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Get more productive with a minimalists work setup

Most people use a multitude of tools on a daily basis: a computer, mouse and keyboard, an external monitor, your work phone, your mobile phone … the list goes on.

But did you ever consider that all this stuff might do you more harm than good?

I am a designer, and naturally I had it all: Apart from the external display, mouse and keyboard for my MacBook I had a big drawing tablet and a small one for when I was working at a client's location. I had a carefully composed terminal setup as well as different setups for the tool panels of my design software. But when I moved to a new office it was time for a change…

Steps towards physical reduction

When I moved into my first office I was presented with a setup problem. Before, I used to only work from my home office or at the client's location, but now I had three places to work from. So I had to decide where I would have my primary work space and thus move all my equipment. I was pretty sure I did not want to spend a couple thousand dollars to buy a second set of everything.

Once you start talking about a primary setup, by definition you will have a secondary setup. One that is less good, less convenient, one that you enjoy working with less. I really did not like this idea. Instead I started to think about what a perfect setup would look like.

  • I would need to have my macbook, obviously, one computer with everything I work on
  • I would also need a drawing tablet for illustrations
  • due to my frequent change of work locations my whole setup would need to be easily portable
  • I need to have a phone to be available

Keeping this basic outline in mind I ended up with the following:

  • 15" macbook, without an external display, 15" is big enough
  • small wacom bamboo tablet, no keyboard, mouse, etc.
  • only using my mobile phone, no landline

That's it. Since I am a bit of a radical when it comes to changes I immediately sold my 23" cinema display, my external keyboard and mouse as well as my big wacom tablet. But you can of course just put them in the closet for a couple months.

Benefits of less stuff

After a couple days I already noticed that I was getting much more productive with the new setup. I was not constantly switching between setups and thus was practicing my "skills" with this one setup all the time.

Using the trackpad instead of the mouse I noticed that it works a lot better for illustrations. So if I find myself without my tablet it is quite a decent replacement.

I never have to wait to be at my desk to do some work now. After a client meeting I can just go to a coffee shop and get some quick changes done.

In short I can now take my perfect office everywhere and I am much more proficient with it than with the two setups before. This makes me work faster, spending less time on handling tools and more time on coming up with solutions.

Additional benefits

Of course there is more than a productivity benefit. Less stuff means less costs and less maintenance. No new display when the resolution changes and your notebook and your monitor don't match up. No or at least less adapters when apple decides to change the port again 😜.

Also you don't have to remember to take adapters everywhere you go. You only need a small desk or no office at all, since you can work from everywhere.

Benefits of less digital clutter

After the reduction in the physical world I started to think about my digital clutter. I used to be a huge fan of optimizing every tool to fit my needs exactly: Custom shortcuts, tools for everything and custom scripts for what no tool would do.

I started to use default settings instead. Only changing shortcuts for actions I used on a daily basis and where I still can't the default. I tried to only use tools from the app store (so on a new machine I just have to go to one place to download all my apps). I deleted apps where possible and used preinstalled or web bases solutions when possible (think email, calendar, todo lists, etc.)

This avoids the hassle of recreating your settings when you update your computer/OS/software. While you often can import settings, you will constantly need to make sure you have the current version saved on an external HD. If you use one software only, and use it everyday it might make sense. However I would argue that in most cases sticking with defaults or only changing the occasional shortcut is very beneficial in the long run to reduce update stress.

Less is more

I made the move to less stuff in my work life, which resulted in more freedom as well as more productivity. For me there is no turning back! It's easy to change, when will you try it?

Let me know about your setup / experienced with a minimalist work setup on Twitter.