How to Pin Documents to the Taskbar and Declutter A Desktop

Get your desktop files organized with the taskbar.

Windows 10 Taskbar
The Windows 10 Taskbar.

Does your desktop contain a series of icons with no particular order or purpose? If you’re like most computer users (myself included), you’ve succumbed to "drop everything on the desktop" (DEotD) disorder. It's an easy habit to get into and most of us don't think twice about it.

Common symptoms of DEotD sufferers include:

  • I saved the file last week and can’t find it.
  • I know the latest version is here, somewhere.
  • My personal favorite: the blank stare as you repeatedly try to read the file names on all the icons on your desktop.

Pin Documents and Clean-up Your Desktop

If these symptoms sound familiar, please continue reading. As more and more of our miscellaneous files end up on our computers it becomes essential to be able to quickly locate files and applications that are frequently used. In Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced the concept of pinning items like documents, applications and others to the Start Menu. In Windows 7, Microsoft took the next step and allowed users to pin their favorite applications and documents to the taskbar. A feature that still exists on Windows 8/8.1 and Windows 10.

Along with this ability Microsoft introduced jump lists, a little feature that allows you to view recently opened documents and your pinned favorites without having to open the individual application. Best of all, the files are associated with the applications you are working on, so if you regularly use a group of Excel files you can pin them to the Excel shortcut on the taskbar.

Each time you want to open the files you simply right-click on the Excel shortcut and click on the pinned file from the jump list. With this feature you save countless trips to the search box and save time by not having to scan documents within a folder.

How to Pin Documents

To pin a document or application to the taskbar follow the instructions below.

  1. Click and drag the application to the taskbar. In case you wish to pin a document to an application shortcut on the Taskbar, click and drag the file to the respective program icon that's already pinned to the taskbar.
  2. A small tip will appear indicating that the item will be pinned to the application you selected. So if you want to pin an Excel document drag it to the Excel icon on your taskbar.
  3. Now right-click on the program icon in the taskbar and look for the "Pinned" section in the jump list.

Once pinned you will be able to access your favorite files right from your desktop.

Windows 10 offers another method for pinning. Click on the Start button, right-click the program you'd like to pin, and select More > Pin to start

It's an easy way to easily get at files and in Windows 10 you can easily access all your pinned items across multiple desktops.

Now all that's left to do is sort out those documents sitting on your desktop. I'd highly recommend that you do not pin a program to your taskbar for every possible document you need to sort out. Instead, look for either the most commonly required programs or the most essential (depending on the types of documents have). Then sort each file to an appropriate folder on your system before pinning your essential files to their respective programs on the taskbar.

If you don't sort your files first they will still be on your desktop looking cluttered as ever--you'll just have an improved way to access them.

Once you're desktop is cleared try to keep it that way. It may seem easier to just dump everything on the desktop, but that gets confusing fast. A better solution is to funnel all your various downloaded files into appropriate folders on your system. Then at the end of every week (or every day if you have the bandwidth) dump anything on your desktop into the recycle bin. 

Before we go, I'll leave you with one final tip for Windows 10 users. If you find an absolutely essential document on your desktop that you'd rather keep highlighted yet separate from a particular program consider pinning it to your Start menu.

First, create a folder specifically for that file such as "Annual expense report" and drop in the file. Next, right-click on the folder and select Pin to start from the context menu. That's it. You've now got access to your file (inside a folder) right from the Start menu.

Updated by Ian Paul.