Like most knowledge workers you probably spend more time in front of my computer than in the living room (that is if you’re not a work-from-home freelancer as I am – in this case you spend ALL of your time in front of your computer… ). Cleaning up your desktop becomes even more important than housecleaning. After all, you can hire someone to clean out the mess in your living room, but it’s you and only you who can clean, sort and organize your hard drive and computer folders.
One of the most obscure parts of the GTD-like productivity systems is the “Research” part. David Allen’s method calls it the Collect bucket – the place where you collect anything that’s of interest for your current or future projects. He even describes a physical way to do it – the “tickler file” – mostly known as the 43 Folders technique. I won’t go into further details on that, as it seems a pretty nice way to organize your physical paperwork.
But having 43 Folders just for organizing files becomes extremely complicated to use on your computer. We need something different.
I introduce you to the way I’ve recently reorganized folders on my Mac OS X MacBook, in a manner that maximizes my productivity, making my daily information collection process a simple, organized and efficient one. This kind of setup can be made on any computer’s desktop(Windows or Linux) – it’s the method that matters, not the design.
Disclaimer: in my live setup, the folder icons are smaller, so are the font sizes. I’ve made them bigger just for clarity’s sake.
Hack the Day’s desktop productivity method
- On the Desktop, put only shortcuts instead of real folders themselves.
- There are no “Real” folders on the Desktop, only shortcuts to external folders. This makes it easier to access the real folders from the command line, and keeps them safe from accidental deletion(you never know when your cat might press Delete while walking on your keyboard…).
- The Real folders are located under the /Users/username/ folder. In Windows XP I prefer them to be directly on the C: or, more frequently, D: drive (instead of subfolders of C:/Documents And Settings/username/).
- Making shortcuts to the real folders is as simple as Right-Click + select “Create Shortcut” on Windows, while in OSX it’s called “Make Alias”. In order not to append the “Alias” suffix on OSX, I used a different trick: from the Finder, I dragged the source folder onto the Desktop, while keeping the Cmd+Option keys pressed.
- Only see Folders, not Files
Our daily work combines accessing things we already have on our computer with downloading stuff from the Internet. We always download pictures, audio or video files, spreadsheets, pdfs, documents or application kits. Throwing them altogether on the desktop is against any productivity principles. Instead, you’re better off placing the things you need, download or access in folders organized by categories. (PS. The only exception is the gtwiki I set up using the MonkeyGTD tiddly wiki software; but just like the rest, it’s just a shortcut to the real file that’s to be found in the Documents folder…)
- Research/Projects Folders
You only need to have on the desktop the folders you use on a daily basis. Anything else is just clutter that needs to go away. Here’s what I use, in sync with GTD’s Research folder principles:
- Work/Job – contains the files I use in my daily work – the trunk folder for my project’s main svn branch, for instance
- Projects – the root folder of other projects I may have – future, past or current side-projects. Might contain an Archive folder with subfolders for the years before and their corresponding past projects. Very useful whenever I need to look for things I did long time ago
- Research for Work – contains documentation, bug reports, other sources, plugins and most anything else that’s related to my work project
- Research My Websites – contains wordpress templates I downloaded from the web, plugins, texts I haven’t plublished yet on my blog, etc..
- Research – any other type of pdf’s, cool pictures or temporary files I download from the web. It’s all temporary, so its contents will eventually move away to other folders or to the Trash. Also, contains a shortcut to an external Docs folder, that contains all the e-books, scientific papers, tutorials or otherwise useful documents I’ve been saving for research and study.
- Documents – the OSX Documents folder – besides CV’s, resumes, paperwork or saved email, also contains an Archive folder with past documents organized by year and project
These Daily Useful folders are marked with color codes(no particular priority, just for making them stand out from each other and the others), and kept within reach, on the right-hand of the desktop. Being a righty it’s more natural for me that important things stay on the right.
- Persistent Folders
On the left hand I added the Persistent folder group, containing the media folders (Movies, Pictures, Music), the Kit folder(with the main applications I use install disk images) and a shortcut to the Games folder(subfolder of the /Applications one) for quick stress-relief gaming sessions – hey, anyone is allowed to have a small weakness, don’t you think?
- Simple Wallpaper
Having a productivity-oriented desktop is impossible with a live-colored wallpaper image. I’m an adept of the simple way, the wallpaper that eases finding and regrouping things instead of the lively-colored one that makes it difficult finding your items. But if the simple-colored Apple default wallpapers aren’t your thing, you might be interested in this “Layered Desktop” wallpaper productivity solution from my friend Gabriel Radic.
Here they are, my 5 steps for a computer desktop layout that works FOR you instead of AGAINST you. Ever since I spent some time organizing my clutter into the above setting, I’ve gotten sensibly more productive – I always know where my stuff is, and it’s usually on or two clicks away. Still, you might have other desktop productivity methods. I’d be thrilled to publish or link to your testimonials, if you link to this article, drop in a word in the comments or simply add the “hacktheday productivity desktop” Technorati tag to your blog post.