I just have a plain standard-issue guest chair

Whereas Larry started with a standard office layout and added a fancy-dancy desk chair, I have opted to modify the standard office layout by removing items.

First, I got rid of the corner piece, which is a colossal waste of space due to its sheer size. All that space behind the keyboard and monitor serves only to collect dust. Out it goes. Instead, I put the two rectangular tables along the wall and tucked my computers underneath them. One LCD monitor and one CRT (each with its own keyboard and mouse) and a KVM switchbox and my hardware is all set. (No speakers. On the occasion that I want to listen to something, I'll put on headphones.)

Also tucked away is my empty ped, which I tried to get rid of at the last office move, but which somehow managed to find me. Maybe I can successfully abandon it at the next office move.

Hanging on the wall is a standard-issue bookshelf. On the table beneath the bookshelf is where my junk accumulates. I really should be better about that space.

Against the wall behind me is a standard-issue guest chair. I got rid of the standard-issue whiteboard, however, because they are such a hassle. You'll collaborate with someone and have this awesome diagram on your whiteboard which you now can't erase because it's the only record of what you did. And your colleague can't take the whiteboard out of your office, so there's a moment of staring and memorization, maybe some note-taking, and the occasional "Hey, I need to take a look at that diagram again" visit. What's worse is that if you leave the diagram up for too long, it becomes embedded in the whiteboard, and only furious scrubbing will get it off.

And if somebody else comes in to discuss something, their first question is, "What can I erase?" Then you spend the next few seconds deciding, "Do I still need to keep that?"

My solution is to hang a roll of paper on the wall, feeding it through an empty picture frame and out the bottom. Whiteboard markers still work great, and people can come in and draw whatever they want. After a diagram-fest, you can just take the drawings with you! And nobody asks "What can I erase?" because you can just tug on the paper and get a fresh sheet. The downside is that it looks like a roll of toilet paper sometimes.

The inconvenience of office moves brought me to a realization. When you're young, you want to have as much stuff as possible. "The kid who dies with the most toys wins." As you grow older, you realize that material goods are a burden and you try to get rid of them in order to simplify your life. At my last office move, I was able to fit all my non-equipment stuff into four boxes. And of those boxes, most of them were dedicated to the stuff on the bookshelf. My goal is to get the contents of my office down to one box. One of my former hallway neighbors was able to fit his entire office in one box. Now that's simplification.

Comments (42)
  1. Not today says:

    I’m going to get a T-shirt made reading "I beat Raymond Chen." Even if the only thing I ever beat him at is getting my crap down to one moving box full.

    Nah. I’m better looking as well!

  2. Good for you. It’s hard to beat simplicity.

    It is so relaxing.

    Best wishes,

    Roberto Iza Valdes

  3. Adam Gates says:


    I know you have a digital camera.

    Take a picture of the white board and file it away.

    Now you can again Love thine whiteboard.

    To lazy to take a picture everytime? Setup a webcam to look at the whiteboard and take a picture once an hour.

    Office Layout Service pack:

    Wait till after hours and raid the lobby! Grab that sofa you always wanted in your office.

  4. Gabe says:

    Can’t you get rid of your PED by just rolling it out into the hallway? Surely somebody will come by and take it. If not, then at least it won’t be taking up space in your office.

  5. Phill says:

    What works really well with whiteboards is a simple digital camera and a tool like Pixid’s http://www.pixid.com/ Whiteboard photo, now all your whiteboard diagrams can be imported.

    Out of curiosity, does everyone get the same chair or is Steve Ballmer now issued with padded, non-breakable models?


  6. Sam says:

    One of my former hallway neighbors was able to fit his entire office in one box. Now that’s simplification.

    Simplification? I’d say it was a huge box.

  7. Leaving a ped out in the hallway is a fire code violation.

  8. John C. Kirk says:

    At my last company we had a couple of digital cameras that were bought specifically for whiteboards; after any meeting, we’d take photos of the boards and then erase them. Mind you, that was in a fairly large meeting room, so I don’t know how well it would work in a one-person office (i.e. whether you could stand far enough back). I quite like the idea of digital whiteboards, but I’ve never used one (or seen one in action), so I don’t know how well they work in practice, or how cost-effective they are.

    I certainly agree with you about the "de-cluttering" idea, which is something I’m trying to do at home (fighting my natural packrat tendencies). I read somewhere that you should play VHS tapes at least once a year (or just fast forward through them) to stop the tape from getting slack inside, or something like that. That then made me think that if I’m not watching the tapes that often then I probably don’t need to keep them, so off to the charity shop they go. (I’ve found Ebay to be pretty pointless for selling small items like this, since it takes me several hours of hassle to earn about 2 quid.)

  9. michaelt says:

    What’s a ped?

  10. bramster says:

    Having acquired a new Digital Camera, my previous Sony Mavica (too big to carry around on bike trips, anyhow), now serves as the White Board recorder around here.

    I think I formatted a few floppies for it a couple of weeks ago ;)

  11. Dave says:

    You could get a SMART Board:


  12. Um, a SMART Board costs several thousand dollars. A roll of paper and a picture frame at IKEA costs $30.

  13. Mike Dunn says:

    According to Larry, a PED is "sort of a mobile filing cabinet"

  14. James Schend says:

    What’s a "ped" in this context? I’m assuming it’s not a pedestrian… and Google’s turning up nothing useful. (Unless you have the New Mexico Public Education Department in your office…)

  15. Mike says:

    A ped is the standard MS issue one-and-a-half drawer filling cabinet on wheels.

    A trick I discovered for stuff seemingly embedded in the white board is just to draw over it again and erase immediately. Both the new stuff and the old stuff comes right off.

    I can fit my office into two boxes and my ped. That includes all the books but not the boombox.

  16. spork says:

    While you are taking digital photos of your whiteboard, perhaps you could take a few of the rest of your office. I’d like to see it, since what you describe is the antioffice, w.r.t. mine.

    Is "ped" an acronym, or the manufacturer’s name? For a moment I thought peds might be Texas-sized Pez dispensers, but that would be an odd employee perq…

  17. Miles Archer says:

    At my old company, I invented an automatic whiteboard digitizer. We bought a cheap digital camera and attached it to the white board. When it doubt, take a picture. Your co-worker needs a copy, email the picture.

  18. "ped" is short for "mobile pedestal filing cabinet" – that should be enough for people to find pictures

  19. Mike Weiss says:

    "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

    Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    French writer (1900 – 1944)

  20. dbr says:

    To tie a few things together, I have that quote by de Saint-Exupery on my "quotes" whiteboard, in the original French: "La perfection est atteinte non quand il ne reste rien à ajouter, mais quand il ne reste rien à enlever." (I also have some whiteboard cleaner that I snagged when a nearby office was vacated, in case I ever want to remove it.)

  21. another mike says:

    Mike’s trick for removing writing which is seemingly embedded in the white board (writing over it and then immediately erasing it) also works well for removing permanent pen markings from a white board.

  22. Rick C says:

    One easy way to clean old dry-erase marker off whiteboards is to get the spray stuff specifically made for cleaning whiteboards.

  23. dave says:

    "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

    Yes, but I’m much more interested in that concept being applied to software, rather than office furnishings.

  24. The stuff we have here at Microsoft for removing dry-erase marker stuff changes the chemistry of the whiteboard such that every subsequent write is permanent.

    I don’t ever touch the stuff.

    My wife swears by whiteboard polish, fwiw.

  25. Once you start using that whiteboard-specific stuff, then the board gets addicted to it. After a while, the erasers will fail to work, and the only way to erase anything is to spray it.

    It’s a conspiracy to sell new whiteboards, of course.

    If you never use it, you’ll never need it.

  26. mhotas says:

    I like the roll of paper idea, especially since my workplace does not allow cameras.

    Raymond, what types of diagrams do you find most effective?

  27. Cooney says:

    Dear God, I’m old!

    Thanks, Raymond.

  28. James Moore says:

    I was at the office one day and the colleague who sat next to me had lost something. I said you can look inside my drawers if you like. Some of the employees from the US found that amusing. Then I realised why they use the term pedestal instead.

  29. Peeyush Singh says:

    All I need is my desktop and my TabletPC. Screw everything else. The current set up in my SOHO is exactly that. Usually when I start some project, I grab my Tablet, a pair of headphones, and head off somewhere to sit and take notes in Journal and Word. I save everything to a thumb drive, come back, load up the notes (which include UI layouts), and start coding away. I’ve found that a vast majority of my productive work is executed in this manner, so anything else in my workspace that’s just sitting there is junk to me.

    I don’t see how so many other people stay efficient and effective at the same time with a lot of superfluous and exteneous stuff to pay attention to in their offices. I would think that even one is able to stay organized for long periods of time, it would take one just that much more energy to keep that state.

    I don’t know, maybe it’s just me :)

  30. Kelli Zielinski says:

    The only way to get rid of a ped is to specifically request they come get it. I somehow ended up with two in my previous office, and for the life of me couldn’t ditch number 2.

    During the last move, somehow, they brought me a new one entirely. It was locked, full of stuff, and had no key. Our movers hard at work.

    As for my whiteboard, we had one picture on it for months, since shortly after the last office move. It depicted a sinking ship, and every time someone left the team, we added another line of water on the ship. It was completely underwater by the time I had to erase it in favor of something new: work.

    Someone came by yesterday to draw another water line on the ship, and was very disappointed to find that my ship was gone. Aw.

  31. ChipH says:

    To get rid of a unwanted ped, just work the system: Put someone else’s room number on it during the next move.


  32. StevePa says:

    I can beat that. I work in the Dynamics division and I can fit the contents of my office into zero boxes.

    That’s right. I have no personal effects in my office. I have some supplies that get returned to the mail room when I move and printouts rarely survive a week before they’re recycled. I rarely use the whiteboard and all my notes are taken on my Tablet PC. In short, I can move office by piling my three machines onto a trolley and wheeling them down the hall. I’ve no doubt I’m somehow contributing to the company’s bottom line but that’s not my primary motivation. As I’m getting older, I’m finding that I have little need for books or personal effects to keep me company. If I need to research something, there’s Google. Finding out the API for DrawText on Google is usually significantly faster than looking up in a book or even in MSDN.

    And I’ve been here for almost 8 years.

  33. Craig says:

    A good friend of mine who is retired once told me: "The older I get, the more I realize my best tool is my trash can." Amen.

    I fit in one box my last office move. Of course, there’s all those boxes of junk in my basement left over from previous job changes…

  34. Cooney says:


    > Put someone else’s room number on it during the next move.

    That’s probably what happened to Kelli. The logical progression has a bunch of free, unwanted peds randomly redistributing themselves each time a team moves. Eventually somebody notices and one poor clod gets 20 of them in his office.

  35. Eric K. says:

    For cleaning whiteboards, use a microfiber cloth. You can get them at auto parts stores in the car wash section, and they do a great job of polishing all the color off the whiteboard without any need for solvents.

    Just don’t plan on using that cloth for anything else. Microfiber cloth is great for absorbing messes, and not so great at letting them go.

    Cooney: You have me imagining packs of feral peds roaming the corridors :) "Omigod! They’re coming! What do they want?!"

  36. danielsn says:

    Whiteboard ink is alcohol soluable – a little vodka on a papertowel works wonders. And can be useful when deadline time hits ;)

  37. JenK says:

    Re: Office chairs, I didn’t fit in those ‘standard’ guest chairs. Not being the person with the smallest hip circumference of my acquaintence, I had acquired one of the old wooden-armed padded chairs (not Larry’s chair, a later model) and kept slapping move stickers on it. It moved with me. My boss also acquired one specifically because I found them comfortable.

    Around the time I became a lead I bought a double futon with loveseat frame. I often didn’t bother reserving conference rooms – I had plenty of chairs….

    Re: Whiteboards, last company I was at had baby-wipe like whiteboard wipes. And lots of photos were taken of whiteboards.

    I was always a packrat when I was at msft. But lately I’ve been trimming down. I took all my stuff home from last job in 2 days in my normal work ‘messenger bag’ – and it would have been 1 day if not for the books. :)

  38. RevMike says:

    I support software that runs on several platforms, particularly windows and linux. I finally removed all my workstations in favor of a single workstation. I keep several boxes stashed away but plugged in running VNC. They don’t even need to be in the same room as me.

    For someone running a pure windows environment, RDC is probably just as good, if not better.

  39. Unclear how much simpler it can get.

  40. As I move on from the inaugural tip, I feel I should mention that I write these tips from the context…

  41. What a strange name.

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