I inherited my father’s roll-top desk over a decade ago, after my parents renovated their study. It’s travelled with me from apartment to share-house to apartment, sitting in lounge rooms or the corner of my bedroom, frequently serving as a site for storage and the accumulation of junk rather than an actual work place. This is the tyranny of a modern workspace where a computer is prominently featured, and the desk was designed for an era where computers weren’t really a consideration. It was always easier to buy a small computer desk that sits in the corner work there when I needed an actual desk,, and spend the rest of my writing time on the couch or the bed.
This weekend my problems with the desk came up against another problem: the PhD needs space to spread out when I’m working, layout out research books and notepads and index cards with raw ideas so they can be absorbed and synthesised into the current work-in-progress document. Compact computer desks aren’t ideal for that, and my original plan of going to the university campus to get work done has shown itself to be a problem due to the sheer number of distracting people to catch up with on campus.The two spaces in my apartment capable of handling that kind of sprawl were the roll-top desk or my coffee table, and my shoulder was already hurting from too much time on the couch.
And so I spent some quality time cataloguing all my points of hesitation about using the desk as a workspace, addressing them one by one in order to eliminate my resistance towards using the desk as it’s intended instead of dumping bills and pulling the top down.
The computer issue is much less of an issue now, thanks to laptops, but the older design of the desk still left me with a couple of other problems I’d never really noticed. For instance, it’s a particularly high desk – the desktop is about 82 cm off the ground – and the seat of my office chair was only 41 cm off the ground. This made typing at the desk profoundly awkward and unergonomic, until I ducked down to my local office works and acquired a new office chair that sat higher and positioned me at a comfortable typing/writing height.
That’s not the only change I’ve made. Other shifts include rearranging one of the draws – the desk has fantastically deep drawers for storage – so it is the repository of the blank notebook archive, and moving the stationary draw I never really used from the left side of the right so I don’t have to reach across my centre line to pick up a pen or an eraser with my dominant hand; I invested in a sleeker, nicer in/out tray so that I don’t have the option of letting things stack up so much.
All of these are little things, yes, but they were still a slight drag on my process the moment I even thought of working at the desk that contributed to the feeling that doing something else was preferable.
Over the weekend I did the bare amount of changing and testing to get me working at the space, in addition to setting up a long-list of things to try as I settle in to really fine-tune the process. For now, it seems to be working okay, and it has a distinct advantage in its ability to literally shut down my access to work when it’s finally time to settle and relax without feeling guilty.