3 Icon Minimum: How I Maintain A GTD Centric Desktop

I will be posting some entries about GTD ideas in the next week. 1 entry will be about how I do GTD at home, the other at work. Both methods have a very fundamental base; a clean desktop.

So how do you make a clean desktop? And what’s the benefit of a clean desktop?

Well, for starters, a basic sense of organization helps me focus on the task and/or projects I’m currently working on. Plus, it’s kind of cool seeing a tidy computer desktop. And with my methods everything eventually ends up in the right spot on my hard drive.

So here’s what works for me; just like the GTD inbox and current tasks collection bins (or trays, or whatever), create 2 new folders in your user folder (this is OS agnostic process – if that’s the right term).

  • Next Action
  • Sort

Notice how I didn’t say to create these folders on the desktop…

Your Sort folder is basically your inbox. This is where you should set your web browser to save files to by default. This is where you put everything you need to process. Everything that is currently sprawled all over your desktop should go in this folder. You should go through this folder about once a week to put files in their right places.

The Next Action folder contains all the files related to your current tasks and projects. Are you reading through an e-Book/PDF? It should go in there. Working on an Indesign or Photoshop document? They should go in there. It’s up to you if you want to create sub-folders for projects – I would think they’d be helpful. But you shouldn’t move those files from the Next Action folder until you’ve completed them.

The only thing that throws things off a little bit is that these 2 essential-to-workflow folders look like every other folder. Why not give them custom icons? I think The Iconfactory is a great place to start (they currently have a pretty cool Transformers set). Also check out Apple’s own downloads section.

Try to pick semantic icons; icons that represent the purpose of these folders. For my sort folder I am using the file cabinet from the Private Eye Act 3 set. I haven’t yet found a real good Next Action icon, so in the meantime I have a walrus (from TurboMilk), mainly because of this picture.

Now, DO NOT move those folders to your desktop – simply create shortcuts or aliases to them on your desktop.

There’s a very simple reason for the shortcuts and aliases: if you have a lot of files on your desktop you will be moving and deleting a lot of folders and files. If you accidentally delete your Next Action or Sort folders you will lose all your files for your current tasks and support documents. But if you have shortcuts and aliases you’ll never have to worry about accidentally deleting them. If that happens you can just create new aliases.

After all of this you should have a minimum of those 2 icons plus any mounted drives and your “My Computer” or equivalent. As you can see in the picture, I have a Music Projects icon. This is simply another hard drive in my Powermac G5, but why have an ugly pic of a hard drive when you can personalize it to your liking? You can even assign custom icons to memory cards in Mac OSX, so think about that the next time you’re importing digital photos.

Again, this is what works for me. Feel free to share how you keep a clean/tidy desktop – or don’t.