I recently did some work for a client in the file management space. A sliver within this big space is desktop clutter. If you’re like me (the old me) you might have a desktop that looks like this:
I’m sure you’ve seen worse. I actually consider myself a very organized person and pride myself on the hierarchy of my folders and files but desktop clutter is something I’ve had a really hard time wrangling into control. Working with this client made me take a hard look at why keeping my desktop organized is so hard. I was determined to solve this problem and figuring out the underlying reasons why my desktop was such a mess was my first order of business.
Step One: Admit You Have a Problem
The first step to success; admitting you have a problem and commit to fixing it. A messy desktop has more of an impact on your psyche and your day-to-day ability to get things done than I think people realize. Personally a messy desktop made me feel cluttered, making it hard to focus on my day-to-day priorities. It’s like this big, messy cloud hanging over my head all day. If you are someone who works from home, maybe you’ve experienced the feeling of not being able to do any work until the house is clean and the dishes are done, it’s kind of like that.
Step Two: Figure Out “Why Is My Desktop Unorganized?”
This is the fun part, dissecting why I feel the need to hoard files on my desktop. When I started to really look at the underlying motivations I realized the following; I’m too busy during the day trying to get work done to properly take the time to organize files. Beyond that, there were specific habits that flamed the fire of my messy desktop:
- There are files that are “active” working files, no matter where they should be filed on my computer, putting them on my desktop makes me feel like I have instant access to files I’m working with RIGHT NOW.
- I am constantly uploading images to Tumblr, Twitter and other services – these files lived on my desktop until I uploaded them and eventually moved them to the trash.
- I’m also constantly jotting down ideas and keeping track of thoughts in text files. These end up scattered about everywhere.
- Similarly, I keep track of my “to-do’s” this way and my tasks become intermingled with everything else.
- I come across articles on the Internet that I want to read so I’ll make the article into a PDF and save it to my desktop as a reminder (crazy in its own right).
- I save receipts I need to file for my business on my desktop and file them later.
Step Three: Make Baby Steps to Bigger Change
Instead of saying to myself “I will never leave a file on my desktop ever again” I started to think about a method I could put in place to stop files from piling up on my desktop. If I had chosen the first solution, I probably would have fallen back into my old habits because it’s too much of a change to make overnight. Kind of like how diets never work. Instead I made a folder on my desktop called “Desktop Items.” Within this folder were more folders targeted at my main motivations (above) for why I don’t organize a file right away. The rule was – NO MORE loose files on the desktop. A file must go into one of the folders in “Desktop Items.” This is the folder structure I came up with. This is very personal to my own habits so if you try this, analyze your habits and create a folder structure that works for you:
Most of the folders in the “Desktop Items” folder stay the same but there are some folders that are “of the moment” that are temporary. “Condos” is one of those folders. I keep Condos that I’m interested in seeing here. This is how most people would use bookmarks but bookmarks are out of sight, out of mind for me so I do this instead. Similarly, “Reading” is the same thing. All the other folders serve a specific motivation and pain point for why I used to save files directly to my desktop. “Temporary” is all the files I upload to Tumblr, Twitter and other places and “To File” are files “of the moment” – things I’m working on right now.
This method has helped me stay 99.9% clutter free, extremely effective! You could argue that I still have all these files on my desktop, they’re now just in other folders. That’s exactly correct however my desktop is clutter free thereby removing that big messy cloud that was hovering over me all day while I sit at my computer.
Use Alfred to Quickly Find Files
Cleaning up my desktop was a huge accomplishment. Around the same time I also started using Alfred, which is similar to Quicksilver but more extensible. I have a bunch of files and folder I access on a regular basis. Too many to make shortcuts for but large enough to make it a pain point to have to go navigate to those files and folders on a regular basis. I started using Alfred and this pain point completely disappeared. This in addition to a clutter free desktop made me feel like a rockstar and I was no longer spending unnecessary time hunting around for and organizing files and folders. It’s like someone took the handcuffs off. A nice side effect of using Alfred is, it’s almost like a game of memory in that your ability to quickly navigate to files and folders is only as good as your ability to remember the names of those files and folders. Using Alfred has made me remember file and folder names better and it’s also made me better at naming them. I now pay very close attention to naming files with the train of thought in mind of “how would I find this using Alfred?” I’ve also renamed files using this method so I can quickly jump to specific folders. Changing “Photos” to “Personal Photos” is a good example of this. I have more than one “Photos” folder on my computer but I have only one “Personal Photos.”
What types of things have helped you stay organized and easily access files and folders, I’d love to hear!
Mac Tip: Change The Location Of Saved Screenshots: http://www.mactrast.com/2012/02/mac-tip-change-the-location-of-saved-screenshots