If a  clean desk is a sign of a sick mind, is the same true for your Windows desktop?  


After 25 years in business, I've learned a few things about the way that I work, and I definitely work better when I can focus on the project at hand. In today's webinar on how I use Lotus Notes and MindManager as knowledge management tools, I shared a few productivity tips that I've collected and use; one of them was to clear your Windows desktop so that no icons would display. I mentioned that I considered this the most productive tip I found last year. As testimony to this fact, I'm still using it; I've found that most "productivity tips" aren't and seldom last more than a few days.  I received many questions about this simple tip and several callers asked me to share the tip on my blog, which I promised to do before the end of the day.

There's no need for me to go into great detail about the steps that I'm about to share as I've found some excellent links that describe the process. What I will tell you about is the impact it made on my work style. First of all, by removing all program and file icons from my desktop, I can focus on the project at hand. This in itself has been a great productivity boost for me. Second, I found that with a clear desktop (and more importantly, the inability to easily see anything I might deposit on my desktop) I became motivated to put away files in the proper folders and directories the first time  so that I could find them when needed. Imagine if, when you threw your socks on the floor (admit it, we all do it) they disappeared. After a few pairs of socks go missing, you might start putting them in the laundry. Well, I found that with the incentive to put files away, I actually did!  And, I've been doing it for almost a year! [All I need is an automated Shop Vac Robot that will suck up any papers and post-its I leave lying around my desk to teach me to process my papers. Perhaps my children can build one for me. But, I digress...]

Here are the four steps that I use to clean up my desktop:

Step 1 - Clean up your desktop. Take a few minutes to properly organize all of the programs on your desktop into folders (or the trash bin) so that only icons remain on your desktop. We'll get to these next.
Step 2 - Clean up your program shortcuts.  Drag your application shortcuts to either your Quick Launch Toolbar or pin them to the start menu. Now you should have only a few icons on your desktop for My Computer, My Network Places, My Documents, and
Step 3 - Create a desktop Toolbar. This is the secret sauce that makes this productivity tip work for me.
Right click on the task bar and select Toolbars -> Desktop. This will add a new "Desktop" toolbar to your task bar. Now, the part I like is that you can click on the chevron next to the "Desktop" toolbar and it will display the few remaining icons that were on your desktop. The neat thing about this is that you can pull up this list regardless of what programs you have open. (See image)
Step 4 - Turn off the desktop icons. Do this by right-clicking on the desktop, selecting "Arrange icons by," and de-selecting "Show Desktop items."

(If the concise steps above are confusing, I've provided some links to a web site with photos and additional narrative at the end of this post.)

That's it. I like to leave my desktop a solid color, however, you may want to display a picture on your desktop.

But wait! There's more!
You can take advantage of the desktop toolbar launch feature by dropping links to frequently used programs, folders, MindManager maps, Lotus Notes Doclinks, etc. back onto your desktop. 20070328CleanDesktopShortcuts.jpg I know, we just cleaned up the desktop, but work with me... I actually do not put program shortcuts on my desktop at all - I use Activewords to launch my programs with a simple keystroke.

If you've followed the steps outlined, you will now be able to click on the Desktop shortcuts icon, you will see a list of files and folders that you can open. I went a step further and renamed these with a number in front of each to organize them the way that I wanted to. (Right mouse-click Sort to organize the list.) Now, when I need to find a key project, all I have to do is click on the chevron symbol and my key files and maps are immediately visible to me.

The productive benefits extended beyond my desktop

The experience of clearing of my Windows desktop and actually sticking with it inspired me to do the same with my physical desktop:

Step 1 - I took everything that was not supplies, reference, or decoration out of my office and moved it into the conference room
Step 2 - Wipe desk surface and restocked office supplies.
Step 3 - Took all papers         and items in the conference room and filed them properly, entered them into the computer or dumped them.

The nature of my work requires that I still manage "stacks" of paper, books, etc. These, I store on the workspace behind where I sit so that they are out of view. Now, I can turn around and grab them when needed but I don't have to (or get to) look at them when I'm focused on something else.

If you want to see this tip in action, you'll have to either try the above steps for yourself or watch my webinar.

I must give credit to Bob Walsh, who blogged about this tip a year ago. Bob was apparently summarizing the steps from this excellent post on how to reduce visual clutter on your desktop.

If I were handing out awards to recognize the most productive tip for 2006, this would be it.

Thank you to those of you who wrote to me to ask me to share these steps. If there's anything else from this morning's webinar that you'd like to see or feedback that you would like to share, please post a comment here or send me an email and I'll consider it for a future screen movie.

I plan to post more of these types of tips;  if you're not already subscribed to my blog by RSS, now would be a good time to do so.

Discussion/Comments (6):

Where the eyes go...


I was working with my cycling coach today - as I'm preparing for one of the biggest races of my life this weekend (here in Ojai) - and he said something that really set me back...

Before I share what it was (and, I'll have a blog post on my blog by next week I'm sure), I want to say this: I KNOW I've heard it a thousand times. For some reason, thought, today it meant something different.

He said, "Where your eyes go, your bike follows."

Now, you (and several readers of this blog who've been around for a while) know me; it's not just about the bike! It's about my performance in all areas. As a husband, a coach, a writer, a consultant, a friend, a student, a ... you get the picture.

Where my focus goes, so does my energy and action. So, your post today means a lot to me; it's bridging something that I intuitively understood, and am now beginning to put into words.


Posted at 3/28/2007 9:18:06 PM by Jason Womack

Out of sight, out of mind. Out of mind, ready to focus

I realize that you use ActiveWords, but while watching your Mindmanager presentation yesterday I noticed that you had a lot of icons on your toolbar. Personally, I like to have a clean toolbar as well, so one tip that I would like to present is to create a folder somewhere (I created c:\Applications) and put all of your program shortcuts that you might have on your toolbar or that you might normally access in there. Then perform the same steps that you did to add a Desktop toolbar to add an "Applications" toolbar.

1. Right Click Toolbar

2. Select Toolbars -> New Toolbar ...

3. Select your folder and click OK.

4. Clean up un-needed application shortcuts off of the Quick Start toolbar.

This can clean up valuable (to me) toolbar space and put them in the same easy to use space like with your Clean Desktop tip ... one chevron click away.

Posted at 3/29/2007 6:46:54 AM by Craig Tatham

Out of sight, out of mind. Out of mind, ready to focus

Does this only work for Windows XP? Windows 2000 at work doesn't seem to have the option under Arrange Icons to not display them. Any other work-arounds?

Posted at 3/29/2007 7:53:20 AM by David

Out of sight, out of mind. Out of mind, ready to focus

I really appreciate the description of steps for clearing off my desktop. This has been a source of distraction for me toooooo many years. As I move forward with mind mapping and improved productivity. I will be checking your blog frequently for other helpful tips!

Posted at 3/29/2007 1:41:20 PM by Cindy Crandall

Alternative to ActiveWords

I agree with keeping no shortcuts on the desktop. Sometimes people's desktops look like "Where's Waldo".

I have been using a freeware called Launchy that replaces the ActiveWords program. It has a great review on Lifehacker. { Link }

Launchy works so well, I don't even use a START button. (If I need the start menu, I use my windows key). I gain taskbar real-estate by eliminating the start button with a nice little program called Start Killer. { Link }

Posted at 3/29/2007 6:19:52 PM by Paul Garrett

Out of sight, out of mind. Out of mind, ready to focus

I can't tell you the last time I looked at the icons on my desktop. Our take is that people live in an 80/20 world...80% of the time they are doing the same stuff, using ActiveWords to do that stuff changes forever how you use your computer.

I haven't looked at Lauchy, but will, but I will be amazed if it has the power that ActiveWords has.

It it does text substitution, launches apps, navigates to websites, has a scripting language, agents, etc.....I will be impressed.

The difference between freeware and ActiveWords is $49.95...hardly something that anyone who values their time would even consider.

I would be happy to give a copy of ActiveWords to anyone who reads these posts and tells us how to make ActiveWords a better product....

Our take is that it really isn't about the cost, it is about the value of your time.

But that's my $.02 worth..


Posted at 3/29/2007 11:15:20 PM by Buzz Bruggeman

Discussion for this entry is now closed.