Keyboard shortcuts are the easiest way to do things faster, but with the wide variety of software we all use it’s hard to remember all the different shortcuts. In turn, even though we all know shortcuts are useful, few of us bother using them. Here’s how to learn to make use of shortcuts, ranging from the beginner to expert.
Why Keyboard Shortcuts Make You Faster at Everything
You’ve probably heard about keyboard shortcuts, and you’ve heard keyboard nuts talking about how they’re so much faster than using a mouse. They’ve probably even called you crazy for not using them. The truth is, keyboard shortcuts are great and fast. But that’s not the whole story. Coding Horror’s Jeff Atwood lays out the truth:
I’ve long been an advocate of two-fisted computing—using both your keyboard and your mouse to the fullest. That’s what keyboard shortcuts are to me. I’m not sure why this always has to be spun as a cage match between the keyboard and the mouse. Keyboard shortcuts don’t replace my mousing; they complement it.
Keyboard shortcuts get a bad rap because they’re hard to remember, and learning one keyboard shortcut doesn’t seem like it saves you a lot of time. But once you learn the lot of them, you’ll definitely notice a boost to productivity because you’re not unnecessarily reaching for a mouse. That is, you’ll never reach for that mouse or trackpad unless it actually makes sense to do so. This makes you a lot more efficient particularly on larger displays, and feels a lot better than moving your hands around a trackpad. Photo by Samat Jain.
How to Force Yourself to Learn New Shortcuts
The reason most of us don’t bother with keyboard shortcuts is because they feel like they require too much mental effort to learn. The most obvious way to force yourself to learn shortcuts is to disconnect your mouse (or in my case, grumpily refuse to go buy batteries for few days), but most people don’t want to go to that extreme. Thankfully, you can grab a few programs that’ll train you to use more shortcuts.
You have a few different ways you can approach this. The easiest is to grab an application that shows you the keyboard shortcut every time you perform an action with the mouse. For example, if you use your mouse to click Edit > Copy, these programs will pop up the shortcut (Ctrl+C for Windows or Cmd+C for Mac). For Windows, we like Keyrocket and on Mac we like Eve. Similarly, KeyRocket for Gmail is a Chrome extension that does the exact same thing in Gmail.
Alternately, you can run yourself through some drills to teach yourself the muscle-memory required to remember these shortcuts with Shortcutfoo. With Shortcutfoo, you run through a training program that teaches you shortcuts for programs like Excel, Photoshop, Gmail, and more by having you repeatedly enter them.
Finally, if you want a quick reference guide to a ton of different keyboard shortcuts in different apps, Ultimate Windows 8 Shortcuts and CheatSheet for Mac pull up all the keyboard shortcuts for an app on the spot so you can reference them quickly. The cheat sheets are very helpful when you’re learning the ropes and you might be surprised at how much you can do with a keyboard.
Advanced Keyboard Uses
The idea of ditching your mouse isn’t just about keyboard shortcuts. It’s also about making everything else you do on your computer simpler. You have a few different ways to do this, and with a little effort you can make it so you’re almost never reaching for your mouse.
Use app launchers to do just about everything with a keystroke: With software like Launchy for Windows or Quicksilver for Mac you can make your keyboard perform almost any action you want so you never have to reach for the mouse. YOu can also launch apps and perform actions with Windows and OS X’s built-in search tools, but app launchers will give you even more options.
Make your own shortcuts: Chances are you have a lot of unused keys on your keyboard. Maybe it’s that totally useless Scroll Lock key, or the End key you never have a use for. On Windows we like to use AutoHotKey to customize these keys to your liking (as well as countless other great custom shortcuts). On a Mac you create custom shortcuts with built-in software.
Use text expanders to save you hours of typing: Finally, if you really want to speed up your day with keyboard tricks, few things work as well as text expansion. On Windows we like PhaseExpress and on Mac we like TypeIt4Me for text expansion. In this case, think of text expansion like a word-based keyboard shortcut. Type out a couple letters, and the text expander replaces it with a whole word. It saves you a lot of time, especially if you’re always copying and pasting the same text.
Learn Your Favorite Program’s Shortcuts
Of course, you really don’t need to go about learning every single keyboard shortcut for every application you use. It’s more useful to learn all the shortcuts in the software you use the most, and don’t worry about the rest. Here are a few different guides for doing just that.
- The Best Windows 8 Shortcuts
- OS X Keyboard Shortcuts
- Learn all of Ubuntu’s Keyboard Shortcuts with a Wallpaper
- Master Gmail’s Shortcuts
- Highlight Text Like a Keyboard Ninja
- The Power Users Guide to Chrome
- The Power Users Guide to Firefox
- The Facebook Keyboard Shortcut Cheat Sheet
- Learn All the Microsoft Word Shortcuts with this Printable Cheatsheet
- Quick Reference Cards Show All the Excel Keyboard Shortcuts
- Become a Command Line Ninja with These Time Saving Shortcuts
The 20 Most Common Shortcuts Everyone Needs to Know
Even if you don’t want to dig into the deeper recesses of keyboard shortcuts, and few of the most common shortcuts can still save you a ton of time. If you need to really learn these set the below image up as a desktop background, or print it and place it on your wall (click to expand or right-click to save):
The trick with keyboard shortcuts is that you have to train your muscle memory to just automatically go for them instead of a mouse. It takes time, and it’s not exactly a fun thing to do, but it’s worth it in the end. Once you get the hang of it you feel like a cyborg ninja who can instantly jump to anywhere in a text document, launch a web browser and research a term, and then jump into a spreadsheet to quickly create a table without ever touching a mouse. You’ll likely never ditch the mouse completely, but that’s not the point. It’s about making yourself faster with both.