Believe it or not, there are times when the keyboard is easier and faster than your mouse. For example, when you want to copy some highlighted text on your computer, with a mouse you need to open a menu with the mouse and then choose “Copy” from the menu list. The faster, easier way is to simply press “Ctrl-C”. Same result – and no extra clicking and selecting. Just highlight the text and Ctrl-C. All done. (On a Mac, the key to use is “Command-C” [⌘-C] for the same results!) This speedy little trick is called a “keyboard shortcut” or, sometimes, a “hotkey.” There are lots of these shortcuts, and they exist in all programs, and on all computers.
Many of these shortcuts, particularly the editing commands like Cut, Copy, and Paste, are common to all programs, and can be handy whether you’re surfing the web, writing an email note, or editing a letter or spreadsheet.
To make them even handier, these hotkeys can be done with one hand. Use your left pinky to press the Control (or Command) key, just as you do for the capitalizing “Shift.”
One of the most useful keyboard shortcuts is “Save,” Ctrl-S, or ⌘-S. Learn and use this one-handed helper frequently. Make it a habit to hit Ctrl-S to make sure that the document you are working on is always tucked away safe, just in case of computer mishap. Once learned, this shortcut also works in your other programs, including email, spreadsheets, and photo editing. Make it routine for your left hand to press Ctrl-S whenever your right hand reaches for the telephone or a cup of coffee. (By the way, while I’m using the capital letters in this article, the actual shortcuts use the unshifted, lowercase keys.)
You can also select text to cut, copy or paste with your keyboard by combining “Shift” with the arrow keys. Shift+right-arrow will select the next character to the right. Shift+down-arrow will select all of the text from the cursor position down to the next line down. The up and left arrow keys work similarly. A little practice with these and you’ll be surprised at how much faster some editing tasks can go!
Adding Ctrl-Shift (or Command-Shift on Mac) makes the selection cursor jump to the end of the next word with the right or left arrow keys, or to the end of the next paragraph with the up and down keys. For example, to select and copy from the current cursor position to the end of the paragraph, you could just type Ctrl-Shift+right-arrow to select, then Ctrl-C to copy. With practice, this is much faster than using the mouse.
There are many, many more hotkeys. Some are common to many programs and there are others that are specific to the program that you’re using at the moment.
Hiding in Plain Sight
Many keyboard shortcuts are hiding in plain sight – right on your software and system menus. For an example, click on the “Edit” menu in your word processor or web browser. On the left hand side is the menu of commands from which you can select. Notice on the right-hand side you see that some of the commands have symbols next to them. In the Mac picture they look like “⌘-Z” but on Windows they would they would say “Ctrl-Z,” and so on. These are the “shortcut” keys that you can use to get the same result as you’d expect when you click with the mouse.
You can customize keyboard shortcuts, too. If there’s a command that you use frequently and you’d like to be able to do it from the keyboard, you can make your very own hotkey. Check your program’s help files, or give me a call. I’ll be delighted to help you set up some keyboard shortcuts. I use them all the time!
Outside of programs, both Windows and Mac OS have shortcuts to assist and speed up using your computer. There are many, and they are worth searching Google for. One that is especially useful on both Windows and Mac is Alt-tab (or “Option-tab” on Mac). This shortcut will show a small window on your screen with mini views of all your open program windows. Hold down the alt (option) key, then repeat tapping the alt-tab to move between those mini views. When you release the alt (option) key, the highlighted window will pop to the foreground, ready to go to work.
Also, check the “Help” option for your favorite programs to find the hidden helpers (F1 in Windows; Command-Shift+? on Mac). And, you can do an online search for “Keyboard Shortcuts in Windows” or “Mac Keyboard Shortcuts” to get a full list of alternatives. There are times when keyboard shortcuts are just a lot easier than using a mouse, and sometimes they really speed things up.
Mike Pepper, The Computer Guy, has been providing software and hardware support in New York and Connecticut for more than 35 years. He can be reached at (845) 855-5824, or www.PawlingComputerGuy.com.