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Five Common Windows Mistakes You Should Avoid

I love to watch experts using a PC as I often pick up some nifty tricks just by observing the way they work. 

By contrast watching beginners (or even average users) can be painful as they often do things so inefficiently that it makes me wince. Not wince because they are doing something wrong but rather because they are making life so much harder for themselves by not making good use of Windows inbuilt productivity features.

Here are the five of the most common inefficient Windows practices and how some tips how to avoid them.

1. Don’t use the <Delete> key when writing over text.

If you want to replace a highlighted section of text you don’t need to hit the <Delete> key. Instead just type in your new text and the old text will be automatically deleted.

Try it now. Click in your browser address bar and the current web page address it is showing will be selected. Now, type in a new address like  Notice you didn’t have to delete the current address as Windows did it for you as soon as you started typing.

It’s quicker and simpler with no downsides. Definitely something you should put into practice.

2. Don’t clear form fields using <Backspace> or <Delete>

My wife does this all the time. When filling a form on a webpage she will erase the existing contents of a field one character at a time using the <Backspace> or <Delete> keys instead of selecting the whole field using Ctrl A  and then either:

- Hitting <Delete> to blank out the entire field with a single keystroke. 

- Start typing if she needs to replace the field contents (see tip above)

It’s not only faster it’s more effective as you are assured every character is deleted not just the ones you can see.  (BTW, “Ctrl A” means you hold down both the Ctrl key and A key at the same time then release them together)

In the computer world the Ctrl A key combination means “select everything.” It is one of the most important Windows shortcut keys and one you simply must know how to use. 

Try it now, press CtrA and select everything on this page. Click anywhere blank to remove the selection.

3.  Don’t minimize open windows just to get to the desktop

If you want to get to your desktop you don’t need to minimize or close any open windows as there are several ways to get to do this in Windows without closing or minimizing anything.

The simplest way is to press the Windows key and the D key together. This will minimize all open windows immediately. Even better you can restore them again by hitting Windows D again

There are several alternative methods but Windows D is the simplest and best.  It’s also easy to remember – just think “Windows Desktop”

Try Windows D now to go to the desktop. Press it again to return.

4. Don’t double click task bar icons

On your desktop you normally double click an icon to start the corresponding program but on your Windows Task Bar it usually requires only a single click.  If you do double click a task bar icon you run the real risk of starting the program twice.
If you are thinking “So what” let me tell you a story.

My neighbour recently asked me to look at her PC as it was running slow.  A quick look showed she had 18 copies of her Genealogy program running! All these copies had consumed most of her PC's memory and a good part of its processing power. That’s why it was running like a dog.

Impressed by this feat I asked her how she started family tree program when she needed it. 

She took the mouse and made a slow deliberate double click on the Genealogy program icon in the Quick Launch section of her Windows XP Task Bar thus launching two more copies of the program. She now had 20 copies running :)

Now I know it is an inconsistency in Windows that in different places you use double clicks and single clicks to do the same thing but that’s the way it is.  You can adjust your Windows settings to change this behavior but it’s is much better simply to learn to single click Task Bar icons. It takes less effort, it’s a little quicker and most importantly, is far less likely to cause you problems.

5.  Don’t manually delete accidentally copied or moved files

Almost everyone occasionally copies files by accident particularly when selecting group of files where an inadvertent movement of the mouse can result in a bunch of unwanted copies.

Most beginners delete these files one at a time but there is a far easier way – use Ctrl Z the inbuilt Windows undo function. Next time you accidentally copy or move a file just hit Ctrl Z and the unwanted copies will disappear before your eyes. It works for a single file or a whole batch of accidental copies.

Ctrl Z also has a lot of other uses. For example if you ever accidentally delete a file, use Ctrl Z immediately and the file will be restored.  Or if you accidentally delete a section of text in an email or word document just Ctrl Z it and the deleted section will reappear.

Ctrl Z doesn’t work everywhere and for all things but it works in most places for many things.  So next time you make a boo-boo try Ctrl Z and there’s a good chance your error will be fully reversed.



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by terrawarra on 25. April 2011 - 5:45  (70857)

Thanks Gizmo,.. your tip No. 3 is a winner for me. I couldn't believe that something as simple as "Windows key + D" existed,.. I'm using it all the time now and big-noting myself to friends on how clever I am ! LOL

by Jake MAverick (not verified) on 20. April 2011 - 22:39  (70627)

couple of them i didn't know, just gotta try and remember them now....;-) cheerZ!

by PaulH (not verified) on 19. April 2011 - 17:36  (70540)

Ctrl-Tab is good for switching between tabs in IE and FF. Haven't tried it in Opera or Chrome but I'd guess it works there too.

by Rood (not verified) on 14. July 2011 - 11:06  (75457)

Actually using Ctrl-Page up/down is arguably better for switching tabs, as you can decide the direction in which it switches tabs.
this might be firefox specific though, haven't tried it in other browsers.

by TGillett (not verified) on 18. April 2011 - 7:25  (70434)

I know that most places of business want you to lock your computer before you get up from your desk. If you hold the windows key and press L it will lock your computer.

by rrattbagg (not verified) on 17. April 2011 - 7:14  (70364)

Rather than say "hold down Ctrl and A for example express it as "hold down Ctrl and press A - much easier to do than trying to press two keys together

by Goofyballs (not verified) on 16. April 2011 - 19:48  (70323)

Microsoft hid most of these basics right in plain sight. Check out what's behind those buttons at the top.
I learned the basics from buttons at top of page. File, Edit, View, Favorites... they all show the keyboard combinations.
In MS Paint Ctrl+R under Image rotates your image. There are more.

A lot of people don't know about the Alternate Keys Alt+
which are sometimes needed for symbols like °degrees ¢ cents ÷ division ± plus or minus
a whole list of them can be viewed here

by Urbane.Tiger on 16. April 2011 - 13:26  (70308)

Most full size keyboards have a Menu key between the right Alt and right Ctrl keys (mirroring the Windows key on the left). It provides the same functionality as a right mouse click - ie it brings up the context menu.

When your typing you can hit the Menu key and drive the context menu with your arrow keys, it avoids having to reach for the mouse all the time.

I feel lost when I get on a machine without that key.


by Ole - DK (not verified) on 16. April 2011 - 6:48  (70292)

Hi Gizmo!
Never heard of Windows + d, but allways used Windows+m ( for minimize), and Windows+Shift+M (for maximize), +d works fine.

Note, when you dele a file permanent using Shift+delete )which I often do), Ctrl+z DOS'NT work.

I allway use another shortcut a lot, when I have to choose the "Run" command: use Windows+r (for RUN)

Can only say, very good tips which many users can benefit from, I've always used them all.


by Jumbo (not verified) on 16. April 2011 - 3:38  (70286)

Thank you for this tip. I also went into windows help and there are PLENTY of shortcurs there, too mamy to remeber.
Keep up the good work

by choicefresh on 16. April 2011 - 1:36  (70283)

I already use all of these =P. Thanks anyways!

by Holgar (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 20:14  (70276)

While convenient, Ctrl-A doesn't always work. For those occasions, I use Home and Shift+End. Does the same thing and still saves keystrokes.

by Bob on 16. April 2011 - 9:26  (70298)

Ctrl-A is one of the standard Windows shortcuts which, annoyingly, doesn't translate into my Italian edition of Microsoft Word... Oh well, "Pazienza!"

by nguinn97 on 15. April 2011 - 19:41  (70274)

For the finding the desktop section, you should have added that there is an onscreen button that does the same thing.

by schm0 (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 19:39  (70273)

There's tons more excellent shortcuts found here.

by toktok on 15. April 2011 - 18:18  (70269)

Suggest tip no. 6: the Alt-Tab switching between windows is also a useful tip to many "beginners"!

by Mike Feury (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 17:39  (70265)

"Click in your browser address bar and the current web page address it is showing will be selected. Now, type in a new address like"

Ooh yes, that inefficiency makes me wince too! Type only google--if you want to visit the site, press Ctrl-Enter.

"for answering forms and text boxes. I prefer the more deliberate method. Less errors and misspellings."

I agree with Danny's comment, Roboform or a similar tool saves me 15-30 minutes per day in typing, correcting, and recovering from missed errors.

For sets of fields where such tools won't work, I find Tab and Shift-Tab useful to move thru the fields and highlight the contents before I type.

Re copying & moving files, I think the different behavior across drives [sometimes drag&drop copies, sometimes moves] is one of the worst Windows UI design errors. I don't use WinExplorer, but on my file manager I have set drag&drop to always copy [my most frequent use], so to move I use Right-drag&drop.

"in different places you use double clicks and single clicks to do the same thing but that’s the way it is. You can adjust your Windows settings to change this behavior but it’s is much better simply to learn to single click Task Bar icons"

I don't agree, I think it's much better to adjust the Windows settings one-off, rather than daily needing to remember where you single or double click. I've used point to select and click to action for years, it's the first change I make with every new machine.

Thanks for Win+D, I used to use Win+M but it doesn't maximize in Win7.
@vturiserra, Win+D works both ways for me on Win7 Pro, can't think why it wouldn't maximize for you. Check any tweaks you may have made previously to shortcuts.

"Any text that you type over and over can be pasted using a key combination"

@mboline: If you have widescreen or dual monitors, try a text editor [or similar] which has a "snippets" function. I use EditPlus a lot for text work, and have a snippets panel open in it on my second monitor. There lie a couple of dozen snippets which I drag into repetitive daily emails and forum posts. Also saves me 15-30 minutes per day.

by Anonymousssss (not verified) on 18. April 2011 - 2:34  (70423)

"I think the different behavior across drives [sometimes drag&drop copies, sometimes moves] is one of the worst Windows UI design errors."

Really? Seems to me that the default behaviors are what you would usually want to do in each case. If you are dragging a file from one drive to another, you probably want to copy - so that's the default. Within the same drive, probably need to move (most files you don't want in more than one place on the same drive). But if you need something different than these obvious (IMO) defaults, that's what the right-drag is for. Right-drag and you get the context menu, which even hightlights the default. Play with that and you may start to see the logic...

by Jojo Yee on 18. April 2011 - 6:32  (70430)

These default behaviors also apply to partitions. If you drag a file from one partition to another on the same drive, it's copying, move a file from a folder to another within the same partition, it's moving. These sometime can be confusing to me.

The better way for me is to remember these:

Ctrl + Drag: Always copy to another folder, regardless on which partition or drive.
Shift + Drag: Always move to another folder, regardless on which partition or drive. Hmm... Shift key signifies that you're shifting it :>)

by Maxuelll (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 17:29  (70262)

Windows + D nice! :-D thanks!

by Michael Fisher (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 16:35  (70260)

If these pique your interest you should do the following:
Click on:
Start Menu->Help and Support
When the help window appears type "keyboard shortcuts" in the search box. (In Windows XP, type "keyboard shortcuts overview" to narrow down the search)

Voila! More shortcuts than you can shake a stick at.

My personal favorite is "Windows logo key + E" to open windows explorer also know as "My Computer" or just "Computer" on Win 7.

by JTH (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 16:22  (70259)

Whose mind are these people supposed to read to find this information?

Note to software writers and software companies; Your job is not done until you develop training material that teaches what your software does and how to use it. Just because you are brilliant enough to write an incredible program does not mean the rest of us able to understand it.

The fact that people have to come to forum like this to learn basic skills shows a complete failing of the industry to look at their software as a complete "End User System". They just dump code on us and expect us to figure it out.

And yes, there are lazy people that would never look at any training materials if they were there. That is actually their personal problem and still does not excuse the company from developing training materials and manuals for their products.

by MaxCruz (not verified) on 16. April 2011 - 5:21  (70289)

LMAO at the "dump code" comment. Windows 7 (and all versions for that matter) is so intuitive compared to previous and other operating systems (PC-DOS, MS-DOS, Unix, etc...) that is is almost beyond belief.

Software developers DO publish complete end user manuals for their product, as does Microsoft. You just choose not to look at it.

by Jorpho (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 15:56  (70258)

Ctrl-A? I find myself reaching more reflexively for Shift-Home, possibly because I'm often highlighting words with Ctrl-Shift-Left and Ctrl-Shift-Right.

Anyway, the biggest timesaver I was late in adopting was bringing up Task Manager with Ctrl-Shift-Esc, which is a lot more convenient than Ctrl-Alt-Del and avoids the extra dialog box on Pro systems, too. But I guess that's not so useful if you don't like Task Manager, though.

by mboline (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 15:45  (70257)

I use a combination of Slickrun and Hotkeyz to really bring the power of shortcuts to my PCs. Slickrun allows you to start or open about anything by remembering words. I use Hotkeyz, which can also open about anything with a key combination, for the ability to paste text. Any text that you type over and over can be pasted using a key combination.

by Bob F. (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 15:37  (70256)

Thanks for the tips, with everything written about the computers there is still a large gap of articles on teaching computers to others. I've been doing this for over 8 years and literature is really sparse. This article will be seen by our group. P/S If anyone has seen a book on teaching computers let us know.

Thanks Bob

by JF (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 15:34  (70255)

Very good tips which very many users can benefit from.

An addition to the first two tips:

Suppose you want to edit text which is already in the input field. Many people just begin typing which - as noted above - deletes everything first. Now, if you instead starts hitting the Right (or Left) Arrow key, the text will not be deleted, and you can instead go to the place where you want to insert and/or delete something. Try it now in your browser address bar! First select the field by clicking once.

by hogie (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 15:16  (70251)

thanks gizmo. these tips will save me a lot of time. i didn't know about cntrl z and d.

by Sheumais (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 14:59  (70248)

I wish I'd known about these short cuts a long time ago. Thank you.

by Lost1 (not verified) on 15. April 2011 - 14:59  (70247)

Some users also continuously double click links in the browser ;-)