How to Organise your Computer Desktop (+ free wallpaper)

Being a ‘creative type’ like I am, chaos tends to follow me around. So one of my goals for this year is to get more organised – life, house… and computer. The length of time it takes to me find where I’ve saved things and remember what I’ve filed them under is ridiculous. My mission is to streamline things, to have a strategy so when it comes time to save files and categorise them I’ve got a plan in place. This stops me making up a creative new failing filing system with every new project and every new document – that seems perfectly obvious at the time, but makes absolutely no sense at all a few weeks later when I’ve forgotten what on earth I was thinking…

My computer desktop is the first step in this new regime. That tends to be my default dumping ground for new files, web clippings, screen shots etc. so it can easily become a mess of overwhelming icons on the screen. Previously, I’d get sick of the clutter  and so just to get it it out of the way, dump every file into one folder labeled “To Sort”. Future Jessie will deal with that. Except I am Future Jessie, and I still wasn’t dealing with it.

I think computer organisation is hard for me, because I can’t just lay everything out in front of me then sort it – that’s what I do with the physical things in my house when I’m organising. So I needed a better system. That’s why I love desktop organiser wallpapers. (Free ones at the end of this post.) Just a few defined spaces on the screen to put things is such a simple method for triaging your documents, ready to be filed later, or at your finger tips for easy location. Because the desktop is handy for easy access to current projects or files you access all the time, but it can make a big difference if those files have a place to live. my organised desktop wallpaper The strategy with any system of organisation is first to pare down your options. Limit the number of choices you have to make, so your brain doesn’t spazz out every time you have to put something in its place. So start with broad categories – simple obvious sign posts to lead you to the right spot. (You can use the subcategories within these to further organise.)

For my desktop, I have:

File: this is where I put the stuff that needs further organisation or sorting. Because I’ll never get rid of that category. Some things just don’t fit neatly and need further attention. But I try and limit how much I put here.

Home: this is where I put home and family related things that I need to access easily – e.g. bills, important documents, a folder for digital tax receipts, photos to send to grandparents, etc.

Work: this is where I keep, uh, work stuff obviously. But that mostly means current projects – I take a lot of screen shots or save files for uploading to Etsy, Blog, Facebook etc. Once these projects are no longer current I file them away off the desktop to make room for the next project. I also keep files for my novels, expense trackers, records etc. to keep them in easy reach.

Misc: this seems like it’s similar to the first ‘to file’ category, and it ruffles my feathers to have such a non-specific category, but it’s a necessary evil. There are things that will stay either more permanently  on your desktop – like short cuts to the hard drive or other apps & folders – or more temporarily – images, videos, notes. This is the space for random things that you don’t want to clutter up your home or work spaces with, and that don’t need to be filed properly, either because you always want to access them, or because you will delete after watching/using them. Just be careful you don’t get lazy and just dump stuff here, though. Have some more specify sub-category folders here to help. You can have backgrounds with more areas, arranged in whatever way you like, but I’ve found these four simple spaces work quite well.

So how do you set it up?

(Note: All my instructions are for Mac, since I haven’t used Windows in years now, but they are universal settings for whatever computer you have – they might just come under slightly different names, but it should be fairly obvious.)

Set the Picture: Once you have the image you want for your background, the easiest way to set it as your desktop wallpaper is the right click the image file and go ‘Services’ >>> ‘Set Desktop Picture’. Whatever operating system your computer has should have some version of setting the desktop background in the right click menu. set desktop background Arrange your Files: Then you need to arrange the icons on your desktop. For Mac again, when you right click your desktop (or control click or two-finger click – whichever way you roll) choose ‘Sort by’ >>> ‘None’. You want to be able to move your files around wherever you want them to be, so you don’t want them snapping to the grid or trying to arrange alphabetically. Again, all operating systems should have a version of this setting. Then you can just drag your icons and folders around to wherever you want them to be, within the bounds of the category spaces in your desktop image. sort by none

Customising it further:

Alignment: When you’ve just dragged things around, everything can look a bit higgled-piggledy. If you want the files to line up more neatly like they do when you’ve got the sorting settings on, you can ‘Clean Up’. The best way to do it is to select all the icons within one category area (either control & click, or click and drag your mouse until the little box has encompassed and highlighted all the files you want) and then right click on one of the selected icons & select ‘Clean Up Selection’. clean up selection screenshotThis will align the icons with each other, and only the ones you have selected, not the rest of the desktop. With them all still selected you can move the group around the screen to position them as well. Do this with each section or with small groups of icons at a time.

Changing the Folder Icons:  Those little blue folders aren’t the prettiest. You can actually change them to whatever image you want, and quite easily. You just need to open the picture you want to use – in Preview or similar – and ⌘c / right click & copy. Then right click on the folder you want to change and select ‘Get Info’ Get info Then click on the current picture next to the folder title at the top of the Info box that comes up. (It will be highlighted in blue when it’s selected.)  ⌘v to paste the image you previously copied. (You won’t be able to right click on this, so need to use the keyboard shortcut to paste.) select folder icon and command v to paste If you want a lot of folders with the same icon picture, this can seem like a tedious process. A slightly quicker way to do it is to select five or six folders then right click >>> ‘Get Info’.

This will open all the Info boxes for all those folders, and line them up in a row. You can’t change all the icons simultaneously, but with them all open, you can just go a long ‘Click, ⌘v’ ‘Click, ⌘v’ ‘Click, ⌘v’… along the row, doing them in batches instead of one at a time. Get Info for several icons   Multiple Desktops or ‘Spaces’: On a Mac you can have multiple desktops and assign certain programs or apps to them. Mac Multiple Desktops or Spaces   The main benefit to this is in defining your spaces. I use this to designate apps to different desktops – my design programs open in one, my general web browsing I do in another, writing in another. This unclutters things, so you can have multiple programs open, without there being 107 windows open in the one desktop, where you get lost trying to get to the one you need.

I define each space further by setting a different wallpaper for each. This helps me focus on which ever ‘mode’ I should be in. It’s like a mental cue – ‘Okay, now we are in design space, time to be a creative genius’. Or ‘Now we’re in Social Media land [which i’ve coloured outgoing orange] time to be witty and hilarious.’

A feature I really wish this had was to be able to arrange or show & hide icons individually, specific to each ‘space’. That would be brilliant. Unfortunately this isn’t the case (yet, Apple, hint hint) so however you arrange your icons is how they will appear on every Space. Keep that in mind when setting your wallpaper. (See my sets on Etsy.)


Free Watercolour Hearts Desktop Wallpaper OrganiserComputer Desktop Organiser Wallpaper Easter Eggs

Free wallpaper – feel free to grab the wallpapers above for your own desktops. (Click the image to bring up the full size picture, then right click to save.) right click to save image as I also have some more sets of wallpapers in my Etsy store. And because it’s my birthday today, use the coupon code HAPPYBIRTHDAY and you’ll get 50% (until the end of April.) This applies to anything in the store, too, not just the wallpapers.

desktop organiser wallpaper easter setDesktop wallpaper organiser watercolour set

So that’s step one in Operation: Organise my Computer – I wanted to come up with a wittier title for that but I’m not in my witty desktop, obviously…. I’ll be working my way through the rest of my computer and if I come up with good ways to do this, I’ll be sure to share. Meanwhile, how do your organise your computer? What’s your number one tip?

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