How To Improve Productivity with Windows 8.1

How To Improve Productivity with Windows 8.1

Have you been dreading a new PC because of Windows 8? In this article we show you how to customize Windows 8.1 to make it more usable if you’re used to a traditional Windows operating system.

Before you start … most of the advice in this article applies to Windows 8.1 only. If you’re using the regular Windows 8, you can update to 8.1 through the Microsoft Store app in the Start menu.

Enable Boot to Desktop

One of the missteps with the original Windows 8 was the lack of an option to boot to desktop. Do the following to make your computer boot straight to the desktop as opposed to the Start menu.

  • Right-click the taskbar and choose Properties
  • Under the Navigation tab, check the box that says When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start
  • Click the Apply button

Stop pictures and files from opening in apps

Another potentially unwieldy feature of Windows 8 are apps (short for applications). Let’s look at how to specify a default program for certain file types; in this example we’ll set Windows Photo Viewer as the default for *.JPG file types instead of the Photos app.

  • Find an image on your computer and right-click it
  • Mouse over the Open with menu option and then click Choose default program…
  • Click Windows Photo Viewer in the resulting list

Perform the above steps for every file type you wish to have open in a program of your choosing.

Improve navigation by disabling gestures

New users to Windows 8 find its tendency to treat seemingly normal mouse gestures as navigation input as an annoyance. Windows 8.1 allows you to change these settings. Do the following (this is all reversible if you want to change back at any point):

  • Right-click the taskbar and choose Properties
  • Click the Navigation tab

These two checkboxes are especially useful under the Corner navigation section:

  • When I point to the upper-right corner, show the charms: this makes it so only moving your mouse to the lower-right corner allows you to access the charms (Windows 8’s right side menu). This is a good option to uncheck because it prevents you from accidentally opening the charms when you’re trying to click the X to close a window.
  • When I click the upper-left corner, switch between my recent apps: another useful option to disable since it’s easier to just use the [Windows] and [Tab] keys simultaneously to switch between apps.

Also consider changing these settings under the Start screensection:

  • Show my desktop background on Start: this is probably something that should have been available from the beginning; it essentially makes the Start menu look transparent since your desktop background shows through.
  • Show the Apps view automatically when I go to Start: this is a good box to check if you prefer a more traditional Start menu look.
  • List desktop apps first in the Apps view when it’s sorted by category: this is another good box to check if you prefer a traditional Start menu look; it organizes your desktop programs into the upper left making them easier to find.

Dock common programs on the taskbar

This functionality was available in Windows 7 and even earlier versions of Windows if we count the Quick Launch menu (that term might bring back memories for some of us, doesn’t it? ).

  • Open the Start menu by pressing the [Windows] key on your keyboard or by clicking the Windows icon in the lower left of your taskbar
  • Right-click any program or app and choose Pin to taskbar

Now your favorite applications are stored on the taskbar meaning you rarely have to access the Start menu (especially if you enabled Boot to desktop per the instructions earlier in this guide). Tip: you can launch docked applications or programs by pressing the [Windows] key and the 1-9 keys; the numbering goes left to right. In my taskbar as shown here, I can launch Google Chrome by pressing [Windows] and [1] simultaneously or iTunes with [Windows] and [3]. Pretty cool right?


We demonstrated in this article that Windows 8 can be made to feel like a more traditional Windows operating system by making a few changes to the user interface and how it behaves in general, such as booting to the desktop as opposed to the Start menu. We also reviewed other ways to improve productivity by docking applications on the taskbar and sorting desktop programs first in the Start menu. Windows 8.1 not please everyone but it’s certainly closer to doing so than the original Windows 8.





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