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.