5 ways to organize your computer's desktop so you can think straight

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monitor with file cabinets, alarm clock, lamp, milk cup and sheets of paper flying around. concept of organization, online storage, chaos and work at home. 3d rendering
Here's how to bring order to your desktop and increase your productivity and decrease your anxiety. (Photo: Getty)

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s one messy desktop you’ve got. No, not your physical desk. I’m talking about the background of your computer.

See for yourself: drag this browser window to the side for a moment. Is your screen scattered with icons, documents and photos? Is it a pile-on of pretty much every attachment you ever received and anything you ever downloaded from the web? If so, it’s time to organize your desktop clutter, then adjust your day-to-day digital habits to keep it that way.

But first, jumpstart the process with AOL Desktop Gold, an all-in-one, plug-and-play desktop solution that brings order to your online experience. It takes your AOL mailbox, search bar, bookmarks, favorites, usernames, passwords and more, and puts them all in one intuitive dashboard. You’ll find shortcuts to your favorite sites, advanced filtering options for organizing your email and cool ways to customize your desktop design, including free background images.

And it’s all fortified with premium security features. In fact, AOL Desktop Gold uses two-step verification, so you’ll have to verify it’s really you via SMS text or some other secure means. It also uses encryption, which scrambles sensitive information so hackers can’t even read it, never mind steal it.

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Young mother meditating on floor in messy living room
Organize your desktop once, then maintain it going forward. It's a recipe for productivity. (Photo: Getty)

Create a folder system.

The quickest and easiest way to start organizing that messy desktop is to start putting everything in folders. It’s not much different than a physical desk in that regard, except digitally, your system can be a little more sophisticated and customizable than a file cabinet. You can create folders and subfolders, color code them and create naming conventions that help you find them with a simple click.

Think about how you use your files and how you like to access them. For instance, maybe you track your spending in spreadsheets you like to frequently update. In that case, it might make sense to create a main folder for the year, then create subfolders within each for months or even weeks.

Same logic applies to photos, videos, invoices, receipts, tax documents and so on. Focus on as few master folders as possible, then create a logical system of subfolders that keeps everything organized while taking up the least amount of space on the desktop itself.

Trash what you don’t use or need.

While you’re creating a folder system, use this opportunity to purge. It’s like packing for a move: you go through everything and toss the junk, then pack up the important stuff. Don’t just dump everything into your folders; trash whatever you’re needlessly hanging onto and create breathing room on your desktop.

Now’s an important time to make certain that everything is saved to the cloud, too. That way you can trash documents you don’t need at your fingertips, like financial info that’s at least 10 years old or long, memory-hogging videos you never watch but want to keep for posterity.

Using a cloud service is crucial, so if you’re not yet using one, get on it. The cloud makes sure all your important documents and media exist forever and never get deleted, even if the versions saved on your computer are corrupted. And, of course, saving everything to the cloud gives you the opportunity to delete things locally (on your computer and your desktop) yet preserve them, as the cloud is basically a virtual storage unit.

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organize your desktop
If this is a familiar feeling, it's time to get a handle on your computer desktop. (Photo: Getty)

Put all your applications in the task bar.

Here’s an easy way to clean up your desktop: get all the icons for all your applications into your computer’s taskbar. These icons are shortcuts to access your apps, and they often live on your desktop by default. No need — just drag them into your taskbar, which may be at the bottom or the side of your screen, or right-click them and choose ‘pin to taskbar’ — then delete them from the desktop.

You can likely hide your taskbar, too, only bringing it out when you need to use it. When you don’t, it’s out of sight, out of mind, which leads to an even neater and more spare desktop.

Alternately, your computer might let you store your applications in the Start menu. Try pinning the apps right to the Start menu by right-clicking and selecting “Pin to Start,” or just by dragging the icon to the ‘Pinned Apps’ section of the Start menu.

organize your desktop
Make your computer's desktop as organized as the home you live in. (Photo: Getty)

Hide your desktop icons.

‘Out of site, out of mind’ is a pretty appealing concept when you’re cleaning up, right? You can actually hide all your desktop icons if you really want to go minimalist. Yes, you’ll still be able to easily access them when you need them. You just won’t see them when you don’t. It’s like stuffing everything into the closet, but in a much less messy way.

Here’s what you do: On your PC, right-click the desktop and select View from the menu. From the submenu, select Show Desktop Icons, and uncheck it to hide them. When you want to see them again, follow the same process, but select and check Show Desktop Icons so they’ll appear again.

Schedule routine maintenance.

Just like you reserve Saturday mornings for mopping and vacuuming, or Sunday mornings for doing the laundry, designate a time for desktop-decluttering upkeep, and set a reminder for yourself. The time you’ll gain in productivity — and the mental clarity you’ll achieve — will be well worth the small effort of routine maintenance.

Try AOL Desktop Gold free for 30 days*