Before 2020, I loved working from home. I thought I would want to do it all the time. When it was a periodic treat rather than an every day necessity, it felt fun and like a privilege. Now that I have to do it daily, it doesn’t feel so special and I’ve needed to adapt to the situation to establish a workable daily office at home so I can actually get work done. In order to do so, I had to set up some of my favorite items for productivity.
I think the hardest part of the COVID work from home situation is the lack of separation between work and home life. When I was in the office, it was easy to stop work and just switch entirely to focus on home when I got there. I had to walk and take a bus to get back home, so there was a physical separation and mechanism to enforce it. I would stick periodically check email and messages outside of work hours, but it was less often. Now, there’s no difference and compartmentalization between the two. In order to attempt some semblance of difference, establishing an area dedicated just for work removed from the rest of the house is key. That’s where my home office comes in.
We’re lucky to have a house where we have an actual office space, and one where I can close the door when I need privacy or quiet. With both my wife and me back to working after our respective parental leave, we also needed to set up a second work space in the other room. Since we’re both often on video calls, this was essential. We’ve only had a week so far of working at the same time, but so far it’s working great.
We got this desk a few years back at Pier One, and its definitely a big boy. It’s easy to let it get cluttered because of the space, so most of the time I’m just trying to keep it relatively minimal. The hutch part is nice for keeping some stuff out of the way, but honestly we usually end up just cramming it full of paperwork and the pictures the boys bring home from school.
This is some Office Max chair from about a decade ago and I don’t love it. When it was newer, it was nice and comfy. I especially liked the headrest. However, in the intervening years, it got wobbly and has slowly shed little shards of the pleather all around the house. It now lists a bit to the side and the raising mechanism doesn’t really work. It’s time to replace it.
I love love love my curved Dell monitor from work. For years, I had a dual monitor set up at work and was hesitant to move to a single monitor until I no longer had a choice. I actually love it though. With Windows, it’s easy to just snap two windows across it, mimicking the dual monitor setup when needed, and otherwise to stretch a single window across the while three feet of space. I don’t mind working entirely on my laptop screen since it’s 14 inches, but the ability to spread out across more space makes me a productivity machine.
Echo Show 8
One of the numerous items we picked up from Amazon on Prime Day this year, the Echo Show is probably already my most used one. I quickly set it up to display a randomly chosen set of my pictures each day and while it lacks the AI that the Google Photos integration on the Nest display we have in the living room, it’s still smart enough to show photos of our family members most often. Other than that, it makes a great speaker for listening to focus music while I work. The bigger screen than our Nest display is great for even playing some videos.
Apple Airpods Pro
For dialing into video calls and occasionally listening to music while I’m cooking or making coffee in the morning, I prefer the Airpods Pro I also got on Prime Day. It’s a bit strange to use them primarily with a Windows laptop rather than an Apple device, but I actually find them to be perfect for calls. I’ve used them twice for runs and while they actually stay put pretty well, I prefer more dedicated sports headphones. The noise canceling is nice if it’s noisy in the house, but it very rarely is so I tend to have them in transparency mode so I can hear what’s going on around the house.
Wireless Charger from Re:Invent 2018
I suppose I don’t really need a wireless charger since I’m stationary in the office for hours each day and my phone and headphones never really get below even 50% battery these days, but it’s nice to have the same charging pad for my iPhone 11 and AirPods Pro that I can just throw them onto. This random branded Qi charger I picked up from Salesforce at AWS Re:Invent 2018, the last one I made it to and certainly the last for a while since COVID made it virtual this year, isn’t as fast or convenient as Apple’s new Magsafe chargers or even the faster chargers available for phones, but with the hours I have available for charging and the lack of really using my phone much anyway, it’s just fine.
Reddragon Mechanical Keyboard
I got this keyboard at the beginning of COVID because I wanted a keyboard that would actually have some key travel and pressure unlike the chicklet keys of every laptop I’ve had for the past five or so years. I went with this model because it was basically the cheapest on Amazon with decent reviews and I figured it would be a good test to see if I liked mechanical keyboards before investing further. It turns out I do, though my wife who can hear me furiously typing from three rooms away isn’t such a fan. The extra muscle power needed to type, and probably the extra house I spend at the computer have caused a fatigue issue though, so I needed to get the gel keyboard and mouse hand rests too. I’m old.
Logitech M705 Marathon Mouse
I’ll be honest, I only picked this one because it had marathon in the name and it didn’t have RGB LED lights like every gaming mouse out there now. It’s very comfortable and an upgrade over the other wireless mice I’ve had with way better buttons and the best scroll wheel I’ve ever used.
Notebook & Pen
I got a set of three of these National Park versions of the Field Notes notebooks after seeing them from someone I forget now. I got a set with Yosemite which we visited last spring, Zion which I had been to three times after various Re:Invents, and Acadia which I’ve never been to but is next on my list. I still can’t seem to find a note taking solution that works for me since I split notes between the notebook and OneNote on my laptop, but I enjoy jotting down thoughts and to-do items in here, especially with the awesome Pilot Elite V7 pens I discovered too. I know there is a religious war about the best pens, but for me these fine tipped pens are perfect for my cramped writing style and flow so perfectly.
Peloton Water Bottle
It’s important to keep hydrated. I never do a great job of drinking enough water in a day, but at least keeping this bottle right in front of me tends to help remind me to drink throughout the day. Since I don’t have many reasons to get up and move around throughout the day, refilling this once in the afternoon is usually a good reminder to get up and stretch a bit too. We got this bottle with our Peloton and it also reminds me to stay active, plus it holds a tiny bit more than the other metal bottles I have from conferences and work.
The décor in our office is a mix of some reminders of our love of travel, like our wall map with pins for all the places we’ve been and a huge naval chart of New York Harbor and NJ that my grandfather had that we turned into a wall poster, and various items our children have made for us in school. I mostly decorate with the science and engineering related ones like the robot they made, a sparkly Stegosaurus, and an electricity themed card. My favorite part is that they know how much I like dinosaurs and told me that it was for me. Just having them around the desk helps remind me of what I actually work for and why it’s important to disconnect at the end of the day.
Maybe when you see all of it together, it doesn’t exactly feel minimal, but it did take me some time to edit down to this set of things around the desk. At work I had even more stuff like a collection of desk toys and even more headphones and devices. In fact, I often have to use my other headphones at home too because the bluetooth on my laptop periodically stops working and I can’t stand having the same headphones in my ears for hours at a time. Still though, these are the items that work the best for me, bring me joy, and make working from home for at least another nine months manageable. Unfortunately, as much as I might try, there is no magic thing I can just buy that will make working from home feel easy, especially the lack of boundary between work and home, unless maybe we buy a second house just to use as an office and commute there. But other than that, these items have at least helped me find some balance in my work at home and stay productive through this challenging time.