Spring Clean Your Digital Life: How to Declutter Your Desktop and Boost Your Productivity

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Written By Chris

Just a simple "data guy". Changing the world one formula at a time.

Happy Monday, everyone! It’s a beautiful sunny and 64 degrees, a day after Easter. The cold frost of winter is finally behind us. With the start of a new week (and my first article), why don’t we start with a bit of spring cleaning?

One of my biggest pet peeves is a cluttered desktop. Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as guilty as some coworkers who treat their desktops like a downloads folder. The difference is that the chaos eventually becomes too much, and by lunchtime on hump day, all my toys are put away.

Can you say the same? Or you may like your clutter and see it more as an organized mess. Regardless of where you stand on it, I’ve got some fresh ideas to take control of your desktop. Or, at the very least, dust off the mothballs, as it were.

So, get ready to take some notes. Or follow along, and we can get this done together.

Why Organizing Your Desktop is Important

why organizing your desktop is important

Let’s state the obvious. A cluttered desktop doesn’t look good. But other than serving as an incredible eye soar and giving coworkers the impression that you’re disorganized, your productivity slows down more than you realize.

Constantly clicking on icons until you find the right one is unnecessary, at best. And storing time-sensitive documents on your local drive instead of a shared file system for others to access can quickly lead to delays and organizational failures.

When done purposefully, an organized desktop can help you feel more in control of your digital life. It’s a small step you can take to simplify your daily routine and reduce stress. Plus, it can help you avoid accidentally deleting those critical files or losing track of essential documents.

Simply put, taking the time to organize your desktop is an easy way to make your workday more efficient. By following a few simple steps and making it a habit, you can enjoy a clutter-free desktop and all the benefits that come with it.

How Do I Declutter My Desktop?

Like any successful spring cleaning, it all starts with taking out the trash. And that’s precisely what you need to do first. 

Delete all the unwanted files and folders

Delete, Delete, Delete

You can scan through your documents and shortcuts one by one from your desktop or run down the list from a File Explorer window. Personally, I prefer File Explorer so I can stretch out the file name completely, but that’s just me. 

The goal here is to delete the items you know are trash. It could be a template you thought you needed but didn’t. Or it could be a copy of a savings analysis from last quarter that you completely forgot about. These quick wins don’t require any further effort or thought.

Whatever it is you find, make use of that recycling bin.

For those less comfortable with general computer maintenance, you can delete one item at a time by right-clicking the mouse as you hover over the file and selecting delete.

right-click and delete for a single file

The faster way to do this is to click one item set for deletion, hold down the CTRL button on your keyboard, and select every other junk file with your left mouse button. When finished, you can let go of CTRL and hit the delete button on your keyboard. Or follow the previous step of right-clicking a single item and selecting delete.

It’s the same process in File Explorer. But you can also hit the delete icon on the ribbon after selecting your items.

Pro Tip: If you have one of the selected files currently open, you can only delete it once it's been closed. You can also unselect a file while holding down CTRL and clicking it again if it was accidentally grouped.
delete multiple files in file explorer

If you want to delete all files or several listed in a row in File Explorer, you can use SHIFT instead of CTRL. But rather than selecting each file, click the first file, hold down SHIFT, and select the last file you want. All items in between your selections will be grouped together.

Hopefully, this first step has cleared out most of the mess, but don’t be surprised if there’s still a lot to sift through.

Hide Unused Icons

Hiding icons is a great way to eliminate files, folders, and apps without a home. You may want to hide icons on your desktop that were put there by your organization admin that serve you no purpose. 

These icons could be shortcuts to communications systems, incident reporting, or any industry-specific tools that come standard with your PC. Most likely, you can’t delete them for permission-related reasons. But you can hide them!

If you want to hide all your icons, right-click on the desktop background, go to View, and uncheck ‘show desktop icons.’ Be aware that this hides all of the icons. You can unhide them by repeating the steps to reapply the option.

hide unused icons

If there’s a specific desktop icon you want to hide, right-click the icon and select properties. Under the General tab, check the’ Hidden’ attribute and apply the change.

Hiding a specific icon may require admin permissions depending on the organization’s settings.

For Mac users, the easiest way to hide icons is to navigate to Finder on the toolbar and select preferences. Under the General tab, you’ll see a list of options under ‘Show these items on the desktop.’ Check off the group of icons you don’t want displayed and close the field to confirm the changes.

Pro Tip: You can also change the size of your icons instead of hiding them. Right-click the desktop, and under View, select the icon size you wish to display. Making them smaller is an alternative method to outright removal.

Organize Files into Folders

Now it’s time to make an impact with some real changes. Up until this point, we targeted those quick hits. But now you’re going to have to get your hands dirty.

This may require digging into each file to remind yourself of its purpose and importance. And to make sure this doesn’t happen again, here’s a tip you should develop a habit for.

develop a habit for organization

The best way to organize the files on your desktop before storing them away is to devise a new naming convention. This means giving your files descriptive names that tell you what they are. 

For example, instead of naming a file “Book1 or “Jon’s Project,” you could call it “Budget Spreadsheet 2023 – Finance Department.” This way, when you need to find it later, you’ll know exactly what it is. And please fix those file names that start with ‘Copy of copy of copy of.’ 

It’s as easy as shortening the name to the original title and adding the last modified date to the end. That’s just one suggestion. The goal is to find some order and name your documents so they don’t become a complete mystery.

After renaming the files, you’ll have to find a home for them. Don’t rush this part. The better thought out this is, the more efficient future filing will be.

Use the existing file structure as storage folders already exist for documents, pictures, and downloads. Create sub-folders for different projects, intended use, or even people, so finding them later leaves little to the imagination.

To create a new folder on the desktop or within an existing folder, right-click and select New. Then select Folder. If doing this inside File Explorer, you just need to click the ribbon icon for New Folder.

create a new folder for organization

A new folder will appear, and you’ll be prompted to select a name for it. After changing the default name, you can hit enter, tab, or click outside the text section to lock it in.

The great thing about this is you can be as detailed as you want. Or you can fall back on your old habits and leave your files in a whole new chaos. But hidden chaos is better than right out in the open.

Lastly, take it an extra step and sort your files and folders. Doing so will save you time when looking for your data again. It’s pretty common to sort your files and folders by alphabetical order, but ascending for numeric names or by last modified date also has its uses.

And if you really want to get funky, select more under sort options, and you’ll find an extensive list of fields to choose from.

sort your files and folders

Use Desktop Organizing Software

Suppose you’re the kind of person who likes someone to work with you through the process while you make high-level decisions. In that case, you can install desktop organizing software if your admin allows it.

The most popular desktop organizer tool right now is called Fences. If you’re a Mac user, Fences isn’t available. Instead, most Apple users suggest iCollections.

Fences and iCollections are designed to help users keep their desktops organized and clutter-free, making finding and accessing the necessary files and programs more effortless.

For my Windows friends, Fences was developed by Stardock. It allows users to create customizable grids or fences to group and organize icons and files on their desktops. Fences can be resized, moved, and modified with different colors and labels. 

You can also create rules to automatically sort icons into specific fences based on file type or other criteria. And when you don’t need the items stored by Fences, you can quickly hide these grids for a clean look.

The only downside is you have to pay for it. The first 30 days are free, but you must buy a license afterward. Granted, a single activation costs just $19.99, so it’s not outrageous. 

fences will cost money

While I like the functionality of Fences, filing everything away in subfolders is easy enough for me. 

Tips and Tricks for a Cluttered Desktop

Everything I’ve shown you will keep your desktop looking professional and efficient. You’ve come a long way, for sure. But why not keep this spring cleaning session going? While those are the big hitters, I have a few more tricks to keep your machine focused on the task at hand.

Schedule Regular Cleanups

You just went through all this work. Some of you may have been at it all morning. That’s why it should give you enough incentive to make sure your desktop never gets too cluttered again, right?

The best way to prevent a messy desktop is to set aside consistent time to straighten it up instead of waiting until next spring.

set a reminder on your calendar for regular cleaning

Set a reminder on your calendar to do this once a week or once a month, depending on how often you use your computer. During your cleanup, delete any files or shortcuts that you no longer need. You can also move files to folders on your desktop or your documents folder to keep everything organized.

Eventually, it’ll all become second nature, and you’ll stop treating your desktop like the downloads folder.

Use Shortcuts

Another way to keep your desktop organized is to use shortcuts. Shortcuts are links to files or folders that you use frequently. For users who have a hard time moving some files out of sight, this is for you.

Instead of cluttering up your desktop with the actual files, you can just have shortcuts to them. To create a shortcut, right-click on the file or folder and select “Create shortcut.” Then, drag the shortcut to your desktop. 

create a shortcut

This way, you can easily access the file or folder without searching for it. Just double-click the shortcut icon and get what you need while it’s stored elsewhere. Although, this is generally more useful when it’s a folder of several files you always need access to. You can certainly set up a shortcut to a specific file, but it’s doing little to clean up your workspace.

Taking Back Your Start Menu

Finally, consider revamping your start menu if you want to go the extra mile. For the heck of it, let’s include the taskbar too. While these areas are less exposed than your desktop, they often come preloaded with a lot of junk. And there’s no reason you shouldn’t manipulate them to better suit your needs.

So here are five ways to make the most of your peripheral space.

1. Pin Frequently Used Items

Let’s go back to your shortcuts. Your taskbar or start menu are perfect places to store the apps and folders you’re always coming back to. They’re easily accessed, and using them will keep the minimalistic feel of your post-spring cleaning intact. To pin a folder or shortcut, right-click on it and choose either ‘pin to taskbar’ or ‘pin to Start.’

2. Delete Unused Apps

If there are apps on your Start menu that you don’t use, you can remove them by right-clicking on the app and selecting “Unpin from Start” or “Uninstall.” 

uninstall or unpin apps in start menu

Feel free to go crazy unpinning. There’s a lot of stuff here you won’t ever need. And unpinning an application doesn’t delete it completely. It just removes it from your Start menu.

3. Group Your Apps Into Categories

You can organize your apps into categories by creating groups on the Start menu. To do this, simply drag and drop an app onto another app to create a group. You can then rename the group and add more apps to it.

This is incredibly helpful when several applications are used for a specific project. You can also split up your apps based on how they’re classified. For example, you might create a personal, entertainment, or productivity category. I’ve even seen instances where the categories were created based on priority.

4. To Search or Not to Search

Some like it, and some don’t. But that search bar idling next to your Start button is a choice, not a requirement. I don’t mind it, but you can make its presence less bulky.

To do this, right-click on the search field or anywhere on the taskbar and locate the option for Search. Once highlighted, you’ll see that you can hide the search bar or change it to a search icon (magnifying glass). I like the search icon because it’s out of the way but still accessible when I do need it.

modify the windows search bar

Also, if you keep it on the search bar, you can have it remain closed unless it’s clicked on. Or leave it defaulted to open when the mouse hovers over the top of the search field.

This won’t drastically change the aesthetic of your desktop. But it’s nice to choose what you want to interact with during your 9 to 5.

5. Customize the Start Menu Layout

Windows 10 allows you to customize the Start menu layout by resizing the tiles, changing the color scheme, and selecting different backgrounds. You can also turn off the live news feeds so distractions aren’t always stealing your attention.

Usually, you’ll find the Start menu sorted in alphabetical order. Adjusting the settings will allow the creation of alternate views. You can list apps sorted by recently added, most used, and other practical modifications.

To customize the Start menu, right-click on the Windows icon in the left-hand corner of your screen and select Settings, then Personalization, then Start.

customize the start menu settings

Before you call it a day, don’t neglect the rest of the Personalization settings. Take a minute to play around and make your PC feel more suited to your personality. 

Who knows, it might encourage you to keep that standing cleaning appointment on your calendar.

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