A clean desktop is a by-product of good paper management. By the same token, a clean computer desktop is a by-product of a good digital storage system. The third Monday of October is “National Clean Your Virtual Desktop Day.” It’s a great first step to organize your computer.

Do you know someone whose computer desktop is covered in icons? Could you be one of those people? Have you ever asked the offender why all those icons clutter the desktop?

Get ready for a two-part answer

“I have everything on the desktop so I can find it,” replies the digital hoarder. It’s the dirty lie they tell themselves. After a while, it’s hard to find anything on that cluttered desktop.

The second part is spoken in a softer tone: “I don’t know where else to put it.” That statement reveals the real problem. We fail to spend the time constructing a good system. We don’t make decisions about where items will go.

Three digital folders to the rescue

You can operate a very efficient digital filing system. All you need are three folders: Documents, Current Projects, and Fingertip.

Documents…your digital filing cabinet

We use metal filing cabinets to house paper-based reference material. Inside those filing cabinets, a system of alphabetized folders provides each document a home and a clue about where to retrieve it.

We need a counterpart in the digital world. The “Documents” folder fills that role. These files have no action attached to them. Our goal is to organize them so material is easy to find.

To begin, examine your paper filing system. Get it pristine. Then, create a parallel system on the computer. For example, if a science teacher finds a good lesson plan on photosynthesis, he needs a place in the filing cabinet for it. If he finds a PowerPoint presentation on photosynthesis, the teacher needs a comparable place in the digital filing system for it.

It’s important that you don’t lose it all should the computer crash. I use OneDrive as my Documents folder. Everything in it is not only stored on my computer, but also syncs to the cloud and to my laptop.

Current Projects

We all have projects currently in the works. Most likely, those projects generate paperwork. You might keep folders related to current projects in a desk drawer or rack on the credenza.

We need a parallel in the digital world. I use Dropbox as a place to house the digital files associated with current projects. Opening Dropbox gives me a snapshot of what’s “on my plate.” When a project reaches completion, its digital folder must find a new home. Move it from Dropbox and into the appropriate folder in OneDrive.


Most people have a few files they use every single day. In the paper world, those items likely live right at your fingertips. A small desk drawer would be a good candidate to house them. Those files might include letterhead, a purchase order form, or a certain financial spreadsheet.

Create a folder on your computer called “Fingertip.” Load it with the digital items you use daily. These commonly-accessed documents are now all in the same spot and easily accessible. They are no longer scattered among multiple nested folders. The secret is to create the “Fingertip” folder inside the Documents folders. Then, create a desktop shortcut to it. That way, you have a back-up in the cloud for commonly-used files. They are also synced with your other computers.

No more nightmare

Stop looking all over your desktop for icons. Get the virtual desktop as clean as your physical one and earn yourself some peace of mind.

If you found this post useful, you might also like “How to Organize Your Most Commonly-Used Files” where we go into more detail on the Fingertip file. In Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders, we devote a chapter to organizing your computer.

Life is too short and time too precious to waste one more day. If you are someone who stumbled upon this site for the first time, let me help you take a major step forward right now. When you join my email list, I’ll give you two free gifts. The first will get your desk clean. The second will put everything you have to do in one place. Plus, each week you’ll hear from me with nuts & bolts tools and strategies to make life easier and more productive. You’re one click away from making it happen