A Genealogist's Work Space - How Surroundings Effect Efficiency

I’ve written previously about the lack of efficient office space in our home office.  Last fall, hubby and I decided that the current arrangement wasn’t working.  After the kids moved out we had converted the larger bedroom to a guest room and the other to a home office.  It made sense at the time because the larger bedroom has a nice view, is bright and cheery and gives a guest a more relaxed environment.  Since it would mainly have been used by the kids when they came home for short visits, it was ideal.  Hubby liked the smaller room for his den as it was cozy and left him little space to clutter up.  It also had a built in bookcase crafted by the builder that took up most of a wall that could be used as document storage, if I ever could get around to parting with the books we have on the shelves. 
The arrangement worked for a number of years because I preferred to use a laptop or tablet and hubby loved his desktop system.  When I began taking paying clients, however, I found I needed to use the desktop system as it has more than one screen.  I could keep the client’s tree open on one screen and show the document on the other.  Using the laptop at the dining room table made me feel like the staged genealogists on TV who turn the laptop and say to the client something like, “Why don’t you look it up on Ancestry.com!” 
When I sent in my preliminary application to become a certified genealogist we knew we had to make the office more effective.  Hubby came up with the idea of flipping the rooms as the kids live close now and rarely spend the night.  That got us thinking of what we both needed to do our work. 
I wanted a flexible work space; one where I could spread out documents and notes.  I definitely wanted that to be close to the printer/copier/fax/scanner and the two screen desktop.  I needed office supplies readily available.  Storage space was also important. 
Hubby, too, needed space to spread out.  The desk that had once seemed perfect wasn’t in practice.  Loved the styling and color BUT the laminate was worn in places and there was only one drawer and one file space so storage was limited.  Hubby then bought another piece of furniture that sort of looked like a business night stand.  It housed the printer with a drawer underneath to keep the paper.  It was difficult to access so hubby’s top request was that he have space for supplies and that everything could be easily accessible.
We decided we needed two computer desks and a table.  Definitely didn’t think it would be hard to find something to meet our needs but we were wrong!  I didn’t like the prices of the laminate desks which would look worn in a short time.  None had tables that matched anyway.  The few that had a solid surface top had no storage and I wasn’t sure I even liked the look; looked to me like someone had plopped a countertop on a desk.  IMHO, the solid wood desks weren’t well made for the price.  I saw a few glass desks that could work but I didn’t like the price and hubby thought it was too modern for us.  No surprise, we’re antique people.
So, we waited.  And waited.  And kept waiting.  The holidays came and went, business travel, sickness and accidents, and other repairs took precedence.  Two weeks ago I saw the glass desk with a matching table was on sale.  Texted hubby and we decided we’d check it out the following day.  Drove through torrential rain and decided it would work.  Of course, there was a glitch.  Actually, there were several glitches.  The store only had one desk and the table.  They also didn’t have in stock the filing cabinet unit that matched or a 9 drawer unit that could house all our office supplies.  Employees had no idea when or if the store would ever get the items.  Called another store and they had one desk and the filing cabinet and would hold it for us.  For our trouble, we got an additional 20% off the sales price and the first store sold us the 9 drawer unit on display at half price.  We were happy!
Got home and emptied the room and decided we definitely needed to paint.  Hubby spent the rest of the day painting away.  I continued to work on the KDP in the cramped office with paint fumes wafting.  The following day we began to assemble the furniture and found that it didn’t match.  The desk has a tempered glass top that is light grey on the edges.  The table and corner unit has dark grey edges.  The second desk was missing the keyboard tray and a leg. 
We decided to move the desktop computer into the new office anyway and contact the company the following day, which was last Monday.  Even with the setbacks we loved the new arrangement.  The weather had been dreary and the new room, especially with the glass tops, was bright.  We could see!  The view was relaxing, too. 
The company said that there were no more dark grey desktops so they shipped the missing pieces and new light grey tops so all the units will match.  The missing leg arrived first so we assembled the second desk on Monday.  The other pieces arrived yesterday. 
I never realized how important one’s surroundings to complete tasks efficiently until I took on the BCG portfolio.  I’m used to juggling a Kindle in a research facility’s stacks, taking a picture with my phone, and holing up on the sofa with the laptop to research.   I found I’m better "in the zone" when I’m at a desk, though.  So I started checking around to see if any research had been conducted in this area and found a Harvard study that shows employees perform better when they control their space.  You can read it here: Harvard Study

I am pleased to announce I have finished the KDP!  I completed it in the new office on Sunday, April 10th at 4:45 P.M.  There’s editing, checking some citations, a deed and a will I’m still hoping will turn up (but not likely as both were misfiled!) before I wrap it up totally but it is 99.9% complete.  I especially like the thought that the KDP was the first project completed in the new space.   Here’s a toast to my productive new office and that there’ll be many more KDP’s in my future!  


  1. Hi Lori! Congrats on your new office and best of luck with the Kinship! I myself am working on a little project of Coat of Arms. I agree if you have a better control and understanding of your surrounding, it affects your work and efficiency in a positive way as the Harvard study says that workplace choice is just one part of a broader culture of autonomy. I tend to work in a calm and peaceful environment myself and my wife is very understanding and supporting which is a plus. I enjoy working on ancestry and coadb.com (great resource by the way) in a clutter free environment but given I don't have a lot of work schedules at once. I like your description of your work environment and I hope it really helps you with successful completion of your KDP. Kudos to your hard work and struggle and best of luck becoming a certified genealogist. Regards, Nauman

  2. This post definitely hits home for me. Just now, I am looking at clutter on my desk that could be removed instead of responding to a work email. I, too, use two computer screens, so I understand that desk space is a premium. This is good encouragement for me to spend some time today focusing on tidying up my work space.

    Frank George @ Dutch Hollow Supplies


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