Microsoft

How to work faster by making the Windows key a habit

The Windows key has been around for more than 20 years, yet many users don't appreciate its time-saving value. These handy shortcuts will speed your work and streamline your keyboarding habits.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/ilkercelik


The Windows key was introduced on the first Microsoft Natural Keyboard in 1994, and while it is now a mainstay on just about every PC keyboard, I am still surprised that not many people use it to their advantage. Sure, lots of folks use Windows key to open the Start menu or in combination with the [Tab] key to launch Task View. However, there are many other handy, time-saving features that the Windows Key can provide—if you take the time to learn the keystrokes and make using them a habit.

In this article, I'll tell you about my favorite Windows key shortcuts and show you how to make them habit forming.

Windows + E

One of the first Windows key shortcuts I learned was Windows + E, which launched Windows Explorer. Of course, the tool is now called File Explorer, but Windows + E still works. However, making this one a regular shortcut has always been difficult since it is so easy to launch File Explorer from the Taskbar, where it's pinned by default. File Explorer is also available from the left panel on the Start menu, but I hardly ever launch it from there.

Once I decided to make a concerted effort to use the Windows + E shortcut, it became easier to ignore the pinned File Explorer icon. But I found myself slipping back to my old ways too often. So I decided to force the habit.

To do so, I unpinned the File Explorer icon from the Taskbar. Without that handy icon to fall back on, I had to remember and use Windows + E to launch File Explorer. Soon, I began using the Windows + E keystroke without even thinking about it. My guess is that you will too.

Windows + R

Microsoft removed the Run command from the Start menu a long time ago. However, you can easily launch the Run dialog box with a simple Windows + R key shortcut. Give it a shot and you'll see how easy it is.

Want to make it a habit? Start using it to launch certain applications or odd commands. Once you do so for a while, you'll find that the Run dialog box keeps a history list of your most recent commands, as shown in Figure A, and this makes it easy to relaunch those applications and commands.

Figure A

Figure A
The Run dialog box keeps a history list of your most recent commands.

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Windows + Break

Probably one of the easiest Windows key shortcuts to become a habit for me was Windows + Break, which brings up the System window, shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Figure B
Windows + Break instantly brings up the System window.

Windows + 1-9 & 0

This set of Windows key shortcuts is pretty neat, as it allows you to sequentially launch or access the applications displayed on the Taskbar. Moving from the Start button to the right, the first icon is accessed by pressing Windows + 1, the second icon, by pressing Windows + 2 and so on. If the icon is pinned to the Taskbar and the application is not running, pressing the Windows key shortcut will launch the application. If the application is running, pressing the Windows key shortcut will bring it to the foreground.

This one is difficult to make a habit since the results can vary; however, it is a nice technique to have in your toolbox.

Windows + arrow keys

Snap is a windows management feature that allows you to arrange open windows, including maximizing and resizing, just by dragging and dropping a window to different edges of the screen. While drag and drop is easy enough, you can also use the Windows key along with the arrow keys to snap your windows. Table A shows the Windows key shortcuts used to snap windows.

Table A

Table A

In addition to snapping windows to the left or right half of the screen, you can also snap windows to four quadrants of the screen, which will give you a bit more flexibility when working with multiple applications.

Forming the habit of using the Windows key shortcuts to snap windows may take a while, but I found that simply spending time moving windows around the screen using these keystrokes while I was not doing anything important made me think about this window management feature more. And the more I thought about it, the more I used it in real situations.

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Windows + plus/minus keys (+/-)

This Windows key shortcut activates the Magnifier desktop app and immediately zooms in on the screen. This one was easy to make a habit, at least for me, because it came about out of necessity. Toward the end of the day when my eyes get tired, I can't always focus on small items on my screen. Furthermore, I regularly use Ctrl +/- to zoom in and out in Microsoft Edge or Chrome to make things easier to read, so it was easy to transition into using Windows + plus/minus keys.

Another handy use for Magnifier is to get a better look at the emoji list in Messaging or whatever chat app you use. Magnifier also comes in handy when you need a closer view of the characters in Character Map.

Windows + Ctrl + right/left arrow keys

If you make use of Windows 10's virtual desktops, you'll find that using the Windows + Ctrl + right/left arrow keys keyboard shortcuts offers a quick and easy way to rotate between desktops. Once you see that the shortcuts allow you to move between desktops much quicker than clicking the Task View icon and then clicking desktop icons, this will be an easy habit to adopt.

And if you do use virtual desktops, there are two other Windows key shortcuts you'll be interested in learning about. Windows + Ctrl + D creates a new desktop and immediately switches to it. Windows + Ctrl + F4 immediately closes the current desktop.

More Windows how-to's

What's your take?

Do you regularly use Windows key shortcuts? I've listed only a few here. What Windows key shortcuts to you use on a regular basis? Share your thoughts and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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