Productivity tools in windows 10. Tips, tricks & some free programmes

Some programmes and processes that I use to help me work a bit more productively on laptop/desktop. Note Microsoft office & Snagit are not free but gets a mention as I use them frequently.

Windows 10 mouse pointer colour

Of late I’ve been having issues with my mouse pointer, it disappearing off the screen, or hiding in white-space. I would normally have a black coloured pointer but this can be a pain sometimes on a black/dark blue borders. I have since found under Settings > Ease of Access > Mouse. This puts pointer colour opposite to what the background is. It has definitely made life easier. An article for setup.

Windows Explorer to command line

A really handy little thing I have learned for when running programmes that need to run from the command prompt.

A lot of times you have to be in the directory where specific files are placed, or else where the .exe programme is. So you open command prompt from start menu and it takes you to something like:

c:\users\drake>   and you need to be in the directory    C:\Users\drake\Downloads\____openrefine-win-2.8\openrefine-2.8\webapp\WEB-INF\lib

so you need to type in, on the command line  c:\users\drake> CD Downloads\____openrefine-win-2.8\openrefine-2.8\webapp\WEB-INF\lib    (you can cut/paste the directory into CMD prompt (note CD stands for change directory).

An alternative is Open File Explorer and navigate to the directory that you want to be in. Highlight the directory, type in CMD and press enter and a CMD prompt window will open in that directory.

Directory Structure

I download and explore a lot of files. As downloading files usually go into the Download directory, that is where I usually work. This may be an appalling habit but its on my personal computer and no one else is using it. I follow office procedures when I am working on a network.

One thing I do do, in my own directories, is preface a Folder with a ‘0’ or ‘_’ so that that folder is at the top of my directory. That way I can see the most current folder, which I’m usually actively using, at the top, rather than spending ages scrolling up and down the file structure looking for a name. When it gets a bit too messy I usually do a bit of a tidy up, either clearing files away or giving them sensible names.

Unzipping files . After I’ve downloaded a .ZIP When I use extract file to directory, I usually put a lot of “0”‘s at the front, so the unzipped directory is easy to find (otherwise I find it hard to find. It is usually a setup for a programme, or a specific large file, so once unzipped and executed I usually delete the folder.

One may ask, why not adjust the download directory “By Date”. This sometimes works, but with some files that you’ve downloaded (zip or unzipped) they retain their original date and disappear somewhere at the bottom of the directory if they are older files. That is why I prefer the ‘0’ or ‘_’ prefix to folders.

Programmes for auto start with windows

Two articles on where the startup directories are for windows 10. 1 & 2. If you always open the same programs in Windows 10 after starting your computer, such as a web browser or an e‑mail program, you might find it convenient to have them start automatically when you start Windows 10.

Basically, if you want a programme to start for ALL users , then put a shortcut to the file in:

C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\StartUp

If you want a programme to start for a specific user , then put a shortcut to the file in:

C:\Users\[Username]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

Windows taskbar

I use the taskbar for all of my programmes. A handy place to find them. If I try a new programme I locate it at the right hand end and try it out, if its useful, then I keep it (and maybe move it to inside middle) or else put it on the desktop if 1/ it may be useful later, but will not be commonly used. Or else I’ll uninstall the programme if its no use.

It is great because its accessible when programmes are fully opened it is still visible (I keep it locked) and I frequently fill it up, so either I have to move lesser used programmes to the desktop, or one thing I’ve found recently is “Use Small Taskbar Buttons”. That allows me to have a lot more icons on the taskbar.

AutoHotKeys & cedeq Shortkeeper (both free)

I started using computers with the old dos line command and keyboard shortcuts were the way to go. I have never got out of the habit, especially being a lefty and most keyboards are designed for right-handed people (eg numberpads !).

Anyway, when browsing there are lots of times you have to fill in your email address and typing it in is a pain, cutting/pasting from elsewhere is jumping between programmes to grab, so making a keyboard shortcut for them is the sensible way to go. Especially if you have a few of them.

I have used AutoHotKeys for a while now, and think its a pretty fantastic programme. I have recently come across cedeq Shortkeeper.

The AutoHotKeys requires you to a little bit of basic coding and then save your file with a .ahk extension.  You then need to put it into the  windows start directory, so that every-time you start your computer it activates the programme. I have written a couple of versions and for some reason it keeps firing up the initial version then, after startup , asks me if I want to start the later version. Not a big deal, I’ve never bothered to fix it up.

Shortkeeper works over the top of AutoHotKeys and is an easier interface to manage your fastkeys. You need to make sure its started so you may need to have a shortcut copied to the autostart up folder (see above)

As you can see, the shortkeeper has an easier interface than AutoHotKeys.

I have only just found the shortkeeper programme  and will be giving it a bit more testing soon to access other items. Hopefully it is easier to Add/Delete shortcut keys to test them out.

I’ll leave my AutoHotKeys working for the time being for my emails.

Just a comment on fastkeys. Try an make them something easy you associate with a programme ( eg X for Excel, W for word etc, or logical, like 1, 2, 3,…, ) and also make them easy for a Hand Stretch.

Ctrl+Z (undo) is great, its easy to press both keys simultaneously with the same hand. Also, things like Ctrl+Alt+X are good to attach some commonly used fast key to.

Things like Ctrl + P (print) really do not impress me, easy to remember P for print, but almost impossible for one hand stretch, you need to take your right hand off the mouse to press the P key , you’d be better making it something like Alt+ P (on my keyboard there is an Alt Key either side of the spacebar), so Alt + P easy for one hand.

Mozilla Firefox & Thunderbird

I use both Firefox as preferred web browser & Thunderbird as preferred email manager. Mainly because they are not Microsoft or Google. Let other people’s products be used.

For the browser, I think Edge is rubbish, Chrome gets good reviews but I’ve been loyal to Firefox for years and it has most of the bells and whistles.

I use the BOOKMARKS TOOLBAR with FOLDERS to store all the links that I use. It’s rare that I need to go and look in the “History” to find  somewhere I visit. If I find a URL that is interesting and I want to explore it later, I leave it exposed on the  Bookmark Toolbar. As this quickly fills up, I either view it and save it somewhere or delete it.

One thing that I found out recently, was opening up recently closed tabs. Sometimes I’m a bit hasty on closing a tab and regret it. Hover mouse pointer over the tab area and right button click, third item down is “Undo Close Tab”.

When trying to find some code or debugging a web page the Web Developer tools are handy. I used to try and use the menu,. but it was a pain to get to. Using Ctrl + Shft + C opens it up for you quickly. It opens in the Inspector tab, so sometimes you need to go to the Console or Debugging tab to see other issues.  Very useful with  Right Hand Mouse click on an element in the Web page for “Inspect Element”  when you are trying to figure out what an element in the page is.

Thunderbird email is another habit like Firefox. I like it because, 1/its free & 2/ its not one of the big names (MS, Alphabet etc). It does most of the things you expect it to do, similar to Outlook and other mail managers. It has E-mail, calendar and tasks. The calendar allows you to link with Google Calendars, so that is handy. I find calendars is handy for reminders for events and bills but try not to be too dependent on it. If my schedule is too busy then there is something wrong with my life. So not too many events is nice.

I usually have a few email addresses running:

Hotmail. I’ve been with them form the year dot. I’ve always had a hotmail account. It was great in the early days when you were overseas. Also handy for their storage.

Gmail. You need the account to be able to use Sheets & Calendars, drive and email. So you have to have one of those.

the and a couple of other ones are handy, as some company’s wont let you test their products out unless you have a company email. These basically block you from using a hotmail or gmail accounts. I know you can get a simple login email to test and then it disappears into the ether, here are two examples 1 & 2.

Sometimes you want to have an email for longer than 10 minutes, so you can use Awardspace free web hosting (forever) and you get a free email account. It will have a fred @ extension, but it works on  sites that want company emails, such as IBM watson


For text editing or coding I use Notepad++. Its free and you can run code within Notepad++ to test in browsers from the programme. Which is great when you are testing them.

I have just found out that Notepad++ has a lot of handy plugins such as Explorer and NppFTP. Here is an article on plugins. I’ll be using them in the future. Note, some of the plugins only work for 32 bit Notepad++ not the 64 bit version.

It also does some coloured highlighting, which is useful. Also opening/closing brackets, click on one & it shows you the other (if you have it in your code).

There are some fancy Text/Code editors out there, mainly paid. They can do some smart stuff. If I was working all day on web pages and other coding I would use one of them, but for common or garden usage this is a great tool. Definitely superior to Notepad or wordpad. You do have to remember when right clicking on file to select “Open with Notepad++” or you end up with a default (eg notepad).

I do use Visual Studio sometimes & I use JetBrain’s PyCharm community. JetBrain has other free community IDE’s too. Again, because I don’t use them that frequently, I end up doing basic coding with Notepad++ (its usually grabbing a bit of code off the web and buggering it up.

MS Office and oneNote. (Note, this is NOT free)

This is habit too. I have recently been playing with Google Sheets and they are pretty good. I note that you need to use Chrome to use sheets offline. Generally I use Excel & Sometimes Word.

I use oneNote as a handy place (because it starts on startup) to paste things like interesting web sites, code snippets or notes. It is always open and does sync between devices but I dont like the way it makes its blocks. I constantly have one block overlapping another. Not that great. I have shared some with notes with teams, usually on processes. That works OK. I’m sure I’m not using it properly but I do not find it intuitive. So as a basic cut/paste tool and temporary place to store things it works for me.


For moving lots of files between PC and server, this is a great tool, and once setup off it goes and transfers the files. I have found it a pain to get the right configuration of a remote server, but once setup its great. It just ticks away until done and shows how many files have failed. Handy if you are backing up a website on a server and copying the backups to PC or other storage device.

Screen capture- Snipping tool & Snagit (a paid app)

I find Snagit great. As you can document , number, put arrows on  screen captured images. This is great for my website images, especially for the how to… examples.

The other nice thing is the Snagging tool works on my server as well, so I could have a screenshot I want from there and it is easily accessible, I do not need to re-size the server window at all.

The Snipping Tool is the windows one, and you could take the image in to PAINT and edit it there, but that’s using 2 programmes.

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