Work-at-home web workers seem to divide into two categories: those who make do with just a laptop computer balanced on whatever flat surface has just enough space to hold it, and those who try to establish a personal workspace that makes it easy and pleasant to […]

Work-at-home web workers seem to divide into two categories: those who make do with just a laptop computer balanced on whatever flat surface has just enough space to hold it, and those who try to establish a personal workspace that makes it easy and pleasant to work. If you’re in the former group, more power to you. But if you’re not, this might be the perfect time to think about upgrading your immediate surroundings.

Why now? By the end of May, you should have some sense of whether you’re having a good year (or not). In the US, tax time is safely past, and there are even those “economic stimulus” checks coming to encourage us all to pump up the consumer economy a bit. Personally, I’ve never been shy about spending money to make my immediate surroundings a bit nicer. I spend long hours at this desk working on the web; if it’s a nice place to work, I mind those hours less and can bill correspondingly more. If you’re of the same mind, here are four things to think about.1. Another monitor. The productivity benefits of multiple monitors are very real. If you haven’t discovered them yet, why not now? You can get a top of the line widescreen 23″ or 24″ monitor from Apple or Dell in the $700-900 range, but you don’t have to spend that much to get a boost. Reasonable brands like ViewSonic or Acer have pushed the price of these monitors below $400. They aren’t as spiffy as the high-end ones, but still plenty good enough to move secondary applications out of your main focus.

2. A good desktop scanner. For me, “desktop zero” is as important as “inbox zero” in staying on top of things and not getting distracted. After six months with it, I’m still loving my $430 Fujitsu ScanSnap. Coupled with a copy of EagleFiler and a cheap shredder, it gets me as close to the paperless office as I ever expect to get. If you’re a digital worker, it makes good sense to turn paper into bits so you can integrate it with the rest of your workflow.

3. A single-serve coffee maker. Many web workers are fueled by caffeine. If you’re one of them, you likely know how nasty the coffee is at the bottom of the pot in the afternoon. You can get rid of that nastiness once and for all by buying a single-serve coffee maker that churns out one cup at a time when you want it, fresh. There are a variety of these machines on the market at prices ranging from about $30 to $300. If you want to try one cheap, check out the Share Senseo promotion, which will score you one for $15 if you fill in the right answers for their survey (hint: tell them you belong to lots of clubs and are influential with your friends and family). One thing to watch out for – the special coffee packets that these machines take are more expensive than regular grounds; you can beat that by purchasing aftermarket refillable packets.

4. Noise-cancelling headphones. Here again you have a variety of choices, ranging from $5 to $500. To a certain extent, you get what you pay for, but the $100-$150 range will get you something nice enough if you’re not a die-hard audiophile. I haven’t found anything better for helping tune out distractions so that you can get “into the zone” and focus your concentration on tricky work. One drawback: noise-cancelling makes it harder to hear the phone ring, so you either need a loud ringer or something like Skype that will pipe the ring right into your headphones.

Have you upgraded your own personal workspace lately? What did you get? Any recommendations for your fellow web workers?

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  1. Matt Platte Monday, May 26, 2008

    Hahahaa, thanks for the $15 Senseo! Can’t wait to brag about it. ;)

  2. If you’re going to be drinking a pot of coffee during the day, it makes much more sense (economically and environmentally) to brew one pot of coffee rather than six single serves.

    Use a decent coffee maker with a stainless carafe (or similar). Because the heating element on a decent coffee maker turns off as soon as the coffee is brewed, the coffee doesn’t get burnt so it doesn’t taste bad at the bottom of the pot. If it gets a little cool by the afternoon just microwave your cup for 30-45 seconds.

    It won’t taste as good as the first cup out of a fresh brewed pot, but it’ll be pretty good and much easier on the wallet and world than the waste that is created with the single serve coffee makers.

    Another alternative, if you don’t want to shell out for an expensive coffee maker/carafe, is to buy a good thermos and pour the whole pot of coffee into the thermos as soon as it has finished brewing.

  3. jeremy beat me to the thermos idea. Or, of course, brew a couple of pots per day – I still use a 20 year old 4 cup Krups maker. 4 cups is really 2 and a bit mugs. If you need more than 2-4 cups, think about your intake. :P

    For monitors – look at 22″. For some reason the drop from 24 to 22 or 21 cam come with a significant drop in price. Sure, 2×24″ is uber… but 2×22″ isn’t far behind and can save you hundreds.

    Think about other things too – is it time to get rid of the cheap office chair and get something ergonomic? Same with the keyboad and mouse. Are you using the free ones that came with your computer? Maybe they’re fine… and maybe not.

  4. Jeri Dansky Monday, May 26, 2008

    I love my ScanSnap, too!

    I’m not much of a coffee drinker; for me, the upgrade was getting a really good water bottle. As someone said, this is a sippy cup for adults!

    I’ve also just had my back yard landscaped, so my home office looks out on something more than bare dirt and concrete.

  5. For those in the market for a new (or second) monitor I highly recommend the Hanns-G 28″ (HG281D). You can usually find them on sale for under $600. With a good color file they are amazing.

    I also second getting a (good) double-wall thermos carafe for you coffee. Mine keeps coffee hot for roughly five hours warm for roughly 12 hours. It’s actually a little freaky.


  6. Two monitors is a must!

  7. Sparky Firepants Monday, May 26, 2008

    I’m totally there with the coffee thermos. Actually, I did that even at The Corporation®. I’ll brew a bistro (French Press) and it stays hot for about 4-6 hours in a little Starbucks thermos.

    The best upgrade for my personal work space is a Target room dividing screen. My studio is off the kitchen, divided from the other room by two IKEA bookcases and the folding divider.

    I didn’t need sound blocked (got my $80 JBL ‘phones from Amazon for $25), but I did need to get rid of the visual distractions of kids walking back and forth past my space.

    The divider does the trick and adds an air of “zen meditation center.”

    Cost? Free. Somebody was throwing it out. A perfectly good, solid cherry wood divider. The productivity boost from using their trash in my work space has been awesome.

  8. Tammy Lenski Monday, May 26, 2008

    I want to echo the recommendation of the ScanSnap. I bought one about 6 months ago and have been so pleased with how much more paperless my office has become. And it doesn’t take up much desktop real estate.

    The other upgrade that’s made a difference to me, a tea drinker, is a plugin teapot. It boils much faster than stovetop and takes less energy. Mine’s a Braun.

  9. Gang,

    The Share Senseo is a great way to get started with single serve machines, but the coffee they provide is TERRIBLE. Make sure to find some good “aftermarket” coffee pods to really see what a pod machine can do :-)

    There are lots of sources for after-market pods (disclosure: including my own site, http://www.bettercoffee.com/ where we sell over 180 varieties — most with customer reviews and rankings.)

    For most folks, the local Target sells “Archer Farms” brand in about 13 varieties; these pods are quite good. Also check out singleservecoffeeforums.com for etailer links and reviews. A google search for “coffee pods” also turns up lots of vendors.

    Look for coffee pod vendors that offer free samples, sampler packs, or single pods for sale. Find your perfect cup and enjoy it every time!

    I hope that helps (and I hope it’s not too spammy :-)



  10. On the single-serve coffee front, if you really want to go that route, check out the Keurig B60. It can be had for ~$150 (yes, a lot for a coffee maker, but right in line with most single-serve machines), but the best part is for an extra $15, you can get a genuine Keurig reusable filter that will let you use whatever coffee you want (be it Kopi Luac or Maxwell House). I have one (it was a wedding gift), and I find I use it more on the weekends when both the wife and I are home and doing our normal domestic routine (cleaning, relaxing, playing with the dog/kid).

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