My desk and how I work

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Well, not quite just my desk. I share it with my wife who is a teacher (lots of paper and old fashioned folders), so we have to coordinate our use of it. That does mean we have to be tidy. But also, as you can see, i’ve worked out the layout that fits for me, and i’m able to take it down and put it back up in the right way fast. You can see how my layout has four main elements: laptop (centre), book (to the right), iPad (left), and coffee. Work without coffee is not possible. This is an example of a workspace optimised for writing, videoconferencing and online collaboration.

Using this approach (and drinking a lot of coffee) allowed me to work fast and effectively on my PhD. Have a look at my desk, then read on for an explanation.

The book is retained on a cheap plastic book stand, allowing me to keep it open at a specific page. I’ve got a brilliant pen that has a highlighter at one end and a biro at the other. I do a lot of writing in which I use a single book to develop an idea. So I’m moving between the two rapidly.

To the left of the laptop there’s my iPad. This is especially useful when working in videoconferences. I can join the videoconference on the iPad (which has a great mic and camera), while working on the laptop. Using the Teams videoconferencing tool, I can be doing text chat or collaborating on a document using the iPad with people during the meeting. This is very effective. If you haven’t got a tablet, you can do the same with a phone and your computer. I’ve got the iPad propped-up on a Ugreen stand (very cheap). That means I can position it perfectly and keep it still when on a video call. I also use the iPad for reading and annotating e-books and journal articles (using the iAnnotate pdf app).

Plugged into the iPad there’s a pair of cheap Sony noise cancelling headphones. Not perfect, but good enough. There’s also an Apple Pencil, which I sometimes use for drawing diagrams and annotating photos and screen grabs.

Finally, you can see over in the far right that I have a stack of cards to write on during meetings, or when I am reading. Sometimes I use a notebook, but I found these cards in my wife’s stationery cupboard. Being able to write on cards (or post-it notes) and lay them out on the table, is a useful way of reflecting on notes and planning actions. Writing notes like this when working electronically is a really effective method. I recommend creating a blank set of cards before a session, covering things like: essential tasks, ideas, questions. Then follow-up what you write later.

One thing is missing – I could do with a small laptop stand to raise up the level of the screen a little. That would reduce the pressure on my neck when I am looking at the screen. It’s better to be looking as straight forward as possible.

I also have an Ikea comfy chair that I can sit in next to a window. During the day I spend some time at the desk, and some time sitting in the comfortable chair reading.

Dr Robert O'Toole NTF

Senior Academic Technologist, IT Services, University of Warwick Fellow of the Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellow Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence

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