Friday, July 18, 2014

Day 11: Office Space

Before I start on today's post proper, I'd like to thank everyone who has taken the time to say nice things about this blog. I really appreciate it, and it means a lot that people find it useful(!) and interesting. I hope it continues to be so.

I spent most of today in the office, sorting through all the paperwork that I had accrued. Last summer, we moved campus, away from a spacious monstrous former mental hospital with glorious views across the city (but lamentably far from the centre, which meant that getting anyone into the place for concerts was a nightmare), to a 1950s/60s concrete campus with no real views to speak of (but with excellent transport links to the centre). I was moving from my own office, in which I had enough space to teach maybe two people at a time, and which I used to store my books, CDs, LPs, and score collection, to a shared office, in which I wouldn't be able to teach anyone, and had one desk and one bookcase. A difficult adjustment.

I threw away a lot of paperwork when we moved, and kept only that which I thought I would need for future teaching etc. Going through a lot of it, and chucking quite a lot of it, I was struck with how my teaching had changed. I have moved away from handing out photocopied chapters of books towards scanning them in to the computer. The subjects I teach, as well, have moved away from those where looking at entire movements of Classical works in sonata form was the order of the day, to where I focus on ideas about music, and which often assume knowledge not just of Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach, but also of David Bowie and Katy Perry. Another big change that has impacted on what I view as essential to keep in my paperwork has been my increased use of imslp. Now, instead of copying a whole Schumann song for the whole class, I can put a link on Moodle to one (or more) public domain pdfs that they can download. I especially love the inclusion of manuscripts where this is possible.

Most of my books went home (and more of those that I kept at work will be coming back here as well shortly), as did all of my CDs, LPs, and scores. I miss being able to reach over to my shelf mid-supervision and grab a score or book that illustrates a specific point, but it hasn't been too much of an issue so far. I make a note to bring it in to the next session usually. I think in many ways it has encouraged me to work without clutter.

You are probably familiar with working from within clutter. For me, it's a bit like building a nest. If I'm surrounded by those things which feed and support my practice, it's a metaphor for how I work I suppose. But it's not logistically or psychologically necessarily the best place to be starting from. When you can't find room on your desk to work, or you can't balance another thing on your shelves because of all those books, what exactly are you trying to achieve? Working from within clutter is how academic hoarding starts.

Pretty early on in the new office, I relegated my desktop computer to hiding behind my little drawer thing under my desk. I got rid of the monitor and the keyboard, and I only used it as a remote desktop. I take a tiny little laptop into work with me now which is a lot faster, takes up a lot less space, and I can take it home easily with me. My next step, which I took today, was to move my trays from my desk to my cupboard/bookcase. This means that the only things I have on my desk are my printer, and my phone. If I can wire myself up to the network a bit more efficiently, I may even start using the shared office printer and ditch mine altogether. I want to have as clear a desk as possible. Why? I feel like I need space to think and space to work. Also it makes it easier to clear up the mouse poo.

When I was talking about home working, I said that I think it's important to work out which tasks are better achieved at home, and it's important to do the same when working in the office. Have a think about the tasks that you try to achieve in the office. What do you need to get them done? Is that what you have near to hand? If not, what do you have? Why do you have that? I'm working my way down to having a few books (especially those I use a lot, and that aren't in the library here) on the top shelf, my tea/coffee things with my in/pending/out trays (which I promise to myself I will actually use) and my scrap/manuscript paper on the second shelf, folders for documents (like historic external examiners' reports, my copies of signed travel forms, and those photocopies of teaching materials I still want to keep) on the third shelf, and student work to be marked/filed at the bottom. If I use the draws under my desk for stationery, then what can go wrong?

I also have made sure that I've got a few personalised touches. There's nothing that depresses me more than an anonymous desk, as if you're not an academic but you're a hot-desking telephone salesperson. I like to be able to look up from my work on my clear desk and look at a postcard of a painting, or to be able to get a colleague's number quickly, or to connect to another facet of my life.

I have thrown away a lot today, and I expect I will throw away even more on Monday. I've discovered things that I had forgotten about, and recognised connections between what I thought were random ideas that I filed away and some of the things bumbling around my head at the moment. Most of all, it made me think about what the office was for, and what I wanted it to be. So much of university life is a messy compromise, and I feel that making my own existence messier only leads to more logistical compromise. And that's just not necessary.

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