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Episode 92 - The Computer Setup for your Shopify Store

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Hey, Scott Austin here.

In this episode, I want to talk about some ways to make yourself more productive. And that is with your computer setup. In other words, this conversation will be about when you are in 'office mode' and primarily working on a computer.

The first aspect of this is your workspace. Now setting up an optimal workspace is not always possible due to the constraints of our existing offices and homes. That said, let's talk first about having a workspace that allows you to focus. Most people think they are great multitaskers. But studies show that only 2.5% of people can effectively multitask. That means that 97.5% are not effective multitaskers. So if you think you are great at multitasking, you are probably wrong. Here's an article from the Cleveland Clinic that I'll link to in the show notes that sums it up nicely.

Why Multitasking Doesn’t Work - Studies show it makes us less efficient and more prone to errors
Some days you feel like a master multitasker as you drink your morning coffee, catch up on email and tune into a conference call. But did you know that for most people, in most situations, multitasking isn’t actually possible?
We’re really wired to be monotaskers, meaning that our brains can only focus on one task at a time, says neuropsychologist Cynthia Kubu. “When we think we’re multitasking, most often we aren’t really doing two things at once. But instead, we’re doing individual actions in rapid succession, or task-switching,” she says.
One study found that just 2.5% of people are able to multitask effectively. For the rest of us, our attempts to do multiple activities at once aren’t actually that.
Studies show that when our brain is constantly switching gears to bounce back and forth between tasks – especially when those tasks are complex and require our active attention – we become less efficient and more likely to make a mistake.

This might not be as apparent or impactful when we’re doing tasks that are simple and routine, like listening to music while walking, or folding laundry while watching TV. But when the stakes are higher and the tasks are more complex, trying to multitask can negatively impact our lives – or even be dangerous.

So-called multitasking divides our attention. It makes it harder for us to give our full attention to one thing. For example, in studies, attempting to complete additional tasks during a driving simulation led to poorer driving performance. Other studies suggest that people who frequently “media multitask” (like listening to music while checking email or scrolling through social media while watching a movie) are more distracted and less able to focus their attention even when they’re performing only one task.

It can also affect our ability to learn, because in order to learn, we need to be able to focus.

“The more we multitask, the less we actually accomplish, because we slowly lose our ability to focus enough to learn,” Dr. Kubu says. “If we’re constantly attempting to multitask, we don’t practice tuning out the rest of the world to engage in deeper processing and learning.” One study found that college students who tried to multitask took longer to do their homework and had lower average grades.

Another pitfall is that trying to do too much at once makes it harder to be mindful and truly present in the moment – and mindfulness comes with a plethora of benefits for our minds and our bodies. In fact, many therapies based on mindfulness can even help patients suffering from depression, anxiety, chronic pain and other conditions.

Opting to focus on one task at a time can benefit many aspects of our life, including the workplace.

So the point of my bringing up multitasking when talking about a workspace is that you want to create a workspace that is as distraction free as possible. I have many clients that set up a home office away from their warehouse and business offices so that they can focus on their work distraction free. That way, store staff can't pop-in to ask a quick question when the store owner is trying to focus on putting together a new marketing plan.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have a client who frequently does video calls with me from the seating area of his café. Every conversation gets interrupted multiple times. Which means we are less effective and things take much longer. And I personally think it's very disrespectful to the person that is focused on the meeting.

Here's a real example from my office setup. I work in remodeled garage in my backyard. I have two walls that are mostly glass with glass sliding doors. And my Chihuahuas are in the office with me. And for the most part, Chihuahuas are distraction free as they can sleep for most of the day. But my dogs go nuts when the crows visit my backyard, which the crows do a lot in the spring. Getting the crows to not visit seemed like an impossible task. So instead I blocked the Chihuahuas' view to the backyard and the crows. As they are small dogs, I just needed to block the view through the glass for the bottom 18 inches. Now my dogs don't see when the crows visit, which makes my office quieter.

Another thing to think about when trying to reduce distractions is digital distractions. I turn off notifications on my computer. So I don't get a notification for every email that comes in. With email, you can set it up so that emails from certain senders do trigger a notification. I also set my personal phone to no notifications. It doesn't ring if I get call. It makes no noise or vibration when I get a text. And smart phones today allow you to set notification settings based on your location. That way, the notifications can turn on and off automatically as you transition between spaces.

Additionally, I've had clients who have asked me if I use Slack, as they want a way to quickly get a response if they get stuck. And I don't Slack. While I understand why my clients would want quick and easy access to my answers, I know that the interruptions, even if they are small, would have noticeable drag on whatever project I was trying to work on.

While most people are not effective multitaskers, I think I'm extreme example of it. In other words, I can't multitask at all. So I've learned that I can't even have music on in the background when I need to focus on work. Now if you are like me, but you are in a shared environment, you may want to make sure that you are facing a wall so you see less distractions and have on noise cancelling headphones with no music to reduce background noise. I went to college at the Coast Guard Academy where all of the students live in one big dorm. And the person who was the valedictorian of my class would study while wearing industrial quality ear protection so that he could study as distraction free as possible, which is probably one of the reasons he was at the top of our class.

So let's shift to furniture. I find that I am much more effective when I'm using traditional office furniture like a chair and desk. Some of that is because of my computer setup which I'll talk about in a bit. And some of it is because it keeps me focused on the work I'm doing without encouraging me to fall asleep. In other words, working on a couch would never work for me. I may move to the couch if all I want to do is some research on YouTube. But other than that, I'm always in the traditional office setup.

I'm not a small person. I'm 6'3" and the last time I was under 200 lbs, I wasn't old enough to drive. So I don't find traditional office chairs comfortable. They are just too small. I couple of years ago, I found a game changer for me and that is the King Kong of office chairs. This thing is massive and makes me feel small. So that allows me more comfort as I can sit in different positions throughout the day. I was surprised how much more effective I became just by changing out my chair.

Now, let's shit from your workspace to your computer.

Let me start by saying that for me with type of work that I'm doing, a laptop is not going to cut it. I need the power and the expandability of a desktop computer. Whenever I need a new computer because the old one is getting a bit slow, I get a higher-end Dell desktop. I don't buy the most expensive gaming computer, but the machine I get usually costs around $1500, which is way less than most MacBooks.

The most important peripheral for your computer setup is your monitors. And notice that I'm saying the plural monitors. And that's because I believe every office worker should have multiple monitors. It's amazing how much more effective you are with multiple monitors. This isn't to multitask, but to allow multiple pieces of information to be in front of you without having to switch windows for the one task you are focused on. That way, if you are sending an email response to a customer about their order, you can have your email on one screen and the Shopify admin with their order on the other screen.

If you work on a laptop, you can add a second monitor to that also depending on the ports available on your device.

Now, I take this multiple monitor thing to an extreme. I have two 4K 50" televisions and a 4K 27" monitor all hooked up to my computer. And I set it up to have two windows side by side on the 50" televisions, so it's like having five screens at once. That allows me quick access to lot's of information sources when I'm working on complex tasks. Here's a real example of how I use that setup daily when I'm editing a theme. One screen is my code editor. The second screen is the Liquid cheat sheet that I always use for reference. The third screen is Notion, my project management software which tells me what my tasks are. The fourth screen is my browser preview of the work I'm doing. And the fifth screen is my browser preview of the work I'm doing on a mobile sized screen.

For my setup, running that many 4K screens takes a lot of computing power and ports. That's one reason I use a desktop, a laptop could never power the screens. I also had to upgrade to a powerful video card that is built for this as the video cards that came with the computer were insufficient. I could tell they were underpowered as the monitors would flash and reset occasionally. So I spent $700 on a more powerful graphics card and its paid for itself as my screens don't flash and distract me anymore. I originally went with 50" TVs as they are fairly inexpensive. These days, the 4K ones are under $500. But TVs do not have the same quality as monitors especially when it comes to color. Good quality 4K 32" monitors cost around $800 each. So right now, I'm debating the cost of upgrading my current monitor setup to four 32" monitors. I'll probably pull the trigger this year if I can find a good deal during the upcoming Black Friday sales.

Continuing on with peripherals, let's talk about keyboards. As I have a desktop computer, I need a separate keyboard. But even if I had a laptop, I would want a separate keyboard. And that's because a laptop's keyboard is smaller and doesn't have as many keys. Also, with a separate keyboard, you have better control over the position and angle of the keyboard. I'm not a fan of batteries, so I use a USB keyboard that plugs into my desktop. The keyboard I use is a mechanical keyboard. Many keyboards today are not. Mechanical keyboards have individual switches for each key. Typing on them provides more tactile feedback, which makes for more efficient typing. The keyboard also has a metal case which means its more durable.

The last peripherals I want to talk about are newer ones for most of us since Covid. But I believe they are going to be permanent ones now. And those are the devices you need for online meetings. At a minimum, you are going to need a video camera and a microphone. If you are on a laptop, there are built-in ones. On a desktop, you are going to need to buy them. For video, I use logitech 4K cameras that sit on top of my monitor. They cost around $200. They come with microphones. But built in microphones are not the best quality. I have separate microphones from my video cameras. If you get a dedicated microphone, you'll want a directional microphone. Directional microphones pick up more sound from the direction that the microphone is pointed which should be towards you. So, they pick up less background noise. I have one microphone on a boom arm which allows me to bring it in when I need it and swing it away when I'm not. On the computer with the 50" inch TVs, the TVs are too tall for a boom arm. So I have a heavy table-top stand for that one. A good directional mic will cost around $80 with great ones being in the hundreds.

I also keep a variety of different devices around for testing purposes. I need to test on different operating systems, browsers, screen sizes and input devices to ensure a quality online store experience. For testing, my current set of devices are:

  1. A windows PC
  2. A Mac Mini
  3. An android phone
  4. An iPhone
  5. An iPad
  6. A Chromebook

And the final thing that I think about when it comes to my hardware is redundancy. If my computer is down, my agency is dead in water. For that reason, I have two complete PC desktops in my office. That way, if anything goes down or breaks, I have a backup. Before I had two computers, it seemed like a second would be a gratuitous expense. But when my computer went and it took a few days to get a replacement, I realized not having a backup was more expensive. And because I have two different systems, I optimize them for different purposes. One is my daily work machine and the other is optimized for podcast recording. But I can do my full job on either one.

Now, as a Shopify agency, my office and computer set up is more important to my business than it is for a Shopify store owner as your time is not always on a computer and working solo. That said, I do know that slight improvements in your setup can have a noticeable impact on your productivity. Here are the big takeaways I want from this episode:

  1. Distractions mean a loss of productivity.
  2. Your office setup matters.
  3. Rational investments in computer hardware are worthwhile investments for your business.
  4. Everyone will benefit from multiple monitors.
  5. Think about backup hardware.

That's it for this episode.

Thanks for listening.


JadePuma is a certified Shopify Expert. If you need any help with your Shopify store, we can help.