I’ve always been known as the messy kid, so it’s no surprise that zillions of random files and folders often litter my desktop. Every time I clear my desktop, it gets congested again a few days later, each icon reminding me how much I suck at organizing. What I lack is a system.
After reading David Allen’s book, Getting Things Done, I’ve finally found a system for organization that’s both logical and fun. The book doesn’t give detailed information on how to organize files on the computer, but I’ve adapted his ideas into a system that’s kept my computer desktop pristine. Here’s how I did it:
Setup: Five folders for everything
These folders will contain all of your documents. Once you’ve implemented the system, nothing should touch your desktop again. Create them in your “Documents” folder on the Mac, or your “My Documents” folder on a PC. They’re numbered so that when you arrange the folders by name, they remain in order:
Put unprocessed items that don’t have a place yet in here. This may be items like software installers you’ve downloaded, files sent to you from colleagues, and random text clippings. I numbered this “0” to reinforce the idea of it being a temporary folder. This folder must be emptied everyday, at the end of the day.
Put items requiring an action that takes more than 2 minutes in here. This may be items such as forms to fill out, large applications to install and setup, and files to upload.
Put items you aren’t yet ready to do or complete in here. These may be articles you’re thinking of reading, sketches for potential projects, and information about classes you’re thinking about taking.
“3. Current Projects”
Put files related to active projects in here. This folder contains files you’re currently working on as well as reference files for a project. Each project gets it’s own unique folder. For client projects, I organized each project folder with subfolders that map to phases shown on the project schedule. Once the entire project is complete, move it into “4. Archive”
Put completed projects, general reference items, and anything else you might want to look at again in here. I have aliases of Mac OS X’s “Music”, “Pictures”, and “Movies” folders in here. I also have an “Archived Projects” folder in here to hold completed projects.
After you’ve created the five folders above, make aliases or shortcuts to them on your desktop. On my Mac, I’ve applied a green Finder label to each folder so they stand out from mounted volumes such as DVDs and hard drives.
Usage: Process, Organize, Review
You’re now all set and ready to clean your desktop. The steps below are adapted from David Allen’s GTD system:
Put all files and folders (except the five you’ve just created) on your desktop into the “0. Inbox” folder. Other scattered items may be floating around in your “Documents” folder and on your hard drive in random places. Find these, and put these in the “0. Inbox” folder also. Now open up this folder and process them one at a time. Start by asking yoursefl: can I act on this file? If yes:
- Do it.
If it takes less than two minutes, just do it.
- Delegate it.
If you’re not the right person to do it, then send it to someone who can.
- Defer it. If it takes more than two minutes to do, but it in “2. Actions.” Or if it’s project-related, put it in “3. Current Projects.”
- Do it.
If the file has no immediate action for you to do, you can:
- Trash it, if you don’t need it
- Put it in “2. Incubate,” if you’re not ready to deal with it
- Put it in “4. Archive,” as a reference for later
The most important part of the system is setting up reviews for you to process your inbox and organize your files:
Process your “0. Inbox” as often as you like throughout the day, but do it at least twice a day: once around noon and again at day’s end. You must empty it at the end of the day, so that your inbox is nice and fresh in the morning.
At the end of the week, move completed projects in “3. Current Projects” into “4. Archive.” Go through your “2. Incubate” folder and decide if you’re ready to act on any of the files, following the steps you would to process your “0. Inbox.” This is the time to delete or archive anything you thought you might do, but for some reason decided not to do. If you’re still waiting for information from someone to act on a file, remind the person.
At the end of the month, go through your “5. Archive” folder and prune any files you don’t think you’ll ever need again. Backup your archive to DVD or external hard drive. I’ve had computers and hard drives die on me several times, so I recommend you backup to DVDs and store them in non-scratchable place.
Your desktop should now be clutter-free, saving you from the visual onslaught of icons and preserving your sanity. Because each icon on the desktop takes up some bit of RAM, you might also notice your computer running faster.
If you have Quicksilver (which you should) you can quickly access your five folders by bringing up the Quicksilver window, and typing the numbers “0” to “5.”
Set your web browsers, FTP, and other sharing applications to download files to “0. Inbox” instead of the desktop.
Mac OS X Finder window sidebar
For quick access, make shortcuts of the five folders by dragging them into the sidebar.
Have a better way to keep a desktop clean? Please share in the comments!