Thumbtacks in Microsoft Office

If you work in a busy office and have to create, edit and print many documents each day, one of the problems you may encounter is finding the file in the first place. Let’s face it, there are many different places to store your Word docs, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations: your local C drive, on various network drives that you have access to, and now in the age of the cloud you also have SharePoint libraries and SkyDrive storage. On each of these drives there can be several layers of folders and sub-folders in which documents can be stored. Also, you may be the author of the documents in question, but often you may have to work with documents that others have created and stored in a number of different places.

When you finally do find a document and work on it, it is very likely that in the near future you may have to go back to the same document and continue to work on it and the question becomes again, “where on earth is that document?”

Now, there has always been a way to do this in a Windows operating system environment – put a shortcut to the document on your desktop as an icon. But if you’re like most people, this technique has a drawback – you may never delete shortcuts you’ve created for documents you no longer need to work on, and eventually (just like with a real desk) your desktop has so many shortcut icons on it that you can barely find anything!

This problem leads to the topic of this blog: thumbtacks. Not real metal and plastic thumbtacks, but the virtual thumbtacks that are provided for you in Microsoft Office products to enable you to “pin” recently used documents in a consistent location so you can rapidly access a file stored anywhere on your network.

First, a little history lesson. The concept of a Recently Used file list has a long history in the Office suite. If you can remember what Office 2003 (or earlier) versions looked like, you may recall that when you clicked on the File menu (remember menus?) way down at the bottom of the menu was a list of the last four files you had worked on in the application. These files were listed in the order in which you last accessed them. The last file you worked on was at the top of the list, and then the 2nd to the last file you had worked on until you reached the bottom of the list. These were not the actual documents themselves, but shortcuts that enabled you to click on the name of the recently used document and it would open it no matter where the document was stored. This was convenient, but there were some major limitations. Not many documents were held in the list, and the list’s contents were constantly turning over from the top-down. If you opened a document by other means and then closed it, it became your #1 “recently used” document, but it pushed the document in the bottom position off of the list.

Then, beginning in the Office 2007 suite, this problem was addressed – the recently used file list was moved into the Office Button menu, where it appeared on the right side of the menu. Two major improvements were made in this version – the list expanded to a maximum of 17 documents, so many more short cuts were available, but there was still the issue of how this list would turn over. So, the 2007 version was the first to introduce the concept of “pinning” recently used documents.  Thus, the thumbtack was born.

Now, as an instructor in my day job, I’m always surprised when I teach various classes how even veteran computer users sometimes do not notice something that is right in front of them. Thumbtacks are one of those topics. Back when Office 2007 was the norm in most workplaces, I’d open up the Office button menu and ask people if they ever noticed or used them, and usually the answer was no. Then I’d show them that the little icons that looked like thumbtacks were lying on their side next to the names of each recently used document and have them click on one or two of them. Then the thumbtack icon would “stand up” and appear to be stuck into the menu. The result – the shortcut icon for that document was now “pinned” to the menu and would stay in the menu indefinitely. The result? The documents you needed “at the ready” were always just a couple of clicks away no matter where they had been stored on your network.

If you never noticed them in Office 2007, by now you’re probably using Office 2010 or 2013, but there is still the possibility that you are one of those folks who maybe noticed the thumbtack icons but didn’t know what they did. Even though the concept and execution of pinning recently used files remains the same (click the thumbtack), in the newer Office versions (2010 and 2013) the location of this functionality has moved from the operating system to inside each application. In addition, in the newer Office versions you can also pin shortcuts to recently used folders as well. Here are a few screen shots and an explanation of how to “pin” and “unpin” your recently used file shortcuts.

If you use Office 2010, you’ll need to click on the File Tab and enter the Microsoft Office Backstage View.

Then click on the category “Recent” on the left side of the screen:

Notice the two lists – the list on the left is your list of recently used files, on the right is your list of recently used folders. Note how each file or folder has a thumbtack icon next to it, but right now all the thumbtacks appear to be lying flat on the screen. Click on the thumbtack icons for the files & folders you wish to keep in the list indefinitely. The next screen shot shows what happens:


The “pinned” files & folders are moved to the top of the list and the thumbtack icons now appear to be sticking into the screen. These are the “pinned” shortcuts that stay there indefinitely. There will be a dotted line that separates the pinned documents & folders from the unpinned items below the line. From that point on, all you need to do to open one of these files or folders is click on the File Tab, click on the recent category and click on the name of the file or folder you wish to open.  Finally, there will be a time when a recently used document shortcut outlives its usefulness because you no longer have to work on a particular document or readily access a particular folder. You can just as easily “unpin” a document by clicking on any thumbtack icon that appears to be sticking into the screen. The unpinned item (document or folder) then moves back down into the list of unpinned items below the dotted line where it remains until it gradually gets pushed down to the bottom of the list and eventually off of the list.

If you are using Office 2013 all of the steps outlined above are still the same, things just look a little different as illustrated below:

To see your list of recently used files, you still have to click the File Tab to get to the Backstage View, and click the category “Open” on the left side of the screen. You will see your list of Recent Documents (not folders). No thumbtacks are visible until you hover your mouse over the name of a recently used document. When you do, if you look to the right you will see a small thumbtack laying on its side. Click the thumbtack(s) as desired, and they will become in the upright (“stuck”) position and move the documents above the dotted line as illustrated below:

What about pinning your recent folders? Once you’re on the File/Open screen, click the Computer icon and you will see a list of Recent Folders:

Hover your mouse above the name of the folder you wish to pin and click the thumbtack. The folders you pin will display the upright thumbtacks and rise to the top of the list (just like in the recent documents list):

Finally, you can always unpin any document or folder by clicking on any upright thumbtack. That’s it! So get ready to start pinning your shortcuts in the applications where you need them and keep a clean desktop.

For more Microsoft Applications Training information visit or call 1-855-575-8900.