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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 10/9/23

October 9, 2023 Dr. Jayne 4 Comments

Hitting the road over the last couple of weeks, I had to really strip down the essentials of what I needed to get my work done. It’s definitely a shocker to go from having either multiple monitors or one ridiculously large monitor to a single laptop screen. I know there are portable second monitor setups out there, but I wanted to see if I could manage the laptop life for more than the week that I usually travel at a time.

My travel companion is in the process of relocating, so I was a bit limited on the overall space in the car due to the household goods crammed into every square inch. I’m the kind of person who has lived in a tent for the better part of a month, so I figured I could find a way to make it work.

It got me thinking about the things I use every day in my home office and how that setup compares to when I used to work in a corporate office and when I go on site for consulting engagements. The home office is always my first choice because it has exactly what I need and I can leave out the things I use often and store the things that are more occasional-use items. The corporate office was similar, although I didn’t have anything on my desk that I’d be sad about in the event it disappeared. We had a standard set of corporate-issued supplies, like a stapler, three-hole punch, and tape dispenser that I don’t really remember using since the whole point of our project was to be paperless. I had an inordinate number of push pins, though, since our cube walls were secretly fabric-covered bulletin boards and I certainly took advantage of that as a way to hang pictures, flyers, and other bits of decoration.

When I travel for consulting engagements, I’ve been fortunate that most of my clients provide nice “hotel” space that includes a multiple monitor setup with docking station and ethernet cable. I had one client whose idea of a productive workspace was an L-shaped bank of bar-height countertops that faced a wall on one side and a set of floor-to-ceiling glass windows on the other. We had to vacate our station at the end of every day, so I ended up carting everything around all the time. If you came in later than others, you were stuck in front of the windows with their never-ending glare.

The stools that they had at these “desks” weren’t exactly the right height, either, and their lack of a footrest meant that your feet ended up dangling. The other option was a cushy armchair with a folding desk on one of the arms that was barely big enough to hold your laptop and definitely wasn’t large enough to accommodate a mouse. In either setup, the idea of a second monitor was a figment of my imagination. I can’t say that I was sad when the engagement ended.

As employers demand that people return to the office, it’s going to be important to create the kind of spaces that make people actually want to come to the office. Will they have a designated space that they will share with one or two other people, or will it be a free-for-all every day to see who works where? Will they have the amenities needed to be productive, such as dual monitors? Will there be company-provided snacks or drinks beyond the stereotypical burned coffee? Many of us have become content in our home office hideaways, and it’s going to take time to reorient us to office rules, such as making sure to take our containers out of the refrigerator before clean-out day and to avoid bringing allergens to the office that might negatively impact our colleagues.

As people go back and forth in a hybrid situation, it will be more important than ever to make sure accounts sync seamlessly between the corporate office and the home office. People also need to figure out what the must-haves are for each office environment and whether they will need to bring things from place to place to feel they have what they need.

I ran across an article recently that talked about dealing with digital clutter, which might be a contributing factor for anxiety and frustration. The author specifically calls out things like photos, old presentations, expense receipts, and other digital artifacts that might be rarely seen but are always present. Then there are the physical objects, including charging cables, old phones, the keyboard that your company shipped to you that you don’t like but will need to possibly return some day, and more.

The author offers some strategies for decluttering. On the topic of power cables, the recommendation is to toss anything that doesn’t have an identified device that it goes with. If there are extra cables, one shouldn’t keep more than two of each version. Further recommendations include discarding anything that hasn’t been used in six months, although we’re reminded to be sure to discard it responsibly. I’m lucky that my city does an electronic recycling event every other month, but not every community is that fortunate.

For cables that are used regularly, the article recommends organizing them as much as possible, including attaching them to desk legs or bundling them for neatness. I’ll admit, I have a pile of twist ties on my desk. I’m always meaning to do some cable management, but I never get around to it. I wonder what that subconsciously indicates about me.

The author goes on to talk about “digital hoarding” and managing obsolete data. They recommend getting rid of files that haven’t been opened in years, purging smartphone apps that aren’t used, and cleaning up photo libraries. Quick decluttering can involve removing duplicates or photos where our technique was less than ideal, or just organizing images into folders. More extensive decluttering involves curation where we determine if particular photos are something we want to see again in the future.

Honestly, if I tried to get into that, I know I’d have an acute case of analysis paralysis, so I’m going to take a pass on that suggestion. It’s definitely easier to clean up data, at least for me. Deciding to purge client files after a certain number of years or months seems cleaner than trying to make a value judgment about whether I think I will want to look at it in the future.

At least for the foreseeable future, I’ve stripped my needs down to what can fit in a business-style backpack and a 40-liter duffel. My traveling companion doesn’t care if I’m wearing the same two pair of Columbia pants all the time, and we are intentionally not going anywhere that requires a fancier level of dress. I’ve got my laptop and a small travel mouse, although I do wish I had brought my full-size one, but I’m sure I’ll eventually get used to the tiny one. I’ve adapted from my ever-present stack of sticky notes and my trusty whiteboard to their digital counterparts, and it was fun to remember that’s how I used to do it back in the day when I traveled every other week, since I had forgotten. Of course, I’ll probably feel different about this when I get back to my bank of monitors, but at least for now it’s fun to rough it a little bit.

What are the office essentials that you absolutely must have, whether at home or in a company facility? Leave a comment or email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. This hits home for me. I’m on year 20 of my company, and just started purging files. It’s overwhelming so I’m taking on the Swedish Death Cleaning attitude, when I come across a file that is old I purge it on the spot.

    A couple of years ago, my husband was the CIO of a utility in our state and went with the legal team to one of their conferences. He came home and told me to purge all emails older than 2 years. That is the recommendation for your own liability. My issue is that I have copies in every client/vendor email folder, so my unread emails is always over 2,000. I learned long ago to ignore that number. I’ve been purging my inbox but not the client folders, that’s the next ‘project’.

    Glad to see I’m in good company!

  2. I won’t go anywhere without my binaural, over-the-head bluetooth headset. Having a zoom call in just one ear gives me an instant headache, and I popped for the nice version that syncs to zoom, teams, my softphone client, and my cell.

  3. “What are the office essentials that you absolutely must have, whether at home or in a company facility?”

    Aside from the laptop itself, take a full-sized mouse. You don’t save enough space with a tiny mouse, to make the device compromises worth it. I like a mouse pad and they make good ones that are extremely thin.

    I can usually justify taking an external keyboard, as the typing experience on a laptop keyboard is… terrible.

    Beyond that, ditch the twist ties. Velcro cable ties are the way to go. I’ve tried every cable management doodad there is and velcro is fast, convenient, and cheap enough that you can carry several extras.

  4. I love my Microsoft Arc mouse. Lies flat (which also turns it off) for travel, then arches up to provide a good sized mouse experience.

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