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50 time-saving tips for Windows, Google, Gmail and Android

Faster ways to navigate, launch programs, browse the web and find what you need

Time is money, as Benjamin Franklin once said. Your time is precious and we reckon we can help you save plenty of it with these 50 great tips.

You may think you can get around Windows pretty swiftly, and get the search results you want from Google, but unless you're using keyboard shortcuts instead of a cumbersome mouse-and-menus approach, chances are that you're not as fast as you could be. See also: Windows 7 Advisor

Plus, there are lots of hidden shortcuts to using Google and Gmail which can save minutes on the repetitive chore of finding information.

Whether you're sitting in front of a PC or on the move using a laptop, smartphone or tablet, you're bound to find some time savings among these gems. They may save only seconds, but add those up over a day, week or month and they start becoming significant.

We've collated all the best tips that the PC Advisor team use to on a daily basis to help save you  hours and be more productive.

Windows logo

Windows

Since just about everyone uses Windows, we'll start here. Most of the tips below work with all versions back to XP, but some are reserved for Vista and Windows 7. It isn't just Windows, either - some shortcuts are universal and work in third-party applications.

 1. Use keyboard shortcuts: Most Windows users know about using Ctrl-C to copy, Ctrl-V to paste, and Ctrl-Z to undo. But other Windows keyboard shortcuts can be just as helpful. For example, pressing the Windows key and L will lock your machine, while Ctrl-Y lets you re-do the last action you undid using Ctrl-Z. You can use the Tab key to jump to the next field in a form and Shift-Tab to jump back to the previous field.

If you work with Excel, familiarise yourself with switching between worksheets by holding down Ctrl and tapping Page Up or Page Down. With a little practice, you’ll find that using these shortcuts becomes second nature. Similarly, you can flip between open documents in Photoshop (and certain other programs) by holding Ctrl and tapping Tab. Look in an application's menus to see the keyboard shortcuts assigned to different commands.

See also: Our top 10 Windows 7 shortcuts  and Windows 8 Consumer Preview Keyboard Shortcuts 

2. Assign new keyboard shortcuts: If the default shortcut for one of your favourite actions is unduly complicated (or doesn’t exist at all), make your own. For example, Photoshop has its own keyboard shortcut mapper (Edit > Keyboard shortcuts…). This way you can create a shortcut for cropping an image which, for some reason has no default shortcut.

Windows 7 lets you map keys to program shortcuts, too. Right-click the program shortcut, select the Shortcut tab, choose the Shortcut key box, and assign your own keyboard shortcut to open the program when you tap that key in conjunction with theandkeys.

3. Quickly navigate between windows: Use Alt-Tab to bring up an overlay in the centre of the screen showing all your open windows. Keep holding Alt and press Tab to toggle between applications, but you can also use the cursor keys to select an application to make live. In Windows Vista and later, Flip 3D turns open windows into a virtual stack that you can flip through. To activate Flip 3D, press Windows-Tab.  For additional control, use Windows-Left arrow or Windows-Right arrow to snap your window to the left or right side of the screen, Windows-Up arrow to maximize the window, or Windows-Down arrow to minimize it.

4. Use keys to open programs without a mouse: In Windows 7, press to open the Start menu. Afterward, you can start typing to search through programs in the All Programs menu. Press, and the top program in the search results will open. Press, and type wo to bring Microsoft Word to the top in the search results; press, and you’ll be typing in a new Word document.  

5. Adjust your laptop's screen brightness: Windows doesn't make it easy to change your notebook's display brightness. At least not in the places you might expect: the Control Panel's 'Display' or 'Change Display Settings' panes. Instead, you can press the Windows key and X together. This brings up an overlay called Windows Mobility Center. Here, a slider lets you adjust screen brightness. It's very handy when you reinstall Windows and find the brightness control on the laptop's F-keys or cursor keys doesn't work due to the absence of the necessary driver.

6. Create desktop shortcuts: Save time navigating to the programs and folders you use most often by setting up desktop shortcuts. In Windows, simply right-click the item and choose Send To, Desktop (Create Shortcut). Be sure to save shortcuts rather than the folder itself to your desktop, or you'll be at greater risk of accidentally deleting that data.

7. Startup programs: If you've had your laptop or PC for more than a couple of days, then the chances are you've started to personalise it with some of your favourite programs. That's great, but believe it or not, they can be full of their own self-importance and set themselves to launch automatically on start up. After a while, this can make your computer take ages to boot into Windows. This is easily solvable: run msconfig (type it into Windows' search box and press Enter) and uncheck any unnecessary programs from the Startup tab. Be careful though as some programs must launch automatically for your computer to work properly.

8. Free up hard drive space: If your hard drive is nearly full, this will have a knock-on effect on your PC's performance. One way to prevent Windows slowing down, and therefore save time on everything you do on your PC, is to store any files you do not use regularly on an external drive. Microsoft office documents tend not to be too large, but if you store videos and other space-sucking media on your computer's hard drive, they can quickly fill it up.

9. Get a second monitor: Sometimes, you spend a lot of time minimising and maximising windows, or scrolling in documents because you can't fit them on a single screen. Windows has great multi-monitor support and with full HD displays being so cheap these days, you can add another entire desktop for under £100.

Get a second monitor

10. Create a PDF for sharing: It's easy to email a Word or Excel file to someone, but it's better to send them a PDF. Most computers have the necessary software installed for reading PDFs (if not, Adobe Reader is a small, free download). This should save you time as people won't need to ask for documents in specific formats if they can't, for example, view the Excel 2010 .xlsx file you just sent them.

The easiest way to create PDFs in any application is to install a PDF printer driver, such as Bullzip PDF printer. When you next print something, you'll see a new printer to choose: Bullzip. Select this instead of a physical printer and the file will be saved as a PDF.

Next page: Really useful tips for browsing and searching the web

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