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Kyle Plattner's Desk

Trying to put work and family life under the same roof might not be the healthiest thing for your productivity. That’s why Kyle Plattner, a product developer from Edwards (Illinois), decided to move his home office into a garden shed.

Let’s take a look.

Who are you and what do you do for a living?

My name is Kyle Plattner. I work with a really great team in Central Illinois developing an iPad app that maps real-time field data for farmers called FieldView Cab for a company called The Climate Corporation. Our app seeks to provide real-time visualization of planter performance, harvest productivity, and other types of field maps that help growers understand and improve their yields.

Any spare time, apart from work and church activities, is spent enjoying time with my three favorite girls in the world, my wife and our two daughters. We love reading books, cooking together, spending time outside, finding unique local outings, and just talking with each other. I really treasure my time with them.

Can you tell me something about your desk setup?

I use a 2013 15” Retina MacBook Pro connected to a 27” Apple Cinema Display and a 24” Display at home. The Rain Design mStand props up my MacBook as a second screen and allows me to quickly see what things will look like at Retina resolution.

I transitioned to a standing desk at both work and home several years ago and never looked back.

My home office, pictured above, was a project taken on to make working from home easier. While the bulk of my time is spent at an office working with a team, I knew I needed time to work outside of the office environment to accomplish what Cal Newton calls “Deep Work.” My early attempts to work from home were quickly rendered ineffective by not having a clear separation between work and family. Trying to focus in the same space where my wife and daughters were going about their daily activities wasn’t working well for anyone. Work and family rarely can both be served effectively in the same time and place.

So, I put together an outdoor office by walling off a room in our garden shed. I added a heating and cooling unit to it so that it could be used throughout the year with Midwest weather. Wood from old palettes were nailed to the walls, a standing desk built right in, and I added some storage and bookshelves. Lastly, I spent effort personalizing the space to make it a place where I’d want to be.

Is there anything you would like to improve on this setup?

The improvement I’d like to make more than any other to my current setup is having a Retina Cinema Display as my primary monitor. It’s unfortunate that our app is used on Retina screens but developed on monitors with an inferior resolution.

Do you switch workspaces during your day? If yes, what’s the reason behind it?

My current schedule is working Monday through Thursday in the office and spending each Friday in my outdoor shed office. Of course, this is flexible and some Fridays this doesn’t work because of meetings or events. However, Fridays have generally become a day for focus and deep work since all interruptions are channeled through Mail and Slack. The change of context and the clear separation between work life and home life has been extremely positive so far.

Can you tell us something about the items on your desk?

I love the personality of this little vintage fan.

A little vintage fan on Kyle's desk

Additionally I love this old photo of my grandpa in WWII. It makes me thankful and makes sure that I don’t lose perspective on thinking all that matters is contained in the room.

A picture of Kyle's grandfather during the second world war

Little additions like this make it a pleasure to be in my home office.

What are you doing to stay focused?

Reminders gets things out of my head and onto paper reducing the anxiety about forgetting things.

Is there something on your desk which helps you stay focused? What is it?

My notebook lays open with list of what I’m aiming to accomplish over the day and organizes any relevant thoughts or sketches.

Kyle's notebook

What was your latest self improvement experiment?

Anything that needs to be remembered gets written down somewhere, even if it seems insignificant at the time.

Do you have a special system for organizing your notes?

I do:

iOS/Mac Reminders app:
Reminders that should go off at a specific point in time to force me to either complete them or select a new due date.

Moleskine Notebook:
The list of work related tasks that should be done today and relevant notes or sketches to those tasks.

Ongoing reminders of tasks that have no specific due date but I don’t want to lose track of them. I don’t throw them away until they’re completed.

Field Notes (back pocket):
Ideas/concepts that come to me during the day and I need to jot them down while not near my desk.

The long term archival of ideas or concepts that I know I’ll need to reference back to at some point but have no immediate relevance.

This probably appears disorganized and too fragmented but it really has been working for me. Many times the act of just writing something down helps keep it in my mind.

How do you decide which notes are relevant at the moment?

I’ll stick a due date on a reminder in the Reminders app and either mention exactly what needs attention or reference the note in Evernote. I really maintain discipline about never ignoring a due reminder that goes off on my phone or Mac.

I don’t mean to be critical of other people but I’ve observed reminders being perpetually ignored when they go off. As a result it’s made them appear to be almost useless. What is a call to action for myself is just noise on someone else’s lock screen. This wouldn’t work for me. Habits like this have a high degree of inertia and treating these timed reminders as inconsequential would destroy their effectiveness in my own life.

Where do you see yourself and your desk in the next 5 years?

Hard to say. I’m not good at projecting that far ahead with any degree of confidence.

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