My Foray Into Office Feng Shui

Sometimes reorganizing a space, like a home office, generates greater benefits than just a more organized space.

Just to level-set at the start: this is not a technical post, and I’m talking about my personal office – not Microsoft Office. Now, with those disclaimers out of the way …

What Exactly Am I Writing About?

When we moved into our current home six or seven years ago, one thing I felt I needed was a proper office. In our old house, I worked out of our unfinished basement, and I’ll be honest: it was depressing. Despite my attempts to “liven up the place” with things like Christmas lights, the only natural light I received while working was provided by three small glass block windows.

And when I say the basement was “unfinished,” I really mean it. Through sheer dumb luck, the table I worked at was also the location of some sort of recessed drain access in the cement floor. I managed to get my office chair wheels stuck in that recess about half a dozen times a day. My chair would nearly tip over whenever that happened.

I think the image I’m painting is bleak enough. I’ll spare you from additional details, like when our sewer line collapsed and the resulting back-up invaded my “workplace.”

I Needed A Proper Office

Hopefully that point is obvious.

The criteria I had when we were looking for a new house six or seven years ago was an office that (a) was at ground level (or higher), and (b) had a proper window. Nothing too excessive, and easily met by my current office.

Below are some images of how my office was set up when we first moved in. Many people say it kind of looks like a college dorm room with the Christmas lighting – a point I can’t argue against.

This configuration worked well enough for a while, but over time I grew more and more dissatisfied with it for the following reasons:

  1. I didn’t make particularly good use of the space I had … and over time, piles grew on every exposed surface.
  2. I used the filing cabinet (it came with the house), but I hated the filing cabinet and the way it jutted out into the room.
  3. My wife regularly registered grievances with the one-off, mismatched furniture. And she hated all the cords everywhere. And the fact that my lighting choices were circa 1995.

Why Did I Do It That Way In The First Place?

If you’re asking that question, it’s a good one. The reason, quite simply, was time. The week that we moved into our home was also the week my wife went in for breast cancer surgery. After the surgery came chemotherapy and then radiation treatments. If you’ve never been with someone going through cancer treatment, then I’ll give you the short version: it knocks them on their ass.

Brendan and Sabrina: Easter 2012

Our children were only about five at the time, and they were still in daycare on the west side of Cincinnati – a good 30-40 minutes away. So, with my wife out of commission, I’d have to run them to daycare in the morning, come back, and then do the reverse in the evening. Between taking care of the family and trying to find time to work, reorganizing my office was the last thing I had on my mind.

But redoing my office was a topic that kept coming up again and again. And so at the start of 2019, with encouragement from my wife, I decided it was finally time to do something.

Office 2.0: The Plan

About the only aspect of my office that I really liked and wanted to keep was the Ikea furniture that I purchased and put together just before we moved in (a desk and a corner table).

Step one of “my plan” was to start getting rid of a lot of old books and associated materials. Technology consulting is a brutal field to be in from the perspective of trying to stay up-to-date on changes and new trends. Most of the books on my shelves weren’t just old, they were ancient.

For example, as much as I loved Practical Standards for Microsoft Visual Basic, it was published about 20 years ago. The things I learned from reading it are still applicable today in slightly modified form (lots of good information/guidance on code readability, documentation, etc), but extended support on VB6 ended in 2008 – over ten years ago.

I ended up getting rid of most of the books I’d bought and inherited over the years. Any that other authors and friends had signed were spared (couldn’t let those go!), as were copies of books that John Ferringer and I co-authored. Other than those that met the narrow range of criteria, any books that were clearly out-of-date were expunged.

With the books gone, I was able to start removing the ugly bookshelves. In truth, it wasn’t a seamless process by any stretch. I had to stage a lot of my office content in the entryway and living room just so I had room to maneuver and manipulate the office space.

Rebuilding from the Ashes

No fires were set; I’m speaking metaphorically when I say “ashes.”

With the old bookshelves gone, I was able to put in new ones that did a much better job utilizing my limited office space. And I was also able to address one of my wife’s standing grievances; i.e., that nothing (or very little) in my office matched.

I again decided to look for bookshelves on Ikea’s site (since my computer desk and corner table were of Ikea design), and I landed on the Brimnes Bookcase. By my rough math, I could get four of them in the office, they were available in black, and I thought they’d work equally well for both books and storage.

When my wife and I got to the Ikea store in West Chester, though, Ikea only had two of the four bookcases in stock that I had come to pick up (despite me doing an inventory check before coming up and successfully purchasing four for pickup). So the remaining two bookshelves were delivered about a week after I got the first two, and I got to work on the two bookcases I had once we got home:

Below is a comparison of the front of my office both with and without the new Brimnes bookcases. I could have used a little more clearance on the sides of the bookcases nearest the office doors, but things went in pretty well.

Let There Be Light!

There were two more things I was hoping to achieve with my office reorg. One of them was being able to finally have some clear desk space, because I always had junk galore on every surface. I didn’t want to keep things that way indefinitely, but I simply had no place to put everything with the old office.

Once I had a place for everything in my office (and quite a bit of extra space, actually), then I should be able to adhere to a “clean desk policy” – or as close as I could get to it – with a little discipline. And I’m happy to report that I’ve largely been able to do that.

The other thing I wanted to do was “grow up” a little bit – at least with my lighting. I am in my mid-to-late 40’s, so I figured it was high time I upped my lighting game.

The immediate problem was that I really still loved multicolor lighting! With some hunting, I managed to find something that nailed my needs straightaway in a very adult/grown-up fashion: Philips Hue Lighting.

Hue Lighting is incredibly flexible. I opted for the bulbs and system that supports changing colors, and it’s wonderful. Let me be clear about an important fact, though: Hue is NOT cheap. It seemed that the cheapest way to buy a bunch of bulbs was to buy a few starter kits, so I have a couple of extra lighting bridges (to tie the lighting into the home wifi) I’m not currently using. If my existing Hue bridge ever goes south, I have a couple of backups.

Since Hue ties into Alexa, I control everything from the Amazon Echo devices we have in nearly every room. And the Hue App for smartphones makes editing lighting configurations easy – and comes with some defaults that produce nice results regardless of the number of Hue bulbs you might have active in the room.

The Results

Below are some office shots with all the bookshelves in place and nearly everything the way I wanted it. Even though I’ve got my lights turned on, these were taken during the day.

To see the true effects of the Hue colored lights, I had to take some night shots:

The last three shots in the series immediately above are of the same office corner; the only real difference is the Hue lighting preset I activated in the system before taking the shots.

Conclusions

In addition to now having an office that fits me better, I discovered a thing or two I really wasn’t expecting as I undertook the overhauling and process:

  1. For me, a cluttered office contributes strongly to my feeling of being unorganized. When I started clearing my desk off and putting things away more regularly, I felt much more “with it.” The effect was almost tangible in a way I never would have expected.
  2. Having room to actually put things away is important to maintaining control over your office environment. Heck, I would argue that addage is true in most rooms and environment. The saying “out of sight, out of mind” holds its weight for me.

Now that I’ve had my office squared away for a few months, I’ve begun the process of organizing the unfinished part of the basement which acts as my server room and hardware workshop. That area needs organization probably worse than my office ever did … but I’ll save that for another time and another post.

References and Resources

  1. Book: Practical Standards for Microsoft Visual Basic
  2. Microsoft: Search Product Lifecycle
  3. LinkedIn: John Ferringer
  4. Ikea: Brimnes Bookcase
  5. Product: Philips Hue Lighting
  6. Amazon: Philips Hue Starter Kit

Author: Sean McDonough

I am the Chief Technology Officer for Bitstream Foundry LLC, a SharePoint solutions, services, and consulting company headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. My professional development background goes back to the COM and pre-COM days - as well as SharePoint (since 2004) - and I've spent a tremendous amount of time both in the plumbing (as an IT Pro) and APIs (as a developer) associated with SharePoint and SharePoint Online. In addition, Microsoft awarded me an MVP (most valuable professional) in 2016 for the Office Servers and Services category.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s