Computer ArtsFeature

Tidy desk, tidy mind

A cluttered desktop can be a real distraction from your work. Jason Arber helps you restore a sense of calm.

A cluttered desktop is a distraction and, with that in mind, I've spent the last dozen years or so trying to find the perfect marriage between functionality and a Zen-like tranquillity. It's a tough battle and requires discipline befitting a martial artist. Too many times to mention, I've blinked only to discover that my desktop is littered with hundreds of orphaned files, begging for a permanent home. The desktop is such a handy place to drop stuff and reasoning that I'll sort it out later is fair enough. The trouble is, I never do.

In theory, on the Mac at least, it should be just as simple to save files to my Documents or Movies folders, but I guess my fingers automatically press the desktop shortcut (Command-D) faster than my brain can figure out the correct location for my latest movie or logo design. The desktop is the comfort blanket of saving locations.

I had some limited success adding job-specific locations to the Finder window sidebars. It's as idiot-proof as dragging the desired folder into the sidebar to create a handy shortcut. And when you no longer need the shortcut, you can drag it out of the window with a satisfying poof! The main advantage is that the link can then be accessed by the default Apple Save or Save As... screen. Genius. And yet, the moment my back is turned, files seem to creep onto the desktop like some weird document-based disease. Downloaded files, images dragged from Google searches... you name it.

Let Hazel help
I'm perhaps too fixed in my ways to change my behaviour, so I've tried sidestepping the problem by using Hazel, a wonderful little application from Noodlesoft. If, like me, you have a habit of saving files to the desktop, Hazel will spot them and put them in the right place. The only effort required on your part is to create rules, rather like most email applications, so that it automatically organises files as you wish. However, Hazel is so much more than just a filing app. It can also empty your trash after a specified amount of time, clean up stray files from deleted applications and more. It's a godsend to lazy types like me.

However, even with all these fancy apps helping me out, sometimes you have to grab the bull by the horns by scooping up the hundreds of files cluttering your desktop and putting them in a folder on the desktop called 'Stuff to sort out'. As a solution, it's right up there with chocolate fire guards and typing with mittens, but I feel a wave of calm wash over me when I can see my desktop wallpaper once again.

But all that empty space is just begging to be used. I've recently become addicted to Ta-da List from 37signals and wanted a way of incorporating the cool web-based to-do lists into my desktop. The most flexible solution I've discovered so far is by using WebDesktop 2.5 by Steven Frank, which enables me to add any web page to a chrome-less browser window, which can then be 'fixed' to the desktop with any amount of transparency. It's probably no coincidence that the first item on my Ta-da list is 'Tidy up desktop'.

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