Find Files Faster

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When it comes to techie tips, I’m a junkie.  Hopefully there is something new for everyone in this weekly series or at least one special “Ah ha, so that is how you do it” when it for Outlook, Excel, Word, Acrobat, etc.

Thanks in advance to Google, my colleagues, and the exasperated IT guys over the years who have all contributed to expanding my geeky knowledgebase.


Find Files Faster: 5 Tips for Quickly Searching and Locating Files in Windows 7

Windows search menu for programs and files

I am a Windows 7 search Junkie. I have pins, bookmarks, shortcuts, links, favorites, and Fences to stay organized. As a clinical program manager, I have to be able to put my hands on the files I need with blazing speed. I could easily lecture for an entire day on file structure organization (and email management will definitely have to be a series of future topics) but for today’s installment of Tuesday Timesavers, let’s just go through 5 of my favorite shortcuts for locating files, hopefully there is something new in this list for all of you.

I have Microsoft Office 2010 on a PC running Windows 7 64-bit, so these step-by-step instructions and screenshots may not be a perfect match to what you see.

Tip 1 – Windows Search Rocks!

You don’t have to open up a file explorer window or poke through shortcuts or folders in your computer to find what you are looking for. Just click the little Windows icon in the bottom left hand corner of the screen and start typing what you are looking for. Seriously, you don’t even have to step in the search box, just click and start typing.

windows start menu search

Looking for a recipe you stored on your computer that calls for paprika but can’t remember where you tucked it away or don’t want to take the time to navigate through your file structure? No problem, search will find it presto, even if the file is called “Hungarian Chicken” and does not have “paprika” in the filename. In the screenshot you see that I only types the first few characters of the word “paprika” before I got the result I wanted. It didn’t just search my recipe files, it looked in my email, too. Windows 7 auto-indexes your system so this search is lightning fast and it looks though all of your folders, outlook email, internet favorites, recent websites, etc. It checks the filenames but also the file contents and file properties.

 Try using windows 7 start bar search to find an email. Mind. Blown. I promise I’ll return to the topic of advanced email searching within Outlook in a future post.

Tip 2 – Explorer Search isn’t Half Bad Either

advanced explorer search

The great thing about searching in Explorer is that you can use advanced search techniques such as searching only for a specific kind of document (Excel, PDF, etc.) or a specific date or date range (example, last week). Just step in the box to type and use the little blue hyperlinks I have circled to set up your parameters for the search. The explorer search also keeps a log of your recent searches that you can just select from the dropdown and re-execute or modify.

explorer search content view

Try viewing the results in a Detailed List or Content List. You can change the view of your results by clicking the view button in the upper-right hand corner of your Explorer window. Having a little preview in the file Content View without having to open it is handy but I also find the date modified field in the Detailed View useful.

explorer search detailed view

Tip 3 – Pin Programs and Files to the Taskbar Jumplist

I recommend that you pin Programs and Files to the taskbar in a Jumplist (I call this docking). My taskbar has many programs always pinned for easy access so I never have to go to the Start Menu to search for application I use often.

program jumpbar windows 7

I couldn’t live without full Adobe or Spotify and now I always have a calculator when I need one, all easily within reach!

Here are the instructions on how to pin programs and files I copied right out of the Windows Help Files:

“You can pin a program directly to the taskbar so you can open it quickly and conveniently, rather than looking for the program in the Start menu. To pin a program to the taskbar do one of the following:

If the program is already running, right-click the program’s button on the taskbar (or drag the button toward the desktop) to open the program’s Jump List, and then click Pin this program to taskbar.

You can also pin a program by dragging the program’s shortcut from the desktop or Start menu to the taskbar.
– or –
If the program isn’t running, click Start, find the program’s icon, right-click the icon, and then click Pin to Taskbar.

 Additionally, if you drag the shortcut of a file, folder, or website to the taskbar, and the associated program isn’t already pinned there, then that program is pinned to the taskbar and the item is pinned to the program’s Jump List.”

program pinned to taskbar

pinning a document in a jumplist on the taskbar

Tip 4 – What Have you Done for Me Recently?

Recent Items in the start menu

I liked the Recent Items list in the Start Menu of older Windows. This functionality is available now instead in your pinned jumplists docked on the taskbar. Just right-click on any program you have pinned to the taskbar and you will see the recent items list (hover over any item in the list to pin it permanently to the list). By the way, if you really miss the Recent Files on the start menu, you can return to the view from days past under Privacy options and then customizing the start menu to include these items.

Recent Places

Windows 7 comes loaded with a handy shortcut under each profile called Recent Places.

picture of the navigation pane

When clicked, this returns a list of the folders you have recently been to. This is so handy when you are saving a document from within an application or want to navigate back to a folder you were looking at earlier in the day (also available on your taskbar jumplist if you pinned the explorer pane). Now that you know where this little search gem is, dock Recent Places on your taskbar and/or copy the shortcut to your desktop. I use it all the time but most people I show it to say they didn’t even know it was there.

Tip 5 – Utilize the Favorites List in Internet Explorer

Use the Recent Places folder from Tip 4 or the jumplists from Tip 3 If there are share drives, external drives, libraries, websites, or folders on your computer that you frequently utilize to store, search, or organize files, be sure to add them to your Favorites List. The Favorites list in the navigation pane is essentially just a list of shortcuts (copy them to your desktop, pin them to your folders in the taskbar, and link to them from other folders).

As a bonus, this list shows in the left-hand panel of the organizer pane every time you go to open or save a file from within a program (example, Microsoft Word), which is extremely handy.

You can reorganize the list by dragging and dropping. I like to change the icons, too just so I can grab them by color and visually group sub-favorites.

You can reorganize the list by dragging and dropping. I like to change the icons, too just so I can grab them by color and visually group sub-favorites.

Once you get your favorites organized, copy the shortcuts to your desktop or anywhere else you like for easy access. Although totally unintuitive to me, the actual folder storage location that keeps the Favorites shortcuts for the navigation pane is called Links C:Users%UserProfile%Links (Replace “%UserProfile%” with whatever your profile user name is on your computer). Organizing your Favorites from within the Links folder is handy because you can see the full path of the file and other attributes like Date Added.

Want more timesaving tips?

I hope you learned at least one new way to search files out in Windows in this Tuesday Timesaver.   Look for more computer tips here again next Tuesday. If you have questions, comments, or other topic ideas I would love for you to leave a comment or contact me via email.

You may also like: From the Lead CRA Blog

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About The Author


Nadia Bracken, lead contributor to the Lead CRA blog and the ClinOps Toolkit blog, is a Clinical Program Manager in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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