A distraction-free desktop

Recent research has shown what common sense always should have told us: Computers multitask way better than people can. As we perform the intellectual work that powers the information economy, our ability to achieve focus and flow is constantly challenged by distraction and interruption.

The paradox, of course, is that interruptions are vital, too. We are all required to be interrupt-driven in ways that vary according to the circumstances of our lives and our work. The trick is to find the right balance. Sadly, by inviting us to interrupt ourselves more than necessary, our software tends to contribute more to the problem than to the solution.

Consider the effects of the graphical user interface. At hospital admitting desks, in accountants' offices, and at video retail stores, I watch people perform tasks for which the desktop metaphor -- with its cluttered surface and overlapping resizable windows -- is at best a distraction and at worst an impediment. [Full story at InfoWorld.com]

After writing this week's column I began thinking about how my entire computer desktop could be more distraction-free and task-focused. I came up with an experimental approach for the Mac, and I documented it in this six-minute screencast. The elements of the solution include DesktopSweeper, a Mac shareware program that hides desktop icons, along with use of the Mac's Apple-Tab switcher (which is like Windows' ALT-Tab) and the Mac's Hide Other Windows feature which is bound to Apple-Option-H. Using all these in combination, I'm exploring what it's like to work in an environment where both desktop icons and application windows are hidden unless you really need them, in which case they're easy to reveal.

The approach I demonstrate in this screencast isn't perfect, to be sure. It's really just a cobbled-together mashup. I'm not sure whether I'll stick with it, or whether I'll investigate "porting" it to Windows. But it's been an eye-opener. Stripping away the unecessary distraction and clutter feels really, really good.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2006/07/13.html#a1485