The Minimal Desk Experiment

When you look at the desk of any professional computer geek there is one thing that you are almost guaranteed to see.

Gigantic monitors.

I’ve worked with graphic designers, programmers, video editors and online marketers and the concept is echoed by almost all of them. “More monitor(s) equals more productivity.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not bashing people with multiple monitors at all. In fact I am the owner of two 30 inch Mac Cinema Displays and there are a lot of benefits to having gigantic screens.

  • Multi-tasking
  • Watching Movies
  • You can run more than one computer at the same desk

These are all great things about having a bigger screen.

But I hear a lot of people saying that you need a big screen to get more work done, or that having multiple monitors makes you more productive. And I’ve become suspicious that this, like most of the things you’re told in life just isn’t true.

It’s just another old idea that someone came up with a long time ago that we’ve all been repeating it ever since. I call it “The Echo Chamber” and when I hear the echo I have to investigate to see if it’s true for me. With this thought in mind I decided to run a desk setup experiment.

The idea: Could I make as much money using only my 13 in. Macbook Air as I could with a big, multi-monitor mega desk?

The Minimal Desk Experiment

To begin, I took a look at my current desk and… it was a mess.When I moved into my apartment I just pushed a desk into a corner, turned on my computer and started working. I haven’t given it much thought since.

What I ended up with was a mess:

  • Cables
  • Cords
  • Laptop
  • iPad
  • iPhone
  • chargers
  • Audio system with sub woofer
  • 30″ Apple Cinema Display
  • Apple Magic Trackpad
  • Wireless keyboard

Step one was to get rid of all of it, leaving only my laptop and a chair.

minimal-desk-2

Photo: The new minimal desk setup with nothing but a laptop and a chair.

minimal-desk-3

Photo: The new minimal desk setup was so beautiful that I shot it from multiple angles.

Minimal Desk Elimination Process

The Elimination Process was simple. I remembered an old talk I’d heard about minimalism and how to reduce clutter in your home. The concept was that you packed your house like you were moving out.

  1. Pack everything you own into boxes
  2. Unpack things as you need them
  3. Whatever is left in boxes (minus sentimental items) after a year gets donated or thrown away

I did a small version of that and packed up my desk.

I took everything off of the desk, until it was completely empty and put it into boxes. No mouse, no laptop, not a single cable was left behind. I wiped and cleaned the desk and looked at it and decided what I needed to bring back.

At first all I brought back was the laptop. I placed it in the middle of the desk and opened it. This was really all I needed, so I left everything else in boxes and started to work.

Slowly, I started to bring things back.

  • Power Adapter. After working for a few hours my battery started to get low, so I decided I would definitely need a charging solution. At first I tried setting up a remote charging station, to charge while I wasn’t working. But the back and forth quickly became a pain. So I brought back the power adapter.
  • Laptop stand. By day three my neck was strained from continuously looking down at my screen. I solved the problem by grabbing a pile of books and stacking them to make a stand. It worked, but I didn’t like that aesthetic. I remembered seeing a minimal laptop stand on Charles Ngo’s site a while back and ordered it on Amazon. It came a few days later, problem solved.
  • External Keyboard and Mouse. Raising the laptop up off the desk helped my neck, but it made it impossible to use the laptop’s keyboard and touchpad. So I grabbed my solar keyboard and magic trackpad from my gear pile and added it back to the desk.

minimal desk setup with books and stand

Photo: Final minimal setup that I used for the last 3 months.

That was it. That was my total desk setup for most of the next three months. It was a thing of minimal beauty. The reduction of clutter and cords instantly set my mind at ease. (Clutter drives me nuts)

I began working and over time I had a series of thoughts and experiences, which I would like to share with you today.

Benefits of Using A Minimal Desk

  1. Less clutter gives you more focus. The first thing I noticed was a feeling of ease. The mess of cables, cords and adapters were gone. When I sat down to work I felt like a futuristic writer, working in a spaceship.
  2. Your eyes feel better. I didn’t realize how much eye strain my giant monitor was giving me until I took it away. My 30 inch monitor felt like I was being swallowed by the heat and light of the entire internet at once. Using the smaller monitor felt more like a small viewing window into my work.
  3. You multi-task less. When you have giant screens in front of you it’s easy to open 10–20 different applications, browsers and tabs. Due to the reduced screen space I had to also reduce the number of things I did at once. Instead of having email, Facebook, Twitter, Photoshop, Dreamweaver and iTunes all running at once, I only had 1–2 things going at a time. This gave me more ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand.
  4. You use the computer less. Huge screens are like porn for a computer geek. Mega-desks are so comfortable that they become your favorite place in your house. You watch movies, Youtube videos, read news articles, work and eat while sitting in your battle station. Making my desk a little less pornographic and more of just a place to work reduced the amount of time I spent sitting there and increased the time I spent doing other stuff like, you know… reading a book or going outside.
  5. You design more realistically. 99% of the people that see your web designs aren’t going to be using a 30 inch Cinema Display external monitor. They’re going to be on a laptop or a phone. When you design on a screen more similar to the one on which your work will be viewed, your designs become more user-friendly and more realistic for the average user.
  6. You can travel without changing screens. For mega-desk users, travel is a problem. If you’re used to working on multiple monitors, your laptop screen is going to feel really cramped while you’re on the road. By using only the small laptop screen at home, your experience doesn’t change at all when you work in your hotel room during a conference. You can get just as much work done during your travels as you can in your home office.
  7. Your desk is easier to clean. Look at your desk right now. When’s the last time you cleaned it? Having a huge setup makes it harder to clean your desk. Who wants to lift and move heavy machinery every week to do a quick wipe down? Having only the laptop, keyboard and mouse made it very simple to clean my desk more often.
  8. People will be impressed. When people who know what I do for work come over to my house they expect to see a wall of computers and monitors – like they see in the movies. When they encounter my minimal setup it blows their minds. It’s like an opposite wow factor. Instead of being impressed by my amazing rack of servers, they’re in awe of my small, compact workstation with which I get everything done.

Did a Minimal Desk Result In More Money?

So all of the benefits listed above are great. But my initial question was could I make as much money with a single Mac Airbook as I could with a multi-monitor mega desk? So after the 90 days was up – I did the math.

I’m not a big fan of sharing exact numbers but I’ll tell you this. I added up the total profits from 3 month period previous to the experiment and then added up the 3 month period during the experiment. The result?

During the Minimal Desk experiment I saw a net profit increase of +392.99%.

I can’t attribute all of it to the new desk and I’m not saying it was a direct result of the changes I made. But… it happened.

My Takeaway: I can definitely work on a minimal desk without losing money.

Conclusion:

Working without an external monitor taught me that you don’t need a big monitor to be more productive or make more money. In fact, using a minimal desk setup increased my profits by 392.99% .

Gear doesn’t matter (for me). I can do everything I need to do with a single laptop monitor.

Of course, not everyone is like me and can use a standing desk made out of an iPad and a rubick’s cube.

Some people have legitimate reasons to have several monitors. I have another friend who runs 10+ virtual machines at a time and he also like to have a screen for each one .

But for the majority of people a single laptop screen is enough to get the job done. And if you’re into a minimal lifestyle – it’s a great thing to try.

  • If you’re new, start small and only add pieces as needed.
  • If you already have a mega-desk, pack up your desk and try it yourself

Here’s what you do:

  1. Take everything off of your desk
  2. Put it all in boxes or in another room
  3. Only bring things back as you need them

You may find that you really do need a mega-desk.

Or you may find yourself the executor of a highly profitable garage sale.

  • http://shockmarketer.com/ Shock Marketer

    This was an interesting idea. I think 3 months vs. previous 3 months allows for too many variables. Although more work, perhaps making the change from simple desk to cluttered desk every other day would be more accurate. I’m thinking you could try experiments like this with diets and exercise too.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      yeah like I mentioned I’m by no means saying “Use a minimal desk and make more money” I’m just saying, it happened.

  • Boyd

    OMFG!!

    So, you mean to say you increased your profits from $10k/day to $40k/day using the minimalist approach?

    Bad ass article by the way 🙂

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      Boyd – I went from $0.50/day to $2/day. Balling out of control.

      • Petre Veluda

        🙂

  • Hammad Mahmood

    I definitely agree with the less is more philosophy. We have a tendency to think another monitor or the fastest computer will increase our productivity but results of such things are marginal at best.

    I know this firsthand. The top affiliate I know who does more than 10 times my revenue works off a 10 year old laptop running windows XP 🙂

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      yeah being a “Gear Expert” doesn’t make you an “Affiliate Marketing Expert”. It’s like the guy at the gym who has on squat shoes, spandex pants, gloves, a weight belt, wrist straps and a gallon jug of water… but he’s doing all the movements wrong.

  • http://mediagenious.com Hakim

    great article malan, Very detailled , I work only on one labtop, but i guess i aint as busy as you, so if you can do it with one monitor, i dont see how we can’t, except designers 🙂 , anyway amazing article , see you saturday at the webinar 😀

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      thanks man, yeah it’s amazing how little we actually need. see you Saturday!

  • pete

    Well said. It’s the affiliate not the toys, that make the difference.

    I’m still using an 8 year old desktop on Windows XP. Thinking of upgrading to a MacBook. Chalrd N recommends MacBook Pro Retina 15″, but I see you have a MacBook Air 13″. Do you recommend the Air over the Retina?

    Thanks, Pete

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      Hey pete – i’ve never used the retina. I got the Mac Air 13 and haven’t looked at another laptop since. When I upgrade (probably this year) i’ll check out the retinas for sure.

  • http://www.ultimatedjacademy.com Dan Castro

    Really interesting read and experiment! It’s has parallels with music producers also – Laidback Luke uses only a single laptop and nothing more (no analogue gear – all in the box etc), yet produces great, great records in his niche!

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      don’t need much Dan 😉

  • fooder

    Definitely giving this a try. My desk is a dirty mess right now and it’s definitely impacting my work quality.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      take photos when you do it. i wanna see

  • Kirill Sofronov

    Thanks for inspiration – will make the same experience and hoping for 300%+ increase as well 🙂

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      Kirill haha, don’t count on it. But I bet your desk will look/feel a lot better.

  • Remy

    Good job Malan, glad it worked out for you. I was a minimalist before I even knew what it was. I hate clutter because it stresses me out. Maybe it’s how my brain works, but I can focus better with less.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      my brain works the same way Remy…

  • Petre Veluda

    I like the box strategy. Definitely can be applied to so many things that need to be improved. Also, besides the great article here I would like to extract the “experiments” part. This is what is great about Affiliate Marketing, it teaches you so much stuff and experimenting is one of them.

    So never be afraid to try new things, try them in a different manner and judge the results by your own standards.

    I told you, at the begging of this year I had the same setup as yours for about 2 months while I was out of the country. Except the mouse pad and everything that seemed important was the chair. Man you need a good chair and a correct position on your desk.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      I agree Petre, since I started split testing campaigns has definitely spilled over into my entire life. I split test almost everything now, food, friends, shoes, airlines, sleep times, coffee brands.. it never stops.

  • Tom Blackshire

    Great post, as always.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      thanks Tom – been a while. hope you’re well. we’re doing a live Q&A / Hangout this weekend if you’re around.

  • www_HypeFree_com

    Great stuff, I have been chasing getting distractions and stuff out of life. What I like the most your stand for your Mac (or at least it looks like one) I’m thinking to get one for mine. Cool setup thanks for sharing!

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      it’s definitely Malan-approved. I got the recommendation from Charles Ngo. it’s worth the $$

  • Ondrej Roba

    I was about to use 2×24″ monitors and this article totally changed my view. I’ll give similar setup a try. Thanks for the inspiration Malan!

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      nice. yeah best advice is to just try it both ways. start with the laptop only for a few weeks, then add a monitor, then add both monitors and just see which feels better for you.

    • Petre Veluda

      Hey Ondrej, nice to see you around… Have you ever used a trackpad?

      • Ondrej Roba

        Hey Petre ^^ I’m not using trackpad, feels not comfortable for me. Magic mouse all the time 🙂

        • Petre Veluda

          Yeap, same here only that my choice is Logitech. I don’t find it comfortable when designing banners or other things..

          • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

            It took me several weeks to get used to designing with the trackpad. I put my mouse away and forced myself to stick with the trackpad and now it’s fine.

          • Petre Veluda

            yeap .. I’m just asking for several opinions. I haven’t tested it yet so I’m curios. That’s why I said I don’t find it comfortable, meaning that I can’t imagine how it will work so I have to give it a try.