Messy Desktop Syndrome

Information Overload:

Messy Desktop Syndrome and Treatment

Millions of computer users regularly lose control over their desktop items over time.

Sometimes, even in a matter of days, users somehow manage to get

from this:


to this:

messy desktop

Cause and Effect

The cause of MDS is a lack of consistent user behavior in terms of creating and storing data in appropriate places. It is the inability to recycle knowledge efficiently. There are a number of reasons for this.

The immediate storage of a file in a specific place is often postponed due to potential multiple relevance of that file and the recognition that its storage in an existing folder “won’t do justice” to the value of the content, or simply a lack of an appropriate folder.

Data often ends up on the desktop, as creating or looking up its most appropriate folder can be time consuming and time-pressure forces users to give lower priority to administrating their data resources. This delay actually creates a range of other problems as users tend to forget the content and relevance of files and their handling at a later stage will require the extra time of re-discovering them.

Moreover, copy-pasting the contents of the desktop in a “Sort Out” folder can create the appearance of order, but it is only further complicating things as contents are randomly grouped and usually remained unsorted and often forgotten.

Over time then, files start piling up on the desktop, which, in a way, becomes the “purgatory” of the operating system. The result is usually either loss of data or its uncontrolled multiplication. All of these scenarios harm the user, whether in terms of difficultly or an inability to find the desired data or simply in terms of digital clutter that decreases processing speed and eats up available space.

Inconsistency and Inefficiency

Inconsistency in usage and data management are not uncommon practices. In fact, it would be truly extraordinary if any single user would be able to achieve total consistency over time under the conditions of what has been termed a “digital tsunami”. We are simply overwhelmed by the amounts of data pouring into our workstations; emails, feeds, articles, stats, downloads, reports, reports, and more reports…

Under the conditions of information overload, data is often quickly shoved out of the way so that new data can be processed. This practice eventually leads to an inability to engage in efficient data classification, process tracing and knowledge recycling. What users usually end up with is a mountain of files, which only appear organized by being loosely grouped into folders, subfolders etc. Looking up a specific piece of intelligence in this environment can be very challenging, time-costly and not to mention frustrating.

If this is the situation on the visible portion of one’s hard drive (namely, the desktop), imagine what could be going on “under the hood”. Files are inconsistently stored, archived, duplicated, in other words, inconsistently managed. Even if there is apparent order or a “best practice” of managing the data, it is not possible to remain consistent over time as content, procedures and even employees all change over time.

It follows that, under the conditions of information overload, inconsistency is inevitable, and so are the multiplications and time-costly searches performed to locate misplaced or sacked data.

So, in some respects, the MDS can be safely interpreted as the “tip of the iceberg”, when it comes to existing practices of storing and managing data.

What is even more troubling?

Now imagine a group of users – an organization – an enterprise, and multiply the above mentioned challenges by a number of employees within an organization. Not only that every employee leads a daily uphill battle with information overload, but eventually every employee also succumbs to inconsistency in managing their data.

This unavoidable and individual inconsistency prevents employee collaboration to occur at its full potential because knowledge cannot be efficiently located and shared between employees. Moreover, employees will in most cases not be aware that information crucial to them already resides on a company/organization server and they will thus waste time on looking it up or re-creating it. Established communication lines are built around this problem but they remain blind to the vast amount of knowledge which already resides on the organizational servers.


In summary, information overload and the inevitable inconsistency of manual data management lead to inefficient individual performance and a significantly reduced capacity of collaboration among employees – both of which put modern organizations at risk.


Watch the video clip behind the link to find out:

By: David Ban