Numerous studies have shown that your environment affects your productivity, and that even something as simple as colour can influence your memory or creativity. Since most of our work’s now done in the digital realm, it stands to reason that your desktop environment can play an important role in your productivity.Your computer’s desktop is a starting point for your entire computing experience, but — like anything else — if you let it get ugly and messy your productivity will take a dive. Here’s how to design and create an attractive desktop with built-in organisation to keep your workspace clean and productive with minimal effort.
Step One: Choose A Clean, Productivity-Boosting Wallpaper
Choosing a wallpaper may seem like a trivial thing, but when you’re staring at it every day, it can have an impact on your productivity. First of all, if you’re stuck looking at the same image regularly, you’re going to want it to be attractive. More importantly, however, you should pick something that isn’t going to be distracting. You know how you sometimes close your eyes to help you remember? That’s because you’re trying to block out an excess of visual information so you can concentrate. If your wallpaper is too busy, it can have the same detrimental effect.
Fortunately, there are plenty of great wallpapers, but most aim to be compelling imagery rather than productivity- or concentration-boosting. Sites like Simple Desktops and MinimalWall, however, curate collections of wallpapers that are designed to look good without distracting elements. We’ve also posted collections of gridded, food, minimalist, nature and vintage wallpapers that serve the same purpose. Alternatively, creating a custom bokeh wallpaper is a great way to design a compelling, distraction-free image for your desktop that you can easily make yourself in a few minutes. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s simple and eye-pleasing as all your other efforts will be less-effective if your wallpaper is ugly and distracting.
Step Two: Choose A Method Of Organisation And Implement It
Whether or not you’ve chosen clutter-free wallpaper, most of us actually put files, folders or other shortcuts on our desktops. If you aren’t careful, you’ll never see that wonderful desktop picture underneath disorganised piles of files and folders. Clutter causes stress for a variety of reasons, so if you’ve got it you need to get rid of it.
If you currently have a lot of desktop clutter, before you do anything else you need to take everything you’ve got on your desktop and move it into a single folder-any folder will do, as long as it’s not your desktop. It’ll be easier to sort and clean up if you can get it off your screen and into a folder that’s out of the way. So, for now, leave all your desktop clutter in that single folder. First, we’re going to choose how to organise it all. Here are two methods we really like. You should pick the one that best fits your needs and personal style and then use it to deal with that holding bin of clutter you just created.
The Sorting Bins Method
If you’re so messy that you see more clutter than desktop and you’ve got files on top of files, you need sorting bins and an organisation schedule. For over a decade I lived with a desktop much like the one you see pictured on the right. As soon as I started using bins to clean things up I never had the problem again. This is because the sorting bins method requires almost no effort, looks good and makes all your files a little easier to find.
All you have to do is create a few folders on your desktop that relate to the kind of work you do. Personally, I have six and they labelled like this:
- Development – For programming work I’m currently doing.
- For Sale – Images of anything I’m selling online. (Note: There is really no need for this folder to be on the desktop but it helps me to have it there.)
- Incoming Media – For music and videos that need to be added to iTunes, watched/listened to (and possibly deleted afterwards), or sorted in some way.
- Incoming Photos – For photos that need to be edited and uploaded.
- Temporary Notes – For stray text files that eventually need to be added to Simplenote (because that’s what I use to keep track of my plain text notes) or deleted at some point. (For some reason I end up with stray text files even though I use Simplenote for most everything plain text-related.)
- To Be Archived – For anything that needs to be copied to my NAS for archival purposes goes in here.
As you can see, these sorting bins can get pretty specific. You’ll need to figure out what sort of bins you’ll want to have, but I highly recommend To Be Archived and Incoming [WHATEVER] bins because those will cover most of what you need. Just keep the number of bins under seven or you’ll spend too much time figuring out which bin to use when you’re saving or moving a file.
When you create the bins, you want to give them icons that will look different from anything else that appears on the desktop. I created these white rounded-rectangle icons (which you can also download and use) for that specific purpose. If a file shows up on the desktop, it looks out of place and I feel more compelled to sort it quickly. Most of the time, however, files get sorted before they can end up on the desktop at all.
When you put all of this together you end up with a sorting system that’s easy to use and maintain. It’s also pretty nice to look at too. All you have to do is set aside about 10 minutes once per week to go through these folders and move things out. Alternatively, check out step three to learn about ways to automate this process.
Note: Although I use this method for the desktop, it’s paired with a Dropbox organisational system as well. If you’re using a tool like Dropbox and want to synchronise your soon-to-be sorted desktop, too, you can just create a few symlinks on each machine.
The Sectioned Desktop Method
If your desktop isn’t horribly cluttered but could stand to have a little more organisation, you can alter your wallpaper to help you get the job done. What this means is using an image editing application, like Adobe Photoshop, to add overlaid sections to your desktop image. You can see an example to the right or check out some pre-made organised wallpapers with built-in organisation here.
Creating these overlays is very easy. Just follow these steps (or watch the video below):
- Open up your wallpaper in your favourite image editor.
- Make a new layer and create black boxes on that layer where you want your sections to be. You could create four separate quadrants, three little sections at the bottom (as demonstrated in the video on the left), several tall, skinny sections or pretty much anything you want.
- Reduce the opacity of that box layer so you can still see the wallpaper but the sections are darkened. Usually an opacity of 50 per cent will look pretty good.
- Add text to the top of each section to label what you’re going to put inside (e.g. apps, docs, etc).
- Save your new wallpaper, set it to be your current desktop image and start organising!
That’s all there is to it. If you want a helping hand, we’ve created a few high-resolution Photoshop templates to get you started. You can download them here. Once you’ve finished creating your organised wallpaper, you can start placing your desktops icons in their relevant sections and you’ll be organised in no time.
If you’d prefer to have software do the work for you, you have an alternative. Fences (Windows only) is a neat app that creates sections for all your current clutter. It lets you specify a rectangular space to keep a group of files, folders and application shortcuts that will stay fenced in to prevent those icons from sprawling all over your desktop. It’ll cost you a little to use, but with the added benefit of enforcing the organisational scheme you design.
Step Three: Automate Repetitive Tasks
Organising your desktop is very easy when you don’t have to do anything at all. Mac OS X has a few simple utilities, such as Desktoday and Clean, that just move clutter into a separate folder when it’s been sitting around doing nothing for a specified amount of time. This is useful if you’re looking to sort by date (and are on a Mac), but we’ve taken a look at how you can automatically organise your Windows or Mac desktop with Belvedere (Windows) or Hazel (Mac OS X). Both applications allow you to specify specific criteria to look for and then perform actions when those criteria are met. For example, if you ever have any images on the desktop that have been around for more than a week, you can tell either program to move them into, say, your To Be Archived bin automatically. Of course, you can automate much more than that. These applications are capable of opening, duplicating, and deleting files, plus much more. Be sure to read our full guide on automatically cleaning your desktop for a more in-depth look on what you can do.
That’s all there is to it! With a little design, organisational strategy and automation, you should have no problem keeping your desktop looking great.