Computers as Workspaces

Author: Jake Bauer | Published: 2023-05-09

I came across a page on Dave Gauer’s site about how he treats different computers as different physical workspaces. That, along with Josh Ginter’s post on keeping a separate creativity computer and Alexander Cobleigh’s post on making a social media computer helped me to put words to the habits I’ve found myself falling into.

Like Ginter, I seem to have a kind of mental block when it comes to being able to easily dive into and stay focused on things like writing, long programming sessions, or reading long-form content on my “primary” computer and it’s hard to articulate why. This mental block doesn’t exist at all when I use my laptop, leading me to use it instead for those tasks.

My desktop computer, with its large 4K monitor and recent CPU and GPU, feels great for doing stuff that fits well on a large screen such as podcast editing or graphics work, but when it comes to concentrating for long periods of time on text-based tasks I find it awkward and tiring. I also tend to use the desktop extensively for entertainment—playing all manner of video games, socializing with friends, and watching various shows, conference talks, and videos—which might be a reason why it feels difficult to concentrate on the kinds of tasks that don’t provide a constant dopamine drip while using it.

Not to say that I can’t use it for those “more productive” tasks; it just seems to take some outside pressure (like an imminent deadline) for that mental block to become less of a force compared to the need to get the task done, and it’s not a very comfortable or enjoyable process as a result.

On the other hand, my laptop, despite its smaller screen and more compact package, doesn’t seem to cause me the same level of fatigue. Even when working at the same desk and sitting in the same chair I’ve found myself much more able to dive into long-form tasks and stay focused on them when using it. For example, I’ve been able to wake up and immediately get right to work on my laptop without any sort of spool-up period, but that would always seem to be a struggle with my desktop. I’ve also been able to sit in front of it for a near six hours straight working on something that I’m passionate about, which I could never bring myself to do on my desktop. (Also, I’ve come to prefer the snappy feel of my laptop keyboard, especially when writing lots of text.)

And, even when I do take longer breaks while using my laptop, I can actually re-focus easily after taking those breaks instead of going down another YouTube rabbit hole like I used to on my desktop because I just couldn’t bring myself to get back into long-form work on what is ostensibly my “entertainment device”.

So, there seems to be something to this idea. That, much like having a separation between physical “work” and “play” environments leads to being better able to keep the two separate with both mental health and focus benefits, the same seems to be true when it comes to using different computers for different purposes, even when the actual physical environment around me doesn’t change.

Plus, setting up those different computers with different environments optimized—or at the very least tuned—for some particular set of tasks makes it easier to concentrate and stay focused on those tasks when in that environment and provides even more of a separation between a computer that is used for play and one that is used for work.

As Gauer mentions, this idea might seem a bit extravagant and wasteful, considering that there are many who can hardly afford one computer, let alone several. He mentions that relatively powerful computers are quite inexpensive these days, especially on the second-hand market, but I’d also like to add that a separate physical computer might not even be necessary. If you are strapped for cash or simply don’t want another thing in your life, a separate user account with a different set of programs installed and a different look and feel on the same physical computer might also work.

If you’ve noticed the same trouble getting or staying focused on tasks using the same device you commonly use for entertainment, perhaps give this a try and let me know how it works out. If you have any tips to share about using computers this way I’d be happy to hear them too.

Until next time,