If you really want to get down to business and get things done, you need to create an environment conducive to productivity. I do it by eliminating everything that might distract me from accomplishing what I want.
The goal of creating a minimalist desktop is to eliminate the distractions and focus on just the tools that you need to actually get things done. Today we’ll take a look at how you can set up your PC to focus on the tools that get things done.
Clear Off Your Desktop
The first thing you need to do is get rid of all that clutter on your desktop. The easiest way to do so is by simply right-clicking on the desktop and un-checking Show Desktop Icons.
Looking at a nice clean desktop is great, but you’ll still see all the files in open and save dialogs, or while you’re browsing around your computer. You should make a point of cleaning up your system of all the junk files you don’t need; if you aren’t sure, you can always put them into a single archive folder elsewhere on your PC. We like using tools like our own Belvedere to automate your PC maintenance and keep your system clean.
One additional trick I like to do is hide any files or folders that I don’t ever need to use, which is especially helpful in modern versions of Windows that won’t let you delete many of the folders in your Users folder—instead you can simply hide them via the Properties dialog.
Auto-Hide Your Taskbar or Dock
Now that your desktop is nice and clean, the biggest distraction is staring you right in the face: the taskbar or dock with all your open apps. If you find yourself switching to your email inbox dozens of times while you are supposed to be working on something else because you can’t resist clicking on your email’s taskbar item, it’s probably time to hide your taskbar. In Windows, it’s easy to do from the Taskbar properties screen (right-click taskbar -> Properties), and on your Mac you can set your Dock to Hide in the preferences. If you’re using a third-party dock, the setting is probably in the options panel somewhere.
If you’re rocking multiple monitors, an additional trick that I use is setting your primary screen as the “Extended” one in the display setup, which puts the taskbar on a different window so you won’t accidentally trigger it, and it takes more effort to check it. This even helps if you don’t auto-hide the taskbar, just to get the taskbar out of your immediate field of vision.
Get Rid of Unnecessary Notifications
Hiding the taskbar doesn’t help enough if all of your applications are popping up all the time trying to get your attention. Windows 7 has a new Action Center that lets you fine-tune the notifications, including allowing tray icons or popup notifications on a per-application basis, but for XP or Vista you can always take the route of disabling all notification balloons entirely.
Of course, not all applications use the native Windows notifications, but they usually allow you to tweak the notification levels in their preferences. One of the biggest offenders for wasting your time are the desktop email notifications for Microsoft Outlook, but those can be easily disabled or tweaked.
Use the Keyboard to Launch Applications and Automate Tasks
Rather than using gaudy application-launching docks that overload your system with icon clutter, it’s much simpler to use the keyboard to launch applications with a few keystrokes. There’s loads of great application launchers to choose from, like Launchy for Windows, Quicksilver for Macs, or Gnome-Do for Linux, but if you’re using Windows 7 you may need to go no further than the built-in Start menu search engine.
You can take it a step further by using AutoHotkey to turn any action into a keyboard shortcut, like launching your email client, opening your home page, or sending keystrokes to an application. Text-replacement applications like Texter save you time by automating tasks like inserting your signature or formatting a URL, and once you get used to using them, you will be sold on the benefits.
Switch Contexts by Killing Tasks Quickly
If you really need to get something done, it’s usually a good idea to close down your web browsers, instant messaging client, Twitter distractions, or even your email application. Rather than manually closing them all down, it’s much easier to create an AutoHotkey script or a batch file to kill them all at once.
You can use the taskkill utility to instantly close down an application, even from an AutoHotkey script. Just create a new script similar to the following, which will instantly close Chrome, TweetDeck, and Internet Explorer when you press the Win+F12 shortcut key. Savvy AHK users will note that you can also use the WinKill function instead, or if you don’t want to kill the applications and would rather simulate clicking the close button, you can use the WinClose function.
Run, taskkill /f /im chrome.exe
Run, taskkill /f /im tweetdeck.exe
Run, taskkill /f /im iexplore.exe
You probably won’t want to kill an application that doesn’t automatically save your files, but all modern browsers have session saving and crash recovery features, so even if you kill the browser, all your tabs should show up the next time you open it.
Keep Everything Online in Dropbox
Not only is Dropbox an excellent way to backup your files, sync them across multiple PCs, or access them from anywhere—it’s also a good way to force yourself to keep everything important in one place, making the PC you are sitting at a less important component to your ability to actually get things done.
You can take it a step further and install portable versions of your applications into your Dropbox folder. This way you can access the same utilities from every PC you’re on, keeping everything nice and organized and in a single place.
So what about you? What tools and techniques do you use to minimize desktop distraction and actually get things done? Let’s hear it in the comments.
The How-To Geek focuses on using his PC to actually get things done. His geeky posts can be found daily here on Lifehacker, How-To Geek, Productive Geek, and Twitter.
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