Windows 10 Top Tips & Tricks

Let’s talk about some of the best features for Windows 10 that you may not know even exist.

In the spirit of “lists”, we’ve put together our own “Top 10” Windows 10 features.  These are features that are bound to make your life easier as well as increase your workflow efficiency.

For some of us, these may all be new experiences.  For others, you may know quite a few of these.  Even if you are a seasoned Windows 10 user, There’s likely to be at least one feature where you find yourself saying, “I didn’t know I could do THAT!”

Now it’s time to see how many you know.

SPECIAL NOTE:  Because Windows 10 is an ever-evolving product, with monthly updates and semi-annual major updates, some of these features require the latest updates to have been applied to your Windows 10 operating system.

This post was created using Windows 10 Pro (version 1909, build 18363.720).

If a showcased feature is not available in your version of Windows 10, consider updating your operating system to the current version.  The following link will take you to the official Microsoft Update Assistance website.

1 – Enjoy Next Level Pasting with Clipboard History

Copying and pasting data is one of the first Windows skills all new users learn.  The power to move or replicate vast amounts of information can give you quite the rush of power the first few times you try it.

Most users think that you are limited to pasting only the last cut or copied selection.

What about those scenarios where you are copy/pasting the bits of information over and over, requiring you to operate like a tennis match between the source material and the target?

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to queue up all your copied information at once, then paste it all down in one session, possibly in a different order than it was copied?

And what about a copied set of information that you need frequently.  Wouldn’t it be great to call up that information for pasting without having to copy it each time you needed it?

Enter the Clipboard History

The Clipboard History acts as a repository of cut or copied data.  Not just the last cut or copied block of data, but potentially dozens of blocks of data.

As an example, suppose you need to copy and paste several small bits of text from a much larger article.  You begin by highlighting the needed bits and copying them one at a time with traditional cut/copy techniques, like CTRL-X and CTRL-C, or any other technique you prefer.

You then move on to the destination document.  The trick here is to not perform a traditional Paste operation (CTRL-V), but instead, press the Windows key and the letter V (Win-V).

This presents the Clipboard History.

You are now able to paste the copied data in any order you prefer by clicking on the corresponding preview in the history window.

You are no longer required to switch back and forth between applications, copying and pasting the bits separately.  You also don’t run the risk of losing some copied text because you forgot to paste it before copying another block of text.

You can copy text, HTML, and bitmap images up to 4MB per item.

Activating the Clipboard History Feature

The Clipboard History may not be activated on your system by default.  To activate the feature, click your Start button and type “clipboard”.  You should see “Clipboard Settings” as a selectable option.

In the Clipboard controls, toggle the “Clipboard history” feature to an ON state.

If you are signed in with a Microsoft account, you can enable “Sync across devices”.  This means you could copy something at work on your work device and paste it later at home on your home device. VERY cool.

If there are security concerns when using this feature, such as copying credit card information, you can set the feature to only sync copied data that you declare by selecting “sync” in the Clipboard History.

You can also clear your copied history if you just want to perform a bit of spring cleaning.

Persistent Copied Data

With traditional cut/copy/paste operations, the cut or copied data is no longer available after a reboot.

If you have a block of copied data that you use frequently, you can eliminate the need for re-copying each time you need to paste the data.  Once the data is initially copied, you can press the ellipse button next to the entry in the Clipboard History and select “Pin”.

This will keep the copied data in the history for use at any time without repeated copying.  When the pinned data is no longer needed, press the ellipse button and select “Unpin”.

Unpinned items are cleared after each reboot of the device, but pinned items will remain in the history ready for future use.

2 – Stay Safe with Sandbox

“Sandboxing” allows us to access websites, install and test software, or open files that we may not be so sure about in terms of safety or system changes.  This is a great way to protect yourself against viruses and malware when testing questionable files.

Sandbox is included with the Pro and Enterprise editions of Windows 10, but it is not included with the Home Edition of Windows 10.

Sandbox is not activated by default.  To activate Sandbox, click the Start button and type “Windows features”.  This should display “Turn Windows features on or off” in the results list.

In the Windows Features dialog box, scroll down and place a check in the item labeled “Windows Sandbox”.

To start the Sandbox feature, click the Start button and type “Sandbox”.  This should display “Windows Sandbox” in the results list.

Once the Sandbox is open, copy and paste the file(s) or website URL into the Sandbox and run them as normal.

Once your testing has completed, close the sandbox and all your sandboxed content will be deleted.  If any harm would have come to your sandbox, the harmful content will be contained to the sandbox, protecting your “normal” computer from all harm.

NOTE: None of your third-part applications, like Microsoft Office, are available in the sandbox unless you install them.  Due to the destructive nature of the sandbox, those installed applications will also be deleted upon exit.  This means you would need to reinstall them into the sandbox upon further use.

3 – Split Your World with Virtual Desktop

Suppose you are working on a project that requires having several applications open simultaneously.

Then an appointment pops up that reminds you of a video conference you need to join where you are the presenter.

Instead of closing all of the open applications, losing your place in all the apps, or even minimizing all of the apps, allowing others to “peek” into your app activity or see all of the files you have on your Desktop, we can switch to a new, empty Desktop.

This is known as a Virtual Desktop.

A Virtual Desktop is a Desktop that is initially free of any content.  This is a fantastic way to hide all content and running applications, whether you just want to reduce distractions from yourself or present a clean slate for public viewing.

Creating a Virtual Desktop

To activate a new virtual desktop, click the Task View button to the right of the Start button.

In the Task View click the “New desktop” button (or Win-CTRL-D) in the upper left of the screen.

You are presented with a new Desktop, free of the clutter or programs you don’t wish to display.

If you open an application in another virtual desktop, the application and Taskbar reference for that application are only visible in the single virtual desktop.

Switching Between Virtual Desktops

You can switch between virtual desktops by selecting the Task View button, then clicking the appropriate virtual desktop thumbnail in the upper-left corner of the screen.  Also, the keyboard shortcuts Win-CTRL-← or Win-CTRL-→ will switch you between virtual desktops.

Moving Applications between Virtual Desktops

If you wish to move an application to a different virtual desktop:

  1. Select the virtual desktop that contains the desired application
  2. Press the Task View button
  3. Click and hold the mini-view of the application
  4. Drag the mini-view of the application and drop it into the thumbnail of the desired virtual desktop.

Deleting a Virtual Desktop

To remove a virtual desktop, click the Task View button then click the “X” in the upper-right of the unwanted virtual desktop thumbnail (or Win-CTRL-F4).

Any open windows from the deleted virtual desktop will be moved to the previously created virtual desktop.

4 – Hide Desktop Icons with One Click

If you like the feature of hiding all Desktop icons, but you don’t want all the bells and whistles of virtual desktops, this is a simpler, yet less feature-rich alternative.

Right-click in an empty part of the Desktop and select View -> Show Desktop Items.

To bring your Desktop icons back, repeat the above process.

5 – Get in the Zone with Focus Assist

Most of us are easily distracted.  When we’re busily working, it’s not uncommon for some form of a banner, pop-up, or alert bell to grab our attention, taking it away from the task at hand.

Focus Assist allows us to temporarily suppress all forms of attention-getting notifications allowing us to work in a distraction-free environment.

Activating Focus Assist

To activate Focus Assist, select the Action Center button (lower-right) to open the Action Center panel.  From here, select Focus Assist.

NOTE: You can also right-click the Action Center launch button to access Focus Assist settings.

Priority Only

You have the option of selecting “Priority Only” which will mute everything except priority notifications.  Notifications can be defined as “priority” by right-clicking on the Focus Assist button and selecting “Go to Settings”.

In the Focus Assist window under “Priority Only”, select “Customize your priority list”.

You can customize your priority list by adding certain people or applications.

Automatic Focus Assist Rules

You can also define certain activities that will automatically enable the Focus Assist feature, such as screen sharing or quiet hours.

This would prevent that embarrassing message from your college buddy from appearing on your screen during your important presentation.

Alarms Only

This option in Focus Assist will suppress all notifications except alarms. (self-explanatory)

Deactivating Focus Assist

To turn off the Focus Assist feature, repeatedly click the Focus Assist button in the Action Center until it reads “off”.

6 – Get Remote Access with Quick Assist

If you have ever tried to talk someone through a complicated computer process over the phone, where you think to yourself, “This would be so much easier if I was there to do it myself.”, then this feature is for you.

Quick Assist allows the person needing help to grant you access to their desktop as well as take control of their system so you can perform the task remotely, more quickly and with greater accuracy.

To activate this feature, on the computer of the person assisting, click the Start button and type “Quick”.  This should display “Quick Assist” in the results list.

Next, in the “Give assistance” section, click the button labeled “Assist another person”.

This will provide you with a 6-digit, time-limited security code.

Have the person requiring assistance open the Quick Assist window (same way as before.)  In the “Get Assistance” section, have them enter the 6-digit security code you received in the “Code from assistant” field.  Once the code has been entered, click “Share Screen”.

Once the connection is established, the recipient of the assistance will need to click the “Allow” button to confirm screen sharing.

7 – Minimize Quickly with Areo Shake

Aero Shake is a fun little feature that allows you to minimize all your open windows (except one) with just a quick shake back and forth of the mouse.

This is done by clicking and holding the Title Bar of the window you wish to remain open, then quickly and repeatedly move the mouse left to right, then back again.  (Hint: a longer movement of the mouse seems to work better than a shorter movement.)

If you are not that quick with your mouse, the keyboard equivalent to this is to select the window you wish to remain open then press Win-Home.

This trick is much quicker and admittedly more fun than individually minimizing each open window.

8 – Look at Multiple Windows with Split Screen

If you have the luxury of working with multiple monitors, you quickly become spoiled with the increased screen real estate for viewing multiple information sources without switching between them.

Sooner or later, you find yourself working with a single display, but need the multi-windows setup.  This is where “Snap Assist” comes to the rescue.  Think of it as a poor man’s dual monitor.

To set this up, open multiple windows; most applications will work.

Next, grab the Title Bar of one window and drag the window to the left or right of the screen until it touches the edge.  In other words, it can move no further.

When you release the mouse, the window will automatically be given 50% of the screen real estate.

The remaining open windows will be reduced and presented as thumbnail versions.  This is Windows’ way of saying, “Which of these do you want to take the other half of the screen?”

Click the desired thumbnail to complete the split-screen setup process.

The keyboard equivalent for this feature is to use Win- ← or Win- → .  If you are using multiple monitors, repeated pressing of these key combinations will step-lock the window across multiple positions on the monitors.

BONUS TIP: You can also set up a 4×4 grid arrangement of windows by dragging a window to one of the four corners of the screen.  You won’t get the thumbnails, but you can repeat this process up to three more times to create a grid arrangement of windows.

9 – Improve Your Sleep with Night Light

Our brains naturally produce melatonin (the hormone that regulates the sleep/wake cycle) via the pineal gland a couple of hours before our accustomed bedtime.

The short wavelength of blue light interferes with the natural production of melatonin.

People who read via blue light-emitting devices, like tablets and mobile devices, often have trouble falling asleep as well as tending towards less REM sleep (dream time), thus waking up feeling sleepy and unrested, even after a full night’s sleep.

The Night Light feature of Windows 10 reduces the amount of the blue light emitted by the screen, thus reducing the influence on the pineal gland.

To configure the Night Light feature, click the Start button and type “Night”.  This should display “Night Light” in the results list.

You can immediately activate/deactivate the Night Light feature as well as adjust the amount of blue light that is restricted.

To activate the Night Light feature, click the Action Center button and select Night Light.

You can also set this feature up on a schedule, so it activates and deactivates automatically.  This can be based on defined times, or auto-scheduled based on sunset-to-sunrise times as defined by your current location. (Note: Location services must be activated for this option to work.)

10 – Capture You Screen with Snip & Sketch

Snip & Sketch is a built-in screen capturing tool like the older Snipping Tool.  This allows you to perform actions like:

  • Capture the entire screen
  • Capture a single window
  • Capture a defined range (rectangular or free-formed)
  • Perform a delayed capture

Once captured, the image can be marked up using pen marks and highlights, as well as using rulers and protractors to assist with markups.

If needed, the final image can be cropped, printed, saved, and shared via email, Skype, or Twitter.

Activating Snip & Sketch

To activate Snip & Sketch, you can click Start and type “Snip”.  This should display “Snip & Sketch” in the results list.

You can also click the Action Center button (lower-right) and select “Screen snip”.

You can also invoke Snip and Sketch by pressing the Win-Shift-S key combination.

Using Snip & Sketch

When initially launched, you are presented with several selection options at the top-center of the screen.

These allow you to switch between the following capture modes (as viewed left to right):

  • Rectangular
  • Freeform
  • Window
  • Full Screen

After the screen has been captured, the Snip & Sketch app automatically opens to reveal the editing tools.

These tools include the markup tools…

… as well as the save/print/share tools.

Performing a Delayed Capture

In the Snip & Sketch window, you can select from a 3-second or 10-second delayed capture.

This is ideal for capturing dropdown lists or pop-ups that require a few moments to activate.

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