I’ve been cataloguing the various iterations of my home office for years now, but I haven’t really kept a record of what kit I’m currently using. Here’s my attempt to rectify that.
- Desk area
As a general rule, I do everything I can to keep my desk as spotless as possible. Clean workspace, clean mindset. There are some things that demand a permanent presence, however. These are the physical doodads that hang around my desk area.
Over the years, I’ve become more and more obsessed with increasing the total area of my desk top. The previous version of my home office featured a wall-mounted, standing-height desk that clocked in at 30 sq. ft. When we moved the office to add more work space for my wife, I opted for a more traditional desk so that we would have the flexibility of rearranging the room at any time.
This current desk is a standard dimension, solid-core door on top of some steel tube legs. While it isn’t the sprawling expanse that the previous desk was, it certainly provides plenty of space to spread out.
13″ MacBook Pro (Early 2015)
I’m currently using a 2015 13″ MacBook Pro with 8GB of memory and a 512GB SSD. Four years feels like a long time to use the same MacBook, but it still does everything I need it to just as fast as the day I got it. For cases where I need more horsepower, like some development work at Intelliquip, I typically remote into some sort of server that can be more specially tuned for the task at hand.
I keep my Mac in clamshell mode when I’m at home, and recently grabbed a stand to reduce its footprint. The stand also elevates the laptop off the desk to guard against any accidental spills.
12.9″ iPad Pro (2018) with Apple Pencil 2
I picked up an iPad Pro in the summer of 2019 to assist with my workflow at Intelliquip. So far, it’s been a very welcome addition. I use Goodnotes 5 to maintain my planner, personal notes, work notes, wireframes and sketches—just about anything I was previously using a traditional notebook for. Keeping everything in the iPad, and specifically within Goodnotes, makes it much easier to reference historical artifacts or share my latest sketch or mockup. Goodnotes makes use of OCR so that even my mostly illegible handwriting is indexed and searchable.
The iPad fills a nice gap in my workflow, making it dead simple to sketch ideas, share them with colleagues, iterate through improvements, and jump straight to coding their implementation. Over time, I see sketching on the iPad as a way to reduce my dependency on prototyping tools like Figma or Adobe XD.
iPadOS was released just as I was updating this section, so I’m excited to see how the new features can help to further enhance my productivity.
This is the item that always grabs attention when I take it out in public. I use a Kinesis Freestyle2 Blue Wireless Ergonomic Keyboard for Mac, with the extra VIP3 Accessory Kit, and I can’t imagine using anything else. My ergonomic keyboard journey started with the crowd-favorite Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, but after encountering some muscle strain from constantly reaching across the numpad to use the mouse, I went searching for something else.
The Kinesis allows my arms to rest in a much more natural position when typing, as well as freeing up space inside the keyboard for my mouse and notebooks. It connects over bluetooth and has astonishingly long battery life. Probably the best thing I have on my desk.
Keeping with the ergonomic theme, I use a Kensington Expert Wireless Trackball Mouse as my input device of choice. Using just my finger tips to move the mouse is a massive relief to the normal strain of using more arm and wrist muscles to move a traditional device.
It isn’t perfect—there are occasional connection quirks when waking the Mac from sleep, and using its bluetooth option when other bluetooth devices are connected to the Mac just doesn’t work well at all—but it’s still a huge improvement over what I had.
Displays and stand
The pair of Dell S2340M monitors on my desk are two of the oldest tech items I still use. They only have DVI, so I use a couple of Mini DisplayPort to DVI cables to connect them to my Mac. They also aren’t VESA compatible, so I use some adapters to mount them to the monitor stand.
I also have an Insignia Roku TV mounted next to my desk as a tertiary display. I can connect to it via HDMI if necessary, but I typically just use its smart features and a 2015 Chromecast to put on background media.
We nabbed a pair of Google Nest Hubs from Costco during Black Friday 2018. I keep one hub on my desk to help me manage my personal calendar, set reminders, and control our office Chromecast Audio. Occasionally I use it to make a phone call as well.
Speakers and sound
For personal music and video playing, I have the Logitech Z623 system hooked up to my Mac. For more general background music, I use a Chromecast Audio connected to a pair of Bose bookshelf speakers located on a shelf above my desk. This allows anyone in the office to control the music without tying up my workstation.
I’m currently rocking the Moto E4+ from Motorola (plus this nifty folio case). I’ve used my fair share of the “latest and greatest” phones, but they all fall short in one key area: the battery. It doesn’t matter how great the advertised battery life is, they always seem to falter when subjected to normal, continuous use.
In 2017, after falling victim to the infamous Nexus 6P battery issue and increasingly terrible experiences with Google Project Fi, I decided I had enough. The E4+ is about as uninspiring a phone as could possibly be, but it has a 5000mAH battery and can easily last three days on a single charge.
Here are the rest of the items on and around my desk that don’t need as much explanation:
- AmazonBasics USB hub
- Jabra Speak 410 USB Speakerphone for meetings and phone calls
- Toshiba 1TB Portable HDD for a TimeMachine backup
- Cross ballpoint pen
- Desk organizer from Stone-Penland Pottery
- Safco Foot Cushion
- Leather desk valet for holding my phone and tv remote
I’m sure I’ve missed some hugely important piece of software in this list, but here’s everything I could think of that I use on a nearly daily basis.
I’m currently running macOS 10.14 Mojave on my MacBook Pro. I’ve used various versions of Windows and Ubuntu before this. I’ll refrain from saying anything too tribal, and stick to the opinion that for the kind of work I do, this machine and OS has been the most pleasant experience by far. The end 😃
I try to hang out in the terminal as much as possible. It’s the primary place where I traverse the filesystem, edit text, use Git, log in to remote servers, etc. To help keep all of this in order, I use the excellent iTerm2. I’m sure the built-in terminal app would be fine for most of what I do, but iTerm is always recommended for new Mac users. After four years, nothing else has managed to lure me away.
Yep, I use Vim. There are a lot of fancy GUI editors these days, but the punishing intricacy of Vim has me firmly in its grasp. Nothing else I’ve used gives me the ability to “edit at the speed of thought,” so to speak.
I try to keep my configuration of Vim fairly vanilla, opting for just a few plugins and other added niceties. Beyond Tim Pope’s vim-cucumber, vim-fugitive, and vim-rails, the most exciting things I’ve added are the vim-two-firewatch colorscheme and my own custom statusline.
Complex as Vim may be, it’s become so ingrained in my brain and muscle memory that using anything else is an utter chore.
I use Git as my VCS of choice. I have limited experience with Mercurial, but I find Git to be superior. Using Git from the command line may seem hardcore, but I would much rather take the time to understand the mechanics of what Git is doing than rely on some GUI abstraction that makes weighty operations just a little too easy.
Balsamiq, Adobe XD, Figma…
If the front-end world is suffering from “framework fatigue,” the design world is doing its best to keep pace by self-inflicting “design software fatigue.” There are untold number of options in this space, but these are the players I keep up with.
Balsamiq was my first entry to design/prototype software. Though I’ve moved on to higher-fidelity tools, I appreciate their mission and wish I could’ve made more use of it.
I started using Adobe XD when it was in beta. Its sharing features were an absolute god-send: being able to share a design, and any of its updates, with a single URL greatly increased our ability to collaborate on and validate design ideas. I switched to Figma when they introduced the subscription plan, but may someday find my way back now that it’s free again.
Figma is the tool I currently use. Its sharing features are not as slick as Adobe XD’s, but I do think the web app nature of the program gives it advantages in other areas.
I don’t use any of these design tools to a very high level, primarily because it’s easier for me to go straight from pencil and paper to code, but there are certainly times where being able to iterate on a static mockup can increase participation in collaborating on ideas. It’s a skill I have to keep working on, as much as I’d like to ditch the thing entirely and stick to writing the HTML and CSS from the beginning. Sometimes you just need that shareable picture.
Fall 2019 Update: After wrestling with these tools for many months, I picked up an iPad to bolster my ideal workflow of pencil & paper → code. I may have to come back around to these tools at some point, but I’ve grown disillusioned with the idea that drawing non-functional rectangles is somehow more productive than just coding the darn things. To date, the browser is still king when it comes to the sort of work I have to do.
I’m more invested in the Google ecosystem than any other, so I use Chrome primarily out of convenience than anything else. I do find it a little more comfortable to use than Firefox, and much prefer its interface to other browsers. I do wish I knew how to get more out of the advanced dev tool features for testing and debugging.
I have the rest of the browser gang for testing, including a couple of Windows VMs for checking things out in Internet Explorer and Edge. Though Chrome is my daily driver, I’ve taken to using Safari when I’m running on the Mac’s battery and simply consuming media. Since it’s so tightly coupled and optimized to macOS, I get waaaaay better battery life than using Chrome.
Just about every industry-related professional or social conglomeration I’m a part of uses Slack these days. I’m not a huge fan of its lack of notification management, but it does its job about as well as any of the other options. The recently added dark mode is a nice touch for when I need it.
I touched on this briefly in the iPad section above, but I use Goodnotes 5 quite a lot. It has my planner, my work and personal notes, my to do lists, notes from church—just about anything I would care to write down is done so within a Goodnotes notebook. Its notebook/paper concept really resonates with me, and made it very straightforward to transition from my physical mediums to digital. I was even able to create a few custom templates that make my digital planner and notebooks look just like their plant-based ancestors.
Goodnotes’ share features are also great for collaborating with colleagues. I can either export a single page (or entire notebook) as a PDF and send it straight to a destination in Slack, or use the lasso tool to capture a specific area and share that as an image. When it’s time for updates, I can easily create new pages so that we can always reference back to previous items. I have already used it to much success for a couple of new features at work, and am excited about making it an ever-growing part of my workflow.