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22 Jan 2021

Windows tips and tricks: seven simple ways to make your PC easier to use

Want to get tasks done quicker while you're working from home? We reveal the best ways to create and make use of time-saving Windows shortcuts

While Windows makes most tasks straightforward, there's often a certain amount of 'click this, click that' to wade through before you can get the desired result. But what if you could simplify tasks such as these to just a quick click or two?

As it happens, Windows offers a surprisingly wide range of options for controlling your computer and carrying out actions using shortcuts of different kinds. You can place shortcut icons for programs files and settings in various handy places, for example, such as your desktop, Start menu or taskbar - wherever suits you best.

Below, we're sharing some tips that will help you customise Windows so you can find your most important files in a flash. Keep scrolling for the details.

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How to improve your experience with Windows

1. Create desktop shortcuts for folders, files, programs and more

Rather than keeping your files on your desktop, it's best to keep them organised in folders - for example, documents in the Documents folder, photos in the Pictures folder and so on.

Right-click a blank area of your desktop and select New > Shortcut. In the Create Shortcut window that opens, click the Browse button and navigate to the file you want. Click the file, then click OK > Next. Type a name for your shortcut if you like (the file name will be used by default), then click Finish.

You can create shortcuts for entire folders this way - just select the folder you want when you click the Browse button instead of a specific file.

You can even create desktop shortcuts to websites you frequently visit. In the Create Shortcut window, enter the URL for the website - eg which.co.uk - where it says Type the location of the item, then click Next > Finish.

2. Pin items to the Start menu

Unless you're very good at keeping your desktop organised, you might end up wasting time hunting through all your shortcut icons to find the right one. Luckily, Windows Start menu can help.

The Start menu is divided into two sections - the left-hand side shows a fixed, alphabetical list of all the programs and tools installed on your PC, while the right-hand side is a customisable area where you can keep your most frequently used shortcuts, known as 'tiles'. To add a program shortcut tile to your Start menu, just right-click it in the alphabetical list on the left, then select Pin to Start.

3. Create shortcuts for frequently used settings

If you ever find yourself scouring the Windows Settings app for that elusive switch or option, you can create a handy Start menu shortcut for it, so you'll never have to hunt for it again.

Click Start > Settings, then browse for the setting you want. Once you've found the page with your setting on it, right-click the name of the setting in the left-hand panel and select Pin to Start, then click Yes. A shortcut for the setting will now appear among your Start menu tiles.

4. Organise your start menu tiles

If you add lots of shortcuts to your Start menu, it can quickly become cluttered with tiles. But Windows gives you lots of options for organising them. You can simply click and drag them around to reorder them, for example.

You can also define each tile's shape and size - right-click a tile and select Resize to choose Small, Medium, Wide or Large. Shortcut tiles for certain apps - Mail, Calendar, Photos and others - offer a 'live' option, which displays regularly updated information, such as upcoming appointments or recently added photos.

To enable this function, right-click the app's tile, then click More > Turn Live Tile on. To remove a tile from the Start menu, right-click it and select Unpin from Start.

5. Pin items to the taskbar

The Start menu is a great place to organise your shortcuts, but that still puts access to your programs and files two or three clicks away. The taskbar - the bar that runs along the bottom of your desktop - is an ideal place to place shortcuts to your very favourite items, as this makes them only ever a click away.

To add a shortcut to a program on the taskbar, open the program - WordPad, for example - right-click its icon on the taskbarand select Pin to taskbar. The program's icon will remain on the taskbar even when the program itself is closed

As with the Start menu, you can add shortcuts to specific files by pinning them to a program's taskbar icon. For instance, open a document file in WordPad, then right-click the WordPad icon on the taskbar and you'll see the document listed under Recent. Click the pin icon next to the file name to pin it and you can launch that file whenever you need it by right-clicking the program's taskbar icon.

You can arrange your taskbar shortcut icons in any order by clicking and dragging them to where you want them. To remove a shortcut, right-click it and select Unpin from taskbar.

6. Customise shortcuts in File Explorer

When you launch File Explorer, it defaults to the Quick Access view, which shows an automatically generated selection of shortcuts to frequently used folders and recent files.

If you prefer a more traditional view of your drives and user folders (Downloads, Pictures, Documents, etc) when you launch File Explorer, click the View tab at the top of the window, then click Options. In the Folder Options window that opens, select This PC from the Open File Explorer to dropdown menu.

Whichever File Explorer view you choose, you can still pin shortcuts to favourite folders to the Quick Access area in the left-hand pane. Just navigate to it and either right-click it and select Pin to Quick access, or drag and drop the folder to the taskbar. Doing this will also mean you'll see a shortcut to the folder under Pinned whenever you right-click the File Explorer icon on the taskbar.

7. Add shortcuts to your PC's startup

If there are programs that you always launch when you start your PC, then you could cut out the shortcut altogether and set the programs to run automatically every time Windows opens.

The easiest way to do this is to click Start and browse through the list in the Start menu for the program or app you want. Right-click the program and select More > Open file location. This opens a File Explorer window with a shortcut to the program you want. Click Start again, type Run and press enter on the keyboard. In the Run box, type shell:startup and press enter again. This will open the Startup folder. Right-click the shortcut to your program and select Copy, then right-click a blank area of the Startup folder and select Paste. The program will now launch automatically every time you start your PC

Bear in mind that the more programs you set to run at startup, the longer it will take for your PC to complete the process.

8. Use keyboard shortcuts to carry out tasks quickly

The shortcuts we've covered so far will all save you time. But some people might feel that even reaching for the mouse, dragging the cursor across the screen and clicking on something is a bit of a pain.

Happily, Windows and most applications support another type of shortcut - the kind where pressing a combination of keys on your keyboard allows you to carry out common tasks such as copying, pasting, saving and printing quickly, without having to hunt around in menus and toolbars for the right command. We've picked out a handful of essential, everyday ones below that will quickly become second nature once you've used them a few times.

  • Windows Key + D - Show the desktop
  • Windows Key + E - Open a File Explorer window
  • Windows Key + I - Open the Settings app
  • Windows Key + S - Search your computer
  • Ctrl + Shift + Esc - Open the Task Manager
  • Alt + Tab - Switch between open program windows
  • F2 - Rename the selected item
  • F5 - Refresh your current webpage/program window
  • F11 - Toggle full-screen mode in current program
  • Ctrl + A - Select all
  • Ctrl + C - Copy the selection item(s)
  • Ctrl + V - Paste the selected item(s)
  • Ctrl + X - Cut the selected items
  • Ctrl + Z - Undo the last action
  • Ctrl + Y - Redo the last action
  • Ctrl + V - Paste the current document or picture
  • Ctrl + S - Save the file you're working on
  • Ctrl + W - Close the current program

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