Five Ways to Boost Productivity Using Windows 7

Adonis, a member of the Gnomies community, asked about how the tools made available in Windows 7 can be used in a productive environment.

Microsoft has long had a reputation for being the software developer for business applications. In addition to being the dominant operating system for enterprise applications, Windows is also a dominant choice for home business users. This choice doesn’t necessarily require a Professional or Business version of the OS, as many of its productivity-boosting features are available on Home versions, as well.

I live in both worlds, though I have come to appreciate the obvious productivity advantages that Windows brings to the table. While part of me wishes that Windows would adopt hot corners, a highly-regarded feature of OS X, there are plenty of built-in features that Windows 7 brings to the table to help professionals maintain productivity throughout their day from start to finish.

Here are five of them.

Sticky Notes

Both OS X and Windows share this basic feature, though the boost it can give to your productivity is certainly worth noting (pun intended). Sticky Notes gives you the ability to create lists and jot down important information on the fly without having to worry about saving documents or switching between applications each time you want to look at a different note. You can put as many of these little colorful virtual sticky notes on your desktop as you need, and switch between them with the click of the mouse.

In my own system, I have six notes open on my desktop at any given time. These notes include To do lists, done lists, honey dos from the wife, a shopping list, and a miscellaneous notes area where I can jot information down that I receive during a phone call. This system has worked great for me, helping to prioritize tasks and keep track of what needs to be done during a given day.

Snipping Tool

This tip comes in handy for anyone who provides internal tech support, writes about technology, or otherwise needs to take a quick snapshot of something on their screen throughout the day. Way back when, you had to grab a third-party application or even struggle with copying the entire screen and cropping the important bits using Paint. Today, the Snipping Tool gives you that ability and it’s baked right in to the OS.

The Snipping tool allows you to take free-form, rectangular, window, or full-screen screenshots. Oh, and if you’re asking whether or not you can assign it to a hotkey, you can. Here’s how:

  • Click Start.
  • Select All Programs.
  • Click Accessories.
  • Find and right-click Snipping Tool.
  • Select Properties.
  • Click the Shortcut Key field and set your hotkey (or combination).
  • Click Apply.


Notepad is a given, but it’s very easy to underestimate just how useful this little text editing application really is. Programmers use it to write code, you can use it to take notes and store important written information, and it can be used to edit a wide range of configuration files that help make various programs easier to use.

Bottom line: Few programs are used by a wider range of users than Notepad. In fact, Web developers love to brag that they’ve created sites using Notepad and nothing else.

I use it to create frequently copied documents to paste in email and other day-to-day documents I deal with. For example, I have one simple text file with a paragraph in it that answers a common question I receive via email rather frequently. Notepad saves without any formatting or other hassles that can make pasted text seem a little off, so it’s the perfect solution for me.

Jump Lists

Jump lists are a great feature of Windows 7 that allow you to go from a blank desktop to your document in as few clicks as possible. You literally just need to click the start button and drag your mouse over your productivity program of choice to see a direct link to your documents.

Browsers, document editors, and even gaming software often works with jump lists to give you quick access to recently-opened servers, documents, and pages.

Not every program is designed to work with jump lists, though a surprisingly large number of them do. Some programs will feature most frequently opened files (Windows Media Player), while others list only the most recent ones. You can actually pin items to jump lists by right-clicking the program in the task manager while it’s open and selecting the pin icon next to the document’s name.

Context Menus

When you right-click an application (or file) in Windows Explorer or on your desktop, a list of options appears that can help you do what you need to do with that file. Whether it’s simply opening the program, checking the properties, or scanning it with Windows Essentials. Everything you should be able to do with it should present itself upon right-click.

Did you know you can customize this context menu? In addition to holding shift while right-clicking a file or folder for a more complete menu, you can add and/or remove options through the Registry. If hacking the Registry doesn’t sound particularly appealing to you, third-party applications such as FileMenu Tools, ShellMenuView, and others can make the job easier (and safer) for you.

Keyboard Shortcuts

Establishing shortcuts to make navigating and using Windows easier was one of Microsoft’s biggest improvements, and has resulted in a fairly significant number of shortcut key combinations that has grown since the early days of Windows 95.

Here are some of the most commonly-used keyboard shortcuts.

  • Ctrl+C – Copy
  • Ctrl+X – Cut
  • Ctrl+V – Paste
  • Ctrl+Z – Undo
  • Ctrl+Y – Redo
  • Ctrl+A – Select All
  • Alt+Enter – Properties
  • Alt+F4 – Close Window
  • Ctrl+F4 – Close Document
  • Alt+Tab – Switch Between Windows
  • Ctrl+Alt+Tab – Switch Between Windows in Style
  • Ctrl+Shift+Esc – Open Task Manager
  • Ctrl+R – Refresh
  • Win+D – Make Windows Disappear (and reappear)
  • Win+F – Search
  • Win+Up – Maximize Current Window
  • Win+Left or Right – Maximize the Window to the Left or Right of the Screen
  • Win+Home – Minimize All Windows Except Active
  • Win+Shift+Left or Right – Move Window to Another Monitor
  • Win+Tab – Impress Your Friends

This is only a short list of the hundreds of hotkey combinations currently available on Windows 7. For a full list of keyboard shortcuts, you can check them out on Microsoft’s official site.

Windows 7 is a powerful platform for productive types, and it comes with a wide range of tools that make it easy to hit the ground running. Couple them with third-party software for a more enhanced user experience that fits your needs and lets you do what you need to do.

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Ryan Matthew Pierson