How can I easily open my most often used programs in Windows?

DO-IT Factsheet #433
http://www.washington.edu/doit/Stem/articles?433

Any of the shortcut icons that can be double-clicked to start an application can also be assigned a unique three-key combination called a shortcut key. Shortcut keys can be used to open a users' most often used programs in Windows. This can be a lifesaver for those using a screen reading program that has stopped and left the computer user who is blind without control of the machine.

To assign a desktop icon a unique shortcut key you right-click on the icon and choose Properties from the pop-up menu. In the blank text box next to the line that shows shortcut key you type a letter. For example, for the JAWS screen reader it makes sense to type a "J" to now have Ctrl + Alt + J be the three-key combination to restart JAWS.

For those not able to use a mouse the process has a few more steps. You either do the keyboard combination of Ctrl + Esc or, click the Windows key on your keyboard to access the Start menu. Navigate with the arrow keys to the program you'd like to assign a Shortcut Key to. While on that menu item click the keyboard combination Shift + F10 to bring up a pop-up menu for that program's shortcut and then up or down arrows to pick the Properties choice. In the next window that pops up, use the tab key to navigate to the Shortcut Key text box and enter your unique key choice. Once you've entered the unique key choice, tab to the OK button and you're done.