My Work Setup: Hardware and Software I use in 2021
Inspired by Stefan Zweifel, Dave Rupert, and Ali Abdaal, all of whom productivity favorites of mine, this post is to showcase the hardware, workflows, apps, and tools which I use daily. In the spirit of “Show Your Work” (-place) and the possible resulting serendipity I recently convinced myself that this might be of interest to others. It certainly will look funny to revisit a post like this a few years from now with all the then antiquated apps and logos in it!
I do, however, enjoy new hardware and finding the best tools for the job I’m doing. If a new piece of technology promises to increase my productivity, it will appear on my list soon and has a good chance of getting tested.
Hardware for Work
- Apple MacBook Pro 16-inch 2019 base model configuration
It’s a solid device with a great display and finally a useable keyboard again (2015 to 2018 models were a nuisance). To be honest, it’s overpowered for my work. A new M1-CPU Mac device like the new MacBook Air might suffice, which I’m taking into consideration for the future.
- Asus PB277Q external monitor
At 27 inches and a resolution of 2560x1440, this screen is sufficient. For many years I have found large and/or multiple external monitors to be benefiting for keeping an overview. For a few months I tried a crazy huge 49-inch Dell (5120x1440), but found the extra space wasn’t making too much of a positive impact. I’m thinking about going up to a 34-inch, which I suspect might be the sweet spot for me personally.
- Logitech MX Keys keyboard and Logitech MX Master 3 mouse
Both are solidly designed and work great with multiple devices, which is the main reason I got them.
- Apple Magic Trackpad 2
Scrolling through websites and everything else is buttery smooth and responsive on it, using gestures for zooming through our miro boards and Figma layouts is helpful, but honestly it’s purely for pleasure.
In general I’m happy with this setup as it leaves nothing to be desired for my type of work. On the list of possible upgrades I currently just see a 34-inch monitor, but that would mainly be for fun.
Under my desk is another machine, a Windows PC which I put together myself at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown. Ninety percent of the time I use it for recreational gaming. That usually happens in bursts, when I spend the evenings of two or three consecutive weeks on it, then leave it turned off for a few months. I’m a fan of the Grand Theft Auto series (San Andreas especially, but also 4 and 5), got into the two Portal games quite a bit, and I love everything Half-Life. Playing the newest, Half-Life: Alyx, on it with my Oculus Rift S is breathtakingly awesome.
The MacBook and the Windows PC share everything: the external monitor (Mac via HDMI, PC via DisplayPort), keyboard/mouse via Bluetooth, and a cheap but surprisingly good-sounding Logitech speaker set which I have connected to a tiny Behringer mixer hidden underneath the desk. In addition, I have connected both units to Ethernet cables in order to combat WiFi overload during intensive pandemic related home school video conferencing days.
The Desk and Chair
After going through a few options over the years working in different settings, I have arrived at what I think is the best solution given certain design aesthetics, ergonomics, and a reasonably small budget.
- Flexispot EC1/EN1 electronically adjustable desk frame
A lot cheaper than most competitor models, but sturdy and decent looking nonetheless. Position save slots and collision detection can be added for a tiny sum on top. Got it for a bunch of my employees as well.
- IKEA Gerton table top
Made from solid beech, looking great at an affordable price. Screwed to the Flexispot frame that’s a sub three-hundred Euros working place which is ergonomic, functional, and fits into every room.
- IKEA Markus office chair
This is a case of spending three times the amount might get you a five percent increase in comfort. That being said, one day I would like to upgrade to the incredibly overpriced Herman Miller Aeron or Embody everyone’s always raving about. One day.
Software on Desktop
As ninety percent of my work happens on the browser, this piece of software is the most important to me. Now that major browsers are all roughly on the same solid level in terms of features and usability, I like to switch every few weeks. I have a pro/con list in Notion (see below) for them, in case I forget what my main reasons for a switch were.
The browsers I’m talking about are the usual big ones: Apple Safari, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox. On Windows, I’m happy with using Microsoft Edge, which I have put into rotation on Mac, since it’s available on that platform as of recently.
A big chunk of my time is spent reading and writing email. I landed on using the paid Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) service at the Business level subscription. The web interface of GMail is working great for me, and its main advantage that beats all the competition I have seen is search. It’s the most important feature for me to be able to look up information buried in emails from the previous weeks and months at a moment’s notice, and all the desktop app solutions I have tried can’t make that happen reliably.
Another huge advantage is the Google spam filter which gets applied to all imported accounts. I haven’t yet seen a better working one anywhere. And that’s a real timesaver.
There are downsides, for example giving all my email to the giant evil corporation which is Google, and being limited to include different email accounts via POP3 instead of the superior IMAP protocol, but I have decided those are outweighed by the might of search and spam treatment.
The ultimate end goal would be a self-hosted mailserver which is somehow lightning fast, has a perfect spam filter, search indexing, and maintains itself. You gotta dream!
- Slack for discussing work – I like it a lot but we’re thinking about switching to Discord.
- Whereby for work-related video conferencing – it works better than the others and is made by an independent Norwegian company which plants trees to compensate for CO2.
- Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s WhatsApp (reluctantly), as well as some Telegram for private chatting.
One of the most important things running a business (and personal family life, too) is staying organized. My brain currently works great with numbers and visual impressions, but in other regards it needs help. That’s why I use several different apps to stay on top of things.
- Fantastical is my preferred calendar. It combines our shared family iCloud Calendar with our company’s Google Calendar, works on iOS and macOS, and just looks good.
- Things is my daily to-do list. Clean and minimalist, I use it for keeping track of personal tasks like “order a new backpack for running”, but also work-related tasks that concern just me.
- Notion has become a new favorite. I was a loyal Evernote customer for many years, but Notion finally took the lead here. It can do a lot more than note-taking and is solidly engineered. Again, all platforms are supported. Every piece of written long form information goes here, personal and work-related.
- Reminders has long been a pre-installed Apple app neglected by its developers. But since it’s gotten a good overhaul a couple years ago, my wife and I use it for keeping shared shopping lists mainly.
- Google Drive for file management. We have it as a base for the company, but I also use it privately. Google-style, it’s neat and fast, and available on all platforms. We’re looking into switching to a EU-based self-hosted alternative though, as the might of Google is getting scarier. Possibly NextCloud based.
- Asana is our current company task manager. We have been switching apps around a bit, but at the moment, Asana is doing a good job making us keep an overview.
I rarely do any web development myself anymore, but from time to time, may it be out of necessity, curiosity, or basic boredom, I write a few lines, repair some tiny bugs or add a little feature here and there. The world of development tools seems to change often, which is why I rely on the tool recommendations of my colleagues.
- VSCode is my favorite code editor. I was a long time Sublime Text user before that, but since the cool kids use VS, I tried it and switched right then. It can do it all and works flawlessly for me.
- Transmit to get files from one place to another. Long time user, never any problems. As a bonus, the company behind it, Panic, is really cool.
- TablePlus for visually managing database content. As most of our websites use databases, it’s helpful to be able to get a quick look and edit those directly sometimes. Recently switched from Sequel Pro, because that one’s not actively maintained anymore. TablePlus is superior, so that switch was fine.
- iTerm2 together with oh my zsh to do terminal work. Happens rarely anymore, but when it does, I’m always happy to have found this combination of tools to make it easier.
- Affinity Photo has replaced Photoshop for me. It seems to have 95% of all its features, at a reasonable one-time fee instead of the expensive Adobe Creative Cloud subscription necessary to access Photoshop.
- ImageOptim is a tiny and simple tool to improve file sizes of visual files. Everything visual I upload to the web usually goes through it to save space at no noticeable cost of quality.
The usual suspects and some specialties.
- 1Password and Bitwarden for personal and professional password management, respectively.
- Alfred as a more powerful Spotlight replacement. Launching apps and finding files feels so much faster with it. I probably only use 2% of its capabilities, but that’s already enough. Built-in unit conversation, currency and metrics is hugely helpful to me.
- Moom for window management via keyboard shortcuts. With an external monitor big enough to handle at least two app windows next to each other, it’s handy to be able to arrange them quickly.
- iA Writer for writing blog post drafts, but I switch to my own self-made writing web tool after the first raw drafts usually.
- Spotify is a lot better than Apple Music in my opinion, and if it would start to pay the artists what they deserve, especially the smaller ones, I’d feel better and might stop to order vinyl and shirts I never listen to or wear in order to rectify that.
- Neural DSP is a recent addition. It allows me to plug my guitar into the Focusrite USB interface and model amps and effects for it on the Mac incredibly well. Playing around with it is lots of fun.
Apps on Mobile
I entered the iPhone market in 2009 with the 3GS model and subsequently went with an upgrade every one to two years. They’re great phones and there has never been a reason for me to switch to a different brand. Currently, I’m using an iPhone 12 Pro in the pretty dark blue shade, 64 gigs minimal version, because I have everything in the cloud so I’m not crying when my phone breaks or gets lost.
I’ll be only mentioning the apps which I haven’t before. It’s a rapid fire round.
- Carrot Weather – best weather app in my opinion. Fun to use, great widget.
- Google Maps – the standard everyone knows and loves.
- Google Photos – superior to Apple Photos.
- Strava – for tracking my running and seeing inspiring runs from my friends.
- Sleep Cycle – to gamify my sleep. In my mind I win if it measures more than 90 percent sleep effectiveness after a night.
- Overcast – listening to podcasts. During commuting and running I listen to a lot of podcasts. I gladly pay for the subscription here, the app is great.
- Feedly – my choice for getting non-clickbaity news relevant to me is the RSS technology. I chose what to read. Feedly helps make that happen.
- Kindle – reading in the app isn’t nearly as great as on the hardware kindle, but the phone is always with me. Practicality wins.
- SwiftScan – I work 100% paperless. Every (important) document I receive in paper form will get scanned immediately using this app and automatically uploaded to my Google Drive. I love that.
A few other devices or peripheral setups worth mentioning.
After once experiencing a loss of cloud-based data myself and hearing stories from people who got locked out of their accounts for reasons beyond comprehension, I decided a few years back to create an automated backup of the most important files at home.
After thorough research and asking a few experienced friends, I landed on a Synology DS218+, which can be attached to a local network and holds two hard disks. Two 2 TB NAS-optimized disks of the IronWolf Pro series by Seagate seemed fitting. These are mirroring the content using RAID 1 so if one of them fails and breaks, nothing is lost.
I have set up daily running cronjobs to automatically copy all my Google Drive contents and every single picture I’m taking to it, so the most I can ever lose is one day’s worth of work. Also, my personal websites like this blog get copied daily to the storage.
The interface and options provided by Synology are great. My setup requires just a tiny amount of technical knowledge, after a few hours I had it all up and running. Now it’s just doing its job and requires no maintenance at all. I can recommend that solution.
Headphones: I’m happy with my standard AirPods in most cases. Video calls and running works fine, but after a year they tend to break down on me and I have to replace them. Intense usage seems to be the cause. In addition, mainly for flights or train rides which aren’t happening now because of COVID-19, I have gotten Sony WH-1000XM3’s which provide immense value at that price. For my electronic drums I prefer audio-technica ATH-M50’s though.
Webcam: The built-in MacBook cameras are still weak. And because I have the MacBook closed most of the time I needed to get a separate webcam anyways for the home office related video conferencing. The Aukey 1080p is totally sufficient and very cheap.
Music: As mentioned, I play drums on an electronic set next to my desk setup. It’s great for a quick break during work. I use a Roland TD-17KVX and love it – it’s almost as good a feeling as my real acoustic drums. Traditionally, I am a guitar player, though. A few years back, I learned about this new Swedish brand named .strandberg*, tried their guitars and fell in love. Over the years I have sold all other guitars of mine and replaced them with strandbergs. The one next to my desk is a Boden Standard 7 Maple Flame Blue model. It’s a game changer. In order to get the signal into my MacBook for playing with modelled amps and effects using the mentioned NeuralDSP stand-alone app, I use a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen USB-C interface.
Reading: A recent version of the kindle Paperwhite. I got it because it’s now waterproof and I like reading in the bathtub but destroyed a previous kindle doing that. It’s made by Amazon, which isn’t great. I tried the German tolino alternative but just wasn’t happy with it. Now my daughters use that one. In 2020 I went through a phase where I read only real printed books, but that turned out to make me read less, which is not my intention. So kindle it is, for now.
And last not least, I light my home office using several Philips Hue bulbs which I like to activate and control using an Apple HomePod mini. That’s also just for playing around. Apparently it’s better for the eyes to make the lights adaptive, but who knows. My kids love to walk into the room and say “Hey Siri, turn all the lights in the basement blue!” and therefore it was worth it!
Do you have suggestions? What’s your setup like? I’d love to hear from you down below in the private comment box!