Tools for Thought

Thinking beyond productivity

Increase Focus with an Uncluttered Desktop

by Andre · 2 Comments


One small but non-trivial way to cultivate a clear mind when working at a computer is to cultivate a clear desktop. Deleting a program icon from the desktop doesn’t delete the program itself, with rare exceptions. A Windows dialog prompting you to proceed with icon deletion will confirm this prior to execution. If you’ve installed the actual program itself directly on the desktop, moving it to Program Files or some other folder that’s out of your face will create one less distraction.

The screenshot above is my working desktop. The only folder I’ll place on it is the one for the current project in progress. For instance, for this blog post, I have a folder with the post title. Within the folder I have the text file and the image file for the post. The desktop frames the sole object of my focus. When I’m fininshed with it, I’ll hit Windows-E and drag the project folder into Documents.

When I first boot the computer, I either mentally identify the very next action I’m going to take once the boot cycle is finished, or decide to open the Palm Desktop to view my calendar and @Computer list if the next action doesn’t immediately come to mind. I have my main tools, the Palm Desktop, and Q10, assigned to hotkeys: Ctrl-Alt-D for the Palm Desktop, Ctrl-Alt-P for and Ctrl-Alt-Q for Q10.

To assign hotkeys for applications on the Start Menu, right-click the app in the menu, select Properties, tab to the Shortcut Key field, enter the letter you want to use to launch the app, then click OK. From then on, you can launch with app without navigating to the it on the Start menu; just hit the designated letter in conjunction with Ctrl-Alt. Unfortunately, Firefox needs its icon to be on the desktop to accept a shortcut assignmnent. Since I wanted nothing on the desktop except the Recycle Bin, I select it from its top position on the Start menu using Windows | <Down Arrow> | Enter.

Have a protocol for filing your downloads in designated places to keep yourself from repeatedly deliberating about where things should go — or worse, letting files fester on the desktop indefinitely. Put music files in the Music folder, documents in Documents (I keep a subfolder here for PDFs), pictures in Pictures, and so on. In short, place them where the operating system has created the appropriate buckets for them, unless you have a scheme you find more logical; if so, create it and use it. For instance, I keep an Installers subfolder in my user account folder (i.e. my profile user name). Once I download a program, I drag the install file into Installers and run the install from that folder.

Select a wallpaper that sets the mood you want to create for yourself when working, or some touchstone image that manifests the ideal lifestyle you’re working to create for yourself. You might want to rotate a selection of wallpapers over time in order to experiment with each one’s emotional impact, or just to keep things fresh.

Tags: Lifestyle Design


  • SamuelNo Gravatar // May 3, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    “Unfortunately, Firefox needs its icon to be on the desktop to accept a shortcut assignmnent. ”
    That´s true for the “main” shortcut, that appears in the Start menu.
    Luckily, there’s a second shortcut, inside Start->Programs->Mozilla Firefox that can have shortcuts assigned to.
    (I bet I made you happier with this one =D)

  • Andre KibbeNo Gravatar // May 4, 2008 at 1:09 am

    It worked, and you did make me happier. Thanks for the tip.