Thursday, April 17, 2008

Clean Your Desktop

By Matt:

I'll often glance over at a colleague's laptop during a meeting and see a desktop that is cluttered to the max with folders, files, icons, and various shortcuts. A typical desktop can fit up to 10 icons vertically and 15 horizontally... that's 150 icons on the desktop! It's hard to make out that pretty picture of the tropical beach you have as your desktop wallpaper when you have that many icons taking up space!

If you're this person who, for reasons I'm sure seem logical, keeps 150 icons on your desktop, I want to suggest the following desktop overhaul.

Many people use their desktop as their launching point, and for good reason - it's convenient and centrally located. But this efficiency is completely lost when you store too many items there. It becomes impossible to quickly navigate to the files and folders you want because you spend so much time manually sifting through the clutter. Here's how to increase your efficiency by removing up to 95% of your desktop icons:

Create A Current Files Folder
Navigate to your My Documents folder (or similar location) and create a folder simply called 'Current Files'. Next make a shortcut to this folder and place it on your desktop - yes, this is one icon that you actually get to keep.

Next do some serious housecleaning. Move every document, spreadsheet, picture, and video file currently sitting on your desktop into the newly created 'Current Files' folder. Anything that is an actual file, or a folder containing multiple filesm must go... don't worry about organization, you can take care of that later. At this point all that should remain on your desktop are your icons for My Computer, My Documents, Recycle Bin, and shortcut icons.

Cut Your Shortcuts
Now I want you to take a critical look at your desktop shortcuts. Shortcut icons include any quick-link that points to a file, a folder, a network drive, an application, or an online destination. I will venture to guess that most of these shortcuts do not get used during any given week, but there will likely be a couple key shortcuts that get used multiple times a day.

As you did for your files, create another folder in My Documents for 'Shortcuts', and again create a desktop shortcut for this folder. Next, move any shortcut that gets used less than five times per week into this new folder. If any of your shortcuts are outdated and never get used delete them. If you have shortcuts that point to a website, I suggest you move these to your internet browser - create a bookmark for them, or better yet, use a social bookmarking tool like

You should move all application shortcuts - shortcuts that launch a program - to this folder. The exception to this rule are application shortcuts that are used multiple times per day; drag these key icons into your Taskbar to automatically create quick-launch buttons.

In terms of shortcuts, all that should remain on your desktop are high traffic shortcuts that point to critical and often-used files, folders, or network drives.

The key to a clean desktop is that it becomes an efficient workplace - a launching zone from which you do your work. Consider these tips for keeping your desktop in prime working condition:
  • Save new files and downloads that you'll be working on to your 'Current Files' folder to keep the desktop clean.
  • Make use of the ability to filter in your 'Current Files' folder and sort by name, date, and file type... remember that you wouldn't be able to do this on your desktop.
  • If you find that a certain shortcut icon is not getting traffic, remove it from the equation by demoting it to the 'Shortcuts' folder. Likewise, if you are having to dig through your 'Shortcuts' folder multiples times per day to find a specific icon, elevate it to your desktop.
  • Periodically archive files in your 'Current Files' folder as they become dated and obsolete by moving them to an appropriate folder elsewhere on your hard-drive.

And Just For The Record
I have a nice 17" widescreen laptop as my personal computer, and as such can fit as many as 209 icons on my desktop. However, using the steps above I keep this whittled down to just five icons, and as a result maintain my sanity. Plus for all you tweakers, a clean desktop uses less RAM than one covered with icons.

In addition to My Computer, My Documents, and Recycle Bin, I also keep a 'Current Files' folder and a shortcut to a folder for 'The Corporate Hack' on my desktop. This method, partnered with Google Desktop as a hard-drive search tool, are all I need to keep every file I might desire at my fingertips.

To be clear - you cannot remove unwanted desktop icons by sticking your Macbook in the dishwasher. We want to hear additional tips you have have on making your computer desktop an efficient workplace - leave a comment below! Good luck with the cleaning!


Michael Henreckson said...

I'm a clean desktop freak myself . . . relatively speaking. I do find it useful to use my desktop as a staging area for web downloads, and files I'm working on frequently, but I try to limit myself to a third of my desktop instead of all of it. It used to be I didn't use my desktop at all, but then I figured that's what it's for. But, I only use it for things that I really need a lot.

Matt @ Corporate Hack said...

@ Michael: For me, that's where the Current Files folder comes in extremely handy. Web downloads and working files get stored there until I'm ready to archive them to a permanent location... that way the desktop is clean all the time.

Don said...

Please allow a PC guy to stick in his 2¢ -- I take this a couple of steps to the left. And right. And top. And bottom.

See, I use the PC's taskbars to the max.

My main taskbar - at the bottom - is two complete rows of icons leading to apps, folders, and files I might need at any moment. After a number of years, I've narrowed it down to just 36 such items. I know, I know. It's way too many. Can't narrow it down any further. But this is the stuff I use all the time, and it hasn't changed in a long time.

I also have a "Current Items" folder set up as an auto-hide toolbar on the left side of my screen. I use this for things I'm working on at the moment, or things I find interesting and want to investigate further as time allows. If someting is used a lot, it gets moved to another auto-hide toolbar, this time on the right side of the screen.

Anything that doesn't get used more than once in a great while gets moved to a third auto-hide toolbar, this time at the top of the screen.

If it doens't get used even that often, it's moved to another part of computer, where I usually forget about it until I need to reclaim some hard drive space.

But my desktop is Clean. Three Icons -- My Computer, Recycle Bin, and one thing I need at the moment which will be moved to the netherlands Monday.