NextBurgh, PA          @VannevarB      About      Pittsburgh Murals
November 10, 2008

Office Hacking

I'm "hacking the office" at my day job because I spend a lot of time there. If I'm going to be in there for 2000 hours a year, it should be as productive as possible. Instead of tolerating and working around annoyances, I'm going to try to dissolve them. It's "Life Hacking" at work.

My boss told me to get a white board. I think the main reason is that I've got a lot of projects going on, and if/when I get run over by a truck the next guy is going to meet a lot of surprises. I have my working info "exported" into my Franklin Planner, but I really like the white board. It's excellent for discussions where a picture is worth 1K words.

My first significant investment was to upgrade to a bigger monitor. The highly esteemed Paul Boutin wrote a Slate article, The Best Computer Update Ever, suggesting that if you already have a standard computer with sufficient memory, the upgrade most likely to increase to your productivity is a bigger monitor.

I purchased a 25.5 inch Westinghouse monitor to replace my 14 inch monitor. Although I think my buddies suspect otherwise, I paid for it myself, $500 on the Amex. I love having the real estate to see multiple windows simultaneously. The 14" was like having a great stereo with lousy speakers. It seems overly simplistic, but with the big screen I can finally see what I'm working on.

Next I followed up on the advice of 43Folders, got a label printer, and started putting paper in folders. That made a real increase in my ability to find papers. I still haven't figured out a filing system (paper or electronic).

I'm trying to become competent on the phone system, which I've been using since 1985 and I've never understood. I circulated an email asking "what do you wish you can do with the phones" to build a wish-list and as it passed around, I was surprised that somebody knew the answer to each and every wish - we had the knowledge among us, it just wasn't circulated. So now I'm able to delete voicemail without listing to the whole message, and I'm having my calls sent direct to voicemail instead of letting anybody with a phone interrupt me when I'm working. It only took me 23 years to learn the phone system.

Powers that be arranged to have a new set of office furniture delivered, so before it arrived I painted the room myself. After the furniture appeared I decided to go for an efficient computer layout and reduce the bird's nest of cables and boxes that were previously on top of my desk and table. I mounted two power-strips on the inside walls of the desk to get them off the floor. I found an $10 IKEA product that got the cables off the floor. I wanted the printer off the desk, and the PC-box itself off the desk; only work on the desk, no clutter-center boxes. So the printer and PC went under the desk.

I've got a favorite gadget: a P-Touch printer. The P-Touch printer is cool in its own right, but even more because it comes with a clipon frame that turns the printer into an (analog) picture frame. This is from somebody who gets Donald Norman's notion of emotional design: don't just build a box that sits on somebody's desk, be the product that gives them a picture of their family on their desk.

I've also built a cluster of USB devices: a DYMO label printer a card scanner, and a USB hub for memory sticks. I put in an electric stapler because I've always thought that was an over-the-top gadget. I was tempted to put in a USB missle launcher, but I think that would cross a cultural threshold of faux gravitas.

My next attempt at office hacking will be replacing the flourescent lights with full-spectrum flourescent tubes. And asking the Facilities folks to increase the flow of air from the HVAC system.

I've been reading the message board at my hero Edward Tufte's website, and one string was about the primacy of paper over other means of recording/storing/moving information. One writer talked about something I've tripped over a few times: the joy of using 11x17 inch paper. When I print reports as drafts I like to print them on 11x17 paper, with the output formated for 8.5x11, so I have the extra space to markup and doodle. Turns out there's a website dedicated to the virtue of that size called - where you can find all the 11x17 products you'll ever need. Aghh, I love the internet when it works like this.


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