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10 Windows 11 tips and tricks we use to customize our PCs

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The best tips for Windows 11 are the ones that you use—to make you more efficient, to make you more productive, and to customize your PC the way you want.

But to integrate a suggestion, you have to try it. So here’s what we’d like you to do: Give each of these tips a quick whirl, see if they work for you, and if they do, great! We want to take what helps us and use it to help you.

The list below includes both suggestions for older features and suggestions for new ones. Either way, enjoy!

Optimize your startup apps

Everyone goes to the gym to start the year. So why not use the time to purge some of the Christmas bloat from your PC? There are potentially dozens of apps that can silently load as your PC starts up, slowing down the time your PC starts up and gobbling up memory for when it’s completed.

Take a look at your startup apps within the Windows 11 Settings menu (Settings > Apps > Startup) and start considering launching apps you won’t need right away, especially those marked “high impact.” All it will do is force you to charge them when you want to use them, which honestly isn’t that bad. Just don’t turn off a background antivirus process or anything associated with Windows (Edge is fine). If you have any utilities associated with your PC manufacturer (Dell, HP, etc.), it might be worth leaving them alone.

origin 1You’d be surprised at the number of apps your PC can load on startup. Choose carefully to minimize performance impact.

Mark Hachman/IDG

Configure your PC for multiple displays

I hope you use more than one display with your desktop and/or laptop, and you can buy great monitors for sale right now. They are extremely productive and if you are concerned about desk space, instead go vertical.

With Windows 11, you’ll want to do two things: “Arrange” your displays within Windows, and make sure you’ve selected your “primary” display.

TO Settings>System>Display you can arrange the monitors so that the cursor moves naturally and seamlessly from one display to the next. Drag displays next to each other however you like: If you use one screen to the right of another, arrange them next to each other in Windows so you can hover between them. Also choose which display should be the primary display – this will be the display where you can click the volume icon and Notifications.

origin 1Arranging displays is a key part of working with multiple displays.

Mark Hachman/IDG

If you have a laptop, make sure the option to preserve display layout is selected (“Remember window positions based on monitor connection”), especially if own a Thunderbolt dock. This way everything will stay organized the same whether you undock your laptop or not.

Understand how to adjust the size of text and icons

We’re all getting older and even though your eyesight is excellent, we’re still squinting at screens more than we should. In Settings>System>Displayyou can adjust the Stairs of each view. Increasing the value will increase the size of everything within Windows: icons, text, window size, etc. But Settings>Accessibility>Text size it will simply scale the text size up and down – whatever you are reading right now.

origin 1You can find the control for resizing Windows here. Experiment to find the right setting.

Mark Hachman/IDG

Why choose one over the other? Because you might instinctively know which icon matches which, whether you’re wearing glasses or not. But adjusting the text size can help you avoid paying for bifocals while still using Windows effectively.

Get the Windows 11 Taskbar the way you want it

The Windows 11 taskbar still sucks, albeit an excellent one The $4.99 Start11 utility fixes things allowing you to spread it out and move it around. But if you don’t want to pay, make sure you get the most out of Windows 11 itself. In Settings>Personalization>Application bar you can ensure that the system tray is shown on all your displays (or hidden), including badges to indicate available mail.

origin 1Of all the options here, extending the taskbar to all displays (red) and hiding unnecessary icons (blue) are probably the most important.

Mark Hachman/IDG

You can also choose to hide various system tray icons as well by disabling apps you’ll never use. (Hi, Chat.)

Skip the Start menu completely

Honestly, the best way to use the Start Menu is not to use it; just press the Windows key and type the app name (Win then “word” to open Microsoft Word, for example). It’s simply faster than searching for the mouse and clicking through various sub-menus to find what you want.

If you want a peer Faster method, just type Win plus the number of the system tray icon to start that program, then opening the first system tray program would be Win + 1the second would be Win + 2, and so on. Be careful, though, as Microsoft seems to have changed the way it counts icons. On my PC, the “first” icon is File Explorer, not the Start icon, Search, or virtual desktops to its left.

Optimize the Windows 11 Start Menu

How we use the Start menu isn’t necessarily how you’ll use the Start menu. The Start menu isn’t great for finding apps, but it’s surprisingly useful for picking up where you left off on a specific document.

To configure the Start menu the way you want, go to Settings>Personalization>Start. Choose the layout you prefer: “more pins” shows more apps, while “more recommendations” shows the most recent documents. If you want to turn off recent documents, turn them off under “Show recently opened items on Start…” below. (Microsoft does a poor job of naming them.) You’ll see your changes reflected in the Start layout the next time you open it.

origin 1Configure the Start menu the way you want.

Mark Hachman/IDG

There’s more you can do here, like add to the icons that appear next to the power button (Personalization > Start > Folders) but they are not as efficient as using File Explorer.

File Explorer’s new tabs are the best way to copy files

Isn’t it fun to use a single File Explorer window to highlight a file, cut or copy it, then navigate through an entire file tree of drives, files and folders to find the destination location. If you installed the Windows 11 2022 update followed by its supplemental October update, File Explorer is now new and improved with a browser-like tab option. Just open the File Explorer window, click the “+” button to open another tab, then transfer files back and forth as you please.

Use File Explorer’s preview pane

Sometimes filenames aren’t really enough to find the file you’re looking for. For this, there are two solutions: File Explorer’s built-in search is one. The other is the preview pane, which “opens” the file for you to view. Works with text files, images, PDFs – a surprising number of file types, actually. Just make sure the preview pane is enabled (click View up, then Showthen Preview pane) and make sure the tile is large enough to comfortably view the document in question.

origin 1Clicking the “+” button (next to the red arrow) to add another File Explorer tab. To the right you can see the File Explorer preview pane in action.

Mark Hachman/IDG

Activate game mode

Windows 11 Game Mode prevents Windows from updating while you’re playing a game and shuts down background processes to give your PC all the power it can muster. Seems obvious, right? Go to Settings>Game>Game Mode to flip it. It will trigger when you’re playing, but not otherwise. Note, however, that YouTube videos played in a browser on a second monitor may stutter a bit.

Carve out space for yourself with Do Not Disturb

Windows Focus Mode turns off notifications and can schedule a playlist of Spotify songs to help you complete a task without external distractions. But if you have multiple monitors open to view your email, and an app icon posts a badge in your system tray to alert you…do you really need notifications? In Settings>System>Notifications you can simply turn on “Do Not Disturb,” which allows notifications to pile up in the Notifications portion of the Action Center, but you won’t actually be disturbed by them.

origin 1Notifications can be useful, but not always. Check them out!

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You can also schedule notifications to go off at certain times by toggling them to “Turn on do not disturb automatically.” Your personal time should be your own… especially after hours on a vacation.

Want even more? My colleague Michael Crider lists his Favorite “hidden” tips for Windows 11. We will have even more tips for Windows in the future!