my office (and sometimes outside), I often need to find a file located on my iMac, since it’s my central storage repository. To do this, I use an app named Screen Sharing and iCloud’s Back to my Mac feature. It used to be that I’d open up Finder, navigate to the iMac, open it, then click on “Share Screen.” This worked, but again, it’s a lengthy process. By just assigning a keyboard shortcut to the routine, I can now share screens with my iMac by just hitting three keys.
Another good one? An app named Rename It (another David Sparks recommendation). I have to rename image files all the time when I send them off to my editors, and this little app lets me manipulate file names in batches quickly and easily. Holy crap has it saved me a ton of time. And even better, it’s now a part of my workflow; I pick out pictures that I want to send my editor, then put them into Rename It. I then rename all the files while they’re still in their original folder, then drop them into a CD for burning. This skips a bunch of steps I was previously doing, making life much, much easier.
These are simple little routines, but it’s about removing friction from my life, and these apps do that in spades. Why it took me so long to adopt these simple little strategies, I honestly don’t know. But now that I have, I don’t know how I’d live without them.
I guess the moral of the story here, if there is one, is to stop putting off what you could do today. Every minute you waste doing something inefficiently is a minute you could have doing something else. I know I’d rather spend time with my son than manipulate folders and move files, that’s for sure.
Before I get into my most recent project, let me give you a bit of behind-the-scenes action.
I tend to write these posts in batches. Occasionally the urge will strike and suddenly I’ll bust out five posts in an afternoon, and I just schedule them for the week ahead. Sometimes something topical will pop up and I’ll hammer out a post, but most of the time these things are done either in advance or after normal business hours so this site doesn’t interfere with my business.
I wrote Messing With Perfection Redux last Saturday, and in the following days I started talking to the wife more and more about what I could do with the office. She’s a kitchen designer by the way, so when I talk to her about moving things around, she gets all excited. Anyways, we were in the office having the conversation, and she starts looking around. Thirty seconds later, she has an answer.
“If you move your desk here, move these cabinets here, move another one here, then put the iMac here and the trash can there, you can get a sofa in here that’s 73 inches long and 37 inches deep, and still have room for a mini fridge, TV and a coffee machine.”
Marrying her was a smart decision, that’s for sure.
Once she tells me this, the wheels start turning in my head and I realize that she’s right — I can fit a sofa, desk, cabinets and all that into my existing space, and it won’t look cluttered. That’s fucking amazing.
But I couldn’t just tear into things, I had my normal workload ahead of me and things were getting busier as the week progressed. I did have a window where I could squeeze a few things in however, and I told myself if I got those projects done, then I’d reward myself by redoing the room. I got things done a bit early, and started tearing things apart, making sure to do it as methodically as possible so I could not only keep the network up in the house, but also so I could have the iMac running in case KJ wanted to watch a movie on the Apple TV. It wasn’t easy, but once that all was done, I could officially start rearranging my office in my new layout.
It took me a few hours to do, but now things are done and it is substantially better. I’ll post pics up at some point, but for now, here are the highlights.
For one, my desk is now bolted to the wall. This seems like a weird step, but my current desk is pretty long, and in spirited typing sessions the monitor and desk would bounce up and down a bit, which was quite distracting. I fixed that by screwing a pair of cleats to the wall, then to the bottom of the desk, which keeps it nice and rigid. No more bouncing monitor for me.
Second, I’ve actually minimized the amount of wiring and power required to keep the room functioning. Before, I used to have a printer connected to the network, which required a switch and a few extra cables. That’s gone now, as is the power strip that used to be bolted to the underside of my desk. No need now, I’ve kept things light enough that I don’t need them.
Third, although I don’t have one yet, there’s now plenty of room for a couch behind my desk. It won’t be huge, but it’s big enough that this can truly become the sanctuary I wanted. My wife came up with the mini-fridge and coffee maker idea, and frankly, it’s brilliant. I found a fridge at Home Depot that’s pretty affordable, so when the money becomes available, I’ll pick one of those up. It will truly turn this room into an isolation tank, which is exactly what I’ll need come next year.
My final big requirement was having a place to mount a television. I’ve done two wall-mounted TVs so far, and each time I’m amazed at just how cool it really is. For this room, I just want a television so that I can watch a few games during baseball season, which is a surprising way to keep me productive. Additionally, I could use it for editing video, or just streaming cool stuff from my iMac or MacBook Air. That’s most likely going to be the last thing I do, because it’s certainly not a cheap proposition. But whatever, I’ve got time. As long as I’ve got a place to put it, then I’m fine.
There’s one other thing that I’ve got in the works for the office, but it involves a bit more backstory.
After writing Keyboard Snobbery, I found myself constantly looking for new information on keyboards. Turns out my father did the same thing, and bought himself a Rosewill keyboard complete with Cherry MX Blue switches for his office computers. While he was doing that, I was simultaneously bidding on an Apple Extended Keyboard II on eBay. Now it wasn’t pretty, but it was stupid cheap and if I’m going to try an experiment, it might as well be on something that’s affordable.
My father started bragging to me about his awesome new clicky keyboard, and finally I went down to his office to try it out. Interestingly enough, I found myself pushing too hard on the keys because I expected it to register the push later than it actually did. This meant that I was exerting myself needlessly, and after figuring that out, I determined that I loved the key switches, it would just take some practice to make them work for me. But I also wanted to try those Alps switches in the Apple Extended Keyboard II, and since I’ve still got a day or two until the keyboard arrived, I don’t have a verdict on that one yet.
That said, even though this particular model is crappy looking with yellowed plastic, if I like it, I’m going to hunt down an original. There are ones that are new in the box on eBay all the time, they just go for a lot of cash. In fact, I even found one that comes with an Apple IIGS, and I considered buying the whole thing just for nostalgia’s sake.
Anyways, it’s not even day one in the new office layout, and I’m already enjoying it. I guess you could call it Day Zero. Huh. What a good name.
It would be really cool if you followed me on twitter here.