Five Tools to Increase Your PC Productivity

If you’re like me, you’re always looking to multi-task faster. Being a designer trained on a Mac, when I work on a PC, I’m frustrated at how Microsoft has seemingly put it’s head in the sand when it comes to productivity. There’s a lot to be said for Apple’s integration of Dashboard Widgets, and Expose into it’s operating system. It is so smooth and seamless, it has seduced a generation of computer users (including myself). However, I use a PC, because it’s cheap, and I can find whatever software I need quickly, and for free.

Today I’d like to share some tools (mostly Windows features) I use that save time on a PC. Some of these tips only save me seconds, but those seconds add up over a long time.

1. Getting Organized

I’m not the most organized person in the world by a long shot (just ask my wife). But I do try to make things easy to organize on my computer. So, I have one folder I save all my Out:think stuff in, one folder I save all my digital photographs in, and one folder I save all my personal projects in.

This allows me to quickly determine where a file would be located if I haven’t accessed it in awhile and need to get it again. In the old days, my computer was such a mess, I lost track of everything, using time that could have been used for a productive purpose.

Most of the tips below require that you use this type of “Main Folder -> Sub-folder” architecture to be useful.

2. Folder/Application Shortcuts

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you can put shortcuts just about anywhere. This enables you to capitalize on those folders that, by default, windows encourages (pushes) you to use.

Any windows user knows what it’s like when you need to save a document in Word, or in my case, Photoshop. The folder it starts you in is miles away from the desired destination folder. Fortunately, the left sidebar always has options for My Computer, My Documents, Desktop, and some other mostly unused stuff. Use this to your advantage.

  1. Open two file explorer windows
  2. Navigate the left window to your desired partition/drive (C:\ by default) that shows the folder you want to link.
  3. Navigate the right window to “My Documents” (on Vista this is just the user’s name).
  4. Now Right-Click and Drag the desired folder from the left window, to empty space in the right window (don’t drop it on a folder, or it will go into that folder).
  5. When the option is given, choose “Create Shortcut Here”

    This is what I'm talking about above
    Here's how it's done.
  6. Now when you save a document, you can navigate quickly to My Documents -> Your Favorite Shortcut, instead of clicking through.

It might be worth noting, that Vista brought back a feature I loved about windows 98, which is Favorites.

It’s pretty easy to take advantage of this. See the screenshot below:

Drag and Drop to add to favorites.
Drag and Drop to add to favorites.

3. SendTo

SendTo must be a little known secret about Windows, because I’ve not seen a lot of people use it. Believe it or not, you can customize this feature. You don’t just have to ZIP things or send items to your email (which I’m not sure if anyone does). I also use this feature to send files to specific folders, and install fonts.

For Vista: To add to your SendTo list, just type “Sendto” in your file explorer destination field.

For XP: Go to Start Menu -> Run -> Type “sendto” in the field click OK.

Installing Fonts has Never Been Easier!
Installing Fonts has Never Been Easier!

Now you just Right click and Drag your desired folders over to add their shortcuts the SendTo list. You can easily transfer files from one location to another (although I believe it copies by default). This is especially useful for downloading and installing fonts. When you get your new font and unzip it, just SendTo C:\Windows\Fonts to install the new font. I labeled mine “Install Font”.

4. Windows Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts can be really effective…but most people don’t use them, who has time to remember the exhaustive list of them? Well, there’s a few that I bother to remember, they use the Windows Logo Key.

The windows logo key; Yeah, it’s the one between Ctrl and Alt — it has a purpose.

  1. Windows Logo + D: Shows Desktop — press it again to go back to the previous state.
  2. Windows Logo + E: Windows Explorer — allows you to look through your folders. It’s a quick access way to get to your files.
  3. Windows Logo + F: Search for files and folders. — Saves you a couple clicks to get to this application.

5. Third Party Help

After using a Mac, I just can’t cope with Window’s abhorrant lack of concern for getting around quickly, so I call in some third party help. I have tried a number of programs that simulate the Expose feature, and have found some pretty good ones. Lifehacker had a pretty cool article on them that I would suggest reading. Right now I’m using TopDesk.

TopDesk isn’t freeware, its 20 bucks, but from what I can tell so far, it’s worth it. I am currently using a duel monitor system, and it does a very good job of showing all windows on both monitors…not consolidating to two.

Pretty cool right?
Pretty cool right?

TopDesk will do more, so you can visit their website if you like, but I suggest trying out the free versions too, they might work just fine for your needs.

That about wraps it up. If you found this helpful, or would like to share a tip, Leave a Comment.

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