Wong Liang Zan

Wong Liang Zan

© 2020

A quiet desktop

Can you work in a noisy room? No. Noise distracts. When you are working, your are mentally juggling multiple objects all at once. Just one slight noise and everything drops. Luckily all the companies I worked at had quiet working places. Quiet working places are usually the norm. It is item number 8 in the famous Joel Test. External noise is easy to identify. We even have laws against noise pollution. Everyone agrees that it is harmful. What I find that we often allow noise to pollute our desktop without second thoughts. What do I mean by noise?

Noise on the desktop is any visual or audio cues that distracts you. Noise are generated by attention seeking apps. One example of an attention seeking app is Growl. Growl is a centralised notification system for Mac. Notifications come in the form of a translucent box on your top right corner with text. I find it distracting. Ask yourself, how many of those notifications are worthy of your immediate attention? I don’t need to be informed when Bob came online on Skype, or Itunes is playing Justin Bieber, or when my download has finished. That is too much information. I think Growl notifications are useful and looks good too. It helps you to stay on top of things. But you need to restrict it to essential notifications. I have since removed Growl. It does not seem to hurt my responsiveness.

Another example of attention seeking apps are online group chats like Campfire or Hipchat. When messages come, a bell goes off, the tab title shows the number of unread messages. Implicitly, it make me feel guilty for not reading everything. The larger the number grew, the worse I felt. I’d much prefer to hide the unread count, replacing it with a simple asterisk which indicates there is activity since I last read. Sounds should be turned off. In my experiences with group chats, most of the messages are not important. I don’t need to know them immediately. If everyone is in the same office, I don’t think it is necessary to use online group chats. Much better to talk in person.

Street with Neon lights. Photo by AndyCunningham

The same goes for menu bar applets or shell status bars. Take control of them. Remove audio notifications. Prefer greyscale menu bar icons to colored ones so they fade to the background gracefully. Better still, remove them. Information for the sake of information is counter productive. To have a sense of how noisy your desktop really is, turn on your volume to the max, step away and observe from a distance. Note down which apps are trying to catch your attention by visual or audio cues. Then think, are those information important most of the time? If not, I can safely assure you your life would be more peaceful without them. Less is more.