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Is Your Computer an Unorganized Sluggish Mess?

Real solutions to declutter your desktop and increase processing speed

A good cleaning of your digital workspace not only helps your productivity, but it may make you feel better about approaching work. But for some, myself included, keeping a computer desktop or browser uncluttered is a major challenge. Since a full desktop might also hide problems that slow down your system, finding some organization strategies that work is essential. 

Here’s an updated spring-cleaning list to declutter your digital space, using a little self-analysis to ensure the tidiness sticks. I’ve added a few related items that may help processing speed as well. 

Desktop declutter
If you only have a handful (or less) of icons on your desktop and nothing else, good for you! You have an innate sense of organization. For the rest of us, a cluttered desktop can be an ongoing struggle. Here are a few things that actually work to keep your desktop clutter free.

Take a deep look at what’s on your desktop. Each time I clean and organize my desktop, I promise myself to do better on organization. Major fail. So, this last go-around, I looked at the types of things on the desktop and why they were there, rather than just moving or deleting them. Turns out, the majority were items I put there for quick access that I planned to delete later. I didn’t want them to get lost in a folder on one of my drives and have to hunt for the image or document later. Another batch was receipts for return items. These I need to keep a little longer, but in the moment, I wanted to quickly call them up to email or print when making a return. There also were some shortcuts to apps I didn’t really need.

Filing system on a computer

Take action. Your clutter and reasons for it may vary, but here’s how to solve the problem that causes a messy desktop.

Instead of placing items loose on the desktop, create a folder for temporary items. Right click on an empty space on your desktop and make a folder titled “Temp.” The folder is still easily accessible on your desktop, so use it to drop all items you only need for a short time. You can periodically bulk delete the items without having to delete them one by one.

See if you need another folder on your desktop for quick access. For me this is “Receipts” for return items. Your frequently accessed folders may serve different purposes than mine, just don’t go overboard by creating too many.

Check to see if there are folders on your desktop that you don’t need frequent or quick access to and move them off your storage drive. To safely do this, right click the folder, choose copy, navigate to your desired drive location and select paste. Wait until all files in the folder are transferred. Then, delete the original folder off your desktop.

You can also delete shortcuts to apps you don’t need from your desktop. This won’t delete the app itself. In the future when installing an app, look for a checkbox “Pin to Desktop” and deselect it.

Finally, delete or move any files that still remain on your desktop that shouldn’t be there. 

What’s really slowing down your computer
Contrary to popular belief, having too many files and folders on your desktop does not slow down your computer. The same is true for desktop icons that link to programs. However, those icons could symbolize other issues that degrade computer performance.

While there are many things, including viruses, that can slow down your computer, here are the biggest culprits, and what to do about them, so your computer performs better.

First remove unnecessary programs. People install dozens of programs over time for a variety of reasons. It could be a new tool for a specific function or a replacement for older software. Having too many apps can eat up your hard drive space. If your hard drive is near capacity, it may slow performance.

When a hard drive gets near 75-80% full, it means that there are few available sectors on which to store files, so it splits up files and places pieces of the data anywhere it can find room on the nearly full hard drive. This is commonly referred to as “fragmenting data”. Processes take longer because the computer has to locate space on the HD to store the data. When you access that file or program, the computer has to locate, read, and assemble all the fragments of the file or program back together again before it can display them.

Periodically go into “Settings > Add or Remove Programs” and delete unnecessary programs. Google any programs you are unsure of before deleting. 

Culling your program load is great, but it is having too many programs running at once that really affects speed on most computers.

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Improving processing speed. The first area to check is apps that start automatically when you start your computer. These aren’t all bad—you just don’t want too many of them. To combat this, keep an eye out while installing new programs. If you see a checkbox similar to “Automatically run [app] when I start my computer,” make sure you clear it. Unless it is a program you plan to use daily, also be on the lookout for a checkbox that says “Pin to Start menu,” and deselect it.

To review what is currently on the start menu, you need to review your Task Manager. Task Manager contains tabs with a wealth of information on your PC’s health. To quickly get into Task Manager, locate your taskbar, typically at the bottom of your screen (sometimes on the side), with the Windows and program icons on the left and system information on the right. Right click an empty space in the task bar, then select Task Manager. You may have to click “more details” at the bottom.

Click on the Startup tab. Go through the list and remove anything that you don’t need to have loaded and ready the moment your PC turns on by clicking the app name, followed by clicking on the “Disable” button in the lower right corner. This will not delete the program, it will just not allow automatic loading at startup.

The second area are programs that are running, and running in the background. You can review these programs on the “Process” tab in Task Manager.

During your daily work, close any open programs you don’t need to have open by going to the program, save any work and exit as you normally would. You can also do this in Task Manager by right clicking the program name and choosing “Exit,” but it is a forced shut down that won’t save any open work.

Scroll down to review “Background Processes” especially those showing as moderate or high usage. You can stop any background process by clicking on its name, right clicking and selecting “End Task.” However, use caution. There are bits and pieces listed here that keep Windows running, or support other apps. If you do end something that you later find was needed, reboot the computer and it will restore itself.

Pause OneDrive syncing. Microsoft has acknowledged that OneDrive syncing can slow down your computer. If you use this cloud-based storage feature, pause it by clicking on the OneDrive icon in the notification tray, select “More” and then Pause syncing.”

Regularly turn off your computer. A computer retains a bit of residual memory and processing information, even when idling. It is not enough to restart a system you have been heavily using. Close any open files and programs, power the machine off and let it rest for a few minutes so it will start up fresh.

By being careful about what ends up on your desktop and start menu in the first place, you will have less of a chore periodically cleaning it up and having a system that performs better.

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