A “good enough” home GTD desk


Welcome …

to the final installment the http://restartgtd.com ultimate GTD desk ecology series. Previously I’ve covered my office desk, man purse pico desk, and BookBook micro desk.  The fourth and final installment is on my home office desk.

Desk Ecology 1

When Beth and I moved to Portland in December of 2010, we went from a 2,000 square foot house to an 800 square foot apartment. My former home office went to my office at Concordia University.  And just while we are in an apartment, I needed to make due with the Jesper wall unit that used to be the vertical part of Beth’s L shaped desk.  Beth is making due with the small desk that was the bottom of the L.  Here is what the wall unit looks like:

JESPER home office desk before:



Home desk after: Mmmmm “desk like water!”

D3M 3188

GTD desk hacks:

Hack #1: The Work Surface: make it pleasing, make it empty

the first thing I did with the desk when I set it up on Portland, was to resurface by adding white contact paper.  This gives you a place to doodle, as well as brightens the office.  Contact paper is a bit sticky at first, but I was able to get used to it.  Also, the contact paper dings and tears easily.  Then, when you spill coffee, the tears pick up coffee stains.  But, you can re-do the surface every six months or so once it begins to bother you.

*Note* on whiteboard desks.  When I take out a marker and start writing down on my desk in the middle of a conversation, the person I’m working with always reacts positively.  It is like by writing down on your desk what you are talking about with that person, it makes them feel more fully heard.  I like this ice-breaking quality of whiteboard desks.  I have formica at my CU office and I have contact paper at home.

Second, I mounted a 12 outlet power strip ($40), a $20 TV monitor arm, all-in-one three tray paper holder, and drilled a through hole into the base of the cupboard so that I could install an Ikea Signum cable outlet ($6.49 at an Ikea store, $16 on Amazon for a hole saw and three grommets).  The grey collar with the wires running through is the Signum collar.  I don’t use the plug for this grommet because I’m re-threading the wires often (taking the scanner to GTD demos) that the plug in a hassle to keep track of.  When I’m working, I can’t see the hole or the wires, so an open through hole is no large deal.

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Next, I put in a 1′ square Ikea Lack shelf which a year ago was $10 but which today, is is down to $6.99!   This to keep the surface of my home desk clear.  I think the six inches starting at the level and your desk surface, and then moving up, must be completely clear.  I use twist ties every 6″ to keep cables organized and neat looking.

D3M 3179a

Next, I drilled a second Ikea grommet hole, to route power and USB cables out of sight through the left side of the desk hutch.  Drilling holes in furniture before I was practicing GTD used to make the wife unit nervous.  But, having a nice collar and cover to place over the hole changes everything.  No second guessing.

Next I used double sided sticky tape to mount my 12 port USB hub and USB Plantronics CS50 USB VoIP headset.

D3M 3184b 1

Next, it is time to organize the peripherals in the cabinet above the desk.  With liberal application of (don’t try this unless you are at home!) double sided sticky tape, the hard drive, power adapter and 10 port flat USB (Meritline.com link, Amazon is out of stock) hub behave themselves, and stay out of the way above the grommet hole inside the cabinet.

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Note that I’ve got brand new manilla folders, a stapler, and tape ready at hand by my computer, but these are out of sight so they don’t clutter the work surface.  I don’t make many folders at home as I’ve been unconsciously shifting folder making, to the Concordia office. In addition, I’ve unconsciously shifted to scanning documents at home.   Now that I think about this shift, I have an extra Label printer in my home office.  So, I may take this extra QL570 to the office so I don’t have to swap folder label and wider package labels.

Here is a closer view of the grommet hole and USB hub.

D3M 3193 JPG

I keep the ScanSnap (PC version here) in the cupboard off the desk’s work surface unless I’m scanning.  I’ve I’ve used cable ties every 6″ on the power and USB cables for the scanner.  This wire runs from inside the cabinet (picture above) across the top of the top paper tray, out the right side of the desk.

Confession: Paper trays are a bit awkward for me to use.  I’m all in with the top tray being the inbox.  But, the second tray with blank paper is a conundrum.  I don’t use very much blank white paper.  Now this could be because I’m not doing enough natural project management.  Or, it could be because my most natural paper choice is 3″x5″ cards.  But when I look at the blank white paper I somehow feel that this premium value organization space is wasted.  What do you store in your paper trays?  eMail me bill@basicip.com if you have a clever setup you are willing to share.

The flat bed scanner and digitizer that are in the bottom tray need to be readily available, and yet off the desk.  I use the flat bed scanner about once a month, so again, the premium value space in a desk tray is probably not warranted.  But, given the limited space in my home (apartment) office, I’m making due.

D3M 3186 JPG

When I need to scan, I move the scanner from the cabinet to the work surface, and then grab the pig-tail wires hanging out the side of the desk, and plug them into the Scansnap.

D3M 3187 JPG

The left hand side of the desk also has cables running where they are out of sight.

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Here is the desk in normal working mode:

D3M 3172

And in scanning mode:

D3M 3185 JPG


The monitor arm allows the monitor to move over the desk, and there are four inches of upward motion (which helps clear the monitor out of the way of using the mouse), and the monitor tips toward the user a few degrees.  The back side of the monitor is hideous, but, from the front side, you don’t see the uglification.  So, it does not bother (me).

Note that all the work to this point in this post is focused on one goal: keep the work surface of the desk clear.  Clear desk is the big restartgtd hack.

Reflections on this home desk:

In my first post on desks, I laid out what I think are the elements of the perfect GTD desk.  These are:

  1. Clear desk surface
  2. Big (ideally 30 square feet)
  3. Slide to side (open front)
  4. Conference table legs
  5. Cable management
  6. Killer cool paper trays

My home desk meets the first criteria.  The desk, alas, is small, but by being clear, it is 100% usable.  I have significant slide-to-side access, but not as much as I’d like.  The two file drawers don’t have another home in the office.  So that could be improved.  I have not implemented conference table legs, and the desk is at a fixed height, and fixed pitch as a result. But I don’t think conference table legs on the bottom and the hutch over the top of the desk is a *wise* idea.  Cable management is accomplished principally through Ikea through hole grommets.  And the paper tray is functional, but not really fun like my office desk.

Still, for very little out of pocket ($6.49 for grommets, $20 for monitor arm, $30 for outlet strip, and $10 (now $6.99!) for the IKEA shelf, the desk is a lot better at supporting work than it was previously.  My wife is looking forward to taking it back when we move next.  :-)

Hope this helps!



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