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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.
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:
- Download Tweaks.com Logon Changer for Windows 7, run it, click Change Logon Screen.
- Search for the background you want to see.
- Click Test if you want, but the application provides its own preview.
- You’re done — easy as pie!
Here’s a Few Shots of the End Result
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!