Tech & Work

Desktop zero: 7 ways to clear your computer screen

A clean computer background can mean fewer distractions while working and a more organized workspace.

Much like an email inbox, a computer desktop can often turn into a catch-all spot. Whether it's documents, screenshots, or computer programs, everything can have an icon cluttering the desktop, even if you don't need instant access to it.

Having too much on your screen can become stressful—a recent Bynder survey found that 30% of professionals have over 100 files saved on their desktop. Multiple professionals said the clutter can distract them from getting work done, or make it difficult to find what they need quickly.

"Similar to a cluttered office, a cluttered computer desktop can create anxiety and make it difficult to get anything done," Alex Lauderdale, senior editor at, said.

Similar to the concept of inbox zero—the act of keeping your primary email box empty— working to keep a computer screen completely clean can help keep things organized while minimizing potential distractions.

Here are seven ways to hit desktop zero, as recommended by productivity experts and professionals who practice the concept.

SEE: BYOD (bring-your-own-device) policy (Tech Pro Research)

1. Start with one

The easiest way to clear your desktop is by utilizing folders, but when you have a desktop full of unorganized documents and files, sitting down to create an organization system may feel daunting. To combat this, Lauderdale recommends starting with one folder, and moving everything into there.

"You'll feel better immediately," Lauderdale said. "Your cluttered desktop is clear and your anxiety will begin to diminish."

2. Create folders, then create more folders

Create a few folders with broad categories that you deal with a lot, like client work or finances, and drag items from your desktop to these folders, Sumit Bansal, co-founder at the Productivity Spot, suggested.

After the initial round, go through those folders to make subfolders for additional organization. The subfolders can help you figure out exactly where to put something in the future, Bansal said.

The folder system can depend on what approach works best for you and the work you do, productivity expert Deb Lee said. Each folder could contain a different topic, project, or file status. Whatever you choose, the important part is that you maintain the system, Lee said.

3. Remove unnecessary icons

Much like when trying to get to inbox zero, you can't be afraid to remove and delete things you don't need. Typically, program shortcuts on a desktop or in a dock bar of a Mac are only necessary for programs you constantly use.

Similarly, you may have several files or icons on your desktop that you may have needed once, used, and forgot to delete. Now is the time to clear those.

4. Make use of multiple desktop features if you have them

Windows 10 users can have multiple desktops, which can help you have one desktop with everything on it, and one with only the most important programs and files, Shehar Yar Khan, co-Founder at TechnoScans, suggested. It could also help to have one desktop for work and one for personal use.

5. Have a daily routine

Check your desktop daily to ensure it stays clean and organized. David Emerson, vice president and deputy CISO at Cyxtera Technologies, said he treats his desktop like a notebook: Each day, he files away items or adds them as actions on his to-do list.

6. Prevent things from going there in the first place

Some things are automatically saved to the desktop, like screenshots on a Mac. Change your preferences to prevent items from landing there by default, Dary Merckens, CTO of Gunner Technology, recommended. This could make your desktop naturally cleaner, and reduce the time it takes to organize it each day.

7. Have a deep clean

Once something goes into a folder, it can be easy to forget about it and leave it there unused. Weekly or monthly deep cleans of each of your folders can help, especially if you keep some of the folders on the desktop for easy access. Lee recommends deleting duplicate, old, or unused files at least once a month.

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Image: iStockphoto/anyaberkut

About Olivia Krauth

Olivia Krauth is an Education Reporter at Insider Louisville.

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