How to Create Shortcuts in Windows to Save Time when Working with Your Documents

The Windows operating system supports a feature known as 'shortcuts'. This allows you to make convenient links to the location of your documents. This article provides information on why, when, and how to use 'shortcuts'.

Say you have a scanning program on your Windows machine that routinely stores the results of your document scanning activities in a folder called "C:\Scans". Now, if you normally keep all your work in 'My Documents', and do not relish navigating the computer's file system, this will be inconvenient. In fact, every time that you want to check on a scan, you are obliged to remember how to navigate to your computer's C: drive, navigate to the appropriate directory, and locate the appropriate document. By the time you have completed all those actions you will probably have forgotten why you wanted the document in the first place.

Wouldn't it be better if you could create a short cut, which would allow your old scanning program to keep doing its thing, yet allow you to access the resulting scanned documents in your 'My Documents' folder?

Happily, Windows supports a mechanism which allows you to achieve precisely this effect. However, many people do not use this capability because it requires precisely the knowledge of the file system that people who would like to use 'shortcuts' do not have. However, do not be faint-of-heart; here is how you create a shortcut in Windows.

Firstly, locate the folder that you want to create a short cut to. This may involve using the program, say a scanner as in our example, which is saving files into that folder. Try using the 'File/Open' command, and checking in the resulting dialog if you can see the pathway to the folder that is presented to you in that dialog box. The string that you are looking for will look something like this 'C:\scanner\scanned_files'. This is Window's description of a given folder on your disk. It says go to the 'C' drive (C:\), and within a folder called 'scanner' there is a target folder called 'scanned_files'.

If you cannot locate the target folder in this way, try using the 'Search' capability which Windows in all its guises provides. To do this, right click 'Start' and select 'Search...'. You will see a wizard which will let you find documents on your system. Taking our example of looking for scanned documents, enter 'scan' as part of the file name to look for and adjust the 'Look in' box to have 'Local Hard Drives ...' selected. This will take a few minutes to run, but this will find all possible documents on your hard drives which match the search string.

Once search has found suitable documents, you will see these appear on the right hand pain of the search window. Right-click a scanned document and select 'Open containing folder'. This will open the folder containing that document in the Windows explorer and will tell you where on your hard disk that folder is located. The information that you are looking for will be a string of words like 'C:\Documents and Settings\user\My Documents\Program Name\Scans'.

Now, having found your scanned documents folder on your hard drive, you can create a shortcut in your My Documents folder to this location. This is simplicity itself. Open 'My Documents', right-click in the right hand pain, select 'New' and then select 'Shortcut' from the resulting list of options. When you do this, you will be presented with a dialog that allows you to enter the target of the short cut. You can either type in 'C:\scanner\scanned_files' or use the Browse button to locate your (now known) location using a Windows Explorer like navigation tool. Click Next and you will be prompted to provide a name for the short cut. Use a descriptive name for the Shortcut and you will then always be able to save to and open from this location in the future, without having to be constantly hunting around your hard drives.

If you delete a short cut, you are just deleting the short cut not the original folder. If you are backing up your 'My Documents' folder and nothing else on the machine, you should be aware that most backup programs will not follow shortcuts. However, more than likely the backup program is already backing up the entire hard drive, so if you need to restore from a backup, nothing will be lost. But be careful and check the details of your backup program, or ask a computer expert to make that check for you. Better to be safe than sorry.

That is all there is to it. Get used to the procedure by creating one shortcut and make sure that it is useful to you before you create thousands of shortcuts. One or two targeted shortcuts will save you a great deal of time, while a host of shortcuts are likely to be more confusing than helpful.

However, generally, using shortcuts will make your work using Windows simpler and less repetitive - which is always a good thing when dealing with computers.

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