Simplify Your Desktop for Peaceful Productivity

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This post continues our Personalize Your Windows 7 Experience series, but much of what’s in here can be applied to any PC operating system.

Lately, I’ve been upping my productivity game. I love GTD, and I’ve been pretty successful at making tech like Evernote, Springpad, and Producteev work for me, but I still find that I have a tendency to get bogged down by clutter and distraction. A cluttered desktop doesn’t support a creative or efficient mindset very well, so I spent a little time sorting hiding the clutter with a tool Evan introduced to me called Fences. That helped, but something was missing — and I had absolutely no idea what that was. I tweaked, I fiddled, and messed about with different settings, but nothing seemed ring that proverbial gong for me. Nothing, that is, until I discovered Minimal Wall.

Minimal Wall is the ultimate place to begin simplifying your desktop experience. It’s  more than just a collection of minimalist wallpapers, though. They actually help you to get set up for the optimal desktop in just a few steps. You start out by losing the clutter and icons on your desktop, and you end by choosing a very cool background, but the most intriguing thing about their set up process is the Grid Wallpaper.

Minimal Wall | Simplify Your Desktop

The Grid Wallpaper uses simple graphic design principles to help you set up your windows for a better — and uncluttered — user experience. All you do is set the Grid as your desktop background, and then align your most commonly used windows to the yellow borders. When I first did it, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I was surprised at how looking at my new desktop made me feel. It resonated with me. I was more relaxed, and I found it much easier to focus, even with several windows open at once.

After your windows are aligned, start looking at Minimal Wall’s wallpapers. I have no doubt that you’ll find them very easy on the eyes. I chose some of the Mindful Words backgrounds; nice reminders to move on to my next action, and keep focused. I even created one of my own in Photoshop — my little girl’s name –using their work as a base. It reminds me why I am sitting at the computer in the first place, and why I need to get off it again as soon as I can.

Lifehacker has a great post featuring a Minimal Wall based desktop, combined with Rainmeter, Launchy, and Rocketdock with some nice icons. Personally, I find Rainmeter to be annoying to set up and modify, so I won’t put you all through that. I did use some of the other ideas, however, such as installing Launchy (which I find I rarely use) and Rocketdock. Rocketdock, especially with the nice iconset, provides an easy to look at quick-launch that fits the theme. I won’t go to far into customizing Rocketdock here, but if you try it out and have trouble getting it to do what you want, hit me up in the comments and I’ll do my best to help you out.

So here’s the process so far:

  • I gathered all of my clutter into Fences — then I double-clicked the desktop to make the Fences hide themselves. Another double-click brings them back when you need them.
  • I used the Grid Wallpaper to line up and size my windows (and the Fences as well).
  • I selected the four wallpapers I wanted to use and put them in a folder to create a desktop slideshow (go to Control Panel, choose “Change desktop background” under Appearance and Personalization, then browse to the folder and select the images, configuring how they should change — I shuffle them every hour).
  • I installed and configured RocketDock with the new icons (add the folder of new icons into the Icons folder in Program Files (x86), then right-click on the dock and choose Icon Settings, then the icon set).

I also moved my Windows taskbar to the top of the screen and set it to auto-hide. I had originally used a tool called Taskbar Eliminator to make the taskbar vanish altogether, but I found that it was unreliable, and discovered that — since I was now rarely working in full screen — having the taskbar hidden at the top was actually quite useful for quick access to its functions.

Finally, I right clicked on the desktop and went to Personalize and saved my wallpapers as a custom theme. Doing this makes it so you can reclaim your desktop slideshow with a click, should you change it to something else and find you want it back again. To round everything out, I changed my logon screen to match the theme. Here’s how you do that:

Here’s a Few Shots of the End Result

wall-actionwall-focuswall-windowswall-windows-2wall-fences

Since adopting this new look and feel for my desktop and workflow, I’ve found that I’m more focused, productive, and generally more relaxed while I work. The basic setup took me less than a half-hour to implement, and it’s paid that time back in spades. Hell, I was so inspired that I added a customized version of the wallpapers to my iPad, too, and then hunted down and killed my next big PC distraction: keeping Gmail open in my browser while I work. If you want a little more peace and productivity while you’re sitting in front of the multi-task machine, give this a try — I sincerely hope it helps you as much as it has me!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Bobby Travis

Bobby isn't 40-something, but is a strong supporter of the Grown-up Geek kind. He's a loving husband and father first, but is also a freelance writer, productivity nut, operatically trained singer, and (not-so) closet geek. Check out his random thoughts, wackiness, and Instagram pics on Tumblr, Twitter, or Google+-- or just head over to bobby-travis.com.

24 Comments:

  1. Hi Bobby, what size of monitor do you use tho? I would have reservations about this on smaller screens no?

    • Hi Dave,

      I use a 15-inch laptop with 1280X800 resolution. The principle is still sound for smaller screens and lower resolutions, too, though it may take a bit of resizing of the wallpapers. If you are running a netbook, however, where screen space is at a premium, you may or may not want to apply this method.

  2. Bobby,

    Good article. I personally never keep anything on my desktop (because I’ve always thought it was a poor means of organization). In fact, I seldom see my desktop, so I don’t give it much thought and since there’s nothing on it, I don’t have to invest any time to organize or tweak it.

    • Thanks Randy, glad you enjoyed it! I used to do most things in full screen, but I find that I enjoy this method much more. For some reason, having the solid borders around the windows brings much more mellow to my mind.

  3. Awesome article. I resigned to the minimalist desktop approach a while back too. I find there’s much tranquil in an uncluttered desktop, and it certainly gets me in gear for real work. I use Launchy as well since I find it faster to type in the app that I want.

    Thanks for mentioning the logon changer. I’m out to do this right now. Gosh, I’m behind the times.

    • Thanks Bryann!

      I have attempted to get into Launchy several times, but find that I tend to forget about it. I also live a lot in the browser these days, so everything I need is pretty much at my fingertips anyway. I keep getting Launchy errors and crashes in any case, so it may be a while before I ever swing back around that way again.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the logon changer — it really completed the effect for me. Kind of like when you walk into a house and the first room is clean — it sets the tone for the entire house, even if there is a bit of clutter about.

  4. Very interesting post. I’ve been moving towards a minimalist desktop for some time and use Fences to contain my shortcuts but I’ve never thought of aligning them, or my open apps/windows, to a grid – I must admit it really does make a difference as does auto-hiding the Windows task bar.

    I prefer to use the keyboard rather than the mouse and have tried loads of different launchers – KeyBreeze, FARR etc and Launchy was my app of choice until I discovered Executor (http://executor.dk/) after reading a review over on Lifehacker (http://uk.lifehacker.com/400566/executor-is-impressive-full+featured-app-launcher) having used it ever since. It’s a very powerful tool and amongst other things you can set up keywords to navigate to specific directory paths. If you’re not getting on with Launchy I suggest you give it a try.

  5. Bobby, I hope you take this the right way …

    YOU are one of my biggest distractions ;-)

    I come to 40tech and purposely go to the list of all your articles, then I sit and read and read and read … and next thing I know, my entire morning is gone … but at least my head is over-flowing with great information by the end :-)

    I already use Fences too and now I’m going to arrange my tablet per this article because it does feel crowded on it’s smaller screen (versus my 22 inch desktop lcd).

    Thanks much!

  6. Hi Bobby. Tks for the nice article about Minimalwall. Always pleased to see somebody using THE GRID-Wallpaper ;-) It makes quite a difference doesnt it? But be aware… it is also highly addictive to align the windows to the grid ;-).

    • Thanks for the note, Ralph from Minimalwall! I am so onboard with this grid thing it’s ridiculous. Anything that sets off that inner gong of rightness in me has my vote for life.

      And I agree about the addictive nature, as well. I tried to get all of my major windows right off the top, but when a window opens and it doesn’t fit with the rest, there is no forward movement until that little problem is remedied!

  7. I just tried to set up my desktop – and i totally agree it makes a huge difference.

    BUT: I have one big problem. I use a laptop that bring to work and when i come home i connect it to to a larger screen. The result is that when switching between the screens – all of my alignment to the grid will be destroyed.

    Does anyone have a solution for this problem? Is there any kind of app that would allow me to save windows sizes depending on the current screen?

    \Mikkel

    • I found a solution for my problem. I installed Windowmanager http://www.dfgbt.com/#Programs and created quicksizes with shourtcuts for all my needed window sizes. Then i can easily using a shortcut make the window snap into the grid that i want.

      It works perfect with the grid-wallpaper!

      • Thanks for the Windowmanager tip Mikkel! I’ve never used it, but it sounds like you’ve found a good solution to your problem, and hopefully that will help others in the same boat enjoy the wonders of the ubiquitous minimal desktop environment. :D

  8. I tried Windowmanager but had some problems with it. My PC just didn’t like it for some reason

    As I use AutoHotKey I had a Google for some suggestions and found the following which might be of help to someone:

    http://www.autohotkey.com/forum/topic54182.html
    http://jonaquino.blogspot.com/2007/09/windows-autohotkey-for-fast-window.html

    I quite like the idea of the first one as once it’s set you can forget about it, although it looks to be more of a pain to set up.

    Cheers,
    Mick

    • Nice! Thanks a lot for the added help here, Mick. The post you linked to breaks things down fairly well — though I agree, it may be a bit of fun to get going. I’ll have to look into it some more and give it a shot some time.

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