Tag Archive for workspace

Where the Magic Happens

I’ve been using my new desk for about a week now, and I’ve managed to keep from burying it under a ton of extra stuff. I’m rather impressed with myself.

The Workspace Tour

Finally a desk I want to spend time at

Even more important, the desk is very comfortable. My last desk was constricting and had a lot of dead space consumed by the towering corner stand for the monitor, but I didn’t realize just how bad it had gotten until I sat down to work at this desk for the first time. Now I can comfortably read my notes or refer to manuscript pages, slide over a few inches to do paperwork, keep all my extra devices within reach, and not have the desk lamp shining in my face, all without giving up valuable work space.

My office is also my workout space. I lift weights four days a week, and my barbell plate tree is peeking in from the left edge of the photo. This desk leaves more room for maneuvering the barbell around, and it’s not as disastrous if I forget to move my chair before unracking the barbell for presses. Beneath the desk, my printer makes a pretty good—if somewhat expensive—stand for my running shoes.

Moving across my desk, from left to right:

  • Internet stuff and the VoIP phone. Telco-provided routers are cheap-ass garbage. The wireless on this thing dies 3-4 times a week, but I’m too cheap to replace it with a better router. I call the phone The Ratphone: we only keep it around for the Rugrats for emergencies. Far cheaper than a landline we’ll never use.
  • My Lift Big Eat Big lifting straps. These babies have been a life saver the last few months. I messed up my forearm in a judo match and my grip was shot. These let me continue lifting with pulling movements like deadlifts and rows, and as my grip is healing, they allow me to pull more weight so my grip doesn’t become my weakest link.
  • The next silver box is my external backup hard drive. If you have anything of value on your machine, you need one of these. The dead simplicity of Time Machine on the Mac makes backups as simple as plugging it in and forgetting about it. It’s already saved me a ton of time once with a dead hard drive. Between Time Machine, Dropbox and CrashPlan, my data is pretty much disaster-proof.
  • Desk lamp. My overhead light sucks. I’ll replace the fixture someday.
  • Rubz ball. Sounds kinkier than it is. Helps massage out plantar fasciitis. Allegedly.
  • Freedom: Credos from the Road by Sonny Barger. I usually have at least one non-fiction book around. They’re often martial arts-related, but right now it’s motorcycles. This book is a solid read; a good look at freedom by a guy who’s given up a lot of it.
  • The Piccadilly notebook. Not near as solid as a trusty Moleskine, unfortunately, but it gets the job done. And I prefer mechanical pencils, preferably with retractable points that won’t stab me in the leg in a pocket.
  • Android smartphone. My leash and my lifeline.
  • The iMac, my main workhorse. Why a Mac? Because five years on, it still runs like the day I bought it. No fuss, no muss, no crazy maintenance. It just works. I hate Windows, I still like Linux, but I love not having to tinker and tweak all the time.
  • Marv! Throw the switch and he gets laughs off his electrocution.
  • A stack of electronics: MacBook Pro, Samsung Chromebook, and an iPad 2. Not a one belongs to me; they’re primarily for the day job (tech director for a school district). They all come home a lot.
  • A binder from my karate dojo. This one has a lot of notes from a class where we talk about goals and leadership, and a lot of it applies to writing and career goals.
  • My messenger bag. Usually for lugging around a portion of the stack of electronics. Right now it has pens & pencils, ear buds and an iPod nano, a Bluetooth keyboard, and a pencil-edited short story manuscript. Oh, and a giant rubber band for rehabbing my forearm.

My camera is usually around, too, even though I don’t use it near as often as I would like. In contrast, my bookshelves are a lot more cluttered than my desk, and are buried under more than just books and comics.

Workflow is separate from workspace, so I may address that another time. I have several workflows, actually, often depending upon the device and/or the project I’m working with at the moment.

I’m typing this from my second workspace: a small table on my front porch. Laptop and a cigar, though no drink tonight. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you’ve seen it before. The important thing, of course, is that the work gets done, not where it gets done. All I really need is some kind of keyboard (or, in a pinch, the notebook and pencil) and a quiet spot.

And now that this post is done, I still have some of this cigar left. Off to do some real work.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Achievement Unlocked: New Workspace

After fixing two separate sinks with two separate problems this week, I decided to keep on with the handyman routine and build the new home office desk I’ve been thinking about for some time now.

New Floating Desk

Quick shot with the smartphone before I bury the surface with office stuff.

Total cost: about fifty bucks after I return an extra bracket I didn’t need. This is a 6′ x 23 1/4″ bullet-nose shelf from Menards, supported by a trio of commercial shelving braces mounted to the wall studs with cabinetry anchors. I thought I’d need more support toward the front of the desk, but I found braces long enough to do the job. I’ve inadvertently leaned on the edge a couple of times now and it doesn’t budge, so I’m calling it good.

I have a few extra holes around one brace because stud finders are bullshit. Turns out Bob Vila agrees, and I used his advice to measure from an electrical outlet to find the right location. Boom, braced. And it just now occurred to me that I put the stud finder right back in the tool kit it came with, apparently so I can make the same mistake next time. D’oh.

I have to thank my sons for helping me out, particularly the eldest who installed the last few wood screws to anchor the shelf/desk to the braces. We had a light lunch and were starving after the Menards trip, so we hit Taco Bell quick. The Volcano Burrito I ate gave me a huge headache and had me feverish and puking within an hour. We’d have been done a lot faster if I didn’t need breaks to worship at the porcelain altar between measuring, drilling and leveling.

I’m very happy with the result so far. It takes up far less space in my office, I mounted it at a more comfortable height, and it will give me a lot more work surface to play with. I also see now that I need to rethink my wall decorations; everything is up high due to the huge frame of my old corner desk. 

My original vision included a small space to use as a standing desk for occasional work on the iPad or laptop, but that would take up far too much workspace and would require more carpentry work than it’s worth. It also turns out I can buy an Ikea Norbo for $30 and mount it in a separate spot if I really want one. The Norbo wouldn’t match my desk surface, but I’m typically a function-over-form guy. Heck, look at the sand-colored walls and blue carpeting I inherited from the previous homeowner; one year I really will get around to changing all that. I can live with the paint, but there’s also a birdhouse wallpaper border that has to go.

It wasn’t the lazy Sunday I’d originally planned, but I’ll call it a successful Sunday despite Taco Hell. I’m looking forward to putting this thing to the test with some writing sessions over the next few days.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Make Your Workspace Work for You

Ever watch someone sit down and shoehorn themselves into an uncomfortable position and then say this is how they work? I see it all the time with students and co-workers in my day job. Maybe their chair is too high or too low, or the monitor is tilted at an improper angle, or there’s clutter preventing them from getting their mouse or keyboard into an accessible position.

I don’t know the psychology behind it. Maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s fear of touching something that doesn’t quite belong to them, or maybe they’ve done it enough it’s just plain habit. They sit down so focused on the task that they forget to adjust their environment.

The only advice I can give is be aware of it. Fix it. Get comfortable. Adjust your workspace to you, not the other way around.

Mixed Sushi and Orange Roll

Who says you have to work in a stuffy office?

I bought a high-backed executive chair some time ago because I was told they’re comfortable. I hate it. Turns out it’s made for tall people, and the extra cushioning in the front causes problems with my legs. Now I use a simple metal fold-out picnic chair because it’s much more comfortable.

I was given a fancy corner desk. It has a keyboard tray, and the monitor sits nice and high. Too high, unfortunately. I was constantly having to tweak the angle of the monitor, and I started to get pain in my neck from having to look higher than normal. Now my iMac sits on the flat work surface of the desk instead. It doesn’t look right, but it’s much more comfortable.

Try different music. Try a different chair. Clear your desk entirely and start from scratch. Comfort breeds productivity. If where you’re writing isn’t working—even if it’s only for this particular moment—change it.

If you’re feeling cooped up in your office, leave. This is why it’s good to invest in a laptop, or to use an iPad for writing. It’s not uncommon for me to sit outside and write. I also don’t mind writing in a café somewhere, be it a Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, or someplace local (and I don’t even like coffee). I’ve even done some work at restaurants during lunches or at bars while waiting for friends. John Hornor Jacobs goes out for a bike ride somewhere to write. Brian Keene travels out to his family’s cabin.

Find your happy place and be productive.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

My New Standing Desk

I now have a standing desk in my office at my day job.

New Workspace

Click to visit Flickr and see notes

I decided to go this route after reading several articles about the dangers of sitting all day and seeing several others make the transition. The Sitting is Killing You infographic sums up a lot of the risks, and I already have a bad habit of sitting in a slouch or leaning to one side that has led to minor but irritating muscular problems.

I’ve also noticed there are times I sit down and I don’t want to get up again. Putting forth effort to find things to do at my desk rather than get off my ass is not just lazy, it’s counter-productive. This way I’m up and ready to go.

I already had a huge desk, so a podium similar to the prototype linked above made sense. I used a tool from the Comfortable Computing Initiative to determine the height I needed, and then chose my own width and depth. The final dimensions of the podium are 42″W x 38″D x 12″H. The monitor riser on the back is 42″W x 12″D x 3″H.

Standing Desk

Straight-on view

I work for a school district, so I handed the dimensions to the Industrial Arts teacher and he assigned it one of his shop students. I told them I wasn’t too concerned with the final design, I just needed it sturdy enough for my gear, to have an opening on the front and at least one side for cables and storage (my laptop will go down there before long), and it be smooth enough on top that I can write on it and won’t scratch up my hands while working.

They did a fantastic job. The teacher was concerned it would be too big, but with the huge desk it made sense and it gives me plenty of room to spread out and work. They selected the color and stained/sealed it, and they even made the monitor riser removable if I ever need to change the configuration; it is held in place by two dowel rods through the top surface. I spent a little money on the rubber & foam anti-fatigue mat and the new monitor, but it still came in far cheaper and nicer than any standing desk I might have purchased and a student was able to get some woodshop experience and a grade.

I’ve used it two full days so far and I like it. I had slight aches in my feet, but I was able to stretch frequently to avoid back pain. It’s also more than sturdy enough to lean on from time to time, and heavy enough that it doesn’t slide off the back side of the desk. The monitor farther out is easier on my eyes and I like not having to look down at the laptop screen all day. I’m told the first few days adjusting to a standing desk are the worst. If that’s true, I should be golden from here out.

If I did it again, the only thing I might change is to drop it about an inch. The Comfortable Computing Initiative tool assumes you will be standing upright with your feet together, but I’m a big guy and like to use a wider stance so my hands end up just a hair too high when I type. Fortunately the 9/16″ anti-fatigue mat makes up the difference in this case.

I’m going to give it another month or so, and if it continues to work out, I’m going to look into doing the same thing at home. The desk in my home office is a bit large for the room and the monitor sits too high. I want to build a desk that’s not as deep, and it will be split so one side is for sitting and the other for standing. Our iMac will be set up on the sitting side, and then I can use my iPad on the standing side. I can split my time between the two on long writing days, and my wife and kids will be able to sit and work if they choose.

A proper adjustable desk is well beyond my budget, so I plan to build from scratch and possibly mount it to the wall to allow more space for my exercise equipment. I’ve been eyeballing desks made with doors and saw horses and desks made with shelving for inspiration, and I may recruit the woodshop students yet again. If I have them build and drill the parts, I can assemble and mount it at home.

I’ll be sure to follow up when I make it happen.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.