Genealogists never seem to have enough time. One way to “find” a
little more time is to improve efficiency. Previously we talked about
the Windows Clipboard and ways to use it to be more efficient. There are
several other features in Windows of which we can take advantage. Mac
users may be able to apply several of the concepts in this article,
although the techniques would be different.
A basic Windows
concept is drag-and-drop — if something is selected, you can point the
mouse cursor at it, hold down the left mouse button, drag it somewhere
else, and drop it there when you release the mouse button. A variation
of this practice is that if you hold down the Ctrl (control) key at the
same time, it makes a copy and moves the copy instead. What most people
don’t realize is the wide variety of things that can be drag-and-dropped
— or how to use those possibilities to advantage.
Many genealogists suffer from desktop
clutter. Our desks are piled with papers, folders, and notes to
ourselves. We waste time looking for what we want and are easily
distracted by other items. The same is true of our computer desktops.
How many icons clutter your computer desktop? How often do you use
them? How many are left over from programs you installed but decided you
didn’t like, or from documents you’ve long since exhausted? How is your
desktop organized? You may be able to find what you want much more
quickly if you clean up your desktop.
Let’s begin with the simple
organization possibilities. Move the cursor over an unoccupied section
of the desktop — I’m assuming the clutter isn’t so bad that you can’t
find one!— and press the right mouse button. A floating menu appears.
When you move the cursor to the item Arrange Icons and press the
right-arrow key, a submenu appears. If Auto Arrange doesn’t have a check
mark next to it, select it. All icons on the desktop will snap into
neat rows and columns if they weren’t already that way. Now repeat the
process and uncheck Auto Arrange so we can explore various options and
do some organizing. (You’ll probably want to turn it back on when we’re
Click the right mouse button on the desktop and this time
select Arrange Icons>by Type. The icons will be reordered from left
to right, top to bottom, in the sequence: system stuff, folders,
programs, documents, and then shortcuts to programs (icons with a curved
arrow on them).
I have over
time accumulated quite a few CD-ROMs with genealogical data. From NEHGS,
for example, I have Torrey, Thwing, and the Register. From the
LDS church I have the 1880 census, the index to the Pedigree Resource
File, and two versions of the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC).
From Search & ReSearch I have Massachusetts Vital Records. From
Ancestry I have several versions of PERSI, census indexes, the reference
library, and so on. I have a large collection of Brøderbund/Family Tree
Maker CDs. Each one of these dropped an icon on my desktop when I
installed it, as did the road atlas and other nongenealogical CDs. I
counted seventeen in all — major clutter.
My computer only has
one CD drive, so I can’t possibly use more than one CD at a time. CD
icons were thus a good place for me to begin my own desktop clean-up;
the same may be true for you. The idea is to keep the ease of launching
the program by double-clicking on the icon, while reducing clutter.
Right-click on the desktop again and select New>Folder. A manila
file-folder icon appears on the desktop with the label highlighted. Type
Double-click on the folder to open it as a window. Now
start dragging and dropping all of the CD-related icons into the window.
You’ll want to drag on the lower right-hand corner of the window to
make it bigger and drag the whole window by the title bar at the top to
reach icons hiding underneath the window. Don’t worry about neatness,
but do be careful to drop in a clear space, because if you drop an icon
on top of another icon, the computer will attempt to launch that
program. If you use the music CD-player — or, in my case, the FHLC —
daily, you might want to leave that icon on the desktop or copy-and-drop
the icon into the folder. It’s okay to have copies of an icon in
When you finish moving the icons into the
file, you can organize them. Personally, I find it easiest to locate
things alphabetically. Right-click on a blank space inside the window
and select Arrange Icons>by Name. Also select Arrange Icons>Auto
Arrange. Drag the lower right-hand corner to make the window the size
and shape you want, and position the window where you would like it to
appear the next time you open it. Click the X in the upper right-hand
corner to close the window.
From now on, when you need to switch
CD programs, just double-click on the CDs folder and then double-click
on the correct icon.
More desktop folders
easiest way to get started cleaning up the remaining clutter is to ask
yourself “Which of these icons do I use regularly or currently?” For
each of those, drag it to the right side of the desktop (I’m assuming,
again, that there is space on the right side of your desktop). Again,
don’t worry about being neat.
This step probably leaves a
combination of never-used icons, rarely-used icons, old documents, new
documents, and I-don’t-have-a-clue-what-this-is icons. You may have had
Windows pop up a message informing you that you have unused icons on the
desktop and asking if you want them cleaned up. I don’t know about you,
but I figure Windows doesn’t have a clue whether or not I might want to
use something in the future, so I always say “no,” even though there
are some things I don’t want.
You can delete anything you want
from the desktop by clicking on it and pressing the delete key. I’m
usually a coward, though. For peace of mind, I can create new folders
like I did for the CDs to organize those icons out of sight. Be aware
that you cannot move those icons for system stuff (the ones at the left
side of the desktop) into folders.
the final step, arrange the remaining desktop icons in the sequence
that seems most natural to you. It may be by type; it may be
alphabetically. I place my most-frequently used icons on the right,
I have never liked those long names
that appear under software icons with the company name, program name,
and software version (and they lead to illogical alphabetical
arrangements). You can click once on a shortcut icon and edit the name
if you want.
Desktop keyboard shortcut
How did you
go to your Windows desktop to see if it needed reorganizing? One way is
to find the little icon on the desktop toolbar (I think it’s supposed
to be a pencil writing on a pad of paper, but for several years I
thought it was a flashlight). Or, from the keyboard, you can press
Alt-spacebar, then N to minimize each open program in turn. There’s a
simpler way. Press the key with the Windows symbol (the thing that looks
like a flying flag) and then quickly press D. Voila! You’re at the
Where is the Windows
toolbar on your desktop? Usually it is at the bottom of the screen. Did
you know it could go anywhere — top, bottom, left, or right? Just drag
and drop it where you want it. Most of us prefer it at the bottom, but
did you know that toolbars can be moved around, too? Most programs allow
you to position the toolbar anywhere you want (even floating as a
On the Windows toolbar, the area at the left (if the
toolbar is at the bottom) has one-click icons for programs. You can
customize these, too. If there are some you never use, you can either
right-click on the icon and select delete or you can drag-and-drop it
onto the desktop if there isn’t already an icon there for it. The
reverse process works to add one-click icons to the toolbar. You can
drag-and-drop or copy-and-drop from the desktop.
probably need to grab and slide the vertical bar to the right of these
icons to adjust the space so that all are visible.
We’ve been discussing getting rid of icons, but what if
you wish you had an icon for a particular program on the desktop? Some
programs created folders when you installed them, into which they put
all of their icons. You can drag-and-drop or copy-and-drop the icon you
want from that folder onto the desktop.
But what if you can’t
find the icon anywhere? With the desktop visible, use the Start menu to
get to the program name you want, but don’t start the program. Press and
hold Ctrl (for Copy, so you won’t lose it from the Start menu) and
drag-and-drop it onto a vacant space on the desktop.
work for you
Personalizing your desktop may help decrease
your frustration in finding things while increasing your efficiency, but
each person must find arrangements that are comfortable for him or her.