Want to automate your most frequent PC tasks? Here's how to map common actions to keyboard buttons or mouse gestures
Consider the convenience of launching applications and controlling a system's volume with the press of a button, rather than awkwardly fumbling your way through menus and prompts within a desktop operating system. And most modern software for these mice and keyboards lets you remap essential parts of your daily routine to buttons a finger's length away.
Fortunately, you can transform a generic mouse or keyboard into a hotkey-friendly superdevice. Doing so is easy and free, meaning that you're only about 20 minutes away from kicking your productivity into high-gear.
The two basic ways to build one-button automation into your standard keyboard are with hotkeys and with macros. A hotkey is a button that triggers a single action such as opening a folder, executing an application, or stopping a song that's playing. A macro (like the ones in Microsoft Excel) is a chain of programmed actions that occur each time you hit a specific button (or launch the macro via an associated program).
We'll start with the hotkeys. The freeware application WinHotKey is a great first step toward the world of one-button automation, because it builds a ton of customisations into a program that's pretty simple to use - at least, in comparison to the relatively script-heavy hotkey applications we'll soon be discussing. Once you've installed the application and navigated past its opening tutorial screens, you'll see a list of hotkeys that have already been configured for your system. Keep them by doing nothing, or delete them by highlighting them and clicking Remove Hotkey.
Once you're ready to start automating, click the New Hotkey button. First enter a helpful description in the provided field. When you're finished, note that the app gives you some options for what you want the actual keystrokes of the hotkey to be: It won't let you overwrite an existing hotkey in the program, but you can temporarily overwrite any of Windows' default hotkeys - including good old Ctrl-C (copy) - to perform any of the following tasks, if you wish: launching an application, a document, or a folder; dumping a text string wherever your cursor is; or performing various actions on your desktop's active window.
With that in mind, we strongly recommend that you assign a combination of keystrokes to serve as your new hotkeys. Once you've done so, select your action via the 'I want WinHotKey to...' menu, and you're done! By default, WinHotKey loads when Windows starts up, so your customised hotkeys will always be part of your operating system going forward.
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