desktopOver the course of my Apple “career” I’ve gone back and forth between two philosophies of desktop organization. The first was keeping my desktop completely bare, nothing present, not even hard drive icons, the second, a little bit of clutter. I’ve never settled on either of the two philosophies entirely, but seemed to have come to the realization that a mishmash of the two seems to work the best for me.

Here’s some thoughts from both sides of the argument, and how they’ve affected my work flow.

The Case for a clutterless desktop

A state of zen seems to be the common sought after goal when it comes to keeping your desktop clean of clutter. There’s a lot of research that’s been done on the amount of clutter in a workspace, and the level of anxiety and stress that seem to be a direct result of that type of setup.

It’s a lot easier to focus on your work when you’re not focusing at the disjointed work environment that you’re emerged into on your desktop. Given the added benefits of spotlight, and the power that the search has on finding, as well as classifying your documents for you, there’s a highly likely possibility that you would never need to have anything on your desktop ever again. Heck you could almost completely do away with a hierarchical filesystem altogether, instead, you’d rely on boolean search to find what you’re looking for. If spotlight had an automated tagging system built in, you’d be able to pinpoint your files with deadly accuracy. Folders would be dead forever.

The Dock could be put to rest, as the only option you’d ever need is the Command+Spacebar key combination to open your spotlight search dialog. There’s something liberating about never having to spend time organizing your files, and instead having a system find what you need because it knows what your files are, instead of relying on you to remember where you put your files.

The technology isn’t at a level where it’s one hundred percent fault free, but we’re heading down that road, and I’ll gladly adopt the “philosophy” once I’m confident that my search result will always find what I’m looking for.

The Case for a cluttered desktop

I should probably point out that I don’t mean the type of clutter you think I might mean. I cringe when I see hundreds of documents adorning someone’s desktop. There’s nothing beneficial about that approach, and I’m certainly not advocating that type of system. Conversely, I think there is something beneficial about using your desktop as a staging area for the work you’re currently emerged in. I tend to keep my design files, project scope sheets, and other in progress files on my desktop. Doing this lets me really unleash the power of expose, as well as some of the other awesome technology Apple has built into the Finder.

I’m a bit weird though, recently I’ve decided to max out the icon size of the documents on my desktop. I usually get made fun of for that, but once I reveal the power of this particular setup, some people quickly renege on their previous comments. The file preview of any particular filetype, while the icon is fully maximized, gives me quicklook without ever having to really use quicklook at all. I get a full, in depth preview of the documents that I’m working on. I can thumb through a pdf file without ever having to open it, I can watch a video clip without every having to open it, I can see a graphical representation of a document without ever having to open it.

Think I’m crazy? Try it out. Put a multiple page PDF on the desktop, a movie file, and a pages document, then mouse over the file on your desktop. You should see some buttons magically reveal themselves in a couple of seconds. This has increased my productivity immensely, and it’s helped me keep my workflow organized.

I’ve tried going back, but at this point I find it far to beneficial to keep my icons huge. You should give it a try.

Are you a minimalist, a messyist, or a mishmash of the two?  Let us know how you cope with the desktop clutter in the comments.

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