Desktop zero is the new inbox zero

Making sure everything is in its place on your desktop is more important than you’d think.
Making sure everything is in its place on your desktop is more important than you’d think.
Image: AP Photo/Michael Probst
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My computer desktop used to be like the inside of my purse—meant for my eyes only. But when it came time to project my screen for a presentation I was giving about personal productivity, I realized that scrambling to clean up icons wasn’t a good look.

I’m not alone in struggling with desktop hygiene. In  a recent survey of more than 650 professionals in the US that I conducted in partnership with Bynder, 30 % of working adults said they had 100 or more files on their desktop. One hundred!

Enter “desktop zero.” Similar to inbox zero, “desktop zero” is a buzzphrase being bantered around personal productivity circles.

I know what you’re thinking: That sounds like an impossible and stressful ideal! Can’t I just search for my files when I need them?

But hear me out: There are actually quite a few concrete benefits to keeping a tidy desktop. Just like physical clutter, digital clutter can be very distracting and stressful. It’s also not great for teamwork: When your files are disorganized on your desktop, you are the only person who can find them, and you’ll waste time looking.

Meanwhile, achieving desktop zero is not as difficult as it sounds.

All you need to do is make a decision about how to categorize your digital files (project name, status of completion, specific goals, and clients are some popular choices) and a commitment to put every file into its home as soon as you download it.  You don’t need complicated layers of subfolders, which will only make it hard to find things.

Once you’ve created a system, schedule regular maintenance. Consider setting aside 15 minutes at the end of every day to reset your desktop and one time per month to delete old and duplicate files.

That’s it! Now you have a clean inbox and a more productive work life.

Deb Lee is a digital business coach, certified professional organizer, speaker, and productivity consultant.