Disorganization, procrastination, and the "zen desk"

by Seth Petry-Johnson 15. November 2014 16:14

I've been in my new house for just over a year. I have a nice little home office but the previous decor was terrible, so the first thing I did after moving in was rip up the carpet, re-paint, and buy new flooring.

You'll note that I said "buy" new flooring, and that I said nothing about installing new flooring. That's because I didn't actually get around to installing the floor; for a number of reasons, I just put that aside, set up my office on top of the bare wood subfloor, and went to work. Classy, right?

An interesting thing happens when you don't have a floor in your office. Since the floor looks like crap, there's not a lot of incentive to make anything else look nice. And over the course of the following year I worked in some pretty nasty conditions: papers everywhere, cables strung here-and-there, miscellaneous junk and empty Amazon shipping containers littering my bookshelves. It's very much like living in a "broken windows theory" experiment.

Fast forward to May of this year when I started taking over a lot more of the technical analysis tasks for my team. These aren't tasks that I necessarily enjoy doing, at least not for a sustained period of time, and I've found myself struggling to stay focused. Just moving my gaze from one end of my desk to another would turn up any number of bills to pay, still-barely-edible food items to snack on, or dusty/dirty items that suddenly needed cleaned right now who cares about that analysis deadline there are dust bunnies on the monitor!!!!!!

And then, just when I was most primed to be affected by it, the esteemed Cory House tweeted this:

And suddenly I realized that by maintaining such a disorganized and messy office I was making it that much harder to stay focused and on task. I was basically surrounding myself with a thousand and one disruptions and making it so damn easy for my procrastinating brain to sabotage me. I was drowning, and it was my own hand holding me under the water.

And so I fixed it. I asked my wife to disappear with the kids for a weekend day, hired a little help and laid down the new floor, assembled a new desk, and organized the s!*t out of everything. I went so far as to hide every cable and piece of non-essential equipment out of view* so that my workspace is clean, uncluttered, and totally non-distracting.

Was my life magically transformed into a utopia of "Getting Things Done"-ness or was I equipped with the powers to call forth intense focus on command? Well, no. But I do feel less stress and I have been able to focus a little bit better. I can walk into my office, take a deep breath, and feel more relaxed than I ever could before. And that's meaningful.

So what about you? What does your home or office look like? You may not be in control of life, but you can at least be in control of your environment. Try it.

* It took a ton of work but I was able to hide from view 3 USB hubs, 1 router, 1 network switch, 2 external hard drives, 1 Vonage box, 5 USB charging stations, 8 USB cables, 6 network cables, 3 standard power cables, 4 surge protectors and more wall-wart power supplies than I have fingers to keep track of. It often also holds at least 1 cat and averages less than 1 pair of pants per workday because, well, WFH and YOLO.

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Seth Petry-Johnson

I'm a software architect and consultant for Heuristic Solutions.

I value clean code, malleable designs, short feedback cycles, usable interfaces and balance in all things.

I am a Pisces.

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