Whether your computer has the latest Core i9-9900K or a five-year-old Celeron, the biggest bottleneck isn't processing power or storage speed. It's you. Just think about how many times your PC sits there waiting for you to type the next word, double click on an icon to launch an app or select a key feature from a menu.
Some of the lag comes from the human decision making process. If you're writing an email and don't know exactly what to say then you may pause for a moment to think before you type any more. However, there's plenty of rote, physical tasks that you could do a lot faster.
Follow these tips and upgrade yourself from an Intel Atom to an AMD Threadripper.
I. Use keyboard shortcuts to open apps
Every time you roll your mouse pointer across the screen, open the start menu and click on an icon, you're wasting precious seconds. You're also unnecessarily lifting your hands off of the keyboard home row (unless you have a pointing stick), which also slows your workflow.
Fortunately, in Windows 10, it's easy to create keyboard shortcuts that will let you open your favorite programs with a single key combination. Just follow these steps.
1. Open a command prompt window with admin privileges. You can get there finding the Command Prompt shortcut (you can just search "command"), right clicking on it and selected "Run as Administrator."
2. Type "explorer shell:AppsFolder." A list of icons appears.
3. Drag the icon of your choice onto the desktop. It will create a shortcut.
4. Right click on the shortcut and select properties.
5. Put a hot key that contains CTRL + ALT + [letter or number] in the shortcut key field and click Ok.
II. Use a fingerprint or facial login for Windows
Typing your Windows password requires a number of keystrokes and the stronger your password, the longer it takes to enter. Use Windows 10's "Hello" feature to log in with a glance or a swipe.
To set up Windows Hello, navigate Settngs -> Accounts ->Sign-in options. The click "Add another" or "Setup" under the Fingerprint or Face Recognition headers.
III. Use dual monitors to increase your work area.
You can never be too rich, too thin or have too much screen real estate. When you're at your desk, you need at least two separate monitors to help compartmentalize your work. You can buy a pair of budget PC monitors for as little as $250.
Once you have your screens set up, use the hit Windows + Right Arrow and Windows + Left Arrow to snap your apps to the sides of your screens.
IV. Create custom keyboard macros to perform frequently-used functions
Launching an app with a keystroke is really helpful but what if you want to type a long string of text like your email signature or navigate to a submenu in Photoshop? Autohotkey lets you program hotkeys that will do just about anything you can imagine in Windows. To get started with Autohotkey:
2. Open SciTE4AutoHotkey and type "::sig::" at the top, followed by your address.
3. Save your hot keys file and put it in the startup folder so it's always running when you boot up. The startup folder is located at C:Users[YOUR USERNAME]AppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuProgramsStartup
From now on, when you type "sig" and hit the space bar in any application, your entire signature will appear. You can also create shortcut keys that do things like crop photos in Photoshop Elements (when Adobe itself doesn't provide a key for that). To find out how to manipulate menus and more, see this detailed guide to Autohotkey on our sister site, Laptop Mag.
V. Learn to type faster.
No matter how many keyboard shortcuts you learn (or create), you need to be a touch typist in order to use them. If you can't already type at a rate of at least 80 words per minute, use a free tool such as 10FastFingers.com to up your game.
VI. Find words instead of scrolling around looking for them
Every day you visit web sites and you're looking for particular word. Maybe you're reading a product review and you want to find the price or the rating. Better still, you might be filling out a long web form and just want to find the email address field.
Rather than scroll down, searching for what those terms, you can just use CTRL + F (for find) and start typing the relevant text. Hit enter to jump to the next instance of that text.
VII. Assign default programs for every file type.
It happens all the time, you go to open an image in Photoshop and double click the JPG file, but instead, it opens in Windows Photo. Or perhaps you go to open a TXT file in Notepad, but you double click it and it opens in Word.
To configure the default programs for every file type, navigate to Settings->Apps->Default apps. Then click each type of app to change it. We definitely recommend changing your default browser from Edge to Chrome or Firefox.
VIII. Learn the following built-in keyboard shortcuts
- CTRL + A: Select all
- CTRL + W: Close a window
- CTRL + Arrow: Skip back and forth a word in documents
- CTRL + Windows Key + Arrow: Snap a window
- CTRL + S: Save
- CTRL + P: Print
- CTRL + Z: Undo
- CTRL + Y: Redo
- CTRL + O: Open
- CTRL + V: Paste
- CTRL + SHIFT + V: Paste text without formatting
- CTRL + C: Copy
- CTRL + X: Cut
- CTRL + T: New tab
- CTRL+SHIFT+ T: Restore the last tab you closed
- F11: Toggle full screen mode
IX. Increase the number of search results in Google
By default, Google only shows you 10 results per page. But what if the result you want is actually number 15 or 25? Rather than clicking next five times, you can set Google to show as many as 50 results per page.
1. Navigate to Google.com.
2. Click the Settings link in the lower right corner of the screen.
3. Click Search Settings on the pop-up menu which appears.
4. Select 50 or 100 results per page on the slider.
5. Click Save at the bottom of the screen.
X. Hide distracting websites
Facebook and Twitter are addictive drugs that I'm tempted to load when I start feeling bored or frustrated with my work. Sometimes, before I even realize what I'm doing, I've typed in the URL of one of these sites and loaded it.
No matter what non-work sites you find yourself going to without thinking, you can and should block them when you're trying to get work done. There are several browser extensions that will selectively block sites for you, but my favorite is stayfocusd, which gives you fine grain control over which sites you can and cannot view during the day. You can schedule time limits for each site, but I prefer to use the extensions "nuclear option" which stops you from viewing sites on your blacklist at all.
XI. Limit notifications from apps
If you're not distracting yourself by visiting the wrong websites, your computer could be distracting you with notifications. Sure, it's nice to know that Adobe Reader just updated itself or that you just received an unimportant email, but when those alerts pop-up on your screen, they bring your train of thought to a screeching halt.
Fortunately, Windows 10 provides ways to limit or even eliminate notifications from apps. To turn all app notifications off, just navigate to the action center and toggle the Focus Assist to on.
You can also automatically enable Focus Assist at particular times and in particular situations (ex: while doing a presentation) by going to Settings->System-Focus assist. If you want to control which apps can send notifications and which cannot, navigate to Settings->System->Notifications & actions and go through the list of all apps that are notification-capable.
And, if you're tired of getting notifications from websites in Chrome, simply navigate to chrome://settings/content/notifications and toggle "Ask before sending" to off (aka "Blocked.").
XII. Pin important folders to the Quick access bar in Explorer
In Windows, it's always easy to get to the documents, pictures, videos or music folders, but most of the time, the files for our projects live either in a subfolder of one of these libraries or in a completely different location on the storage drive. To avoid clicking 20 times to navigate to an important folder, you can "pin" it to the Quick access bar in Windows explorer.
Just use Explorer (Windows key + E) to navigate to the folder you want to pin and then drag it onto the Quick access toolbar on the left side of the screen. You can even drag it higher or lower on the bar.
XIII. Use a password manager
The stronger your passwords, the longer they take to type and the easier they are to forget. Use a third-party password manager like Dashlane or Lastpass to not only store your logins but change them quickly in the event of a data breach. That way you can choose random, non-sensical passwords like E6g%Bnp*7-SnE*wers#*yyK, without having to waste keystrokes or brain cells.
The tips above provide just a few of the many ways that you can work faster, with fewer distractions and fewer unnecessary key strokes. Every time you change your behaviors, your computer gets faster because of your quicker input. Your PC is waiting so what are you waiting for?
Have some of your own time-saving tips that we didn't mention here? Share them in the comments section below.