Time. There’s never enough of it, so the more ways you can find to speed through the business of the day the better — and if you spend a good number of hours sat in front of a computer, then time-saving shortcuts for operating Windows can make a big difference to how much free time you find yourself left with. Here are some easy ones to try.
1) Close down background programs
Having programs running in the background only boosts your productivity if you’re actually using them regularly. Right-click on a blank area of the taskbar and choose Task Manager then Processes to see what’s running (right-click on entries to close them).
2) Stop programs from starting up automatically
While you’re in the Task Manager window (see above), switch to the Start-up tab to see (and remove) applications that load themselves as Windows boots up. Again, having apps startup when you power on can save time if you actually use these apps, otherwise, they can slow down boot-up times.
3) Streamline the Start menu
Don’t just leave the Start menu in its default state — if you put your most-used programs and folders front and centre, you can save a substantial amount of time in accessing them. Right-click on an app (in the Start menu list) or a folder (in File Explorer) to pin it.
4) Make full use of the taskbar
The Start menu isn’t all that necessary if you have all the applications you need pinned to the taskbar: Right-click on any program in the Start menu list and choose More then Pin to taskbar to have a shortcut always appear on the taskbar. Right-click on a taskbar icon to remove it.
5) Manage your windows
Having your various program windows and browser tabs well organised might only save you a few seconds a day, but those seconds can quickly add up. Right-click on a blank area of the taskbar to see options for cascading open window or putting them side by side.
6) Hide your windows
Being able to hide all of your windows at once is handy too, if you need to clear your screen and your mind: Something we do all the time is click right down in the far bottom-right corner of the Windows interface to minimise open windows and show the desktop.
7) Tidy up the Quick access pane
The Quick access pane sits on the left of File Explorer by default, so make sure you’re making full use of it: Select View, Options, Change folder and search options then General to tweak what’s shown, or right-click on any folder to pin it to Quick access.
8) Don’t forget Cortana
Did you forget that Windows has a voice assistant built in? It might not have the smarts or the versatility of some of its rivals, but it can definitely save you a few clicks and keyboard taps. Click the Cortana logo to the right of the search box on the taskbar to get started.
9) Make more use of your voice
Voice control with Windows doesn’t start and end with Cortana — you can speed up operations by talking rather than typing through Windows’ built-in dictation system. Hit Win+H to launch the dictation toolbar and start speaking (see here for more instructions).
10) Go back in time
If you haven’t used the Timeline feature in Windows yet, it can help you retrace your steps and get back to something you were recently working on, potentially saving a lot of time hunting through apps and folders. Press Win+Tab on your keyboard to bring up Timeline.
11) Tweak the Send to menu
Files and folders can be quickly moved around in File Explorer by right-clicking on them and choosing an option from the Send to menu. To edit what’s actually on this menu, type “shell:sendto” into the File Explorer address bar, and drag in any shortcuts you like.
12) View your clipboard history
A lot of computing tasks require the classic copy and paste shortcuts, but sometimes one clipboard slot just isn’t enough — one way to speed up the process is to press Win+V when you want to paste, to look back through a list of recently copied clipboard items.
13) Embrace virtual desktops
Another tip for keeping windows well organised in Windows is to use multiple desktops with separate spaces where you can keep groups of programs apart. To get started, click the Task view button to the right of the Cortana button on the taskbar, then New desktop.
14) Embrace the actual desktop
The desktop is a good place to dump shortcuts to the applications and folders you use most often (right-click, New, Shortcut to create something new). We’d also recommend a temporary folder on the actual desktop for files you only need briefly (like downloads).
15) Customise mouse buttons
No matter what model of mouse you’re using, it may well come with a bundled utility to remap some of the buttons on it: You can change the function of the buttons from shortcuts that you don’t use to ones that you do, making them much quicker to access.
16) Put people first
Sometimes it’s faster to focus on the people you need to be in touch with rather than the programs you need to run: Right-click on a blank part of the taskbar, choose Show People on the taskbar, and then click the new icon to pin contacts so they’re always available.
17) Middle-click and right-click
Right-click and middle-click (with the scroll wheel) on everything you see to find more shortcuts. For example, right-click on the Start menu button for some quick links, or middle-click on File Explorer on the taskbar to open up a new browsing window.
18) Know your keyboard
If you don’t use many keyboard shortcuts at the moment, you might be surprised at how much time they can save you. Make sure you know what the available ones are, both in the programs that you use a lot, and in Windows — Microsoft has a comprehensive list here.
19) Script your own shortcuts
If the built-in Windows shortcuts don’t do everything you need them to, get the open-source utility AutoHotkey installed — it lets you automate a whole host of common tasks within Windows, and then assign your own keyboard or mouse shortcut key to them.