10 tips to reduce clutter and to get the most out of the taskbar

Clear the Notification area

A thing that strikes me is how quickly the notification area of the taskbar can become a mess, filled with apps trying to grab our attention.

Illsutrative. A view of my desktop with a wallpaper of the earth photographed from the moon, and a taskbar filled with icons in its notifcation area.

If I don’t know any quick solution to avoid apps stuffing their icons in there—some will provide an option to turn their icon off (thanks so much, guys), many won’t (booh!)—Windows itself provides an easy way to decide which icons you want to see and which must stay hidden until you decide otherwise.

Illustration. A close-up view of the tasbar with a cleaned notification area.

This is how my notification area usually looks like on my desktop, showing only the apps I want to check on a regular basis: the status of my VPN, the status of OneDrive sync and the volume button.

All other icons are kept hidden, but still quickly accessed, behind the up arrow, on the left.

Illustration. Teh same view, showing a popup window with all the hidden icons.

The selection of icons will be slightly different on my laptop, showing also the Battery status indicator, which also lets me quickly switch between the power saving or power hungry modes.

How do you change that?

Right-click in an empty zone of the taskbar and choose Taskbar settings, or got to Settings->Personalization->Taskbar. There, look after the Notification area, and click Select which icons appear on the taskbar.

Illustration. A view of the settings

In the new window, uncheck all the icons you don’t want to see. That’s all.

Illustration. Another view of the settings.

Show/hide system icons

Windows also lets you completely deactivate some system icons, meaning they won’t show at all, even when clicking the little arrow in the taskbar.

Get back in the taskbar settings window, below the Select which icons appear on the taskbar you already clicked, click Turn system icons on or off. Uncheck what you want to deactivate.

Illustration. Another view of the settings.

  • Clock will show or hide, well, the clock and the date.
  • Input Indicator will hide the Language bar button (where you can select a different keyboard layout). The Win+space shortcut will let you quickly toggle between your different keyboards.
  • Action Center will show or hide the notification button. You can always use Win+A to access your Notifications.

Use smaller buttons

Do you often find yourself with too many apps opened on the taskbar or too many shortcuts?

If that is the case, go to Settings -> Personalization -> Taskbar and activate Use small taskbar buttons. You will now have more space to open apps or pin shortcuts in the taskbar.

Don’t group buttons

By default the taskbar will group all opened windows of an app under a single button, mouse over the button to see a preview of its windows. Here, Word with two documents opened:

Illustration. Word's icon and a preview of the two opened documents.

I think it’s a great feature to reduce clutter without impacting ease of access, but if you’d rather use the old way of doing things—one button per window—go to Settings->Personalization->Taskbar and switch the Combine taskbar button list to Never.

Illustration. The old/classical view of the tasbar: one button per window.

Each window now gets its own button in the taskbar.

Place the taskbar on any side of the screen

Right-click an empty zone of the taskbar and uncheck Lock the taskbar. Now you can drag it on any side of the screen—I like to put mine on the left side as it gives me more screen real-estate to display text or webpages, which means I need less scrolling 😉

Illustration. full screen screenshot, showing the tasnbar on the left side of the screen.

Once it is unlocked, you can also resize the taskbar. Click and hold its border and drag it to its new width.

Hide Task View, Cortana and People

Both these buttons take up precious space in the taskbar for functions you can access with a keyboard shortcut.

  • To hide Cortana, right-click on an empty zone of the Taskbar and go to Search->Hidden. You can always launch a Search by pressing the Windows key and start typing whatever you’re searching for.
  • To Hide the Task View, right-click on an empty part of the taskbar and uncheck Show Task View button. Its keyboard shortcut is Win+Tab.
  • To hide People, right-click on an empty part of the taskbar and uncheck Show People on the taskbar. To change the number of people displayed, go to Settings->Personnalization->Taskbar, locate the People area and select a number.

Hide the taskbar

Windows can hide the taskbar and only shows it when you mouse over its position on the screen.

I don’t use this feature because I find its animation way too slow—there is no sens in waiting that lo,g for the taskbar to appear when I need it—and I did not find any option to speed it up.

Go to Settings->Personalization->Taskbar and (un)check Automatically hide the taskbar in desktop mode, and if you need it (un)check Automatically hide the taskbar in tablet mode.

Pin an app on the taskbar

By default only apps that are currently running will show on the taskbar. To keep a shortcut to an app you frequently use, even when it is not running, you need to pin it.

Once the app is running, right-click on its icon and click Pin to taskbar.

Quick launch of pinned apps

The first ten pinned apps in the taskbar can be launched with a keyboard shortcut: Win + 1 to 0.

On this screenshot, it means Win+1 would launch my browser (Vivaldi), Win+2 would launch the beta version of Edge, Win+4 would launch Word and so on up to Win+0 that would launch Affinity Photo:


Drag and drop the apps icons to reorder them and give them another quick launch shortcut.

Quick Access to system menu

Right-click on the Windows Start button to quickly access the most common system menus—or you can use Win+X:


On a related topic: Fast Audio Output Switching With Windows 10.

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