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Essential Windows 11 Tricks and Keyboard Shortcuts that Make Life Easier

You’ll find in this post the Windows 11 tricks and keyboard shortcuts that help you handle a computer much more efficiently. So much so that they might inspire you to move to the latest operating system if you’re still using Windows 10.

Coincidentally, the very first tip below will help you with the migration process on a computer that does not meet the new operating system’s hardware requirements.

Make it a weekend project to master them all — they are pretty straightforward — or check back once in a while for reference when you forget. I’ll likely update this post with new tricks anyway.

Dong’s note: Indeed, I first published this piece on November 5, 2021, and updated it on December 12 with additional information, tips, and tricks. Hint: Use the Table of Content below for quick access.

Windows
There are a lot of ways to customize Windows 11 to your likings.

Windows 11 tricks and keyboard shortcuts: The list

Before we continue, let’s go through a few mundane things that we tend to assume that everyone knows.

In reality, well, some don’t, or at least don’t care enough to remember which is which. And we can’t go forward if we’re not on the same page in terms of names.

Common Windows items and shortcuts

Again, savvy users need not apply, though this part can be a good refresher on Microsoft Windows in general. But if you think you’re too cool for it, click here to skip.

  • The Taskbar: This is the bar that, by default, runs at the bottom of your computer’s screen. Among other things, it holds the Start button and shortcut icons of other software.
  • The Start button: This is the first icon on the Taskbar (from left). It has the logo of Windows. When you hit the Start button, the Start menu will appear.
  • The Start menu: It’s the iconic graphical user interface element available since Windows 95. The menu, invoked via the Start button or the Windows key on the keyboard, holds shortcuts to applications and settings of the computer.
  • The Windows key: Available in most QWERTY keyboards, the Windows key lies between the Ctrl and Alt keys at the lowest row. Its name comes from the fact it has the Windows logo on top. If you use a Mac keyboard (on a Windows computer), the Command key functions as the Windows key.
  • Esc (escape) key: This is the key at the top left corner of a keyboard. It’s generally used to quickly dismiss certain dialogs, or invoke the “Cancel” command.
  • A keyboard combo: A combination of one or more special keys (Ctrl, Alt, Windows, or Shift) with a regular key to start an action. To execuate a combo, you press and hold the special key(s) and then another key on the keyboard. Common Windows keyboard combos:
    • Ctrl + C (press and hold the Ctrl key and then press on C): Copy. The selected item will be stored in the Clipboard (you don’t see it) ready for you to paste it somewhere.
    • Ctrl + X: Cut. This is similar to Ctrl + C but when you paste the item, it will be removed from its original location (when possible.)
    • Ctrl + V: Paste (or place) the copied item at a new location.
    • Ctrl + Z: Undo an immediate previous action (when possible).

With that out of the way, let’s move on to other cool tricks.

1. Upgrade an “unsupported” Windows 10 hardware to Windows 11

By now, you must have been aware of Microsft’s ridiculous hardware requirements that prevent users from upgrading many Windows 10 computers, including some with powerful hardware, to its latest Windows 11.

The truth is, those requirements seem arbitrarily made up to force you into getting new hardware. You can upgrade all Windows 10 computers to Windows 11 for free.

Windows Getting Ready for Windows Upgrade Folder Run the Tool
The trick to installing Windows 11 on unsupported hardware (screenshot 1/2): First, run the Windows11Upgrade tool as administrator.

And there’s now an easy way to make that happen:

  • On a non-qualified Windows 10 computer, (if you use the 32-bit version, which is rare, you will need to install the 64-bit version fresh first), download this tool.
  • Run the Windows11Update file of the tool as administator — see the above screenshot — and follow the steps in the screenshot below.
Windows Tricks Installing Windows on Windows computers
Windows 11 installation trick (screenshot 2/2): Then follow the steps above.

If you need more detailed instruction, this post on the in-place Windows 11 upgrade will hold your hands through the process. But the formula is:

Windows 10 (64-bit) + this upgrade tool = Windows 11

Tip: You can use this trick to put Windows 11 on a BootCamp Mac computer, too.

2. Avoid using Microsoft accounts

No, unlike widely reported, you do not need a Microsoft account to use Windows 11.

But the software company does try to coerce you into making one by seemingly offering no other option when you create a user account within Windows 11 so that later it can push so many different products and services (like One Drive, Teams, Sky, etc.) on you.

The software giant has gotten more and more aggressive on this front since the early version of Windows 10.

This approach is a terrible practice and is bad for your privacy. On top of that, it’ll cause the login time to be longer — the computer has to ping the Microsoft server and services each time you sign in. So there are more reasons not to use it than to use it.

And you sure can avoid it. Here’s how to easily create a (new) local account on Windows 11 (it works on Windows 10, too):

Disconnect your computer from the Internet before you proceed to create a new account.

That’s it.

Windows 11 Tricks: Turning Internet off before making an user account in Windows
Windows 11 Tricks: Turning the Internet off before making a user account in Windows will save you from having to create a Microsoft account.

Here’s how to temporarily disconnect, when applicable:

  • Unplug the computer’s network cable. Or
  • Temporarily turn off or disconnect its Wi-Fi via the little icon at the Taskbar’s right corner — you can also turn on the Airplane mode. (This is a good opportunity to use the Win + A keyboard shortcut — more below.)

The lack of Internet access will force Windows to allow you to create a local account.

Hints

This trick also applies when you turn on a new Windows 11 computer for the first time. Skip the part where the OS asks you to connect to the Internet during the initial setup process.

(You can easily get connected after logging in — again, Win + A combo for the win!)

When you need to use a particular Microsoft service, such as the Microsoft Store, Skype, etc., you can choose to sign in with that service individually.

By the way, if for some reason you enjoy being treated as a product by Microsoft, you can always turn a local account into a Microsoft one by adding email to it — the OS will give you plenty of opportunities to do so.

3. The Windows key shortcuts everyone should know

These are keyboard shortcuts that start with the Windows key (“Win” for short). To use one, you press and hold the Windows key and then press on another keyboard key.

For example, the Win + A combo means you press and hold the Windows key, then hit the A key on the keyboard.

Windows Keyboard Shortcuts note the Windows key among special keys
Windows Keyboard shortcuts: Note the Windows key with the iconic logon on this partial picture of a typical QWERTY keyboard. Can’t find it? Look more closely!

If you’re on a computer, you can try any of these combos below right now. They are fun! By the way, most of these also work on Windows 10 and earlier.

(Again, if you’re on a Mac running BootCamp, or use a Mac keyboard on a Windows computer, use the Command key in the place of the Windows key.)

ComboAction
Win + AOpen Quick Settings to change time, Wi-Fi, Airplane mode, notification, etc.
Esc to close.
Win + BMove the mouse’s focus to the first item at the Taskbar corner at the lower right corner of the screen. Now you can use the Left and Right arrow keys to move between them and Enter to open the selected one.
Win + COpen Microsoft Teams.
(Windows 11 installs Microsoft Teams by default — good luck getting rid of it!)
Esc to close.
Win + Ctrl + DOpen a new Virtual Desktop. You will get a new desktop screen that’s clean.
Now you have the following applicable shortcuts:
Win + Ctrl + Left (or Right) Arrow: Switch between virtual desktops.
Windows + Ctrl+ F4: Close the current virtual desktop you’re viewing.
Win + DToggle: Minimize all windows and get you to the Desktop screen, or restore them to their original statuses.
(Toggle means you can switch between two repeatable actions by pressing the regular key again while still holding the special key (s) down.)
Win + EOpen File Explorer
Win + GOpen the Game Bar (only gamers need to apply).
Esc to close.
Win + HOpen Microsoft Speech Service (Windows 11’s built-in voice dictation).
Esc to close.
Win + HomeToggle: Minimize/restore all other windows, except for the one you’re working on — you won’t see anything if your current window is in the maximized state or if it’s the only open window.
Win + IOpen Windows 11’s Settings.
(This is equivalent to clicking on the Start menu and then on the Settings cogwheel.)
Win + KOpen Cast to connect the computer to a wireless display
(TV, projector, external display, etc.)
Esc to close.
Win + LLock the computer.
(You should always do this when you leave the computer for an extended amount of time.)
Win + MMinimize all open windows (similar to Win + D above, except it’s not a toggle).
Win + NOpen Notification Center.
Esc to close.
Win + POpen More Display setting, similar to Win + K but only for wired screens connected to the computer via a cable.
Esc to close.
Win + Pause/BreakOpen System -> About
(This is a quick way to know the specs of a computer)
Alternatively, you can use Win + I then click on About.
Win + PrtScnTake a screenshot of the entire screen
(On most computers, just the Prtscn will do.)
Ctrl + V: Paste the screenshot on an application, such as Paint.
Win + R Open the Run dialog
(This allows you to enter a quick command.)
Esc to close.
Win + S (or Q)Open the Search window and set the focus on the search field. You now can type in a search term.
Esc to close.
Win + Shift + STake a screenshot of a portion of the screen.
(You’ll have the option to draw a rectangle of what you want to save as a photo.)
Ctrl+V: Paste the shot to any application.)
Win + Space BarRotate between available keyboards.
(Applicable only to those using multiple input languages or methods, such as English, Spanish, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.)
Win + TSet focus on the first application icon on the Taskbar (to the right of the Start button). Now you can use the Left and Right arrows to move between them and Enter to call up the selected application.
Win + TabDisplay all the Task Views (all open windows). You then have the option to pick which one you want to work on.
Esc to close.
(Alternatively, you can use the Alt + Tab, and in this case, you can keep holding Alt while tapping on Tab to move between the windows, releasing the Alt key to open the selected window.)
Win + VOpen the Clipboard. Here you have the option to turn on its History and manage items that you have stored in it via the Ctrl+ C combo mentioned above.
Esc to close.
Win +  WOpen Windows 11’s Widgets window.
Esc to close.
Win +  XOpen Menu X.
(Equivalent to right-clicking on the Start button.)
Esc to close.
Quick Win + keyboard shortcuts for Windows 11
Windows Tricks Windows System
Windows 11 Tricks: You can quickly call up the Windows System page via the Win + I combo. This page alone allows for lots of customization.

By the way, of these combos, the Win + S, Win + X, Win + R, Win + D, Win + I, and Win + E are my favorites, in that order. I use them almost every day.

Most importantly, practice the Win + S combo a few times and remember it! We’ll use it a lot from here on out.

4. Make your computer run faster by reducing unnecessary graphic effects and animations

By default Windows 11 comes with many flashy animations and transitional effects that, while cool, only make the computer slower.

The Windows 11 trick to improve system performance
The Windows 11 trick to improve system performance

For the most part, they waste system resources, and we should turn them off. Here are the steps:

  • Hit Win+R (or Win + S) and enter the following text (you can copy and paste):
sysdm.cpl
  • Press Enter to call up the System Properties window.
  • Pick the Advanced tab
  • Check the Custom radio button on then uncheck seven top checkboxes. (You can pick and choose but, really, uncheck all seven and possibly more!)
  • Click on Apply and then OK.

And that’s it. You’ll notice the better performance.

5. Remove unnecessary Startup programs

Almost all applications you put on your computer these days want to run automatically each time you turn on the computer.

Windows 11 Tricks: You can disable startup items using Windows Task Manager.
Windows 11 Tricks: You can disable startup items using Windows Task Manager.

While some must run on startup, most are just a waste of recourses while nagging for your attention, and we should disable them. Here are the steps:

  • Hit Win + S and enter the following text on the search field and press Enter:
task manager
  • (Alternatively, you can also right click on the Start button — or use the Win + X combo — to open the Menu X and then click on Task Manager).
  • On the Task Manager window that appears, if you see “More details” at the bottom, click on it — the text will change to “Fewer details” and the window will display more details.
  • Pick the Startup tab
  • Select each startup program you don’t need to use and click on the Disable button.

That’s it. Restart the computer, and it’ll run better, by a bit or a lot, depending on how many startup programs you used to have.

6. Add quick shortcuts to profile sub-folders to the Start menu

There’s an area at the bottom of the Start menu, which is blank by default, where you can place shortcuts to your account’s quick access folders (Pictures, Downloads, Music, Video, etc.).

Windows 11 Tricks: Here's ow to add personal folders' shortcuts to the Start menu.
Windows 11 Tricks: Here’s how to add personal folders’ shortcuts to the Start menu.

Here’s how to populate that area:

  • Hit Win + S and enter the following text om the search field:
start setting
  • As “Start settings” appears in the search result, hit Enter or click on it to open Personalization -> Start window
  • Click on Folder
  • Slide the dot for each folder to on (or off).

7. Customize the Start menu’s pinned apps and make them persistent in all (new) user accounts

Just like Windows 10, by default, Windows 11’s Start menu comes with tons of pinned apps, most of which are those that Microsoft wants to stuff down its customers’ throats.

But like the case of Windows 10, you can remove these apps and pin new ones to the menu easily — right-click on an item, and the rest is self-explanatory.

Windows 11 Start menu remove items Right click to pin anything to the Start menu
When it comes to customizing Windows 11's Start menu's pinned apps, the right-click is the key.

The problem is this: the changes you’ve made will stay with the current account. When you make a new account — for another user — those pinned bloatware apps will come back — they are the default. And the trick to keep them at bay in Windows 10 no longer works.

Here’s the new trick to make the Start menu persistent throughout the entire computer, applicable only to Windows 11:

  • Hit Win + S and enter the following text on the search field:
cmd
  • Run elevated Command Prompt: As the Command Prompt appears in the results, right-click on it and choose Run as administrator (and accept the User Account Cotnrol security warning — click on Yes). The Administrator: Command Prompt window will appear.
  • Enter the following command and press Enter (you can copy and paste):
xcopy "%LocalAppData%\Packages\Microsoft.Windows.StartMenuExperienceHost_cw5n1h2txyewy\LocalState\start.bin" "%OSDisk%\Users\Default\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.Windows.StartMenuExperienceHost_cw5n1h2txyewy\LocalState\" /y
How to run Elevated Command Prompt in Windows The command to make Start menu persistent in Windows 11
Run elevated Command Prompt and enter the command that makes the Start menu's pinned apps persistent in all new user accounts.

That’s it. From now on, all new accounts you’ll create on the computer will share the same pinned apps that those of the current account.

There’s no voodoo involved here.

The command basically copies the configuration file of the current account’s Start menu (Start.bin) into the new designated location that automatically applies to all future users’ accounts.

This location, by default, doesn’t exist until you create it, which the command does.

To undo:

Just go to C:\Users\Default\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.Windows.StartMenuExperienceHost_cw5n1h2txyewy\LocalState\ and delete the Start.bin file.

That’s with the assumption that you install Windows 11 on the C: drive, which is the case in most situations. If not, replace “C:” with the drive that hosts the OS.

No harm is done to your computer either way.

8. Customize Taskbar, including moving the Start menu to the left

By default Windows 11 put the Start menu in the middle of the screen and put the Taskbar items, including shortcuts of Search, Widgets, Chat, and Task view, on the Taskbar.

Windows 11 Tricks: Here's how to customize the Taskbar's items and move the Start menu to the left
Windows 11 Tricks: Here’s how to customize the Taskbar’s items and move the Start menu to the left.

Here’s how to change that:

  • Hit Win + S and enter the following text in the search field:
taskbar settings
  • Hit Enter or click on the search result to call up the Personalization -> Taskbar window.
  • To add/remove the Taskbar items: Move the dot to on or off on each of them.
  • To move the Start menu to the left: Click on Taskbar behaviors and change the value of Taskbar alignment to “Left”.
  • You can also use this page to customize other aspects of teh Taskhbar, including the corner overflow (right end) and more.

9. Make default apps persistent in all (new) accounts

Default apps are those that automatically launch when you launch an applicable service or file. In other words, these are the apps associated with particular file types.

For example, if you double click on a Word file, Microsoft Word will launch and automatically open that document for you to view its content and make changes.

And that’s fine.

However, there are many file types and services each can be handled by multiple applications. In web browsing, for example, we have Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari, etc. Some of these apps are far better than their peers.

A bit of Windows 11 default app lamentation

As the maker of the Windows operating system, Microsoft insists on making its own apps the default, despite the fact they are far inferior and many cases. It’s a type of monopoly or unfair advantage. Just bad.

Personally, I’d prefer Chrome as my default browser and VLC as my default player for all types of multimedia contents (video and sound). But you might have your own preferences.

Starting with Windows 11, Microsoft has deliberately and egregiously made it hard to change the default apps, especially when it comes to browsers — it nags and forces Edge on the users.

(That behavior alone is enough for everyone to stop using Edge. But if you like it, I’m nobody to judge.)

How to change the default apps in Windows 11

There are many ways to change the default app in Windows. You’ll find two in this part.

The easy way (best for general file associations in any Windows version)
Steps to change the default app for the PDF file type in Windows
The steps to change the default app for the PDF file type. In Windows 11, Microsoft makes its Edge browser the default app for this type.
  1. Right-click on a file (I used a PDF file as an example). A context menu will pop up. Choose Properties. The Properties window will appear.
  2. On the Properties window, pick the Change button after “Open with:”. The app selection window will appear.
  3. Pick a new app — you can browse for one if you don’t find your fav on the list — as the default and click OK.

That’s it. From now on, whenever you double-click on any file of the same type (PDF in this case), the new default app you have picked will launch instead of the old one (Edge.)

The thorough way (best for default browser in Windows 11)

The method below is more thorough, specifically for Windows 11, and especially when you want to change the default browser:

Open Windows Default Apps
Open Windows 11’s Default apps setting
  • Hit Win + S and enter the following text in the search field:
default apps
  • Open Default Apps. Now follow the following steps:
  1. In the search field, enter the current default app that you want to change. (That’s “edge” in this example.)
  2. Sellect the defalt app in the result.
  3. Pick a file type (or service) that the current app (Edge) is the default and the app seclection window will appear.
  4. Pick the new app (Chrome in this case — but you can choose your own.)
  5. Hit the OK button.
  6. Repeat from step #3 for other file types/servives if applicable.
  7. Repeat from step #1 for a different app.
Look for an app in Widnows 11 Default Apps section Change a Windows 11 Default App to another

Now, your current account will have all your favorite apps as the default. Mission accomplished. Well, almost.

When you create a new user account on the computer, Microsoft’s default apps will apply to that account. And you will have to repeat all the above.

There’s a way to avoid that.

How to make the curent account’s default apps persistent in all new user accounts in Windows 11

It’s much faster to make the current file associations (default apps) applied to the rest of the (new) user accounts on a Windows 11 computer.

Here are the steps:

How to run Elevated Command Prompt in Windows The command to make default apps persistent in Windows 11
Run elevated Command Prompt and enter the command that makes the default apps persistent in all new user accounts.
  • Run elevated Command Prompt — see trick number 7 above.
  • Enter the following command and press Enter (you can copy and past).
Dism /Online /Export-DefaultAppAssociations:"C:\Windows\System32\OEMDefaultAssociations.xml"

That’s it! From now on, all new user accounts will share the same default apps as the current account.

10. The good-old “God mode”

God mode is a fancy name for a trick dated back to Windows Vista. It’s a way for you to create a shortcut that opens up a window containing a vast collection of tools to customize the OS quickly.

Windows 11 Tricks: God mode is a folder that contains hudreds of quick-access shortcuts to diffrent functions of the opersating system
Windows 11 Tricks: God mode is a folder that contains dozens of quick-access shortcuts to different functions of the operating system

Here’s how to create this God mode shortcut:

  • Right-click on an empty space of the desktop, choose New -> Folder.
  • Copy and paste the following text and use it as the name of the new folder, then press Enter:
GodMode.{ED7BA470-8E54-465E-825C-99712043E01C}

That’s it. Now you’ll see the icon of the folder change into that of the Control Panel. Open (double-click) it, and you will see a long list of shortcuts.

Alternatively, you can also rename any existing folder with that name to get the same result.

Important: If you choose to rename an existing folder with content (sub-folders and files) into this name, you will lose access to its content — it can be hard to get that back. The point is don’t do it. Only rename an empty folder to this name.


And that’s it for now. Check back in a while, and you might see more valuable tricks.

The takeway

For the most part, Windows 11 is Windows 10 in disguise. However, it does have a new user interface that requires some getting used to.

Hopefully, the new interface will remain more consistent than the case of Windows 10. But if not, using the Win + S combo and typing in the name of the item you need access to is will likely persist throughout different versions, as it has been that way since Windows 8.

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12 thoughts on “Essential Windows 11 Tricks and Keyboard Shortcuts that Make Life Easier”

  1. Sadly had to get this installed when I built a new PC. Way too many bugs…
    The best tools to make it shine are Explore Patcher, Open Shell and Winaero Tweaker all together.
    That or you can take forever to do any simple task.

    Reply
  2. Not just Win 11, but ALT + PrtScn, Win + a number key (why I put my most opened folders and items for the first entries in the taskbar), and Win + V (for most oft-used pinned clipboard stuff) are super useful ones I use daily that are not on your list, BTW. Most useful trick I know is getting what I want pinned on the taskbar that isn’t normally allowed (most used folders, Powershell ISE Admin, Control Panel, etc). I also prefer Edge as you can fit a ton of favorites on the favorites bar as you can “show icon only” for them.

    Reply
  3. Dong,

    I’ve bookmarked this and your other effort concerning Win11 (the one about upgrading an “unsupported” Win10 computer) for future reference. Thanks for these guides.

    As for now I still don’t see any compelling reason to upgrade from Win10 right now- performance, features, etc.? Am I missing anything?

    Reply
  4. I am only running Windows 11 on an old Surface Book 2 spare device. I can’t say there is anything new that I prefer over Windows 10. It feels like more was taken away than was added, TBH πŸ™

    Reply
    • You’re correct, Deidre. It’s basically windows 10 with a new coat. But it’s inevitable, you will eventually have to use it.

      Reply
      • I’m in no rush to get Windows 11 which I recently set up on my wife’s new HP laptop. Personally, I prefer the latest version of Windows 10, (2H2). I find the navigation on 10 is more user friendly and the start menu with the tiles more appealing. For instance, the settings menu and app list is no longer by the start button. You need to navigate to a new ‘all apps’ > sub menu to access these programs. I then had to scroll down the list to the settings icon and pin it to her toolbar for easy access. Also, according to my computer tech who is also an instructor, Windows 10 will continue to be supported until 2025. Maybe by then Widows 11 will be updated with plenty of new features and improvements.

        Reply
        • Yeap, you can use it until 2025, Ian. But Microsoft has switched its focus on Windows 11 so 10 will likely be neglected. Still, for now, there’s no rush to upgrade.

          Reply
          • What, no more feature bugs and patches? Lol. All kidding aside, many of the upgrades didn’t excite me all that much, but their buggy software created a lot of headaches for some.

          • I second that. A lot of the apps are terrible. Photos, Mail, etc., are borderline useless in Windows 11. which was why I wrote the part about changing the default apps. Hopefully, things will get better, but MS is known to be buggy since it tries to support too much. There’s good and bad in that.

  5. Dong, totally off topic but do you have any suggestions for a good all around laptop around $1000? Maybe something that you use and would recommend? Thank you!

    Reply

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