As of autumn 2009 I’ll be an official Mac user for 20 years. Through both Mac OS Classic and OS X, I’ve developed a few Mac habits, good and bad. When it comes to organizing my Mac’s desktop in OS X, I take a minimalist approach. The fewer number of windows, the better. The fewer the clicks, the better. Less is more.
Making More with Less
The Mac might be the ultimate personal computer. After all, it runs pretty much everything.
Tens of thousands of Mac OS X apps. Tens of thousands of Windows apps. Thousands of Linux apps. From OS X to Windows to Linux, what doesn’t a Mac run?
Since the Mac runs nearly everything anyone could want in a personal computer, efficient ease of use becomes the first casualty of clutter. Is there a way for Mac users to reduce desktop clutter and improve efficiency, yet maintain the personal aspects we so desire?
KISS no Windows
First, I recognize that a Mac today is a complex, complicated beast. Macs do everything for us from document creation to email management, from browsing to bookmark management, from every sort of document creation to document management.
Keeping file management simple is the only way to avoid the inevitable desktop clutter. What’s the Desktop? In the sidebar of any Finder window you’ll see a folder icon marked Desktop.
To keep the Desktop from becoming cluttered I employ two simple techniques. Whatever is on the Desktop eventually goes somewhere else before the end of the day. Second, no windows.
Some of my Mac friends have a dozen Finder windows open and still go straight to the Desktop to find files, employing a frantic, spastic, double-click that seems to touch every one of the dozens of Desktop files.
Finder as Desktop
Since the beginning of Mac OS X and column view I decided against using the Desktop alone. Instead, I focus on a single Finder window, usually in column view.
OS X Leopard can remember the view of each Sidebar folder (most of the time) and that helps with any need to vary to view. Column view lets you see what’s inside a folder quickly, easily, as well as give you visual cues to where the folder is in relation to everything else.
So, no open, visual Desktop, just the Finder in column view (mostly).
Clutter Bunny Disease
How do you keep the clutter on the Desktop at a minimum? I use two Desktop folders—one as Desktop Projects, and one as Desktop Files.
Specific Mac Projects that are in progress (meaning, I’m using it now) get placed in the Projects folder. Anything else that gets placed on the Desktop goes into the Desktop Files folder, or the Documents folder.
That way, I always know where everything is. Always.
The Downloads folder gets special treatment, and another folder called Download Files. Again, it’s only there to keep the clutter to a minimum, and lets me employ the good GTD habit of batching work, rather than the less efficient, but all to popular multi-tasking efforts.
I download plenty each day, whether app and utility updates, or new files, so rather than let them fill up the Downloads folder, I park them in the Downloads File folder until I’m ready to deal with them.
These three extra folders, Download Files, Desktop Projects, Desktop Files, also get placed in the Finder Sidebar.
Finally, every file, utility, application, image, or whatever, that doesn’t need to be in the Download Files folder, the Desktop Files folder (things I’m working on, one at a time), or the Desktop Projects folders (projects open and working on at the time), gets stored in Documents or thrown away, deleted, trashed.
It’s that simple. No clutter combined with simple organization breeds good file usage habits, reduces open windows, and lets me get more done with less time.
With the exception of Drag Thing, which I use more as a launcher than Finder, and folders in the Dock, a single Finder window makes it easy to retrieve nearly any file, within a click or two.
Did I fail to mention Spotlight, OS X’s system wide search utility? I use Spotlight sparingly, and usually when a file gets really lost, or for files that I’m sure I have but don’t remember where.
What’s your poison? Got a Mac file management routine you can’t live without? Or, can’t live with anymore?