Three steps to building your dream workstation for productivity

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Productivity and effectiveness at the computer is something that is important to me, given the long hours I spend at one. This had translated into me spending a fair amount of time dabbling and experimenting with different approaches to build the dream workstation for work.

My conclusion? While there are many considerations to building a perfect setup, the following three are probably the most important.

Start with multiple monitors

I am a long-time fan of multi-monitor setups, and have used between two and four monitors almost as far back as I can remember. I enjoy the additional digital workspace the additional monitors offer, and which helps cut down on both frustration and time spent toggling through overlapping application windows.

Side view of the 34-inch LG 34UC98-W curved monitor in portrait position.

The common misconception that only traders can justify a multi-monitor deployment is likely borne out of an inflated notion of its cost and complexity. My argument is that multiple monitors offer a decent ROI and is generally easy to set up. The former is especially compelling when you consider that the cost of an LCD monitor starts at just $150 today – less if you acquire them second-hand, and are probably good for five or more years.

In the same vein, I would highly recommend the monitor arms from Ergotron. A good monitor arm lets you position the display precisely where you want it, frees up valuable desk space, and secures monitors form being accidentally toppled off a desk. You will need a VESA-compatible monitor to use a monitor arm, so be sure to check the specifications before buying.

An accidental benefit that I’ve discovered about curved monitors is how well they work in portrait position. Compared to a flat panel, a curved display offers a far more comfortable viewing angle when sitting or standing, and adds substantially to your digital workspace with a small horizontal footprint. The monitor you see in the picture is my 34-inch LG 34UC98-W monitor with a resolution of 3440×1440.

Need for desktop speed

This may come across as surprising to some, but I prefer using a desktop PC at my desk. It all boils down to productivity; a desktop PC is far more reliable and offers much better performance at the same price point. On the other hand, using laptop at your work desk can be a source of friction, either from the occasional delays such as trying to get Wi-Fi working, or the time drain of getting app windows positioned properly every morning.

The result is two desktop machines put together over the last two years – one for home, and one for the office. Both Windows machine. I was initially open to a Mac desktop machine, but was dissuaded by the steep cost of a proper multi-monitor iMac setup, the dated specifications of the Mac Mini, and the unnecessary power (and cost) of the Mac Pro.

Building your own PC desktop puts you in the position to opt for top-notch specifications without the price premiums of pre-built machines: think 32GB of RAM, top-end SSD, additional storage drives and i7 series CPU. Crucially, my desktops allow me to start work practically immediately as they are wired to the Ethernet network, as they come to life seconds after I grab the mouse. To cut down on energy use, desktops and monitors are set to go into sleep after a period of inactivity.

To be clear, I still use laptops when travelling or for meetings, and currently switch between a 4-year-old Retina MacBook Pro, a Surface Pro 4, and a new Surface Laptop.

The Evodesk XE in a raised position. Hint: It can go much higher.

Adjustable-height desk for focus

Much have been written about sit-stand desks, or adjustable-height desks. While research about the precise benefits of standing at work is being disputed by some, I think we can agree that sitting on your butt the entire day can’t be beneficial to your health either.

Personally, occasional standing helps me concentrate better, particularly when ploughing through work that is mentally intense. Though the occasional breaks to visit the restroom or the cool works just as well, switching to standing is less costly on time – and is perfect when faced with urgent deadlines.

Having used adjustable-height desks with programmable capabilities (and those without), I would recommend going for the former if the budget allows. Being able to hit a button and have the desk move to the correct position automatically is less likely to disrupt your mental focus than manually adjusting it.

At the end of the day, an adjustable height desk is just a motor affixed to a metal frame with a piece of wood on top. What I’m trying to say is that while it costs more than a non-adjustable table, the mark-up isn’t necessarily an exorbitant one. If you stay in Singapore, check out Xplendid, which was where I bought this desk in 2015. You can visit their showroom at 8 Burn Road, #01-02.

Of course, it may not always be possible to use an adjustable-height desk – your boss may decline to make the investment, or they just renovated the office and plonked in static desks. The only option in that case would be to use an adjustable desk converter. They are generally rather clunky, though the Evodesk XE shown in the picture comes with an elegant motorized mechanism and is highly recommended. I’ll be writing a separate review of it, so stay tuned.