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Kill Your Mouse: Launch Applications with a Key Press

This is the third installment of the Kill Your Mouse series.

I hope that everyone has been busy learning their keyboard shortcuts.  I have been trying to improve my own memory of them as well.  Hopefully by now you realize the important time that you can save by knowing a few of these handy shortcuts.

Step it up a Notch

Today’s tip will take your keyboard skills a bit further.  Beware: This is not for the faint-of-heart.  But, I do have faith that everyone can understand and utilize the concepts presented here.  What kind of a blogger would I be if I threw you in over your head?  Ok, don’t answer that.  🙂

We are going to take a few minutes to learn how easy it is to expand the keyboard shortcuts on your computer.  What if I told you that you could make Win+i open your favorite browser (Firefox, right? ;))?  Perhaps you would like Win+w to open Microsoft Word for all those legal documents you need to type.  One shortcut I have found handy is having Win+n open Notepad for a quick note.  Another favorite is Win+c opening Calculator to do some quick math (I’m definitely part of the calculator generation).


Bear with me here, since we are going to need to install a little program on your computer.  It is called AutoHotKey.  By installing this simple program you will be able to automate just about everything on your computer.  I have personally used this program on several machines for the past couple months, and I have had great success with it.  It also comes highly recommended from other users.

To install AutoHotKey, simply download the appropriate file for your system from the distribution site.  Follow the simple installation instructions, and you’ll be ready to launch any application with a key press!

One final installation step is to make sure AutoHotKey.exe is in your Startup folder (on Windows – sorry, I have no Mac experience).  To verify this, click Start, Programs, Startup, and see if you see AutoHotKey listed there.  If not, here is what to do:

  1. Go to Start, Programs, and right click on Startup.  Select “Open All Users.”
  2. With that window open, double click on My Computer (on your desktop) and navigate through to “Program Files”, then to “AutoHotKey”.
  3. Right click on AutoHotKey.exe (the big ‘H’), select “Create Shortcut.”
  4. Name the shortcut something meaningful.
  5. Drag and drop the shortcut from its current folder to the “Startup / All Users” folder.
  6. Smile.  🙂

Your First Hot Key

Once AutoHotKey is running, you should see a big green box with an “H” in it in your system tray.  To edit your default script, simply right click on this, and select “Edit.”  This makes it easy to make changes on the fly during your busy work day.

At this point, you should have a file named AutoHotkey.ini open in your default text editor (probably Notepad).  This file has some examples on what you can do with the program, but for now we’re going to ignore those.  The focus of this article is on launching applications.

It’s pretty simple to define a hotkey within this scripting language.  Just go to a blank line, type the keys, followed by ::, followed by the program you want to launch.  Here is my favorite example:

#N::Run %WinDir%\notepad.exe

This simple line will run Notepad whenever I press the Windows key + “n”.  A note about the # sign: this means “windows key” to the scripting program.  ! = Alt, and ^ = Ctrl.  For other syntax, check out the help file.  This is also easily accessible by right clicking the system tray H and selecting “Help.”

The final step to adding a hotkey is to save your AutoHotkey.ini file, close it, and then right click on the system tray H and select “Reload this script” (or just right click and then press “r”).  This will make any changes you made to the file become active immediately.

What To Automate?

I tend to go a bit overboard with hotkeys, since I am really into using my keyboard instead of my mouse.  A good general rule of thumb for most people would be to use hotkeys for programs you launch repeatedly throughout the day.  For example, if you’re an Outlook user, you probably open it once in the morning and use it all day.  You might not want a hotkey for this.  (I’m an oddball in this respect, since I close and re-open Outlook several times during the day.)

A good candidate for a hotkey is a program like your web browser, which you most likely launch dozens of times throughout the day.  Here is my hotkey to launch my favorite browser:

#I::Run %ProgramFiles%\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe

One thing to note about Firefox: You can simply append a website address to the end of the above line (add a space, then type www.whateversite.com), and the browser will open to the specified page.  Pretty neat, huh?

My Personal Challenge to You

You didn’t think you would get off today without a personal challenge, did you?  Ok, now you know the basics of setting up your own hotkeys, and you can add a new one whenever you decide you need it.

Today’s challenge is to actually add a few hotkeys to your AutoHotkey.ini file.  Simply decide what program you want to launch, find the path (navigate through My Computer, Program Files, etc, until you find it OR you can right click on it’s entry in the Programs list of the Start menu and select “Properties”), and then follow the directions above.

Once you have a few hotkeys added, remember them.  Use them.  They are your friends.  Well, they can’t talk to you and console you when you’re down, but they can make your legal career just a bit smoother.

The Series:  Kill Your Mouse

[tags]legal andrew, autohotkey, launch application, keyboard, shortcut[/tags]

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