Get clear

Blogs are inherently narcissistic vehicles – Look at me, world! Let me tell you what I think! So why wouldn’t everyone be interested in looking at my new office setup? Think of it as an extension of note-taking. And yes, I’ll post next on my tweaked GTD setup.

With only 5-6 weeks before school starts up again, I spent the past weekend reading through the new (2015) edition of David Allen’s classic Getting Things Done (thank you ebooks). My prompt, you ask? I realized, as I looked at the piles of papers, folders and books spread across my home office floor and desk, that it wasn’t enough to have an electronic system for projects and tasks if your office is a sty, and has been for a year or more. And that Allen was absolutely correct that a pile does NOT serve as a prompt – it merely becomes noise that you try to ignore, but which subtly wears on your conscience. And they have a nasty habit of multiplying.

So I finally implemented the physical idea of “a place for everything, and everything in its place”: Get clear, as Allen would say. So here’s what it looks like now – so full of possibilities.

Office landscape with letters

It’s a cramped little office with a southern view that requires several square feet of desktop space for a cat. Following in the footsteps of my early moderns, I added a few letters to call out a few of the more germane features that I find particularly useful for my own work. Because you know you’re dying to know.

Unlettered: books, books and more books, in custom-built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Still not enough room though.

A & B: File cabinets. They need to be near your work center, and less than 100% full if you’ll want to use them. The black file cabinet (A) warms up nicely for a cat (but not two!) on summer days, but it also serves as a temporary repository for a bunch of folders with all my notes on WSS sieges. Over time I’m scanning their contents into Devonthink, after which they will be transported off-site (and by off-site, I mean the larger filing cabinets in my garage) or thrown away. The wooden desk file cabinet (B) has folders I’m likely to consult more frequently. This includes a folder for each course I teach (not just those I’m teaching in any given semester, since I might have An Idea), folders for each issue relating to service (promotion, assessment, grants…), folders for each of my current research projects, and a giant folder packed with documents and notes I need to transcribe or otherwise get into the computer, in DTPO. Within this massive To Enter-Misc folder I have manila folders segregating particular topics (military culture, small war, strategy…). My goal with these notes and ideas are to eventually transcribe them on the computer. But in the meantime, I have a place-holding document in each relevant group in DTPO, saying “See To Enter-Misc file folder manila folder Small War for thoughts.” And then I have a “Transcribe research notes” project in Pocket Informant (PI), with a task for each manila subfolder, e.g. “Transcribe Small War research notes.” That way I’ll at least remember that they exist till they’re all entered, and PI will remind me that they need to be entered in. And yes, I did in fact color-coordinate the file folders to match the colors of my tags in PI – how nice of you to notice!

C: What doesn’t serve as catspace will serve as a temporary place for books, papers, maybe even a medium-sized map.

D: My Inbox. Currently full, but you should’ve seen it before I started. Above it is a cork board (with GTD flowchart), which needs to be reorganized.

E: My MacBook Air. I can easily swivel my chair to work on the laptop when I’m doing a processor-intensive task on the iMac, e.g. OCRing in Adobe Acrobat, scanning several hundred page documents, copying large files, etc. During soccer season I also prop up my iPad next to it to stream English Premier League games while I’m doing mindless administrative work on Saturday mornings.

F: Color printer/scanner/photocopier combo unit. I hope everybody has one of these at home – they’re cheap, except for the ink. Make sure you get one with an Automatic Document feeder. Admittedly not as fast as the department’s copier/scanner, but mine is color and it works great for spur-of-the-moment jobs.

G: Desk hutch with cubby holes. In addition to cleaning up the mess, this was my biggest change – simple but already paying dividends. Instead of filling these cubby holes with things I rarely use, I cleared them out and assigned each of my current projects a cubby. These become my Read pile, and I keep all my notes there as well. The middle section holds paper: scrap, notepad, and printer. I rotate the cubbies’ contents as the projects change, which, admittedly, isn’t as often as I’d like.

H: The top of the desk hutch also holds a selection of titles. Last semester I taught Religion, War and Peace and thus it was filled with books on that subject. Since I’ll be teaching the Crusades in the fall, it’s their turn. This also helps with my shortage of bookshelf space.

I: My iMac, with speakers, etc. I’ve got one of those slide-out keyboard shelves, so I can put a book or papers on top of the desk right next to the monitor. I’m pondering whether I should get a book/paper holder, or at least an incline to more easily transcribe from book/paper to iMac. My screen wallpaper is a contemporary image of the siege of Turin 1706.

J: Teacher’s Corner. This will be my staging area for teaching – vertical dividers in the back to temporarily store folders I transport between school and home. A wire basket in front to store bulky papers and exams. I can move the wire basket when I need extra desktop space. Below this used to be the PC CPU cabinet, but now it holds my backpack, conveniently located right below the folders and documents I put in it before I go to school. (I might install a little shelf in there too – can never get enough surface area.)

K: Foot stool for my out-of-frame reading chair (swiveling and rocking – of course). It’s nice to have a different chair for reading or grading, allowing me to look out onto the neighborhood and see at least a few trees. And it will also allow me to host a guest, if they’re lucky.

So what does your space look like?



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2 responses to “Get clear”

  1. Andrew Tumath says :

    My first ever proper(ish) office is currently a collection of flat-pack boxes from a popular Swedish furniture group, and is cluttering up my lounge until I find the time to put it together. It’ll have about 18 metres of bookshelves (not, sadly, custom-built floor-to-ceiling), and what I hope will be a sufficient quantity of drawers for work-in-progress.

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