Rethink how you use Windows 10 to speed things up.
Super-shortcuts and other tricks that can make using any PC easier and faster
We all want our PCs to run faster, but that doesn’t simply involve fitting a new processor, doubling the amount of RAM, or tweaking system settings in an effort to boost Windows’ raw speed (turn to page 11 for more). It also involves reappraising the way you use your computer, finding new shortcuts, and basically forcing yourself to work in a more efficient way. There are dozens of hidden tips and shortcuts that can revolutionise the way you interact with both Windows and your favourite programs, saving you a huge amount of time in a relatively short period. How much time can you save? Taken in isolation, each tip we reveal over the following five pages will probably shave a few seconds off here and there, but when you start using them regularly, things soon start to add up. Imagine: One tip that saves you five seconds, used 12 times a day, will save you a single minute, but over the course of a year, that adds up to six hours – from one tip. That means you don’t have to apply that many of our recommended keyboard shortcuts and tweaks before your annual savings stretch into days, or even weeks, simply by familiarising yourself with the contents of this feature.
We’ve focused primarily on Windows 10 here, although many of the tweaks and tips also work with Windows 7 and 8.1. We optimise the way you use the desktop, Start menu (and its little brother, the Quick Access menu), and the Taskbar, and we reveal which Settings tweaks can streamline the way you work.
We also take you on a tour of time-saving keyboard shortcuts, investigate ways of using the right-click menu more efficiently, and unlock ways to search faster using File Explorer. There’s even time to look at creating your own custom Jump List commands, reacquaint yourself with the Run dialog box, and speed up the way you use Microsoft Office (along with other apps).
Start implementing these tips now, and discover how to make your Windows PC even more productive.
Let’s begin our efficiency drive by streamlining your desktop and making things more accessible. If you’re not already doing so, start by placing shortcuts to your favourite apps on the Taskbar. This puts them a single click away – if you need to open a second instance of a program alongside the first, simply hold the [Shift] key as you click on the Taskbar icon to do so.
The simplest way to do this is to open the app in question – you’ll see its icon appear in the Taskbar, so just right-click it, and choose ‘Pin to taskbar’, then drag it into place. You might, for example, want to group related apps together, so office apps in one part, web apps in another, and so on.
Another advantage of running apps from the Taskbar is that many use Jump Lists to give you two-click access to recently opened documents – right-click the Taskbar icon to access them all. To permanently attach an item to this list, roll your mouse over it, then click the Pin button that appears.
If you run out of space for items on the Taskbar, create a folder inside which you place all your shortcuts, then right-click the Taskbar and choose New > Toolbars > New Toolbar. Point it to this folder, then you can click the ‘>>’ next to the newly created toolbar to access your shortcuts. Or go further, and create your own custom Jump Lists (see below).
Start menu shortcuts
The Windows 10 Start menu enables you to pin favourite items from the main list into the right-hand pane – just rightclick the item in question, and choose ‘Pin to Start menu’ (you can also pin the
item to the Taskbar from here via the More sub-menu). Once it appears in the list, you can then drag and drop related items together, change icon sizes (regular program shortcuts can be small or medium), then name the group for easy identification (click the ‘=’ button next to a group to rename it). Also, click and drag the title bar via its ‘=’ button to reorder groups, placing your more frequently accessed groups at the top of the list.
You’ll also notice some handy shortcuts down the left side of the panel – click your user photo to quickly access account settings via the ‘Change account settings’ option that appears (you can also switch users without logging out from here, too, and lock your PC). Other shortcuts – including Settings and File Explorer – can also be found here. You have a limited choice over what you can display, including a selection of user folders (and indeed a link to the parent folder itself), plus Homegroup, and Network. To change these, go to Settings > Personalisation > Start, and then click ‘Choose which folders appear on Start’.
Use Quick Access
The Start menu has been streamlined slightly in the Creators Update, but it’s still no substitute for the Quick Access menu that appears when you rightclick the Start button or press [Win] + [X]. This contains many useful shortcuts to various system settings and tools, but why stop with the options provided? You can add your own with the help of Win+X Menu Editor (http://bit.ly/2xsJ36i). This portable application enables you to edit what’s there, rearrange items, and – crucially – add your own.
Once you launch Win+X Menu Editor, click ‘Add a program’ to add your choice of programs, Control Panel items, or Administrative Tools. Select ‘Add preset’ and you’ll find some handy shortcuts to hidden tools and power options as well. You can also organise your items into groups to keep related items together, and make things easier to find.
More Settings tweaks
The following tweaks all help save on clicks and unnecessary navigation, and can be found under Start > Settings (or use [Win] + [I] for even faster access). Start by heading over to Devices > Mouse, and – if necessary – flicking the ‘Scroll inactive windows when I hover over them’ switch to on. You can now roll your mouse over any open window and scroll it, without first selecting the window in question. If you’re a trackpad user, click ‘Additional mouse options’, and look for a tab that gives you access to specific gestures and other trackpad-only settings that can speed up how you use your PC.
If you regularly switch between printers, head to Devices > Printer, and enable ‘Let Windows manage my default printer’ – this makes whichever printer you used last the default. Select ‘Typing’ if you want to disable autocorrect and remove text suggestions, although in most cases these are welcome timesavers. Finally, select AutoPlay if you want to pick a default option when you plug in external devices such as DVDs, USB drives or flash memory cards.
Go to System > ‘Notifications & actions’ to tweak which Quick Actions appear in the Action Centre – useful shortcuts include toggling quiet hours and tweaking network settings. Then select ‘Multi-tasking’ to change how virtual desktops behave – you can show open windows from all desktops on the Taskbar to speed things up if you frequently switch desktops, and configure [Alt] + [Tab] to show all open windows – not just those open on the current desktop. There’ll be more virtual desktop tweaks later.
Go to Accounts > ‘Sign-in options’ and set a device-specific PIN to save you time whenever you’re asked for your Microsoft account password. Finally, it’s also worth exploring the ‘Ease of Access’ section to see if any of the accessibility options on offer can improve your Windows experience to make things easier (and quicker) to use.
“If you run out of space for items on the Taskbar, create a folder inside which you place all your shortcuts”
Master the keyboard
Point-and-click is convenient, but it’s no substitute for fast keyboard action. Luckily, you can assign keyboard shortcuts to your favourite programs to quickly launch them – saving you precious time. First, let’s examine the Taskbar: The first 10 entries to the right of the Task View button can be triggered using the shortcuts [Win] +  through to [Win] +  (left to right). Alternatively, right-click a program shortcut (or right-click its Taskbar entry, then right-click the program entry in the Jump List), and choose Properties. From here, click inside the ‘Shortcut key’ box, then hold down your choice of key combination to launch the app – possible combinations include [Ctrl] + [Alt], [Shift] + [Alt], or [Ctrl] + [Shift] + [Alt] plus your choice of key.
The [Win] key is also gateway to many useful tools: [Win] + [Pause/ Break] opens the old System Control Panel, for example, while [Win] + [A] opens the Action Centre. If you would like to pair the [Win] key with [Ctrl] and [Alt] for more keyboard shortcuts, download WinHotKey from www. directedge.us/content/winhotkey, which works fine in Windows 10.
It’s also worth exploring your favourite apps and programs for useful keyboard shortcuts. There are some useful shortcuts universal to all apps (and Windows itself), such as the [Ctrl] +[C], [X], and [V] shortcuts for copying, cutting, and pasting to and from the clipboard. [Ctrl] + [Z] undoes the last action (including file operations in
“Most keyboard shortcuts are clearly labeled within a program’s menu, but where no shortcut is forthcoming, always remember the [Alt] trick”
Windows), while [Ctrl] + [Y] redoes or repeats the last action.
Most keyboard shortcuts are clearly labeled within a program’s menus, but where no shortcut is forthcoming, always remember the [Alt] trick – press [Alt] and the highlighted letter of a menu, and you open the menu. Combine this with the underlined letter of a specific menu option – [Alt] +[F] + [O] for File > Open, for example – and you trigger that menu option.
Office 365 users should press [Alt] once – you’ll see a list of letters appear above the various Ribbon and Quick Access toolbar options. Hold [Alt] as you press the corresponding key to access that option – if it’s a Ribbon tab, more letters appear next to various Ribbon options, enabling you to select those options quickly. For more Office tips, see the ‘Speed up Microsoft Office’ boxout on page 58.
The right-click menu – also accessible by pressing [Shift] + [F10] to trigger it at the current cursor point – is packed with useful, context-sensitive options, particularly in File Explorer. Hold down [Shift] as you right-click, and you often reveal hidden options – for example, ’Copy as path’ for a selected file or folder, or to load more destinations under the ‘Send to’ sub-menu.
To add your own custom apps and locations to the ‘Send:to’ menu, open the Run dialog, type ‘shell:sendto’ and hit [Enter]. Place your shortcuts in here, or use Send To Toys (www. gabrieleponti.com/software) to add more options, such as the clipboard, Command Prompt, and so on.
The right-click menus can become cluttered by third-party apps adding their own options, which can slow navigation down. If there’s no option to disable these within the application itself, there are a few third-party tools that can help clear the clutter for you. If you’re using CCleaner (www.piriform. com), then go to Tools > Startup > Context Menu tab. If you want more control – including options for adding more entries to the menu – then use the portable Context Menu tool (http:// www.sordum.org/?p=7615) instead. Choose File > ContextMenuCleaner to review and scrub unwanted entries.
“You can customise the Ribbon, too, with your favourite commands, placing them under a tab”
Speed Up File Explorer
File Explorer is packed with timesaving tips and tools. Here are some of the best. First, make use of the Quick Access menu in the Navigation pane – drag frequently accessed folders here for quick and easy access.
If you’re still using [Ctrl] or [Shift] to select multiple folders or files, switch to the View tab of File Explorer’s Ribbon instead, and select ‘Item check boxes’ – now you can select each file or folder by using its checkbox.
File Explorer’s search box is still the go-to location for file and folder searches – learn to make the most of its filters to find what you need. The Search tab on the Ribbon provides you with two-click access to these, but you can input your own filters directly into the search box, including ‘type:’ (filetype), ‘kind:’ (type of file, such as document), ‘date:’ (date or date range), ‘size:’ (file size), and even ‘tag:’ (tags).
The Search box also supports all standard Boolean operators, so enclose exact phrases inside double quotation marks, precede unwanted terms with a dash (-), and use AND, OR, or NOT. Visit https://msdn.microsoft. com/aa965711 for a comprehensive guide. If you store key files outside of your user folders, it’s worth getting Windows to index those locations to speed up future searches. On the Search tab, choose Advanced Options > ‘Change indexed locations’ to do so.
Let’s finish with some handy keyboard shortcuts for navigating your desktop. Aero Snap enables you to pin two windows side-by-side by dragging them to either edge of the desktop. You can also snap windows via the keyboard: Hold [Win] and press the left or right cursor keys respectively. Once there, press [Win] + [Up] to move the window to the top corner, or [Win] + [Down] to move it down to the bottom corner, allowing up to four windows to be on screen at once.
Finally, start making good use of Windows’ task- and desktop-switching tools with the help of some [Tab] key combos. The new visual Task View may not be to everyone’s tastes, but you can easily invoke it with [Win] + [Tab]. Once open, use your keyboard’s cursor keys to select your desired window, and hit [Enter]. If you prefer the old-school view, then hold down [Alt] and press [Tab] instead – you can cycle left and right using [Tab] (right) and [Shift] + [Tab] (left), all the while continuing to hold down the [Alt] key.
[Alt] + [Tab] only displays windows from the current virtual desktop, while you can configure Task View (see earlier) to display windows from all desktops, making it quicker to switch. Speaking of which, hold [Win] + [Ctrl] + [D] to create a new virtual desktop, and [Win] + [Ctrl] + [F4] to close the current one. You can also move between virtual desktops using [Win] + [Ctrl] and then the left or right cursor keys.
As an aside, if you’re navigating a multi-tabbed application, such as your web browser, then use [Ctrl] + [Tab] and [Ctrl] + [Shift] + [Tab] to cycle backward and forward through the tabs.
Access your entire PC’s contents from the Taskbar.
You can customise what appears on the Quick Access menu.
If you want to save time entering your password, use a PIN instead.
The [Alt] key accesses menus and Ribbons alike.
Assign a keyboard shortcut to launch favourite apps.
Switch open apps quickly with the old-school [Alt] + [Tab] combo.
Send To Toys is a free app that gives you many more ‘Send:to’ options.
You can pin two windows side by side-by-side using [Win] + the left or right cursor keys.