My friend has two desks – and you might need two computers


turn-off-switchI have a desk.  But my friend Peter has two.

Why?  Why two desks when he can only use one at a time?

Because he’s a shrewd old Christian, and he knows the temptation of the mind, even a disciplined mind, to flit to the nagging task that is calling for our attention, away from the deep task of being immersed in God’s word so we can feed others.

So he has set up (this is not a metaphor – he really has done this) an ‘office’ desk and a ‘study’ desk.  And he knows, by which desk he’s sitting at, which task he’s engaged in.

I think that is brilliant, if eccentric.  It is a crystal clear piece of self-control.

Most of us can’t do that  Maybe we don’t have the luxury of space that Peter has: his study is large, and can take two desks.

But most of us can’t do that technologically any more, either.  I take the same computer tool with me whichever desk I sit at.  It’s got my sermon notes and bible software – but by the same token it has the minutes of the meetings and my email.  And my ultra-portable desk even follows me into the ‘switch-off’ zone.  I’m typing this on my laptop, on my lap.

What to do?

Become a Luddite and unplug. I do this increasingly with sermon prep.  I don’t have much of my commentary library in electronic form, and I hesitate to take the plunge.  I use BibleWorks for language research but then I print out and switch off.

I don’t think this is a generational thing.  After all, I’ve been programming computers since I was 11.   I’m not a reactionary. No, it’s to do with fooling the brain.  I need to get it out of it’s itchiness where it wants to check the email, Facebook, blogstats.  Pen, pencil and paper slow me down and force me to focus.

Become a Luddite and keep the old technology.  I have an elderly PC that runs Windows XP.  It’s not the laptop I’m working on now, because (a) it’s too heavy to keep on my lap, and (b) it gets very hot and uncomfortable on my lap.  It runs Word and Bibleworks and stuff like that, slowly.

But here’s what I’ve started to like.  I have to insert a wireless card.  It’s of the age when wifi was so new, that having a slide-in adaptor was absolutely the thing.  And I bought one.

So now, if I leave that little card at home, I have a laptop that cannot access wifi.  Not even the hotspot on my phone.  It’s cut off from the world.

What this means is I can have the advantage of some good software and resources, and taking and writing notes, but I cannot, absolutely cannot, check my email.  Later on I can plug it in, and then I can sync it onto Dropbox and Evernote.

It also means I’m seen in public with an elderly Dell in a cracked plastic case, rather than something sleek designed in California.  Which is good for the humility.

It’s not having two desks, but it is having two laptops.  Because I’ve learned that, to do my sermon prep I really don’t need access to the web.  And I’ve worked out how the web has an off-switch.

Process questions:

  • Have you discovered that ‘itchy mind’ syndrome, which craves constant updates from the web?
  • What tips and tools have you discovered to calm it down?

22 comments on “My friend has two desks – and you might need two computers”

  1. My husband has two desks too!
    One in the ‘spare’ bedroom and one in his office. Today we’re taking delivery of a second office (a shed to be customised in the garden!) so he can leave the house when he needs to focus. It’s a great idea!

  2. There is something deeply ironic that I’m reading this post, agreeing with the wisdom, whilst I’m supposed to be doing sermon prep! Chris, thanks for the kick to get me to log off and get on with prep.

  3. “It also means I’m seen in public with an elderly Dell in a cracked plastic case, rather than something sleek designed in California. Which is good for the humility.”
    Ha! And thanks for this post.

  4. Useful thoughts, Chris. I find on my Mac that the ability to have different desktops on the same computer is helpful, so I can isolate email, etc. into a desktop I’m not looking at.

  5. I think that’s a great idea, as I see those same tenancies in myself.

    One point to take note of though: after April 8th 2014 Microsoft will no longer support Windows XP, and therefore it’ll be more liable to network attacks and viruses, etc. So a upgrade might be needed (if possible given the vintage of the computer). See:

  6. I find my brain can sometimes more easily engage with the ‘physical’ than the virtual, as you suggest. So, reading a physical commentary, printing out a passage and annotating it – that kind of thing – takes my eyes away from the virtual world and helps focus on what’s in front of me. It also means I don’t see email notifications etc which means I don’t get so distracted.

  7. Thanks Chris. I’ve recently reverted to writing bible study or talk notes by hand as I get terribly distracted by the internet on my laptop (is there such a thing as internet addiction?!), but interestingly, I’m finding that putting pen to paper seems to engage my brain more than typing something up does.
    On the downside, there’s the major disadvantage of not having an e-copy to amend and reproduce at a later date..

  8. I only have the one desk (but a large number of computers!). I have a pad next to me, and when my brain itches, I write down the Very Important Thing it would like to do instead of what I should be doing. Then I deal with all of them at the end.

  9. I had forgotten that I used to go down and switch off the wireless router when I needed to concentrate – I still use the computer but the internet is disabled and the router is at the other end of the house which was always sufficient deterrent! Those were always my favourite times of prep now I think about it. I’ll start doing it again. Thanks Chris. One question though – there are times when I’ll seriously annoy my family if I switch off the whole wireless network …. are there relatively simple ways to just block one computer from using a router? Chris Kilgour? Anyone?
    Right. Off to switch off the router!

    1. Hi Ben,

      I use something called “Freedom” ( You simply put in how many minutes of freedom you want, and it cuts your computer off from the network for that length of time. The only way to override it is by rebooting your computer. It definitely helps my concentration, it also highlights those moments of mindlessness when in the middle of something I tend to drift to my email or facebook or something. I use it in short bursts (like 45 minutes) and then keep resetting it – rather than ambitiously setting it for 4 hours and getting frustrated!

  10. These are all great ideas (downloading Freedom right now, great idea, something I’m willing to pay for!). I find I get that ‘itchy’ feeling when I’m working because I’m clock watching. I’ve gotten into the habit of hiding all my clocks (take the physical one off the wall, hide my keyboard clock and desktop clock, take my watch off) and simply setting an alarm on my phone for, say, an hour later. I find that I focus much better because I’m not worrying about how much time I have left to work. I often find when the alarm goes off that I’m so engrossed that I don’t actually want to stop! I’ve learned to be disciplined with internet at these times, but I reckon Freedom will give me that extra boost.

  11. Excellent article! I wrote something similar last year about unplugging & focusing using old tech to do so; my main computer is a little netbook that I take pretty much everywhere but in the last year or so, I’ve been using my old HP IPAQ pocket pc (no wifi) w/ a foldable keyboard for blogging. The SD card holds several Bibles & I just save the document to the card & transfer it over to a pc for editing… but the gist is, everyone knows when I’m using the IPAQ I’m in serious study/blogging mode as I’m more than focused & not distracted w/ e-mail notifications or anything else.

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