Working from home and the tech I use

My messy desk

The lock-down has forced us to work from home and while some of us have been used to it (I used to work from home from 2015 to 2018 and still I find working from home more productive!) but a number of my friends have been finding it quite challenging. While there is a mental-shift required to be productive from a place that is typically considered to be a space for you and your family’s private time, there is also a lack of support/infrastructure that poses a challenge to be productive while working from home.

Since I have been experimenting with technology and gadgets to find the best productivity system, I always find that my home setup has been far more productive than my work setup. A lot of people have asked me about my home setup (Warning: I love tinkering with my systems and even an incremental value-add often matters to me. Result — I have many redundancies and multiple devices!) so here is a snapshot of what my work from home setup consists of.

The Hardware

I juggle between multiple machines. But the main workhorse is a desktop Chakra (Yes, my machines have got their own names, ) that I assembled myself; and this is quite a powerful machine for my use (Nova Benchmark Score of 2797). This is connected to a 27inch 4k display. It has 9th Gen Intel i7, 32 GB of RAM and Nvidia GTX 1660 Graphics card. The processor and RAM are primarily needed for my occasional Photoshop and Lightroom (I have a massive library of more than 15k photos) work. I have a iMac 27” 5k as backup (I love the Retina display of that machine for colour accuracy) but the fusion drive in that machine sucks. My custom-built desktop has Samsung NVME 770 pro ssd harddrive that makes this whole setup a very zippy. 

I have a couple of (in fact three if I include my office allocated machine) laptops that I use when I am on move. A 13” MacBook Pro Retina (Nandaka, this one quite old but still a great machine and I am waiting for Apple to fix the keyboard on MacBook Pro so that I can upgrade) and MacBook Air 2017 model. Apart from this tow Mac laptops, I have a Dell XPS 13 (Asi) with i7 and QHD touch screen display. While I have multiple machines but I have almost established use (apart from being a backup when one fails) for them.

At home and photo-editing: I need fast processing and a big screen, so it is primarily done on the Desktop.

Professional Travel for a day or two: MacBook Air. There is no better machine than this if you are in Apple ecosystem and crave for a good keyboard.

Personal travel for longer duration or vacations: MacBook Pro as I need a bit more firepower for photo editing needs.

The Dell XPS 13 is a backup in most cases or when I need to extract more juice from Excel, which is always better on a Windows machine.

I have a couple of mobile devices that I use along with these machines. I have the latest iPhone 11 Pro Max and iPad Pro (11 inch, 256Gbs) with Apple Pencil 2 and Keyboard. iPad is very handy for all the meetings and note taking. I am considering using this for my work travels for a day or so but did not find it that conducive when I need to work on reports or word docs. But with the mouse support just launched I am going to try this. These days of lockdown and work from home, I often use iPad for my video calls as it is much easier to carry and I use my laptops and desktops to quickly search information or files if needed for these calls. iPad also is my go to device for media consumption and for reading magazines and PDFs.

Apart from these machines, I use Logitech K850 keyboard and mouse combo. The keyboard allows me to wireless connect to 3 machine and I can use this as input to any of my laptops or desktop with just press of one button. I crave for a mechanical keyboard (I have a TVS Gold somewhere in my storage) but there are not many that can give me the ease that Logitech K850 gives. But, this is going to change. I am waiting for Das Keyboard 5Q. Nobody makes keyboards better than Das guys and this one is just drool-worthy.

For all the video calls, I use my Airpods 2 which have far better range and clarity than any other small wireless earphones. Also they seamlessly integrate in Macbook, Ipad, Iphone without any hassle. But these do not have great battery life; they don’t last more than 3 hours. I also have a couple of headphones (Sony WH1000XM3 and V-moda Crossfade Wireless 2) that I use as backup and for listening music. I have been using V-moda for quite sometime for its sound quality and multi-point Bluetooth connectivity. But Sony is the one I use on flights for its noise cancellation. It would replace my V-moda Crossfade the day it gets multipoint Bluetooth connection so that I can pair with a number of devices simultaneously. Sound quality is now almost at par.

The Software

Windows and MacOS: I am love to work on cross platform so I look for those solutions which integrate with multiple mobile and computing platform. Way back in early 2000, I experimented with Linux (Red Hat was the first distro I used) and Windows and got introduced to MacOS in 2007. Since then I have been a multiOS person. But now, it is mainly MacOS and Windows. Linux apart from being open-source does not add much value to my workflow.

Evernote: I have been a power user of Evernote since 2008. It has more than 4000 notes and I use it for file archiving and storing anything that I might need in future. The OCR feature and multi-platform availability makes it almost the best solutions for personal knowledge management. The one feature which is quite handy is that I can directly scan a business card and it stores the information in text format and sends a linked connection request to the person.

Microsoft 365 — While there are multiple word processing software I used in past but this is the gold standard. I have subscription that gives me 1TB of storage space on OneDrive and all the office suite applications. But I use word processing software ‘as word processing software’ for editing my professional documents and not to write things.

I write in Ulysses or Scrivener for long text.

OmniFocus: This is my preferred ToDo list app. But it might get redundant as I am trying to consolidate my workflow and Notion does allow me to manage my ToDo. The only problem with Notion is its mobile app.

Notion: I use Notion for my personal knowledge wiki and management. While earlier I was primarily dependent on Evernote for all the knowledge management needs but gradually I am using Evernote for note taking (with Penultimate it works great) and a lot of my knowledge management is happening on Notion.

Roam Research: This the note taking and personal knowledge management app of the future. But it is still in very early stage of its development. It has immense potential because of its contextual linking of text and bi-directional relationship of notes.

Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom: I use Lightroom to process my raw files and organize the photos that I have. I have quite a large library of photos and Lightroom’s catalog organizing capabilities are unparalleled. Adobe Photoshop is very rarely used. In fact, for photo retouching especially the portraits I use Luminar 4, and it is quite amazing for basic retouching.

Affinity Publisher: This is my preferred software (since InDesign is subscription based and I am not keen to pay for a subscription that I barely use) for designing anything. Quite cheap and very capable.

CalibreThe opensource and free software to manage the large library of pdfs and ebooks that I have. It also can run in server mode to help one access these files from anywhere.

Woven: This is in beta Calendar application that has some great features. I use this is to sync my Google Calendar.

The Enablers

Two internet connections (one with static IP address): I had learnt my lessons early when I started working from home. You cannot trust on one Internet connection. Airtel, one of the main service providers in my area has good reliability but it speed is yet not there. They are upgrading but not yet fully functional. So I have an Airtel which is only used for video calling and backup when my other connection does not work. The other connection has 300mbps speed. I also got a dedicated IP address which allows me to access my home cam and document library from anywhere. The high speed connection is hooked into Netgear Orbi ( a mesh router with one satellite) that has a lot of capabilities and provides very reliable connectivity in multiple rooms without any dead zones.

Private Internet AccessI have a subscription for a VPN service that allows me to use public wifi (hotels) cafe etc. without any security concerns. Not many people know but you are at great risk of losing your privacy and key data when you access any public wifi.

Apple Time Machine and One Drive: I have Apple Time Machine (Airport Extreme 2TB) and OneDrive configured to sync and backup all my key folders. This also allows me to seamlessly work from any device and not worry about duplication and data loss.

Apart from these online backups I do a regular offline backup almost every month on physical hard drive to ensure that I have a copy of my key files.

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