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5 Easy Steps to Clean Your Virtual Desktop

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Here are 5 simple steps to help clean your virtual desktop, increase your efficiency and lower your security risks.

Did you miss National Clean Your Virtual Desktop Day? Seriously, that’s a real day that occurs around the middle of October each year. In case you missed it, you’ll be glad to know that it’s never too late to clean your virtual desktop.

Why You Need to Clean Your Virtual Desktop

We get it: you’re busy, and you don’t see the value in stopping to tend to this matter. In fact, you may like the idea of having 30, or 60, or over 100 file folders, documents, photos, and icons on your screen. Perhaps it provides a sense of comfort to know that everything you need is right there and be quickly assessed.

And believe it or not, all of that “junk” isn’t even negatively impacting your computer.

“PC and laptop desktops that are generally disorganized or cluttered with all kinds of files that have been created and worked on over the past several months, or even years, will not necessarily slow down your computer performance in any way,” says Michael Nizich, director of the Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation Center (ETIC) and an adjunct professor of computer science at New York Institute of Technology.

“Well then, leave me alone,” you may be thinking. But Nizich hasn’t finished his train of thought. “However, your productivity and work efficiency could slow down to a crawl if your desktop is not properly managed,” he explains. “A poorly maintained desktop leads to longer times to locate files, editing the wrong file, deleting the right file and essentially leads to needing to spend more time finding your work than working on it.”

In other words, that brilliant plan to keep everything on your desktop so you can work more efficiently could be hindering you from working efficiently.


And there’s another reason to clean your virtual desktop. Your computer’s security could depend on it.

“New cyberthreats pop up all the time — cleaning up your digital junk is an important step to take to protect yourself from these ongoing attacks,” says Eric Williams, founder & CEO, ijura, a mobile threat defense solutions provider. In fact, he says you need to remove apps that you don’t use from your desktop – and you also need to remove them from your phone, tablet, streaming devices and gaming console.

Read: Are Your Enterprise Printers Protected from Cybercriminals?

Williams references a study by Interceptd, which found that 21.3% of iOS app and 26.9% of Android app installs are fraudulent. “Even official app stores unintentionally publish apps that can put your data at risk.”

Have you ever installed an app, placed it on your virtual desktop, then figured out that you didn’t need it, or maybe it didn’t perform as expected? Or maybe it worked fine, but you no longer need it. “Keeping around old apps that you no longer use creates an unnecessary risk and makes you vulnerable to cyber criminals,” Williams says.


We’ve given you two excellent reasons to clean your virtual desktop. Now, we’ll go through 5 simple steps to help increase your efficiency and lower your security risks.

1. Decide What You Need

If you’re not in the habit of cleaning your virtual desktop – and you have a lot of files and documents – you may not even know what’s actually on it. In addition to old, unused apps, you may also have documents or entire folders that you no longer need.

Even if you decide a folder shouldn’t be discarded, it’s still a good idea to peruse the folder’s contents to see if there are any documents that can be deleted. And don’t forget to also delete those unused apps.


2. Dial Back the Shortcuts

“Eliminate the amount of shortcuts that are located on your desktop to gain access to specific programs,” Nizich says. If you use Windows, he says all of the programs can be accessed through the Windows Start menu, and are typically organized using program name and image tiles. On a Mac, you can go to Finder to easily find what you’re looking for. “They are much easier to find and start by using these methods rather than searching for them on your desktop each time you want to use them,” he says.

3. Utilize Your Taskbar

For the programs or apps that you use more frequently, there’s another solution. “You can place those on the taskbar (on a Mac, this is the dock) at the bottom or to the left or right of your screen to provide easy access to them,” Nizich says. This is a much better location than keeping them on the desktop, which could make them hard to find.


4. Try Quick Access

“One great tool that Windows 10 offers is the Quick Access tool of file explorer,” Nizich explains. Once you are in your file explorer, if you look on the left hand side of the program you will see a Quick Access section.” If you drop a folder into this area, it will be easily and quickly visible.” And when you need it, you won’t have to search forever to find it. On a Mac, the Finder menu includes a file launcher, Recents, that lists your most recent documents in chronological order.

5. Consolidate

If you insist of keeping everything on your virtual desktop, Nizich recommends another option. Create folders, and then move all of the associated documents into those folders. “Instead of having, for example, 300 documents on your desktop, you might have 10 folders each with 30 documents or program icons, making it much easier for you to locate your files,” he says.

(This is what I do: for example, I have a Techopedia Folder on my virtual desktop, and all of my Techopedia pitches, research, etc. is in that folder.)

And also . . .

In addition to cleaning your virtual desktop, Williams recommends cleaning your computer. “Don't forget to delete old email accounts that you no longer use and purge years-worth of garbage in your downloads folder,” he says.

This is a good cyber-hygiene habit to adopt and Williams says it will help prevent against future attacks. “The more unused accounts you have on your digital devices, the more targets there are for hackers to exploit.”

Read: How Cloud Computing Is Changing Cybersecurity


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Terri Williams
Terri Williams

Terri is a freelance journalist who also writes for The Economist, Time, Women 2.0, and the American Bar Association Journal. In addition, she has bylines at USA Today, Yahoo, U.S. News & World Report, Verizon, The Houston Chronicle, and several other companies you've probably heard of. Terri has a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.