Improve productivity by Tailoring your Desktop 1/3

For a large number of people the majority of their work is done in front of a computer.  Yet it surprises me how many people have a default desktop layout and have put very little thought into tailoring it to suit their needs.  I think you are missing out on a lot of potential gains by not doing this.  Now the desktop for me goes beyond just what you see on your screen.  The directory structure you use for storing files and also your physical desk layout play a part in how you will use your computer and are all important.  Over the next 3 posts I will focus on each of these and how you can make your life more pleasant and productive.

This post is going to focus on the desktop and how you can improve it.  I will try and talk in a generic sense so that whether you are a Windows,  OSX or Linux user you can still apply these ideas.  You should consider the ideas and not take them as hard and fast rules.  The overall idea is to make the desktop fade into the background and do it’s task while attracting as little attention as possible.  The way you use your computer may lend itself to a different layout.

Clean up the shortcuts on your desktop. I think this is a silly place to put things.  Most of the time you don’t actually see your desktop as you have applications open.  You have to waste time/ effort moving/ minimising windows in order to access items that are on the desktop.

Consider the location of your taskbar. By default it is on the bottom of just about every desktop environment I have seen.  For  a lot of people however this is not an ideal location.  The type of work most people are doing involves information laid out in a vertical format.  Putting your taskbar on the side can increase the vertical area you have to work with,  especially with the popular widescreens of today.  Another advantage,  in particular,  if you often have numerous windows open is that they run more efficiently down the side of the screen than along the bottom.  Finally it tends to place your ‘Start’ menu and quick launch icons a the top of your screen.  If you think about it your mouse spends most of it’s time in the top 1/2 of your screen.  That is where your menu’s are etc.  So why should you mouse all the way down to the bottom to access applications and files and then back again.  It might not seem like much effort but it all adds up.

Tailor your quicklaunch bar. Seems obvious but it’s surprising how many people don’t.  You should put 4 or 5 of your most used applications here.  No more.  You want to keep it clean and simple.  OSX misses out here but arguably has a better option.  ‘Apple’ + ‘Space’ start typing your app, ‘Enter’,  once you get the hang of it, it’s  an easy and quick way to access virtually any app.

Organise your ‘Start’ menu. The default for Windows is horrible.  Some applications are put at the top level.  Most are in the ‘Programs’ menu.  Some at the top level here,  most in a folder named after the developer etc.  No consistency and no logical layout.  Linux is much better in that they organise their apps by category.  It’s much easier to find particular apps and way more logical.  OSX only had a flat level for the Dock until recently but with Stacks you can create a similar layout.  I would suggest the Linux layout if you are on Windows.  Or even better create folders for different tasks you perform and group applications that way.

Integrate files. Many of us have files that we regularly open.  I’ve watched a lot of people access these by opening the application first then opening the file from within.  Or finding the file in the filesystem then opening it.  Or putting a link to it on their desktop.  All of these I dislike.  Why not consider putting the link to the file in your ‘Start’ menu or quick launch area.

Autolaunch applications. If you have applications that you always have open,  such as email client,  music player and browser,  then why not consider having them automatically launch on login.  This will save you time when you first login and also allow you to put shortcuts for these apps out of the way so they don’t get in the way of opening other apps.

Adjust your mouse speed. The default mouse/ trackpad speed tends to be rather slow,  especially as our screens are getting larger.  You can make your computer use more enjoyable by speeding your mouse cursor speed up a little (or a lot depending).

Change your desktop background/ wallpaper. This might seem trivial but it can make a difference.  Changing your background to something that you enjoy will help make you feel happier and more relaxed whenever you see it.  You may even want to change it regularly.

There are many more things you can do but this will get you started.  If you have any other ideas or comments feel free to leave them here as comments.  My next post will look at your physical desk layout.

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