Have you noticed Recent File List (MRU) options?

The Recent File List shows few recently opened documents.  But if you right click there, many more useful things are available…

It is also a good example of how we can discover our needs from available features. Read on and get amazed!

recent file optionsEstimated reading time 7 min

What is Recent File List

File Open shows recently opened documents. Technically it is called Most Recently Used (MRU) list. This feature has been there for decades. But newer versions of Office have gone beyond just showing you the list. There is lot of good stuff there.


How do you learn? By using Right Click

If you right click on any item on the list, there are some very useful options.

recent file list

You have probably never even thought of right clicking here. So let us explore why those options are given.

Open is obvious. You will never use this option from here. You can directly click on the filename to open it. So let us ignore that option.

How to learn?

This is not just an article about these options. It is also about how to learn by looking at menus and options available.

Wrong method: Ignore the menu options which you don’t know. This leads to ignorance and inefficiency – which is where most of us suffer from! (in the context of Office usage)

Right method: Assume that if there is an option provided, it must be useful in a specific situation. It is in YOUR INTEREST to find the need – why?
Because you may also have the need.

These options are self explanatory in the sense, reading the caption tells you what it will do. But it does not tell you WHEN to use it.

For example, there is Open as Copy – you know what it will do. You don’t have to try it to understand what it does.
But you MUST TRY to THINK – “Why would I want to open a copy?

This process is called learning.

Open a Copy

Why would you want to open a copy? Don’t give up too soon. Think.

Here are some common reasons.

If you want to try something new on a file but you don’t want to spoil the original one, use this feature. For example, you have been using a nested IF condition to do ageing analysis and now you learnt a new method of doing it using VLOOKUP or Pivot Table. You want to try it on your actual data. But don’t want to risk the original file. That is when Open as copy is a very handy option.

Another scenario. You have a presentation / document which you want to send to a customer. But it contains some confidential things like notes, comments, track changes and so on. You want to remove these things from the document before sending it to your customers.

But you DO WANT to preserve these things for internal use. This is when you Open as a Copy and then use Document Inspector to remove unwanted or confidential information and properties.

Another scenarios is if you are a trainer or you are showing a demo. You start the demo with the base file – then modify it and when the demo is finished, you don’t want to save it. Sometimes, by mistake you end up saving it – destroying the original file. It is safer to open as copy to avoid this from happening.

What is the name of the copy?

I learnt this while writing the article. So I though I will mention it.

Copy created using the Recent File – Right click Open as copy option.Filename of the copy is the same as original but a number is added to it. It starts with number 1 – e.g. – original file name1. It may add further numbers if a file with similar name already exists.

Notice that the File Open dialog OPEN button also has a Open as Copy option. In this case, the filename will be Copy(1) original file name.

If you create a copy in File Explorer with simple COPY – PASTE, the file name will be original file name – Copy.

Pin to List

This option will never be used from the right click menu. There is a pin shown next to the file name itself. Click on it to Pin the file. Pinned files are not removed when you open more files. Pinning can be short term or long term.

Pin is useful for documents you are currently working on. Remember to unpin when you have finished and finalized the document.

Also good for documents you need to open frequently on a longer term basis – price lists, product brochures, budget / actual reports, KRAs, etc.…

Remove from List

What Remove from list does is obvious. But why would you want to remove an item from the list? What is the objective? Why do you need this option? That is not very clear.

Here are some scenarios – you opened a copy of the document, removed notes from it and then sent it to the customer (as discussed above). Now the original document as well as the copy may be in the recent files list.


You don’t want to open the copy again by mistake and make changes to it. That is when you remove it from the list.

Compatibility Mode problem

Another situation is about COMPATIBILITY MODE. Older version documents (doc, ppt, xls), when opened, show Filename [Compatibility Mode] in the title bar.

What does it mean? It means you will not get NEW features of Office – even if you are using a new version!

It is in your interest to save the document as NEW version (XLSX, PPTX, DOCX, etc.) to get rid of the compatibility mode. Once save the file, the old and the new documents are shown in the recent file list.


You may open the old one by mistake, edit it, save it. Later you may open the new one and see the results – which are not updated at all. Major operational risk!

That is why you should remove the older version document from the list – as soon as you save the new version!

Read this article to know more: Compatibility Mode is your enemy

Clear Unpinned Documents

Clear Unpinned Documents removes all the documents from the list. Why do you need it? I had to think a lot to find the practical situation where you will need to do this.

Recently opened files keep coming and going. They are not hindering your work in any way. So why would you want to get rid of them?

Here is the reason. Often we project from our laptop – during meetings, sales presentations, conferences and so on. There is a danger that you may end up showing some files (even names are enough) which may be confidential. For example, while presenting to a customer, you don’t want the proposal for their competitor to be shown.

That is when you clear the list. This can be done even on stage – in panic mode – when you notice that some unwanted document is seen … right click and choose Clear Unpinned Documents quickly – before the audience has had a chance to notice it.

Next time, be prepared and clear the list before the presentation. But then if you present a lot, you will never benefit from the recent file list at all. So what is the solution?

Create a separate user for presentations. This gives you a clean slate. You pin common documents and clear the unpinned list. There are other things you need to manage when you create a separate user for demo purposes. I will cover it in a separate article.

Copy path to clipboard

When do you need this?

You want to attach the file to a mail. But you don’t want to open the File and then mail it. You already have the mail open. You want to attach a file which you know is recently used in Word, Excel, etc. So go to the recent list, copy the path and then go to Insert Attachment in Outlook to insert the file. Simple and Easy.

Another option is that you want to set this file as a hyperlink in another document and you have forgotten the path.

Folder list

The list we saw was RECENT FILEs. If we go to any of the places listed in Office 2010 or 2013 sources – like OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, My computer, etc. – it shows recently opened folders as well. Commonly used Folders can also be (and should be) pinned.

Right click options are similar .. but not same. This is a folder. So file related options do not appear here.

folder list

Well. So much we learnt from a small little menu in an obscure place. Try this method in other places also. Learn while you work. It forces you to think and helps you utilize the tools to your advantage.

Related Articles

How to open a file?
Have you noticed Recent File List (MRU) options? (this article)
How to open files quickly – Part 2


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