My Windows taskbar is on the left instead of the bottom of the screen. This works very well for me but it is not a very well-known option in Windows. This post describes how to set it up as well as the benefits of this method of working. The tip and configuration has (mostly) be available since Windows XP.
Here’s my desktop with lots of things open – click on the image to see it in a lightbox for more detail:
There are a few interesting things to note here:
- The Windows taskbar is on the left instead of the default bottom location
- The icons in the taskbar are small instead of the default large icon size
- The items are not grouped together (i.e. you have to hover/click to see), though they are grouped by app (i.e. all Outlook items are together)
The background is the absolutely gorgeous ruins of St. Catherine’s church in downtown Visby, on the Swedish isle of Gotland. Credit for the wallpaper goes to my partner, Fredrik Løvik.
Why does this work for me?
Advantages to having your desktop set up like this:
- Most laptops have wide screens now; it uses the screen real-estate more efficiently to have the taskbar not taking up space on the bottom of the screen.
- I dislike task grouping as I can’t see what is happening – if I have multiple Lync/Skype for Business chats open and one of them receives a new message, then the entire Lync group blinks. I want to know which chat is blinking! (This is why I also don’t like the tabbed conversation view in Lync.)
- When items are not grouped (see Lync example above), they take up so much space in the horizontal taskbar. I can see which icon is blinking but can’t get enough context to see what is happening. By moving the taskbar to the left, I can drag the bar out as wide as needed to read the beginning of each item. This makes it far faster to select the item that I need at that moment.
Lifehacker did a poll in 2010, Where’s Your Windows Taskbar? I can’t imagine the results have changed that much since then – as you can see, many people just stick with the defaults. Then again – I’m stunned to realize that people find that having the taskbar at the top of the screen works for them!
Working on your own personal productivity and finding the tweaks that work for you is a journey of experimentation. This is pretty easy to set up – why not just give it a try?
For those who want a quick help guide on how to move the taskbar or who need help fixing it after they moved it by accident, Microsoft has a nice article: How to move the Windows Taskbar from its default position or reset it to its default position .
Changing the Windows taskbar behavior
Here’s an example of the way Windows (Windows 7+) handles the taskbar by default:
What you might not realize from this screenshot is that I’ve got about three different emails open in Outlook and two Skype for Business chats.
To change the default behavior, right-click on the taskbar and choose “properties”. In the screen that opens, you will want to select “Use small taskbar buttons” and change “Taskbar buttons” to “Never combine”. Click “OK” and your changes will be applied.
Now you can see that the icons are small (taking up less space) and the items are no longer grouped. The only problem is that I can’t actually see what anything is very well any more. It just feels messy to me.
So if we go into the taskbar properties again and now change the “taskbar location on screen” to “left” (note: you can also unlock the taskbar and then simply drag it up to the left side of your screen):
The taskbar is now on the left, with small icons (to fit more onto the taskbar) and ungrouped so that you can see everything.
Note that you can change the width of the menu by unlocking it (right click on the menu, lock/unlock the taskbar) to show more or less information. If I need to be very discrete, then I will make the bar smaller so that less information is visible – enough context for me, but less information for someone who might glance at my screen.
In this case, I have two Skype for Business chats open – they are together as Windows automatically puts information from the same application together. This means that all Outlook items will stay together, all browser windows will stay together (Firefox will stay with Firefox, IE will stay with IE, etc.). You can also influence where these items appear in taskbar by using “pin to taskbar“.
When responding to an email, I’ll often have the original email open along with the actual answer. This makes it far easier to see what it is I’m answering and make sure that details aren’t overlooked. The emails are a lot easier to keep track of when they are both available from the taskbar.
Once you set the subject of an email, the subject will show up in the taskbar. I have a (perhaps bad?) habit of using this as a sort of to-do list when I have a number of emails to be sent – I’ll go ahead and create the emails with subject, then go through and write the emails in bulk.
There you have it!
My best suggestion is to set it up like this and then work with it. If it annoys you too much, you can always switch it back by following the instructions in reverse.
Hopefully this post has showed you a few new possibilities for making your work and Windows usage just a little bit more comfortable and efficient!
How do you have your taskbar? Has this article helped you? Feel free to sound off in the comments!