The Efficient Office: A Workflow Makeover

The Efficient Office: A Workflow Makeover

Today’s featured workspace isn’t about fresh paint, LED lights or eye-popping banks of monitors. Today’s featured workspace is about what happens when someone makes over their impractical office into a workplace-enhancing one.

Lifehacker reader Ben Dinger and Jason started talking about his office last week. Jason encouraged him to take pictures and he volunteered to do so and write a little about the office and what he did differently. The following is his description of the makeover sprinkled with pictures of his office.

Here’s pictures of my workspace that I mentioned in the comments the other day. When I inherited this office, the desk basically owned the office. As you can see by the pics, the office isn’t exactly huge but the desk, well, it is. You walked in the door, and it was the desk with enough room to walk around it and get engulfed by it. I had two chairs in front of the desk that weren’t uncomfortable to sit in.. if you were 5 foot 5 or under. If I wasn’t careful I would trip over either the desk or the filing cabinet on my way to my chair.

That’s not the worst part. There were three different filing cabinets full of files that I inherited, and gathered myself over two and a half years. I saved everything – every piece of paper that was remotely relevant, even printed out emails, saved paper copies of them. My desk, well, at best it was messy and cluttered. At worst it was a case in point of “I think it’s in one of these piles..”. I literally got stressed just sitting there and having all of this “crap” around me. While I had a decent view of our courtyard outside the window, my computer and me faced the hallway and door. So I decided it was time for a huge change.

First, I did what was suggested in a recent post even before it was posted – I completely emptied my office. The desk is a nice quality piece and weighs a couple hundred pounds, so I had to almost completely disassemble it to get it out the door. I measured to be sure that it would fit against the opposite side of the office, opening up the office and giving me a much better view. Just the “flip” of the desk completely opened the office up. It also gave me enough room to move in a table and more chairs instead of using the conference rooms in the building for smaller meetings. I keep three chairs so as to not get overly cluttered, but I can easily fit in a fourth.. and it’s much more productive than meeting in a big conference room and more intimate than meeting across a ginormous desk.

Next, I re-evaluated my needs. I created three “zones” on the desk itself so that I could more effectively work. I previously had paper all over the place, a laptop I used quite often for out of office trips and a desktop with two monitors that I use for VM’s and heavier apps (think Adobe CS4). Now I have the desktop in one area, and that’s a “paper free zone”. The only paper that I allow there is my small notepad that I keep my to-do list on (more on this in a second). I also got rid of the second monitor in favour of just one high res 23in one after doing similar at home and really liking the result, which is odd coming from a guy who had previously been all about dual monitors for around 7 years.

The second “zone” is where my laptop is docked. I use Sync Center in Windows 7 and Sync Toy to keep all my files up to date, so it’s essentially a mirror image of my desktop – aside from the VM’s. However, I’ve found that when I really need to focus on something, this is an excellent spot to do it. With the sun shining in, and the smaller screen doesn’t make it so easy to get distracted. Often when I’m playing catch up on email, I do it here because of how well it lends itself to it. I allow paper here, often I’m more creative on paper, such as designing and interface or a network diagram, here is where it gets created digitally.

The final zone was the big one – the “paper” zone. Here is where I process paper, and aside from my notebooks I have a very strict “24 hour” personal lifetime for any piece of paper that hits my desk. That little three file plastic thing works great – top is the “Inbox”, middle is the “outbox” and bottom is “Notepads”. I have four notepads with specific purposes, not overlapping ones. When I get a piece of paper it hits the inbox, then during the day I work through it and either trash it, or put it in the Outbox. The outbox is for paper that either needs to go somewhere else or needs to be scanned in. Any paper I need to keep, I scan in to our document management system and file away – but I find now I don’t even keep 75% of what I used to. Maybe half of a percentage I will also need to keep a physical copy of, such as something with a signature on it, that is kept in a single drawer in the drawers on the right side of the first “zone”. Right now there are seven files in that drawer. You’ll note on the left of the paper area an out of place box and some UPS packaging, which is too big to fit in the Outbox but is waiting for a charger to be returned – at some point you have to have slight flexibility for things completely out of your control. Above that in the cabinets are all my various technical reference books, which I find no reason to keep out in the open and clutter up an otherwise clean workspace.

Since I’ve changed this I find my productivity and peace of mind have both skyrocketed. I literally couldn’t believe how much it changed my outlook on my office, and my work in general – no more nagging in the back of my head on what I put where, etc etc. I even took it to almost an extreme, like many I used to have quite the collection of pens in that top drawer on the right side of my desk. Now I have two, one Sharpie, and a small plastic case with a variety of coloured highlighters (which I find invaluable – yay for colour scans!). I even got rid of my stapler and tape, that’s all 20 feet from my office in the area that houses the scanners, copiers, and other shared resources for our area of the office. Even that provided me with peace – I don’t have to choose what pen I’m using, I have two (in case one is out of ink, of course) – one is generally sitting over in the “paper” area. I’ve got a Rain Designs M-Stand in the main zone that I use when I bring my personal Macbook to work – which is usually when I’m working on a big project and need music to help me along the way, otherwise I don’t bring it if it isn’t needed. Music is most often provided by my rooted Samsung Moment, which has to be the swiss army knife of mobile devices.

There you go! Whew, long description, but I put immense thought into re-designing my office into the perfect area for me and the dividends have been amazing. Total time spent on it was probably 8-9 hours, but it’s the re-definition of spring cleaning. Up next is my home office.

The Efficient Office: A Workflow Makeover [Lifehacker Workspace Show and Tell Pool]


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