How to automate tasks in Windows

If you find yourself repeating the same tasks in Windows over and over again, it’s likely you can automate the job, potentially saving you time and effort over weeks and months.

These tasks might encompass starting the day with a certain selection of programs and websites, for example, or renaming batches of files to match the same format. Or maybe you want to shut down your PC at the same time every day, or you need a bunch of images resized to the same standard (something I’ve been automating for a long time now).

There are lots of possibilities, and you’ve got a variety of tools to pick from. They all work in slightly different ways, so I will give you a sampling below, and you can choose the one that most closely matches what you’re trying to do.

Search for and run Task Scheduler from the Start menu, and you’ll see an introduction to the program on screen, together with tasks that are already scheduled (most likely browser auto-update routines and the like). I’d recommend creating a new folder for your own tasks: Right-click on Task Scheduler Library, then New Folder.

  • Once you have your folder, right-click on it and select Create Basic Task….
  • Give your new task a name and a description.
  • Select Next to choose the type of trigger for the task. Tasks can run on a schedule, or when your computer starts, or after certain events (like every time a Bluetooth device connects).
  • Click Next to set the trigger details. If you’re running the task daily, for example, this is where you set the time it starts every day.
  • Click Next, then choose Start a program, then click Next again.
  • You then need to point Task Scheduler to the application or script to run. It could be a calendar or a to-do list app you want to see at the start of each day, for instance.
  • Click Next and Finish to create the task.

Tasks can be edited, deleted, and run manually from the Task Scheduler window — just right-click on the task to find the options. There are more options, including tools for importing and exporting tasks, in the panel on the right.

That’s the process for basic tasks, but you can create “standard” tasks too — just choose Create Task rather than Create Basic Task when you click on your folder. Standard tasks add some extra features, including the option to launch a task when your computer has been idle for a set number of minutes or only when your computer isn’t on battery power.

Power Automate is another tool built into Windows — the simplest way to find it is to type its name into the Start menu search box. It’s more advanced than Task Scheduler, so it takes longer to learn, but it is also more capable in what it can do.

Fortunately for beginners, there’s a lot of help for the app, including an introduction video. But perhaps the easiest way to learn the ropes of creating a flow (automations are called flows) is to edit an existing one rather than starting from scratch.

  • Click Examples from the top menu, and then choose a flow you’d like to run. For example, you can try Desktop Automation and then Copy file(s).
  • Click the pencil icon next to a flow to make changes to it, or to get a better idea of how it works. In the case of the copy files flow, you’ll see how the select file dialog is triggered, and then how the selected files are used.
  • If you hover your cursor over a subtask, you’ll see three dots to the side. These let you edit or delete subtasks and change their order in the flow. Click the three dots, then Edit to change how a subtask works.
  • New subtasks — from creating folders to displaying dialogs — can be dragged in from the left.

Power Automate doesn’t require any coding, but you do need to get your head around how the flows work. It’s worth investing some time to get to grips with Power Automate: the example flows show you what’s possible with the software, from clearing out folders to running print jobs to taking screenshots.

Flows that you’ve created appear under My flows on the front screen of the program. From there you can run and edit them, as well as assign keyboard shortcuts to them so they’re easy to launch as and when you need them.

Quite a few applications offer their own automation features. For example, you’ll find macros (an older term for a series of automated actions) in Microsoft Excel and Word. There’s something similar in Adobe Photoshop as well, called actions instead of macros. Check the software you’re using and see what’s available.

For other scenarios where you need to have, say, cursor movements and keystrokes recorded and replayed across Windows as a whole, there are a variety of third-party programs you can check out. These are two I’ve worked with:

  • Simple Macro Recorder is the best free option I’ve come across. As its name suggests, I found it to be  really easy to use. If you need more features, including scheduled launches and code editing, there’s a pro version available for $19.99 a month.
  • Something a bit more comprehensive is offered by JitBit Macro Recorder. Pricing starts at $38, but you can try it for free for 40 days first to see if it’s worth the money. As well as recording cursor movements and keystrokes, you can also introduce timing delays and specific commands in Windows, like “close window” or “open file.”

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