A work in progress . . . My ramblings about a home office, especially focused on computer gear.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I receive no financial reward from any of the companies whose products I identify below. I have a daughter who works at Best Buy.
You want to work in a home office for so many reasons. But can you do that efficiently? I would posit that the answer to the question is “No,” especially if you are relying just on the fact that your work laptop is best-of-breed.
Ever since I got a home large enough so I can have a home office (here in NYC that’s not so easy to do) I’ve loved to work at home. No subway ride, fewer distractions, and no need to dress up.
First, I’ll tell you why I think you need more than just a great laptop to do work efficiently at home. Then, I’ll discuss what I’ve done so that I’m more efficient at home.
Home Office Problems
- At home, you don’t have a big monitor
- At home, you don’t have a high-speed, duplexing printers
- At home, you don’t have a big monitor
- At home, you don’t have a big monitor
Plainly, I think that most people don’t have adequate monitor space at home. Without adequate space, if you are working on a pair (or more) of documents, or if you are reviewing a big spreadsheet, you will spend a lot of time toggling between monitors and/or scrolling back and forth. Fundamentally, while you do this, you’ve got to expend a lot of mental energy to keep track of where you were and what that other document said. With a monitor that’s big enough to display two documents, however, you avoid all that.
Below, I’ll show you how I solved the monitor problem. And, I’ll toss in some tricks about dealing with multiple monitors. Finally, I’ll assemble a collection of other hacks.
You need a big monitor
In a home office, the facts that your laptop is light, has a 9-hour battery, and is in carbon-fiber chassis, counts for naught. It probably has a great screen–for a laptop. But if you try to view two documents on it at the same time, and keep your email client visible, the windows are going to be tiny=useless.
The tips I offer below help improve the interface to that laptop. That’s where the gains are to be had.
Improving your monitor is the single best improvement you can make to improve your efficiency at home. If you can’t afford $300, then move to the other sections of this article. (But before you do that, work out the math. What’s the ROI on a $300 investment for your career? To ask the question is almost to answer it–scrimp and save so that one day you send your boss a sophisticated analysis of a business issue–an analysis made great because you were able to master a lot of information in the quiet of your home office. I assure you that that’s worth $1K at review time.)
Get big monitor(s) with lots of pixels. Here are a few sites that discuss pixels. PIXELS-1, PIXELS-2. I have to say, though, that the entire pixel/screen size discussion is confusing. (And I say that having studied optics for years.)
So, how to chose a monitor?
- Do–actually look at some monitors. Take your laptop to a Best Buy store and test them.
- Don’t–simply buy the one with the most pixels you can afford–you risk getting a screen so small that the extra pixels are essentially unusable.
I use two WQHD monitors. See the following photo. (I also use the laptop’s screen too. That’s where Outlook sits, and/or I have a browser window.) You will find that adding just one monitor will change your life. Look into it here, here, or here, and do it.
These are the monitors I use:
- monitor 1 — ASUS PB258Q 25″ WQHD 2560×1440 IPS DisplayPort HDMI DVI Eye Care Monitor. List price is about $320
- monitor 2 — Acer G257HU smidpx 25-Inch WQHD (2560 x 1440) Widescreen Monitor. List price is about $250.
Keeping your monitors clean
Use a mixture of water and vinegar in a spray bottle, and wipe with a microfiber cloth. Here’s how.
Manage your monitors
It takes a while to learn to use multiple monitors efficiently. You need to be able to snap two windows side-by-side easily, with no wasted space between them. You also need to be able to move a window from one monitor to another.
And to do that efficiently, trust me, you want to use your keyboard and not your mouse. This site explains the basic idea well: “Turning multiple mouse clicks into a simple press of a key or two may not seem like a lot, but if you are an avid user of keyboard shortcuts you’ve likely noticed just how helpful they can be.” That same site has keyboard shortcuts that solve many of these problems. For example, the Windows key + Right arrow key will snap a window to the right side of the monitor it’s currently on.
While Windows 10 has good keyboard shortcuts built-in for handling multiple monitors, I prefer by far to use software by Display Fusion. I’ll write about that in more detail later, but it’s dang cool. I have learned how to use DisplayFusion so that my Acrobat app always opens on the right -hand side of monitor No. 1, Word goes to the left, and X1 goes to the top of monitor 3. Priceless!
Above, I’ve discussed how using your keyboard rather than your mouse helps speed things up. There is another use for keyboards–typing. Let’s discuss that.
I think you should consider getting a keyboard that works better than your laptop’s keyboard. This is one I use: KEYBOARD. It’s $80, fast and loud.
These are the keyboard features I’ve found most important for me (but your needs may vary):
- “fast” — some keyboards feel fast to me, and others don’t.
- width — a keyboard that’s too narrow will slow you down. By using an external keyboard, rather than the one that’s built into your laptop, you can pick the width you prefer
- LED illumination:
I use NUM LOCK a lot, and if there’s no LED indicating if that key is on or off, it’s a pest
If you like to work in the dark, then you want LEDs for each of the keys.
- Number keypad — if you use numbers or spreadsheets alot, DUH.
BTW, I remap the keys to match my personal preferences, and so I use this $6 tool to switch the keys around. A tip — if you use CAPS LOCK or NUM LOCK, get a keyboard that has an illuminated indicator, so you can look down and quickly determine the status. This is especially important with your software to manage keyboards (below).
- There are more – Google ” keyboard remapping”
The mouse you are using likely costs about $3. Your time is worth so much more than that. Get a mouse that fits in your hand and that has some extra buttons. Here is one that I use, a Logitech G602: MOUSE. It has over 2000 great Amazon reviews. Why would you use a mouse every day that frustrates you? For $30 (and likely less) you can solve that problem.
I’m not going to hector you on the use of Control+C, Control+X, and Control+V, which you can use to move copy, cut, and paste commands from a mouse-driven menu-selection process to a keyboard-driven process . . . but if you are not using those shortcuts you are . . . . I won’t say “dumb” but I will say, take control of your life. God gave man dominion over the world, and even if you don’t believe that, you should at least take dominion over your mouse and replace slow navigation of menus with keyboard shortcuts. Here are some:
Get Dashlane or LastPass, memorize one long password and these programs with log you in using secured passwords that you don’t need to know. This way, you increase your security and speed-up your logins. This site rates password managers. I prefer Dashlane to Lastpass.
X1.com Search — It’s like putting Google search on your desktop. I can’t say enough good things about this program. It will search your entire computer, your Outlook, or whatever. But, you can also point it to one or a narrow set of folders. I use it primarily to search a folder or folders of PDF documents. For example, if I have 50 patents that were all cited by a patent I’m studying, and I want to find out if any of the 50 have the phrase “helium-cadmium,” then X1 Search gives me the answer in a second.
Buy an encrypted USB drive, point X1 to it, and you can search your entire data set (or a selected part of it) with X1. For example, this one. (I use an older drive; I don’t have this specific model, but it looks good.)
Buy a good hole puncher and get some three-ring notebooks.
Amazon Dot + Alexa
Of course you need a Dot.