Who doesn't want to be highly productive? Spending more time getting less done is a waste. There are habits and practices that can kill your productivity or make it soar.

But to be at your best you also need the right tools. With a new year coming up (and a last minute chance to nail down some tax deductions for this year), it's a great time to acquire them. If you're in a small or home office, chances are good that you can improve the level of equipment, services, and efficiency without going into hock. Here are some ways you can start now.


Sitting all the time, or even a lot of the time, can be terrible for your health. That's one reason, along with the drive to be trendy, that standing desks have become so popular among the tech crowd. (There are questions of whether there is any proven health benefits. But a Texas A&M study suggests that standing desks can aid in productivity.)

I've found there's something to be said for being able to shift positions during the day in terms of ultimately comfort. It used to be that a standing desk was a pricey luxury, but now you can have one at a reasonable cost. If your current desk is large enough, something like the Varidesk Pro Plus 36 ($395) or one of the other models (varying in size, features, and dollars) can be great. I've had a chance to try one -- it goes on top of your current desk. You can easily shift it between standing and sitting.

If you're ready to replace a desk, there are some reasonably-priced automated sit-and-stand desks, like the SmartDesk 2 ($299 for the single-motor home version and $399 for the dual-motor business edition). It remembers the height you prefer for both standing and sitting, with electricity powering the shift. I haven't had a chance to try one but wondered why it was so cheap compared to a number I've seen on the market. The company claims that because it sells direct, it can avoid a typical office furniture mark-up of 400 percent to 600 percent.

While in the standing position, there's another variation you can get with the Varichair ($195 and same link as the Varidesk). Instead of sitting or standing, you are on your feet but lean back against a support on a single leg. It may sound odd, but it's surprisingly comfortable. And if you will be standing a lot, an anti-fatigue mat is a good investment. Until it gave up the ghost after years of use, we had a GelPro (variety of sizes, styles, and prices) in the kitchen that was a pleasure to step down on.

One more twist for the office -- again, something I haven't tried myself yet -- if you're really tight on space is the Edge Desk ($350), a combination work space and kneeling chair that folds down into a package 6 inches thick. It's less than 30 pounds and sets up in under a minute. I could see it as handy if you needed the desk out of the way on a regular basis or wanted an extra desk for temp or employee who usually works remote.


You can get a lot more out of computer and telecom equipment if you get the right things. On the network and computer front, if you've got a Wi-Fi network that doesn't reach all of your space (often a problem in home-based offices), try one of the AmpliFi systems (from $149.99 to $349). A router base station offers wireless connectivity and also works with additional mesh points to extend the reach of the network. You don't need the skills or energy to start running extra cables with switches or various types of Wi-Fi boosters or extenders.

Another smart step for many businesses is to get rid of paper and go with electronic documents. I've spoken with companies over the years that were able to pay off full document management systems within a few months because they were able to give up lots of filing cabinets and office space that they no longer needed to lease. There's also a lot to be said for greater efficiency, as everything is a search away and two people can gain access to the same document when necessary. But you've still got to get those contracts, memos, receipts, invoices, and other pieces of paper into electronic form. Invest in a scanner like the Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 (about $420 street price).

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It offers up to 600dpi resolution and both one-sided and duplex scanning at as many as 25 pages per minute. You can put 50 sheets in the hopper. A USB 3.0 interface gives fast data transfer onto a PC or Mac or you can wireless scan onto either or to an iOS or Android mobile device. (Though if you're doing high volume scanning, I'm not sure why you'd want it first on mobile.) And included software can generate PDFs.

Last but not least, get a good Bluetooth headset that will not only let you listen to music but use Skype or other computer-based calling program, which is great for controlling costs on international calls. Evolution 2 Bluetooth Headphones (about $50) from Altec Lansing are comfortable, have a range of 33 feet in wireless mode (so you can go get a document that you haven't yet scanned in from a file cabinet) and run for up to 12 hours on a charge, according to the vendor. There's a cord in case you'd prefer to run that way or your computer is older without Bluetooth support. The headphones are comfortable and the sound is good, both for listening and speaking.