One of the first things most people do, after a fresh install, is to set up their desktop. My usual post install to-do list runs as such...
0. Check for updates and install additional applications.
1. Set the desktop time and place (down in the bottom right of the screen). Setting the preferences to show a 24 hour clock, including the seconds is quickly followed by setting the time and, more importantly, linking it to a local Atomic clock, (hence showing the seconds)! I then select my area, (in my case London City Airport), then I have the current weather and temperature along side the clock.
2. A right click on the centre of the bar, at the bottom, brings up another menu upon which I select 'Add to Panel...'. Down the bottom of this list is the Workspace Switcher. (Why this isn't included in the default desktop set up? It is one of the best features of the Gnome desktop.) Once installed you can again right click on the Workspace Switcher and through preferences change the number of desktops and the layout. I usually run with a web browser on one desktop, Thunderbird on the next, etc.
3. Next stop is the desktop wallpaper, (although Mint 11 looks like it may stay on my next desktop, for a bit at least), currently I have the ever changing series of Space Scenes. After right clicking on the desktop the avenues are now open for you to change fonts (styles and sizes), desktop themes, colours et al. I personally like nice bright and clear buttons so I choose Clearlooks2-Squared-Berries and Oxygen Icons.
4. Everybody has their favourite applications (say three or four of them) that are most frequently used. I always drag down their Icons, from the Mint menu to the bar, next to the Menu button. This provides me with quick launchers for, in my case, Firefox, Thunderbird, Audacity and LibreOffice Writer. (It is best to get them into position, then lock them down. (Yes; Right Clicking again!)
There we are and, I haven't even got on to Compiz yet!!
By the way, a bit of advice to the listeners. If when navigating through an application or the Gnome desktop and you're not clear as to what to do next, try right clicking on it. Almost invariably a menu appears with a solution.
All the best to you.