Experiment: I’m Ditching My Desk
My Former Desk
As of last week, this is what my desk at work looked like. There wasn’t too much to it as far as work spaces go:
- Macbook Pro
- 30″ Monitor
- Framed picture of my wife & recently-printed-from-the-design-team-printer picture of my son
- Headphones & Mouse
- Water bottle & bowl for afternoon snacks
- A few trophies I won at work events
That filing cabinet under my desk is mainly storage for running clothes (only clean clothes of course). We have an active culture and every day there is some sort of afternoon activity; running, basketball, flag football, yoga, etc.
My decision to experiment with not having a desk happened by accident.
It started with my new laptop, a 13″ Macbook Pro Retina. It only weighs about 3lbs which is why I got it. I wanted to have something small and light so I can carry it back and forth to work on my bike.
The next week I hit my 3 year anniversary at Hearsay Social and got that nifty Patagonia backpack (in the picture above) as a gift. It has a lot more room than my 20 year old Jansport bag and does a good job distributing the weight so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Finally, last week a few people were switching desks to sit next to people they were starting to work with more. I packed everything up in the shuffle, but never landed.
My Current Anti-Desk
I now have no desk at work – my desk is everywhere.
In the last week I’ve worked from various locations; conference rooms, couches, my house, an airplane, a customer’s office, the desk of someone I was working with, a hotel room, the desk of a coworker who was out of office for the day. I’ve just been floating around.
I tried to set a few rules for my experiment to hold myself to a certain standard. The main rule is that I can’t leave anything when I go home at night. I can sit wherever I’d like, but when I leave it should be as if I was never there.
So what did I do with all of the stuff on my desk?
Laptap goes with me everywhere.
Mouse & headphones are in my backpack in case I need them.
Backpack usually parks one place per day, it has been different most days.
Monitor is now being used by whoever is sitting in the desk I used to sit in.
Pictures & trophy are temporarily in storage.
Water bottle… well it’s a Patagonia backpack, there are two water bottle slots on the sides.
I am, however, cheating a little bit, I put that under-the-desk cabinet in a corner and kept my running clothes in it. If this experiment sticks, I’ll have to get rid of that too.
Why Get Rid of My Desk?
A few reasons:
I am an aspiring minimalist
The before picture of my desk should indicate that I’m a firm believer of the clean desk, clean mind philosophy. I work better when I can focus and I do that best when there are not a lot of things in front of me.
I know that this isn’t true of everyone, but I suspect that it is true of more people than actually have clean desks.
Having no desk dramatically reduces the things that are in front of me and allows me to focus on only one thing. It means I have no place to store things. No place for paper. No place for random things. If I have it at work, I carried it there on my back and am taking it home with me, so it must be considered carefully.
At the same time, since I don’t have a desk and cary everything with me, I always have everything I need to get my work done. There is never a time where the item I need is at the office.
My life and needs have changed
I’m married and have a baby at home now and so my priorities have shifted. Three years ago I was single and it wasn’t uncommon to find me plugged in at my desk with headphones on at 10pm. My desk was my throne and I had it configured just right.
My days are less predictable now. I am in meetings more. I travel to see customers more. I spend more time at home and more time working at home.
I am more mobile now and wanted that to be reflected in my work station.
It cuts down on drop ins
“Hey I saw you were at your desk, do you have a second to talk about something?”
That question is a tricky one for me. The answer is often yes. In fact the answer is always yes for something pressing. It is also almost always yes for something where work is currently being blocked. If an engineer is debating a decision and wants to talk through the edge cases with me for 15 minutes, making time right then will save our team wasted effort.
The problem is not everything is pressing or blocking. Most items are need-for-info questions that would be fine if they got a response in 24 hours. In the name of efficiency, I prefer to batch those and answer them at the end of the day.
Not being in a known location forces people to result to more reliable mediums to get a hold of me – chat, email, etc. That allows me more control of the workflow. I can respond to chat in real time or swing over. I can leave non-pressing email until a later point.
Of course, this experiment could have negative effects on communication – maybe not having a desk makes people to not ping me enough, thus causing a problem equal to being pinged too much.
I don’t prefer desks
Some of my most productive times happened while I was sitting in an ugly pink lazy boy I got at Goodwill for $35.
I founded my last company from that chair and spent tons of time working from it. I like having my legs up. I like having a laptop in my lap (who would have guessed?).
Now that I don’t have a desk at work I find myself gravitating towards couches, barstools, sitting on the floor or floater standing desks. I feel like my working location at any given point is more in tune with my immediate preferences and physical needs.
Hypothesis & Measurement
It wouldn’t be a good experiment if I wasn’t testing for something and I wouldn’t be a good scientist if I wasn’t gathering data. Truth be told I didn’t think too much about that before getting rid of my desk though, so I’m winging this as I write.
Hypothesis One: I will have less drop ins
I don’t have control data on this, but I can always get that afterwards. I going to start keeping track of drop ins per day and compare the numbers if I ever decide to settle in again.
Hypothesis Two: I will not settle into a location
I will log my location each day to see if a pattern emerges. If I end up sitting in the same place every day, especially if that is an open desk, I might end up proving to myself that I need a desk.
Hypothesis Three: I will not become less available to coworkers that need me
This is the one place I think my experiment will backfire. I’m going to poll a few co-workers asking a few questions about availability and I’ll do the same in a month or so to see if anything changes. Though it won’t be a blind study since they all know I’m trying this experiment, some data is better than none.
Hypothesis Four: I will be happier having more variety of workstation
This one I’ll determine strictly by my opinion at the end of the test. If I decide I really miss having a desk and go back to one, I will have successfully rejected this hypothesis.