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Windows Explorer Tips

Right-Click Your Way to Computing Paradise

By Vivian Manning

Almost all law office denizens spend time creating and managing files. A lot of files. A lot of time. Whether Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, Adobe PDFs or whatever, we create ’em, then spend time in Microsoft Windows Explorer copying them, renaming them, moving them, sending them and so on. (Sorry Mac people, but we’ll have to rely on a Mac aficionado in the comments to translate to Mac-speak.)

Time spent on file management is necessary, but not necessarily productive, so it’s advantageous to spend the least possible amount of your time on it. To that end, you can employ some very basic right-click actions — no installs, registry hacks or tricks required — and put the software you have to work for you!

When Uncertain, Right-Click

When you’re unsure about what will happen if you double-click on a file, try this instead: Right-click on the file. Right-clicking will display what’s called a “context menu” — a list of actions available to apply to the file. Lists will vary slightly, depending on your installed software. The default action (the action that will be carried out on a double-click on the file) will be the only action on the list displayed in boldface type. While you’re in there checking on the default, take a look at all the additional actions you can take with a simple right-click — especially “Send To.”

Bonus Action: Next time you right-click, first press and hold down the Shift key. You’ll notice some additional available actions, most notably “Copy as Path.” Choosing this action will copy the path (the location of the file on your computer or network), including the file name, to the clipboard — allowing you to easily paste it into an email, document or spreadsheet.

Right-Click and Drag for Moving or Copying a File

Have you noticed that when a file is dragged and dropped, sometimes it moves entirely, and sometimes it makes a copy of itself in the new location, leaving a copy behind in the old location? The rule in play is this: If you are dragging and dropping a file around the same drive, that action will move the file (i.e., the file leaves its old location and moves to the new location). If you are dragging and dropping a file from one drive to another, the default action is copy the file. (This is often the case when working on a network: The file remains in its original location, while putting a copy of the file in the new location — leaving you with two identical files in different locations.)

Often you won’t know whether Copy or Move will be the default action (unless you are working on one non-network computer with only one hard drive), so a right-click is your answer once again. Right-click on the file and then, without lifting your finger off the right-mouse button, drag and drop the file into its new location. Now when you lift your finger off the right-mouse button, the default action will be shown in bold, but you will also be presented with all three available options: Copy Here, Move Here, and Create Shortcut. Make the choice you really want, without worry.

Bonus Action: Don’t forget how helpful folder shortcuts can be and right-clicking is an easy way to create them. I create folder shortcuts when I want a quick way to get from one folder to another especially from my Desktop (which is really just a folder on your computer) to another folder on my computer or network. My habit is to regularly create Desktop folder shortcuts (depending on whatever current projects I’m working on), then just delete them when my projects are completed. My motto is: “You can never be too young or too rich, or have too many shortcuts on your computer.” I’ve given up hope on the first two, but scored on the last!

Right-Click to Cancel a Move or a Copy

You’ll note on the right-click drag and drop, there is an additional option: Cancel. This one is more important than you might think. Inadvertent moving of files due to “finger twitch” mousing (and it happens to all of us) is the bane of the tech department’s existence. We regularly field panicky calls about lost files. Finger-twitching is generally the culprit — the files just end up somewhere they weren’t meant to go. You can avoid this problem completely if you use the right-click method above. Once the file is moved or copied, you can double-check the location and, if it’s in the right place, finish the action. If instead your files landed in Timbuktu, just click Cancel and try again. No harm — and no need to bribe the tech department to keep your dirty finger-twitching habit a secret.

Right-Click to Send a File by Email

Most people email a file by first opening a new email message window to compose their email and then using the “attach” command to browse for the files they wish to send. I come at it from the other end. First I browse to the folder location of the files, then I select the ones I wish to send, right-click on them, and use the “Send To” command from the right-click context menu. This way, a new email message window opens up, with the selected files already attached. No more forgetting to attach!  (I find this approach most useful when I’m sending a batch of files from a single folder because it’s easy to multi-select them.)

This method isn’t limited to sending one file or a small selection of files. If you want to send the entire contents of a folder in an email (assuming it’s not too big), go ahead and right-click on the folder itself, then choose “Send To” and “Message Recipient.” A new message window will open with every file in the folder attached to the email.

Bonus Action: If you hold down the Shift key before right-clicking on the file when using the Send To command, you’ll see a lot more choices, including cloud service destinations you have installed  (Dropbox, SkyDrive, etc.).  Go ahead and compare the difference. Right-click on a file, choose “Send To” and look at the actions available. Now move to a different file, but first press and hold the Shift key while right-clicking on the file. Now check out the “Send To” actions — you have many, many more options for sending those files!

Every little bit of time saved counts when you spend the day working with software. If you have some favorite basic Windows commands or actions — something that makes your computing day just a little easier — please share them in the comments below.

Vivian Manning is the IT Manager at Burgar Rowe PC in Barrie, Bracebridge and Cookstown, Ontario. Prior to moving into IT, Vivian practiced law at Burgar Rowe, primarily in the area of municipal land development, with a total of 17 years in private practice before switching to the IT end of the law office. She currently indulges her love of teaching tech through her blog Small City Law Firm Tech, where she provides “tips of the day.”

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Illustration ©ImageZoo.

Categories: Daily Dispatch, Legal Technology, Managing a Law Firm, Power User
Originally published September 16, 2013
Last updated May 7, 2018
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Vivian Manning

Vivian Manning retired from Barriston Law LLP in Barrie, Bracebridge and Cookstown, Ontario in 2019. For more than 16 years she served as the firm’s IT manager, office manager and technology trainer. Prior to moving into IT, Vivian practiced law at Barriston LLP (formerly Burgar Rowe PC) primarily in the area of Municipal Land Development, with a total of 17 years in private practice before switching to the IT side of the law office.


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