Windows 10 tips and tricks that help you get stuff done faster

 pcworld.com  10/26/2020 13:05:00   Brad Chacos

Time may not necessarily be money, but it still matters. Every second you spend wading through context menus or clunkily navigating Windows is a second you could be doing something you love instead. And with so much of modern life tied up in technology, those wasted seconds can add up fast.

Now its time to reclaim those lost seconds, minutes, and hours. These simple Windows 10 tips and tricks arent glamorous and most arent even new to the Start menu-swapping October 2020 Update, to be honest, but when deployed together they can seriously streamline your workflow.

Once youve mastered these methods, be sure to check out our guides to 10 helpful Windows 10 tools you might not know about, how to tune Windows 10 for laser-focused productivity, and the best Windows 10 tips, tricks, and tweaks. Optimizing your setup gets awfully addictive, awfully fast.

Adjust your startup programs

Lets start where it all begins: When your computer boots up. Seemingly every program you install worms its way into activating alongside your PC. Some software, such as your keyboards management app or your antivirus, deserves that lofty status. Others dont. (Im looking at you, game launchers.) And every program that leaps to life when Windows does delays your ability to use your system, especially if you havent upgraded to an SSD yet.

startup programs Brad Chacos/IDG

Fortunately, its easy to seize control over which programs launch with Windows. Simply press Ctrl + Shift + Esc or search for Task Manager to open the Windows 10 Task Manager, then click on the Startup tab at the top. There, youll see all the programs clamoring for a spot in the startup limelight, complete with an estimated impact rating from Low to High. If you want to turn any off, simply click its listing and select Disable. Obviously, doing so means youll need to open the program manually to activate it from now on.

Customize your task bar

Now lets start organizing things a bit better. Launching a program thats pinned to your Windows 10 taskbar is always faster than hunting it down in the Start menu or on your desktop. So youll want to populate yours with the software and files you use the most.

To pin a program to your taskbar, simply right-click it and select the Pin to taskbar option in the context menu that appears. You can also do this to a programs icon when it appears in your taskbar after opening it. You can pin frequently visited webpages to your taskbar by saving it as a shortcut via your browsers setting menu, then right-clicking that shortcut on your desktop and selecting Pin to taskbar.

Folders can only be pinned to the Start menu, alas. You can pin specific files to your taskbar, kinda-sorta, but the process is slightly different, and brings us to our next tip&

Embrace jump lists

Now that youve pinned your most-used programs to the taskbar, youre ready to take advantage of the awesomeness known as jump lists. When you right-click a program icon in your taskbar, most will reveal a pop-up list of your most recent open files for that program, or shortcuts to common tasks. Its a great way to jump right back into a project without needing to slog through folder after subfolder in the Windows File Explorer.

steam jump list Brad Chacos/IDG

Better yet, if you know youll constantly return to a particular file or shortcut, you can pin it to the top of the jump list by mousing over its entry, then clicking the pin icon that appears all the way on the right. Any files you do it for will appear under a new Pinned items section at the top of the jump list. Simply click the pin icon for an entry again to remove it.

Launch taskbar shortcuts with keyboard shortcuts

But were looking for speed. Unless youre summoning a jump list to leap back quickly into a specific file, even clicking those icons in your taskbar can be sped upbynot clicking on them. Power users swear by the speed of keyboard shortcuts, and you can open a program on your taskbar without having to lift your hand to your mouse.

You used to be able to open specific programs pinned to your taskbar by pressing the Windows key simultaneously with a number associated with where the program is located to the right of the Start Menupressing Win + 1 to open your first pinned option, Win + 2 to open the second option, and so on. That seems to have disappeared in Windows 10, though it still works in older versions of the operating system.

If you want to use your keyboard to open programs pinned to your taskbar in Windows 10, press Win + T. Youll see a box appear around the first pinned item to the right of the Start Menu. Press Enter to open it, or keep pressing T to cycle through all your pinned programs from left to right.

Keyboard shortcuts!

lenovo thinkpad l390 yoga keyboard detail Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

Continuing with that theme, keyboard shortcuts are wonderful for performing tasks much quicker than you can by clicking around menus with a mouse. If youre a keyboard shortcut novice, heres a sampling of some of the more useful ones:

  • Crtl + C: Copy
  • Ctrl + X: Cut
  • Crtl + V: Paste
  • Crtl + Z: Undo last action (these Crtl tips work with most software)
  • Alt + Tab: Cycle through open programs
  • Win + Tab: See all open program on a per-monitor basis, summon Windows Timeline
  • Windows key: Open search
  • Windows + E: Open File Explorer
  • Windows + Print Screen: Takes a screenshot and saves it to your Pictures folder
  • Windows + I: Open Windows Settings
  • Crtl + Shift + Esc:Open Task Manager
  • F5:Refresh the active window

If you want to see a full list of all Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts, check out this cheat sheet on Microsofts support site. Mostbut not allof them should work with older versions of Windows, too.

DIY keyboard shortcuts

You dont have to stop with Windows 10s native keyboard shortcuts. You can create custom keyboard shortcuts to open programs quickly, too.

steam shortcut creation Brad Chacos/IDG

To do so, right-click the app and select Create shortcut. Youll see a new icon appear with the same name as the program, but with shortcut at the end. Right-click the shortcut for the program and select Properties. In the pop-up menu that appears, select the Shortcut tab, click the Shortcut Key field, and press the alphanumerical key youd like to associate with the program. Click OK to save the change. Windows will assign Crtl + Alt + <key of your choice> as the keyboard shortcut to open that program.

This trick can be seriously useful for wrangling programs that you use often, but not often enough to pin to your taskbar. I like using it for the myriad game launchers installed on my PC, associating the keyboard shortcuts letter with the first letter of the game launchers name.

Shut it all down

If youre opening programs and files willy-nilly, you may find yourself drowning in open windows. Fear not: Windows provides several ways to clear the deck near-instantly, returning your focus to the task at hand.

My favorite? Click and hold the title bar at the top of the program youre working in, then give it a vigorous shake. All other windows will be minimized to the taskbar. Pressing Windows + Home accomplishes the same thing. Alternatively, if you want to minimize everything and reveal your desktop, simply press Windows + D on your keyboard, or click the barely-visible sliver all the way to the very right of your taskbar, beyond the system tray and notification center. Poof.

Supercharge the Send To menu

Staying organized is key to working efficiently. You can use the right-click context menus Send To option to keep your virtual house clean, though doing so will require altering the menu to fit your particular needs. Doing so is fast, and well worth the trouble.

send to Brad Chacos/IDG

Start by creating shortcuts to your most-used folders. (I like creating a shortcut for my PCWorld work folder, for instance.) Once thats done, open File Explorer and type shell:sendto into the location bar at the top. File Explorer will reveal a list of the options that appear in the Send To menu. Simply drag your previously created shortcuts into this folder. Next time you right-click an item and summon the Send To menu, those folders will be listed as options. Happy sorting!

Quick Access or This PC?

While youre in File Explorer, you might want to change the location it opens to. Windows 10 changed things up by having File Explorer default to Quick Access, a view of your most recently used files and frequently used folders. Sounds handy, right? Not so much if youre already taking advantage of jump lists in your taskbar. If youve set up your system as outlined in this guide, youre much more likely to wade into File Explorer to hunt down infrequently used itemsthe opposite of what Quick Access provides.

quick access Brad Chacos/IDG

Fortunately, you can change how File Explorer behaves and have it open to the This PC interface instead, where you can start drilling down into the subfolders on your hard drives. To do so, open File Explorer, click on the View tab, and then click Options. A single option, Change folders and search options, will appear; select it. In the pop-up it summons, open the General tab, click the Open File Explorer to drop-down at the top, and select either Quick Access or This PC.

Power up

Finally, once youve mastered these simple yet secret tricks, you could find even more time savings by delving into the exotic world of Windows power tools. Secretive enthusiast-class tools like Timeline, Nearby Sharing, Cloud Clipboard, Storage Sense, and God Mode can help you streamline your workflow even more. Head over to our guide to 10 truly helpful Windows 10 tools you might not know about to fall even deeper down this rabbit hole, or our tutorial on how to fine-tune Windows 10 for laser-focused productivity if you want to minimize interruptions.

Editor's note: This article is updated periodically with new information. It was most recently updated to mention the Windows 10 October 2020 Update.

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