Zen and the Art of Clean Desktops
Your virtual desktop should mirror your physical desktop
I had a coworker I thought was fastidious. We worked in TV production for a small company in the Northwest. He was always at the office when I arrived around eight, and he would say goodbye without looking away from his screen when I left at five. He kept a small bottle of lens and screen cleaner on his desk next to a folded microfiber rag. He used the cleaner on both is glasses and his monitors.
He was incredible behind the camera, but his talent isn’t the point. Everyone thought he was the most organized person in the office. I never saw his house, but I imagined it was immaculate.
One day the boss came in and asked for a set of old files we’d put together for a client a year or so before. There were test videos and cuts on my coworker’s computer. I had the content and the written scripts with a few dozen pages of conceptual and thematic notes. I opened my cloud drive and located the client’s name. Inside that folder, I clicked the project name and right clicked to bring up the share option. “Thanks!” my boss called from the other room. My coworker shot me a look I’d never seen before.
A few minutes passed. I forgot about the request. I was on to something else –– already lost in the flow of work. “Hey,” I heard my coworker ask. “I can’t find any of the files.” I reiterated the client’s name and reminded him of the dates. “Yeah, that doesn’t help me.”
He was hesitant to let me sit at his desk, but neither of us wanted to be asked again for the rest of the files. I could see immediately why he didn’t want me on his computer. His monitor background was clear, at least on the monitor that I could always see from my desk, but when I looked over at his actual Macbook desktop, hundreds of files and folders with nonsensical file names littered the screen.
He directed to me where things should have been. Thousands upon thousands of unsearchable files filled his desktop and hard drive. He was red in the face.
We managed to find things after another twenty minutes, but not before the boss had asked again. I could hear my coworker sigh as our boss filled the doorframe.
I opened my lunch an hour later and sat back a bit from my desk. I had hundreds of pages in small stacks that I considered to be organized. I knew it was soon destined for the recycling bin, but I felt like people would see the work I was doing if I let it stack up just a bit. Next to the trash can I had neatly stacked three sparkling water cans next to each other. There wasn’t any room in the can. When I noticed an old laptop tucked under a shelf to my left, I started to laugh a little awkwardly to myself.
Was I a mess, just like my coworker?
Why yes, yes I was. I had never before recognized the similarity between our virtual and physical spaces. Now, I cannot stop seeing it everywhere. I look at someone’s house and fashion and the first thing I think is, “What does their iPhone home screen look like?” There are folks who have apps organized by type into larger app boxes. There are others who have them alphabetically listed. Then there are those like my spouse who have no thoughts of symmetry or organization. Their screens are colorful mazes.
Is there much difference between a dirty hard drive and a dirty office space?
I think digital files are the same as paper files. Digital folders and paper folders serve the same function. Cloud drives and external hard drives are no different than file cabinets or storage boxes, right?
After my coworker arrived at his desk from a lunch out, I shared my new observation. He thought I was weird, but I could see he recognized the truth. “Can I borrow your monitor cleaner?” I asked. “Yeah, if you tell me how you found those files so fast,” he said. We both laughed a little.
I did help him organize his stuff, and it made him so much faster and more efficient. He even gave me credit when the boss tossed him a compliment. His desk space became a daily model for me. I would try to start and end each day with fewer items around than he had. The boss took the old laptop and repurposed it for the reception area. I started recycling my Le Croix cans in the hallway bin right after I finished.
Three Tips For Clean Desktops
Perform regular maintenance. Little messes start with the best of intentions. The moment you hear yourself thinking, “I’ll set this aside until later,” or “I don’t need to rename that file, I’ll remember,” stop! Take a breath. Remember how important it is to keep the little things in order before they become big things.
Refine and hone your systems. Don’t settle for good enough. Challenge yourself to develop systems of organization that allow you to flourish at work. Don’t you want to find things quickly? Wouldn’t it be nice to go to work in a clean, decluttered space?
Help others. Share your methods and insights in friendly, polite ways. And ask others how they work best. Helping your office mates means improving the company’s productivity and cleanliness. There is no downside to that.
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