Non Sequitur Fridays

Desktop Zero

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistian's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. James Zhang is a developer at Wistia. This is his first Non Sequitur.

You may have heard of Inbox Zero, a practice where you try to have zero emails in your inbox by the end of each day.

With the right set of filters, labels, and some quick decision making, I think it's quite easy to follow. As each email arrives in your inbox, you must quickly assess its legitimacy, urgency, and purpose. Some are quickly tossed aside; others placed in a to-do list. The separation of each email into work/fun/junk/etc. creates a concrete list of action items to follow up on. At the end of the day, you feel great for what you've done, and prepared for what lies ahead tomorrow.

After a few weeks of Inbox Zero, I decided to see if I could apply this practice to other aspects of my life. If you're connected to as many media outlets as I am on a daily basis, you know just how easy it is to get distracted while on your computer. Even if you're trying to get work done, cat videos and trending articles are less than a second away. The mind wanders when there are too many easily-accessible distractions. To combat this, I've recently started practicing Desktop Zero, and its rules are:

  1. Remove everything from your Desktop and Dock.
  2. Only open applications that you'll use in the next 15 minutes.

The first rule is simple. Move every app, folder, and file out of your desktop. It doesn't matter where they go, as long as they're not blocking that gorgeous wallpaper of yours. If you're using a Mac, remove every app shortcut from your Dock (except for Finder and Trash; these two won't budge). Instead of clicking to launch apps, use a productivity tool like Alfred, which lets you use keyboard shortcuts to open apps, search for files, and much more.

This way, you become less dependent on your cumbersome mouse, and more on your nimble keyboard. For example, this is my desktop. Isn't it nice to be greeted with something so clean and simple?

The second rule is a bit more difficult to follow, but with a little bit of practice and discipline, you'll master it in no time. If you're like most people, out of the ten windows you have open, you probably only actively use three of them. That's right, a lousy 70% of your open windows don't add any value to whatever you're doing. If something doesn't add value, you should question why it's there in the first place.

Even if you think you need to be doing lots of things simultaneously, you're still probably overestimating the amount of real multitasking that you're doing. Plus, it's proven that multitasking is bad for your brain and productivity. So don't do it!

When you have lots of apps open, the "stray" ones don't just slow your computer down. They also become the very distractions that you want to avoid. By forcing yourself to quit all the applications that you won't be using in the next 15 minutes, you'll have just the bare necessities and absolutely zero distractions. Overall, there's less context switching, less opportunities for your mind to wander, and much more focus on exactly what you need to get done.

As a developer, this is what my active Dock looks like for most of the day: a browser, text editor, command line interface, and team-wide chat.

If I quickly need to open another application, I launch it with Alfred, get what I need from it, and close it right away. The goal is to keep as few windows open as possible so that I can stay as productive as possible.

Just like Inbox Zero, Desktop Zero provides a sense of focus on the task at hand and a reward for getting work done. At the end of the day, when you quit the last app you no longer need, you know that you're done for the day and tomorrow will begin with a clean desktop.

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