How Desktop Clutter Is Killing Your Productivity and How to Address it

I hate clutter. I hate it. I pride myself on being super organized and yet this morning as I switched on my laptop, I was struck by this monstrosity!

A cluttered computer desktop | Productivity | Organization | Mom Chakra

Now, to some of you, this may seem like a normal “working” desktop. I salute you! I don’t know how you find anything on this desktop without spending energy and time that could be put to better use. But you know why it bothered me? Here’s the thing: not one month ago, all I had on my desktop was the Post-it note and the three folders you see on the far right of the screen. I am obsessive about cleaning out my desktop because in the past I have spent a lot of time digging through tens of files and folders on my desktop. I don’t know why I let go in the last one month but this desktop gave me a huge jolt and I promised myself to restore sanity to my desktop.

Why Should You Address Desktop Clutter?

Think of your desktop as the entryway to your digital home. It’s the first space you will experience when you log on to your computer. How do you feel about a messy entryway in your home? I want you to feel the same way about your digital entryway. Besides, a clean desktop:

  • Allows more focus; less distraction: A no-brainer, really. The more clutter you have in your working area, in this case, your computer desktop wallpaper, the more distracted you will get. Clutter takes away your focus from the important things.
  • Saves time; increases productivity*: The more items you have on your desktop, the more difficult it will be to find a file. Conversely, if you keep your desktop organized and clutter-free, you will save time you would otherwise lose.

*Have you read my earlier posts on how to slay your To-Do list and be more productive when you work from home?

How to Reduce Desktop Clutter?

Desktop Clutter Pin MOM CHAKRA

So, then, assuming your desktop situation needs help, what should you do to salvage the situation? I have listed my step-by-step instructions to guide you through my recommended process.

1. Use a minimal and inspirational Desktop Wallpaper

Okay, first things first! An overcrowded backdrop adds to the distraction. So ensure your desktop wallpaper is minimal. Second, I recommend using a wallpaper that has more dark tones in it–dark because typically icon labels use a light font. Here’s an example: imagine you need to look for a particular PDF file on your desktop and you have more than three PDF files (often plenty more!). You will rely on the label to search for the correct file. But if you use a light colored wallpaper, chances are the icon labels will become difficult to read, consequently using up your precious time. So, go dark! Now, it’s up to you whether you want the wallpaper to be just a solid color or a photo. If you are going for a photo, make sure again it is minimal and you like looking at it for inspiration. It could be a photo of your current personal goal (mine is, running) or it could be a photo of a quote you live by…the choices are up to you.

2. Create a holding area

After your wallpaper is sorted, create a new folder on your desktop and name it Holding Folder…or whatever you want.

3. Move all items to the holding area

Next, select all items on your desktop (except the holding folder and Trash), and move all items from the desktop into the holding folder. You now have a clean slate to work with.

4. Create a folder structure

Don’t overthink this at this time. At a very high level, I recommend creating five base folders. Once you have these five base folders, you will create subfolders inside them depending on the type of content you have.

  • Multimedia: To store photos, audio, and video files. You will create subfolders, categorize each file into the
  • Applications and Programs: To store all available applications and programs on your computer.
  • Personal + Home: To store files related to your personal space (such as goal sheets, bank statements, eBooks, etc.), as well as files related to running the household (such as a meal planner, schedule sheets, recipes, contacts, etc.)
  • Work (if applicable): To store work files. Again, create subfolders that cater to your personal work requirements.
  • Downloads: The default location to store all your downloaded files. You will categorize these later according to their type into the other appropriate folder(s). Please remember the above structure is my recommendation. You don’t HAVE TO use it. Take what works and customize it according to your own requirements, or change it completely while taking in the gist.

5. Review

At this time, your desktop will have about six folders (1 holding area and 5 base folders). Now, open the holding folder and review each file…consider it a reconnaissance…get a sense of what you are dealing with.

6. Group and Organize

As you are going through each file, move it to a folder where it best belongs. For example, a music file belongs to the Multimedia folder; a recipe belongs to the Personal + Home folder, etc. Again, go as deep as you are comfortable with while creating the folder structure. Personally, I would recommend not going more than two levels down and here’s why–when you become obsessed with perfection, you spend more time thinking and creating folders than actually doing the job at hand, which is to remove the clutter.

7. Eliminate

For files that do not belong to any category or is of no use (such as a temporary working document you created last year; or your bank statement from five years ago)….DELETE. This step is only going to work out if you are honest with yourself. Don’t try to hold on to files that have served their purpose already and are no longer needed. LET THEM GO!

My friend, say hello to your clean desktop work area!

Uncluttered computer desktop | Productivity | Organization | Mom Chakra

Much better! I feel I can now breathe freely again.

How to Maintain a Clutter-free Desktop?

When it comes to desktop clutter, one-time cleanup is not going to cut it. You need to be consistent in your approach and come up with a regular maintenance plan. The secret to a clean home is regular housekeeping. So, here is what I suggest:

  • Eliminate the unnecessary files every night/week: Ideally at the end of each day, but definitely once every week, review the files on your desktop and move them to their rightful category folder.
  • Create backups on external hard disk and the cloud regularly: When you have worked on your computer for while, files start to slow down the computer. It’s frustrating to click a file and spend the next two minutes waiting for the file to open. Occasionally, your computer will also freeze up. But nothing tops the fact that even in today’s technology-driven world, computers crash! Where would that leave you? All your data erased at the blink of an eye? So, if you are not doing this already, please start creating backups on external hard disks and/or cloud services. Now, these disks and services are not exactly cheap. So, if you want a bang for your buck, ensure you are backing up only the files that are super important. Let that be your guideline for what stays and what should be trashed during the next cleanup process.
  • Create multiple desktops (optional): I am unsure about MacBooks, but Windows 10+ operating system allows the user to create multiple desktops–so, you could have one desktop only for your work-related tasks and files; another for your personal data. Consider leveraging this feature to not only have a clean desktop but also to segregate your major work areas.
  • Use the Start Menu (Windows users) and/or the Taskbar to access applications: Instead of keeping the application and program shortcuts on the desktop, move them to the Start Menu or pin them to the Taskbar at the bottom. You could also use the Search function to pull up the required applications and/or programs.

Desktop Clutter Pin MOM CHAKRA

How about you? What’s your desktop situation? Will you evaluate your desktop wallpaper situation? If it’s already under control–KUDOS! Share some your tips with others in the comment section.