Hello! My name is Andrea Wagner, a Penumbra Online editor and Penumbra Online Blog staff member. When it comes to my workspace, it tends to vary depending on what I’m doing. Lately though, as many others do too I imagine, I work at my desk. Because of frequent Zoom calls, I keep my microphone and camera on hand, and my computer tends to dwarf the rest of the table space. Even so, I keep sticky notes nearby to jot notes down or draw when inspiration strikes. I also surround myself with things I like, such as pictures, art, and my favorite snacks, to keep me motivated.
Because of my busy schedule, between juggling graduate school and part-time jobs, I tend to spend a lot of time here, which is why I also opt for a plush and comfortable swivel chair (not photographed). I try to help my eyes by using blue-light filtering glasses, which you'd see in addition to a flurry of sticky notes and paper clips in my desk drawer. While the set-up of my desk is fairly basic, I tend to like it better this way in order to keep me focused on the task at hand. Whether my task be a class essay or a poem I'm writing, a semi-tidy desk with minimal distractions helps me to stay on track.
Like many others this past year, I managed to learn a lot about my own habits and weaknesses, so my hope is that my workspace keeps a healthy balance between promoting comfort and productivity. If you're interested in my creative writing process, check out the post I made in the "Lifestyle" section of the blog!
I’m currently a full-time graduate student, in addition to working multiple part-time jobs. Therefore, I spend a lot of time at my desk, even more so now that the pandemic has caused many transitions to online work formats. These circumstances have been a godsend for my workspace.
I used to have a very bad habit of doing schoolwork in bed. Really, there doesn’t seem to be a downside—you can stay in your pajamas; it’s comfy and warm; you don’t have to move if you decide to take a nap break. Despite all those obvious pros, I found that I was less productive and more distracted without a designated workspace.
I also used to have the opinion that working in coffee shops and public spaces was a waste of time and sometimes money. That quickly changed in college though. I realized that the amount of work I could get done by being able to focus more than made up for the extra travel time to a coffee shop. This same reasoning—that some things are worth the expense—found its way into my head as the wave of online work and Zoom classes took hold. I couldn’t go work in public spaces, but I did have my desk.
My desk is a behemoth; it’s the widest and longest money could buy at IKEA in 2018. As a result, I have a ton of space to set the things I use the most out where I can see them. That’s how my workspace is organized; it’s all about the visual for me. I need to see everything that I use regularly. I need to have a space I can see clearly where all my random sticky notes get stuck. I need a specific place for all my everyday items to rest so that when I’m not working, my desk area looks clean. Those things help my mind stay organized—when my desk space is clean and clear, so is my mind.
When things turned to an online format, I felt the need to step up my desk game; though it was pretty neat and efficient beforehand, it still was pretty bare bones as far as workspaces go. It wasn’t a space I particularly loved using, which was why I had such a bad habit of doing homework in bed. On my desk I was using old candle jars as pen holders (a habit I have yet to break) and my 13” MacBook Air was the only screen I was using—the reason for my consistent neck pain and unpleasantness. I had always heard that you should invest in your mattress, because you spend such a large percentage of your life sleeping. I figured that also applies to your workspace, even more so now that everything was online and I was confined to my house. (I guess if you’re sleeping and working in bed, that’s double the reason to invest in your mattress.) That let me give myself permission to spend some money on making my space more user friendly.
My main focus was getting some sort of monitor. My neck pain and general frustration at having to do weeks of research and long papers on a single 13” screen was not doing me any favors. I shopped around and actually found a TV that can be plugged in as a second monitor, so I immediately added that to my workspace. I didn’t like that I couldn’t see the whole screen when working on my laptop and TV simultaneously, so I found a riser to put the TV on. I absolutely love it; it’s probably my favorite purchase for my desk. It gives me extra space to put things under and on top of it, which means there are more of my everyday items that stay in my line of sight. They all get used a lot more because of it.
My other purchases deserving of special attention are the mouse and keyboard I bought that connect to my computer. I didn’t realize how much of a little misshapen ogre I turn into when typing on my laptop until I got this separate keyboard. Now I can sit in my chair and type without having to be leaning over two inches from the screen. I find I look forward to working on projects and assignments more because I have made the process easy and painless.
I think that’s the key lesson I’ve learned over the past year and a half. Investing in a space is not a waste of money or time if it’s making your life easier. Was I able to get all my work done on my single screen with my bland/unadorned desk? Yes, of course. But I am also able to get all my work done now, and with considerably less hassle, pain, and frustration. It is always worth the time and effort to make it easy to do the things you love—and even more worth it to make it easier to do things you don’t. I’m lucky I love the program and jobs I’m in right now, but even if I didn’t, making my workspace compatible with my workflow would still have been the right move.