As Roger and I have said on multiple occasions, there are lots of ways you can accomplish most tasks within Photoshop. Each of us learns differently and focuses on different things as we work. Photoshop allows us to customize and then save our own individual workspaces. You can group the menus and panels and tools exactly how you want them. I have created two specific ones for how I generally work. First, a little background on navigating and adding to the panels themselves.
When you start a new installation of PS, it begins with just the essentials.
You have Color, Swatches, Adjustments, Styles, Layers, Channels, and Paths and in the Vertical column on the left side two icons for History and Properties. Pretty much all you really need to start working. As you click on the tabs between Color and Swatches it makes that panel active. You can resize them or even collapse them just by hovering around the edges until the double arrow appears. Clicking on the collapsed icon like history will expand it and show any options.
Adobe has built some presets in already for you besides the essentials. 3D, Typography, Photography and Painting reconfigure the panels for those tasks. They are good starting points for your customization efforts.
How do we add new panels? Under the Window menu is the list of all of the panels and Extensions which are available.
Just select one, and it will open in the frame. As you drag the box around, you will see some interesting indicators. If you drag it over to the vertical panel on the right, you will see the edge light up and turn blue. When it does, release the icon and it will stick where you left it in the column. If you want the new feature to be part of the large open panels on the right, just keep dragging it over there and then choose where you want it to go. Start off by moving the Navigator panel over to the top of the stack. It always comes along with the Histogram as its second tab. In all my workspaces, those two are on top, as they provide a fast way to get around in your image.
I tend to do two main types of work; Photo Restoration and regular creative work in PS. When I am doing restoration work, tools such as Layer Comps and the finer controls from the Clone Source Panel are my frequent companions. Instead of continually opening and adding them, I dragged them into the configuration I want and then from either the Window Menu, or the Workspace selection bar, you just hit “New Workspace” and name it. Mine is cleverly called “Restoration”.
Photoshop also remembers where on your screens you want the panels to be. Now I have built a three monitor configuration. My main center monitor is where I want the most image space. I move the panels off to a second monitor and then open another copy of the image in the third so I can maintain perspective when I am doing detail work. This works for me, so I saved it as my “Three Screen” workspace.
Play with what works for you a while, save a few workspaces and then delete the ones you never use. Keeping your workspace organization organized is a good way to start.