How to put your favorite commands at your fingertips

Most of us use the same built-in menu commands frequently. For instance, you might insert graphics files, work with split windows, or even save new documents frequently. If a command happens to be a few submenus deep, repeating those clicks can become tiresome. Even if your favorite command is just one level deep, you can still make it available via one quick click.

In my world, saving even a few keystrokes, if I repeat them often enough, is helpful. Almost every built-in command can be accessed via a toolbar, which allows you to bypass the menu system entirely. You simply click the toolbar icon!

To add a built-in menu command to any toolbar, do the following:

  1. Choose Customize from the Tools menu to open the Customize dialog box. In 2007 applications, click the Office button and then click the Options button in the bottom-right corner.
  2. Click the Commands tab, if necessary.
  3. If you’re working in Word, choose Normal or from the Save In control (at the bottom). That way, the new command icons will be available with new documents.
  4. From the Categories list, choose the appropriate menu, by name. For example, you might select the Insert menu if you insert graphics files a lot. Although the menus are similar throughout the Office suite of products, there are subtle differences, even at the top level. The Commands list to the right will update, according to the menu item you select in Categories. To insert graphics files, you'd select From File after selecting the Insert menu (see the figure below).
  5. At this point, all you have to do is drag the menu command to a toolbar and drop it. You’ll know you can drop the icon when the mouse pointer turns into an I-beam cursor.
  6. Click the Close button to close the Customize dialog box. The result is a new icon that performs the same as its equivalent menu command. You can even add the icon to the menu bar instead of a toolbar! february2008blog2figbr.jpg


There are hundreds of commands that you can drag to a toolbar or the menu bar, but fight the urge to reduce everything to a single click. You’ll only clutter up your interface. Here are a few guidelines for deciding which commands deserve icon shortcuts:

  • Add an icon for commands that you use a lot.
  • Add an icon for commands that are deep in the structure, but that you use frequently.
  • Add an icon for a command that you use but that you can't remember just where in the menu structure it is. It might not be the most intuitive choice at first, but you'll save time hunting down the command.

If you don’t like an icon’s image, use the Customize dialog to change it. With the Customize dialog open, right-click the icon and choose Change Button Image. Then, select a picture you like. Don’t be surprised if the change doesn’t work the first time. If necessary, simply repeat the process a second time -- that usually works. I don’t have an explanation for why Office doesn’t always update the image right away.

Office will let you use a custom image if you prefer, but you’ll need special software. Please feel free to recommend your favorite icon software.