In the digital age, the state of our computer desktop is arguably more important than that of our actual, physical desk (which we constantly neglect – by littering our desktop with a bunch of icons, old documents, photos and folders (that we probably no longer need) and fail to clean it up as often as we should.
The problem with having a messy computer desktop is that it can negatively affect our productivity, says psychologist Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center in Newport Beach, California.
A desktop wallpaper photo should meet these 3 criteria:
DO NOT camouflage desktop icons (no highly active or busy wallpapers)
DO BE visually pleasing to you (think mountains or subtle patterns)
DO NOT strain your eyes (no highlighter colors).
“Most of the standard wallpapers do not fit this category,” Rutledge says.
While research shows that the color red is energizing and stimulates analytical thinking and blue is calming and enhances creativity, Rutledge says that a small desktop screen is “unlikely to have that profound effect.”
Having too many files on your desktop makes them harder to find, which slows you down, increases your frustration level and uses up your computer’s resources (slowing its processing speed down).
Delete (or remove from your desktop) any old files you don’t use on a regular basis, or won’t ever need again. If you like having your files — even the old ones — in an easy-to-access location, create a “filing system” by grouping them into 4 quadrants: folders, documents, apps, and things to be filed into your documents.
You can also use aliases, or tiny files that can be saved in more than one place and that automatically open up another file, and organize them into “buckets”.
If it takes you longer than 10 seconds to close out of all your tabs or internet windows, then you may have a problem (because it drains your computer’s processing power and makes locating a specific page difficult).
Instead, create bookmarks on your browser or clipping pages to create a notebook in Evernote, a note-taking app, which can ease your anxiety about not being able to find a certain tab again, while also clearing out the unneeded ones.
“In the long term, the report will be more rewarding because you will be doing your job better (or keeping it),” Rutledge says.
Social media can also be distracting — and addictive — because making social connections “triggers the release of dopamine in the reward center of the brain,” she says.
While social media can be distracting, Rutledge admits that everyone needs a periodic mental break. “Just balance the mental vacations so that they are supporting your productivity, not hurting it,” Rutledge says.
“Music, for many people, helps regulate mood and focus attention,” Rutledge says.
If this is the case for you, then music can increase your productivity while also triggering the release of dopamine in the reward center of the brain (like social connections), Rutledge says.
But, if you catch yourself mouthing the words to the song, Rutledge says you should immediately change the song or your brain will focus on the song lyrics, rather than your work.
“Contrary to popular beliefs, our brains cannot multi-task,” Rutledge says. “We can task-switch and do it very quickly, but that takes additional cognitive effort.”
Another tip: Minimize the iTunes, Pandora, or Spotify apps so you don’t get further distracted.