Keyboard Shortcuts You Should Know

March 4, 2016

Back in the late eighties, I worked on Unix where there were no mice and no graphical user interface. It was just text and your keyboard. There was an editor called VI (Pronounced Vee Eye) that was a text only editor. Windows 3.0 was around at the time as well. I could get things done much faster using only a keyboard and VI than I could using Windows and a Mouse. Why? Because my fingers never left the keyboard. Switching between the mouse and the keyboard costs a lot of time and slows you down.

That’s why keyboard shortcuts are so useful. They really do save time. With that in mind, I’d like to tell you about some of the most useful keyboard shortcuts. This is by no means an complete list of all shortcuts. Just the ones I think are the most useful.

Before we get into the actual shortcuts, I want to make sure you are familiar with some of the special keys that keyboard shortcuts use.

  • Control Key
    Most keyboards have two control keys. They are usually labeled CTRL. They are almost always on the lower left and right corners of the keyboard.
  • Function Keys
    The function keys are F1, F2, F3, etc. and they are on the top row of the keyboard. On some laptops, you have to press the Fn key to use the Function keys.
  • Windows Key
    This key’s symbol is a four-pane window. Some keyboards have one, some have two. There is always a Windows key in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, usually next to the control key. There is often a second Windows key in the lower right-hand corner next to the other control key.
  • Alt Key
    Most keyboards have two of these and they are usually on either side of the space bar.
  1. Now let’s look at some useful keyboard shortcuts.
  • Control-A
    When you have a list of files, emails, etc., you can often use Control-A to select everything in the list. Once you select everything in a list, you can delete it by clicking the delete key, or you can click and drag the list somewhere. You can also right-click on the list and perform other functions.
  • Delete and Shift-Delete
    When you want to delete something, there is often a delete button on a toolbar you can click with the mouse. But if your hands are on the keyboard, you can delete the currently selected item using the delete button on the keyboard. Normally when you delete something, it goes into the recycle bin, trashcan, or whatever. Then later you have to empty the recycle bin or trashcan to really delete it. You can skip the recycle bin and permanently delete something by holding down the shift key and hitting the delete key instead of just hitting the delete key.
  • Arrow down, arrow up, page down, page up, home, and end
    These are movement keys on the keyboard. When you are viewing a website or a list of some sort, you can use these keys to move around. For example, if viewing a website, you can use the arrow down key to scroll down as you read. You can also use page down. Want to go to the end of the web page, hit the end button. Want to go to the beginning? Hit Home.
  • Backspace
    Everyone knows you can use the backspace key to erase whatever you just typed, one character at a time. But did you know that when you are viewing a website, the backspace key is the same as clicking the back button on your browser to go to the previous web page?
  • Tab and Shift-Tab
    When filling out an online form that has several fields, many people fill out a field, click the mouse in the next field, fill it out, click the next field, etc. This is slow and inefficient. When filling out an online form, after filling out a field, hit the tab key to go to the next field. That way your hands don’t have to leave the keyboard. Need to go back to the previous field? Hit shift-tab.
  • Cut, Copy, & Paste
    You probably know how to cut, copy, and paste using the mouse, but do you know how to do it using only the keyboard? Here’s an example of how to do it when editing text. This might be when you are composing an email or editing a Word Document.

    • Use the arrow keys to move the cursor to the beginning or end of the text you want to select.
    • Hold the shift key down and use the arrow keys (up, down, left, right) to highlight the text you wish to highlight.
    • Now press Control-C to copy the text or Control-X to cut the text.
    • Now move the cursor to the point where you want to put the text and press control-V.
  • Undo
    Delete a file accidentally? Or delete some text and decide you want it back? Just hit Control-Z.
  • Switch Windows
    By far, the keyboard shortcut I use most is Alt-Tab. If you have more than one window open, this allows you to switch between windows quickly using only the keyboard. Hold down the alt key and hit tab. It works a little differently in Windows 10 than in previous versions, but it shows a list of either icons or thumbnails of all of the currently running programs. You can keep pressing tab while holding down the Alt key to find the program you want to go to. When switching back and for between two programs a lot, you can just hit Alt-tab to once to switch back to the last program. Many TV remotes have a key you can press to go back and forth between the last two channels. Pressing Alt-tab once is like that. If you hold down the Windows button, instead of Alt, and hit tab, it does the same thing except that instead of icons or thumbnails, you get bigger windows in a different format. It’s hard to explain. You’ll just have to try it.
  • Minimize all Windows. AKA, show desktop
    If you have a lot of programs open and want to minimize all of them so you can see your desktop, just hit Windows-D.
  • Rename
    Have file selected and you want to rename it? With the mouse you can right-click and choose rename. Or you could just hit the F2 key.
  • ESC Key
    The ESC key is in the upper left-hand corner of the keyboard. Think of it as a cancel key. If you are watching a video in full screen, hit ESC to get out of full screen mode. The ESC key works in many other situations as well.
  • Searching
    Many windows programs offer search capability. If you want to search for something in one of these programs, hit Control-F and type in what you want to search for and hit enter to search for it. To search for the next instance of the same thing, just hit F3. You can keep hitting F3 to keep searching for the same thing. If you want to change what you are searching for, hit Control-F again.
  • Lock Your Computer
    At most companies, you are required to lock your computer any time you walk away from your computer. This is to keep anyone from using your computer while you are away and to protect the information on it. In a residential situation, there may be situations where you want to lock your computer as well. Of course, this only works if your computer is password protected. You can lock the computer with the mouse, but it’s so much easier to just hit Windows-L before you get up and walk away.

There you go! I hope that list wasn’t too long.

One Response to “Keyboard Shortcuts You Should Know”

  1. Thanks Drew,
    Very good information. I sure didn’t know very much of this.

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