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. 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.