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Setting Up My Dream Home Office Drastically Improved My Life

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Finding the right set up when you’re working from home can be tricky. While it’s true a computer and an internet connection are the only tools you absolutely need to work remotely, where you position yourself in your home and the kind of support equipment you use will make worlds of difference to your overall health and productivity. Ann Cascarano is a web developer and WordPress instructor known among her remote co-workers for having a top-notch work-from-home set up, but her workspace didn’t come that way out of the box—it took some adjustment and resourcefulness on her part to get to where she is today. She told her story to Scott Morris.

I’m a WordPress instructor for Skillcrush, a web developer, and a mentor in both my local WordPress community and for an organization called Ladies Learning Code (focusing on WordPress, HTML/CSS, and JavaScript). I’ve been working all of these jobs in different capacities for eight years now, all from home, so—as you might imagine—my work-from-home set up is a huge part of my professional life. Still, as important as having a dialed-in work environment is when your home doubles as an office, mine didn’t start that way. Building my ideal workspace was an incremental process that took about three years!

The Home Office Game Plan

My work-from-home set up had humble beginnings. I hadn’t put a ton of thought toward the space I’d be working in—I was more preoccupied with my general adjustment to working from home at that point. So when the time came to dive in, I just plunked my laptop down at a spot on the dining room table and began typing way. Of course, this put me in the middle of a high traffic area (did I mention we have young children in the house?) which meant my dining room table accomodations were distracting and uncomfortable. Being in a zone of constant interruptions eventually drove me to try working from my bedroom, and if there’s any advice I can give to folks transitioning to working from home, it’s: Do not work while sitting or lying on your bed! It’s bad! Bad, bad, bad.

Your bed needs to be a dedicated space where you can recover from the demands of the job, not an extension of your workplace. No matter how much I love my work, the cognitive load can still be very high, and keeping my bedroom entirely separate from work has been extremely healthy for me (and my sleep!).

I finally cleared off some space on an old desk in our family room and started working from there. That was really the beginning of my carving out a sane, dedicated work-from-home space. Just making that small change to being away from household traffic and out of the bedroom had an immediately positive effect on my focus and productivity.

If Your Work-From-Home Set Up Isn’t Working, Adjust!

After that, when other working-from-home challenges would crop up, I’d start to find things I could change or add to my set up to help address them. For instance, in my early days of working at home my neck would start to hurt after just a few hours of craning it to look at my laptop. I solved this problem at first by using books to prop it up so that it would be at eye-level, but realized I could get a dedicated laptop stand, which does a much better job and is easily adjustable. Meanwhile, the chair I was using was pretty sad, and not really work-from-home worthy, so—in addition to my neck—my back would start aching, too. The laptop stand was such a success that I decided to invest in a chair upgrade as well, and I now use one that has an adjustable height and backrest.

So my neck was feeling better, my back was doing great, but now I needed to figure out a way to keep my non-hurting body physically active. I really didn’t want to spend any of the precious work time I have while my kids are in school going out to a gym or even for a decent walk, so I ended up finding a second-hand desk cycle which turned out to be ideal for keeping me moving. With the desk bike, I can get work done while I’m being active—booya! Since my co-workers are often curious about the bike and how much I actually get to use it, I’ll say that it helps to work it into more passive parts of my work day. If I’m watching a video to learn about something or listening to a podcast, that’s when I’ll fire up the bike. I find that if I’m troubleshooting a problem or working on code, it doesn’t really work for me to be in motion—it just messes with my concentration too much. Of course that might just be something unique to me—I can’t listen to music with lyrics while working on code either.

My Work-From-Home Product List

Eight years after I started, my set up now consists of the aforementioned adjustable office chair and desk bike, a large desk, a MacBook Pro (with a laptop stand), a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, Bluetooth headphones with an integrated mic, and two large external monitors. I also have a phone stand, coasters for my drinks (water and coffee), a few small Minecraft characters who suffer through my talking out loud during coding snags, adjustable lighting, and a nearby couch for emergency naps. My office is still in the family room, which is in the lower level of our small house. I like to call it “the Code Cave” while waggling my eyebrows mysteriously, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one amused by this. It’s an open area, which does present some challenges, but it’s a fairly large room and I’ve claimed about half of it. When necessary, I use a room divider to help minimize distractions and to send a clear signal to the family that I don’t want to be interrupted.

Outside of the absolute essentials—a reasonably undisturbed area to work in, a computer, a solid desk, and a chair that isn’t sending me to the chiropractor—I’d say that that comfortable pair of Bluetooth headphones (with an integrated mic) has become the tool I rely on the most. They are so liberating! I can get up and stretch my legs, pace a little bit if I feel the need, or simply roll back in my chair without worrying that my earphones will snap my head back or yank my laptop off my desk. I wear glasses, so it was a challenge to find a pair of headphones I liked that didn’t hurt my ears, but now that I’ve found them, I’ll drop kick anyone who tries to take them from me! The only downside is that they are so comfortable I sometimes forget to take them off. I’ve gotten a few odd looks at the grocery store.

I should also add that If you have the opportunity to use an external monitor, do it! It doesn’t have to be state-of-the-art or huge. I had gotten very familiar with my laptop and moving it between being physical spaces and applications on the screen, but when I finally picked up an adapter and plugged in that first monitor, I was blown away by how much I loved it, and how quickly I was able to use dual screens to my advantage. Switching between applications without having to use keyboard shortcuts, segmenting tasks between screens, viewing documents side by side—these little things all add up, and If I were to guess, I’d say that it’s increased my productivity by at least 30 percent. The second external monitor helped too, of course, but it was icing on the cake. That first external monitor was life changing.

Where to Find Home Office Gear

Some of the equipment I’ve picked up over the years has been through luck (the external monitors I use were both donated by friends who were upgrading their equipment), but the things I’ve sought out on my own have usually come my way through researching options and reading user feedback. I really like LifeHacker for all sorts of tech-related stuff, and I also have a tech news aggregator that combines several different sources like Gizmodo, TechCrunch, Wired, TechWorld, Motherboard, and probably a dozen more. Otherwise it’s a good old fashioned Google search on the specific kind of item I’m looking for or a particular need I’m trying to address.

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