A Better Workspace

David Parry bio photo By David Parry

I should begin by saying this post is not for everyone, what I am about to write about is merely a matter of preference, but I will say when I started using a computer like this, it made my daily experience so much better.

My Philosophy: Since on some days, especially those not in the classroom, I can spend over eight hours at the screen, I need to make sure this experience is as pleasant as possible. I used to be one of those people that had twenty or so icons on the desktop. My thinking was I wanted everything I could possibly be working on to be easily available. You know this type of desktop, one that looks something like this:


The problem with this is I found that it does more harm than good. A desktop should be a desktop, that is it should be only the things you are working on. You wouldn’t stack everything you could possibly be working on at any moment on your real desk, why put it on you computer desk. The screen above is the equivalent of having forty pens, ten folders, three staplers, ten pictures of your family, and two cups of coffee on your desktop. Sure this might keep things handy but where are you supposed to work. (Okay I know some people have messy desks, but work with me here.) So the shift in thinking for me was to start thinking of the desktop as only for things I am curretnly working on—nothing else, no shortcuts to applications, no folders with documents, no pictures that I downloaded last week from the internet. If it is on the desktop I am either using it, or it is simply there waiting to be put somewhere else—soon. This is what my desktop looks like right now:


More on the picture later, but for now notice how there is only one thing on the desktop, an image for this post that I am using right now. I currently have no other projects, ergo nothing else on the desktop. The idea here is to make the working space “pleasant” and “inviting” not “cluttered and threatening.”

Suggestions: So here are some of my suggestions for making this happen, take them for what they are worth. Try them out and see which ones work for you.

  • Get everything off the desktop. Like I said above unless it is something you are currently working on, it needs to be somewhere else. Start thinking of your virtual desktop as a “real” desktop, only have out what you need. I file everything else away in folders. If you are not using Quicksilver, or Launchbar, put all of your shortucts you would normaly have on your desktop in one folder and get them off the desktop, or put them in the Dock on your Mac.
  • Set up your system preferences to not display your hard drive (on a Mac you can set this preference in the Finder, just select Preferences from the Finder window and under General unclick the appropriate box.
  • Change your icon size. I have my icons set really large (as you can notice from the above picture). This encourages me to keep things off my desktop. On the Mac when in Finder, from the View Menu select, Show View Options. This lets you select the default seize for icons, and also make them “snap to grid” which will keep things always nice and ordered.
  • Get a nice desktop picture, and change it every once in a while. A picture that is not cluttered, is fun to look at, but not distracting makes all the difference in the world. Personally I use pictures from David Lanham, you can also try PixelGirlPresents, or Deviant Art.
  • Replace Icons to make them fun. As much as I love Devon I find the icon to be somewhat lacking. So I replaced it with a brain in a jar, alah Metroid or Sci-fi movie. You can find icons to suit your needs at the Icon Factory. There is a lot of free stuff, Mac and PC, here as long as you don’t have commericial needs.
  • Go full screen. Many applications have full screen mode which allows you to focus on the task at hand.
  • You can go totally minimalist, check out this video of Merlin Man. While the software he outlines is for the Mac, his general ideas will work on any platform.

Most people probably don’t want to go as extreme as Merlin, but making your workspace inviting will really change your daily experience, especially for those long days of dissertation/manuscript writing, and research.