We’ve been using Microsoft Windows for the past 30 years starting with good ol’ Windows 3.1 and every major version after it. While Windows 11 looks a lot simpler than its predecessor in a variety of ways, it has evolved into a serious productivity powerhouse and you cannot fully harness its potential without knowing about the various features. There’s no way we can cover the entire operating system in a single article but we can share some of our top Windows 11 tricks. The following tricks apply to the latest Windows 11 version at the time of writing – version 22H2 build 22621.1105. Future Windows updates may add new features or change existing ones which may slightly affect the steps you need to take to apply these tricks. Let’s get into them one by one.
1. Dress Up Your Start Menu & Taskbar
Organizing your Windows 11 Start and Taskbar is something you should do immediately as all the seconds you save from searching for the application you want to open really add up when you do a lot of multitasking.
The first thing you should do is finalize the Start menu and Taskbar personalization settings with the following steps:
- Launch the Start menu, right-click on an empty space in the Start menu, and click “Start settings.” to launch the personalization section of the “Settings” app.
- Under the layout options, choose “More pins” if you want more shortcuts on the Start menu or try any of the other two options if you want less. Check out the other customization features and switch them on or off depending on your tastes.
- Click the “Folders” option to see a list of small shortcut icons you can add next to the power icon. You may either enable any icons pointing to folders you frequently visit or turn them all off if you prefer a cleaner look on the Start menu.
- Right-click the Taskbar, click “Taskbar settings,” and simply enable or disable any icons you want to see or hide on the taskbar. I recommend leaving the “Task view” and “Widgets” items enabled because they represent two of the tricks I’ll share in this guide.
- Expand the “Taskbar behaviours” section to see even more taskbar settings. This is the section where you can set the alignment of taskbar icons to the left to give it that classic Windows 7, 8, and 10 feel.
Any options you set in the personalisation settings updates your Start menu and Taskbar in real time. Once you have the layouts you like, let’s dress them up by following these steps:
- Before pinning your favourite apps, go over the existing Start menu layout and start unpinning any apps you don’t use very often. Right-click each shortcut on the Start menu and click “Unpin from Start” to do just that.
- In the Start menu, click “All apps” and scroll through the list looking for any apps you might want to use frequently. For every app, right-click it and either pin it to the Start menu through the “Pin to Start” option or go to “More” and click “Pin to taskbar” to put it on your taskbar instead. My approach is to put my most frequently used apps on the taskbar since it requires a single click to launch at all times (or a single hotkey via the Windows + 1-9 hotkey to launch the corresponding pinned app). All the rest of the apps I use slightly less frequently go to the Start menu.
- Once you pinned the apps you like, go back to Start menu and start dragging the icons left or right to the order you want. If you have a lot of icons pinned to the Start menu, you may conveniently place an shortcut to the first page of the Start menu by right-clicking it and selecting “Move to front.”
- If you are the type to sort your apps into groups in a way you do it on your Android or iOS device, you may also drag an icon on top of another icon to form a group where you can assign it a name. This does mean that launching an app is two clicks away from the Start menu instead of one but it will make the app easier to find if you group them well.
2. Organise Your Widgets
The new Windows 11 widgets feature isn’t exactly an upgrade the vast majority of Windows fans asked for, but you can turn it into something you might enjoy glancing at and it doesn’t take many steps to personalise. Just click the “Widgets” icon (open the widgets interface from the left corner of your taskbar where you see the live weather icon. Don’t see it? You may not yet have the most up-to-date version of Windows) on your taskbar to bring up the widgets panel so you can see what kind of information you can view at a glance. Then click the “+” button on the upper right corner of the panel to see all the widget categories you may pin. Pinning a category simply means moving the widget to the top of the panel next to other previously pinned widgets.
You may also customize the widget by placing your mouse cursor over the widget and clicking the “…” button on the top-right corner to bring up a popup menu. Depending on the widget, you can change the size or set other options to your liking. Try each widget and make it show the information that matters to you. The widgets panel loads rather quickly and saves you time from searching for the information on your Web browser. Don’t like the Widgets panel, you can also turn it off by right-clicking the taskbar, clicking “Taskbar settings,” and switching off the “Widgets” toggle.
3. Pick Your Web Browser Flavour
Microsoft Edge, Windows 11’s default and preinstalled browser, is a favourite Web browser because of the vertical tabs and collections features. However, there are other Web browsers out there that continue to evolve in features. Google Chrome continues to be the most popular browser and Mozilla Firefox remains a decent choice for slower systems. If you like to tinker and prefer something a bit fancier, give Vivaldi or Opera a shot! Then there’s also the more privacy-focused Brave browser if don’t like all the tracking features that are baked in Chrome and Edge. I recommend trying all the Web browsers and picking your favorite from there so you can start doing other things like organizing your bookmarks and trying out the next Windows trick I’ll share!
4. Turn Your Websites into Apps
This is one of my favorite Windows 11 tricks because it reduces my browser tab clutter and helps me greatly with my window management! This trick involves creating a shortcut to any website you like and generating a shortcut which you can place on your desktop, taskbar or Start menu. Launching this shortcut will open the website in its own window making it feel like its own app. This is very useful considering the lack of apps on the Microsoft Store compared to the mobile platforms.
The idea of turning your most visited websites into individual apps may sound tedious but set aside some time to try it out! You’ll be surprised how much your productivity improves once you start launching your websites in this manner.
Here’s how you can do it using the two major browsers.
- Click the “…” button on the Edge toolbar.
- Go to “Apps” and click “Install this site as an app.”
- Give the app a name and click the “Install” button.
- Tick any of the boxes to let Edge create the corresponding shortcuts or optionally make the app automatically launch upon startup.
- If you didn’t create any shortcuts, you may launch the site from same “Apps” menu you went to in Step 2.
- Click the triple-dot button on the Chrome toolbar.
- Go to “More tools” and click “Create shortcut…”
- Give the shortcut a name and make sure the “Open as window” option is checked. Then click the “Create” button.
- Chrome will automatically put the app on your Start menu although you may also launch the app by entering “chrome://apps/” on the address bar or via the “Apps” shortcut if you have the Favorites toolbar enabled.
Feeling a bit adventurous? Give third-party tools Nativefier or WebCatalog a try! These are two of my favorite tools which create actual executable files for making isolated windows for your favorite websites!
5. Get your Smartphone Involved: how to use Windows Phone Link
Windows comes with a useful tool called “Phone Link” which can bring your Android phone notifications to the Windows desktop. If you own certain Samsung phones, you can even remotely control your Android phone or beam certain Android apps in your phone to the desktop and interact with them! Connecting your Android device with your Windows device requires you to follow numerous steps on both on your PC and your phone but the Phone Link app on Windows guides you through the steps completely. Once you successfully made the pairing, you can do other things too like view the photos stored on the phone or read stored SMS messages.
6. Perk Up Your File Explorer
Folder navigation in Windows can be a real pain unless you really take the time to come up with a good folder hierarchy. If that sounds like a mundane task, pinning your favorite or frequently accessed folders is a handy quick fix! Open the File Explorer from the taskbar or Start menu and look at the left sidebar to see a list of folders you either accessed recently or frequently. This folder list is dynamic so if there is a folder you always want to see on the sidebar, you must right-click that folder and click “Pin to Quick Access” and Windows will put the folder to the top of the list. If there is a folder you wish to pin that isn’t on the sidebar, simply browse area the folder is in, right-click it, and click “Pin to Quick Access” to add it as well. It may sound like a simple trick but it’s one of those tricks that can save a lot of time if you just take the time to pin all your favourite folders.
7. Add some Personal Touches
The Windows Settings app has an entire section dedicated to Personalisation and it’s totally worth checking out if you just getting started with a brand new desktop, laptop or Windows installation. In this article I’ll cover the various themes you can download and apply from the Microsoft Store and the Windows scaling option.
The quickest way to go to the “Themes” section is to go to the Start menu or Windows Search on the taskbar and type “Themes”. Then click “Themes and related settings” and you’ll see the Settings window presenting the various ways you can customize the Windows 11 interface. For starters, click the “Color” option and play around with the dark and light modes and try out various accent colors. Once you are finished click the “Back” arrow on the upper-left part of the Settings menu. The Themes section also lets you change the desktop wallpaper and gives you easy access to the old Control Panel options of yesteryear for customising the default sounds and mouse cursors.
If you don’t want to spend too much time customising your desktop, scroll down the Themes window and click “Browse themes” to open the Microsoft Store where you can pick from dozens of free color schemes with matching wallpapers.
Outside of the personalisation settings, there is one specific option I want to highlight – desktop scaling. I recommend you finalise this option as soon as possible as it affects the appearance of every app you use and how you manage your windows. The goal here is to find the most comfortable setting for your eyes and viewing distance away from the screen. Head to this option by right-clicking the desktop and going to “Display settings” to launch the Display section of the Settings app.
In this window, scroll down to the “Display resolution” option and make sure it is set to its “Recommended” option. Then in the “Scale” option, experiment with different options until you find a setting most comfortable for you. The “100%” scaling option basically means Windows will render in its native screen resolution where you enjoy maximum screen real estate. Increasing the desktop scaling enlarges the interface elements and text which can make text easier to read depending on your screen resolution while reducing screen real estate.
8. Trim the Resource Fat
Depending on your computer’s hardware specs and installed apps, Windows may take more time to fully boot than you might like. In certain instances, you might not even like how your computer performs after your system boots. Pinning down the culprit isn’t always simple but you can at least check out the built-in Task Manager software for clues. Right-click the Taskbar or Start menu and click “Task Manager” to open this tool. Make sure you are in the “Processes” tab or section and look at the table header showing the CPU, Memory, and Disk along with their corresponding percentages. These figures tell you how busy your computer is and can often be the source of slow performance if you have no active apps running. If your CPU or disk usage has double digit figures or the memory usage is above 70% while your computer is idle, you could drastically improve performance if you upgrade the related hardware. Before you consider that option, consider closing any background apps that aren’t important to you so you can free up some system resources.
A good and easy place to start is the “Startup apps” section in the Task Manager. Click that section from the sidebar to see a list of some of the apps that run automatically every time you turn on or restart your computer. Click the “Startup impact” column header to sort the list of apps so you can see the heaviest apps on top. See any apps you don’t recognize or need? Right-click each one and click “Disable” to prevent the app from starting. Then restart your computer and use your computer like normal to see if there’s any improvement without affecting your productivity.
9. Multiply your Desktops
The virtual desktop feature of Windows 10 and 11 is one of those Windows features tucked away in the backend that I believe deserves more attention. If you are switching from macOS to Windows, you can think of it as the Windows equivalent to Spaces. For everyone else, consider it a useful tool to organize different groups of windows and open apps however you like!
To get a feel of this feature, create one additional virtual desktop by clicking the “Task view” icon on the taskbar or pressing the Win+Tab hotkey to get a glimpse of all your open windows. The bottom strip of the task view features the virtual desktop selector where you can click “New Desktop” to create one while switching to it in the process.
In your newly created virtual desktop, you will notice all of your windows gone. Don’t panic! Mouse over the “Task view” icon on the taskbar to see thumbnails of all your virtual desktops and click the first desktop thumbnail to go back to your main desktop arrangement. Congratulations! You just switched virtual desktops! You may create as many virtual desktops as you wish and you can cycle through them via the Ctrl+Win+Left and Right hotkey combinations. Using a gaming mouse or a mouse with extra buttons? Try to map those hotkeys to those buttons to make it even easier to cycle through desktops!
Now that you have at least 2 virtual desktops, it’s time to start organizing your windows! Go back to the Task View and simply drag any window thumbnails to another virtual desktop to move them there. While you are in still in the Task View mode, you can go ahead and explore some of the hidden ways to customize these desktops even further. Start by right-clicking the first virtual desktop thumbnail and go to “Rename” so you can give that desktop a more recognizable name. Right-click that desktop again and use the “Choose background” option to assign a specific desktop wallpaper for that desktop to help visually identify your active desktop. For instance, you can give your virtual desktop named “Work” a minimalistic wallpaper just to symbolize it being a desktop for focusing. Apply these steps to any other virtual desktops you made while assigning their own unique wallpapers and see how cool it looks when you change virtual desktops!
Cycling through desktops might feel a bit confusing at first especially if you’ll make more than two desktops. If you find yourself frequently going back to a certain virtual desktop to glance at some information like an email inbox or a chat window, you can save the hassle by having that window present in every virtual desktop! Just right-click the window thumbnail in Task View and click “Show this window on all desktops” and you’ll notice the change instantly. You can also use the “Show windows from this app on all desktops” option if you want that option to apply every time you launch one more instances of the app.
By combining everything you learned about virtual desktops, you should be able to better segregate your work and avoid having desktops with too many windows open. If you turned several of your favorite apps into websites via the 4th trick in this article, you can also easily move those website windows to whatever desktop you wish.
10. Set up your Backup Systems
Did you know that every Microsoft account comes with free cloud storage even if you created it using an email provider that is different than Outlook? As long as you linked your Windows 11 to your Microsoft account, you can use that cloud storage as a place for storing your critical files ensuring you have copies online even if your physical drive runs into trouble. Microsoft’s cloud storage is powered by a service called OneDrive and you can find it by searching for it in the Start menu, in the sidebar in File Explorer, or on the system tray where you can double-click the tiny cloud icon. When you open the OneDrive folder, you’ll notice how it resembles any typical local folder. But the moment you drag a file there, OneDrive will automatically upload it to the cloud providing you have enough storage. Any files or folders completely uploaded will have a “Green” checkmark in the “Status” column. This means you can access these files from any other computer or mobile device as long as you log into the same OneDrive account as your computer. Not satisfied with the amount of free spa ce you have and don’t wish to pay for extra storage space? Try installing and signing up for other services like Dropbox, Box.net, and pCloud as they all have File Explorer integration.
Have you got a trick you love to use to make the most of Windows? Let us know in the comments, below.