Keyboard shortcuts may only save a fraction of a second compared to using a mouse or touchscreen for the same task. That’s exactly why they’re so crucial: even after only a few hours, those milliseconds add up, and they also mean less time moving a cursor and more time concentrating on writing, productivity, and other tasks.
General Keyboard Shortcuts
The most useful keyboard shortcuts focus on common and repeated actions. Instead of moving your mouse to find objects on a menu or taskbar, simply press two or three keys at the same time, and they’ll trigger the desired effect.
For shortcuts, you should familiarize yourself with the keys Control (often spelled Ctrl), Alt, and Win (usually the Microsoft Windows icon). These are the most common keys in shortcut combinations, and they can typically be reached by either hand while typing.
The following shortcuts apply to many of the most popular apps.
Ctrl + C: Copy a selection of text, imagery, or other content onto a temporary clipboard, which can be identically pasted either within the same app or into a completely different one.
Ctrl + X: This works much like copy, only the original content is deleted from wherever you selected it. Use this shortcut when you want to wholly move content from one place to another instead of duplicating it.
Ctrl + V: Insert any content you have cut or copied inside of a compatible app.
Ctrl + Shift + V: This version of paste is useful when transferring text between different apps, as it removes special formatting (bold, italics, and other metadata) from what’s pasted. Not all apps support this type of pasting.
Ctrl + Z: Rewind your typing or other progress in an app. This is a good way to remove errant paintbrush strokes in an art app or other mistakes, and you can press it repeatedly to undo multiple steps.
Ctrl + Y: Did you undo something in an app and immediately regret it? Use redo to restore that content.
Ctrl + A: Instead of dragging and clicking a mouse over the entirety of a document or image, use this shortcut to have your computer automatically select everything in a single app.
Ctrl + Backspace, or Ctrl + Delete: This shortcut deletes entire words one tap at a time.
Windows Key Shortcuts
Newer versions of Windows take advantage of the Windows key (Win) that has become standard on modern desktop and laptop keyboards (positioned between Ctrl and Alt, typically with a Windows logo on the key). Power users can make the most of their Windows use by learning these handy shortcuts.
Win + L: Immediately hide all apps and windows behind your PC’s lock screen. You’ll need to reenter your preferred Windows security credentials (PIN code, password, facial unlock) before you can use the PC again.
Win + Printscreen (PrtScn): Create an image file that takes a snapshot of every single window, app, and other visible element on your desktop. You’ll find the resulting image file in a Screenshot folder inside your Pictures directory.
Win + Shift + S: If you want to copy and paste a smaller portion of your screen, type this shortcut, then use your mouse to snip a square on your desktop. This image is immediately placed in your temporary clipboard to be pasted into another app.
Emoji and Special Character Menu
Win + period (.), or Win + semicolon (;): This shortcut brings up a clickable menu full of phone-friendly emoji, along with special characters not typically found on a standard keyboard: foreign variants of letters, currency symbols, mathematical symbols, and much more.
Win + V: Did you accidentally copy text or imagery while you had something important in the temporary clipboard? On older versions of Windows, the older clipboard content would have vanished, but a newer Clipboard History shortcut lets you review and restore the last four objects you copied.
Windows Gaming Bar
Win + G: This power user menu is geared toward video game fans. It displays performance stats for 3D games, allows gamers to record snippets of the games they’re playing, and includes Xbox-specific options like friends lists.
File Explorer Keyboard Shortcuts
Many of our above general keyboard shortcuts are useful while clicking through files and folders in Windows’ popular File Explorer interface. The below shortcuts are primarily useful while browsing through files and folders saved on your computer’s storage, though they too may work within other Windows apps.
Alt + Tab: Quickly bring your most recently used application to the forefront of your desktop. If you have more than two apps open, press and hold down Alt to see smaller preview boxes of every available app, then keep tapping Tab until the one you want is highlighted; at that point, let go of Alt.
Ctrl + W: This is faster than moving a mouse to the X at the top-right corner of a window.
Alt + F4: Use this to simultaneously close all windows for an app or to confirm that an app is completely closed.
Refresh Current Window
F5: This function key is dedicated to refreshing the contents of the current active window or app on your desktop, whether it’s a File Explorer folder (to reflect a newly deleted or downloaded file) or a web page (to update headlines on a news site).
Jump to Address Bar
Alt + D: Take control of the address bar at the top of a window in order to more quickly jump to a different file location on your PC. The same shortcut takes control of any mainstream web browser’s address bar so that you can immediately type a new URL or search term.
Go Back/Go Forward
Alt + left arrow, Alt + right arrow: This shortcut functions like any back and forward arrow icons you might find in Windows. The most obvious example comes from File Explorer’s functions, should you jump back and forth between folders, but this also works in all mainstream web browsers.
Open Security Panel
Ctrl + Alt + Del: This key combination hides your desktop behind the Windows Security Panel interface. This can be useful when your PC appears to have frozen, as it enables options like shutting down, restarting, changing the active user, or opening the advanced Task Manager interface.
Mac Keyboard Shortcut Equivalents
Switching from Mac to PC? The following chart includes the most popular keyboard shortcuts that you may already be familiar with, along with their Windows equivalents. Instead of Command (⌘), Windows shortcuts typically use the Control (Ctrl) or Windows keys. For example, to save your document in many popular apps on Mac, the shortcut is Command + S; in equivalent apps on Windows, the shortcut is Control + S.
With so many similarities, you’ll be up and running with Windows keyboard shortcuts in no time. Here are some common ones to get you started.
Advanced Shortcuts for Power Users
For those of you who use Windows’ advanced capabilities often, there are several shortcuts that can help you save time as well when using the taskbar, Command Prompt application, or a remote desktop.
Taskbar Keyboard Shortcuts
The most useful Windows taskbar shortcuts revolve around using the mouse because of the taskbar’s default point-and-click nature. Holding down different keyboard buttons while clicking on the taskbar will still speed up tasks that might otherwise require picking through drop-down menus.
Cycle between Open Windows
Ctrl + click: If you have more than one window open for a given app, use this taskbar-clicking shortcut instead of aiming your mouse at windows. This is particularly useful when windows overlap each other.
Open Another App Instance
Shift + click: Use this to open a fresh, new window of an app that’s already open. It’s a quick way to open a blank text document, empty spreadsheet, or new web browser window.
Open App as Administrator
Shift + Ctrl + click: Certain apps work differently with administrator privileges. This shortcut delivers a quicker way to activate that power user option than finding the app within various folders in File Explorer, and it also works within the Start menu.
Command Prompt Keyboard Shortcuts
More recent versions of Windows have updated the Command Prompt app to support some of the most popular keyboard shortcuts found throughout Windows. These include cut, copy, paste, and select all.
Switch to Mark Mode
Ctrl + M: Mark Mode changes how the arrow keys on a keyboard function so that they can move your cursor to prior lines in a Command Prompt instance for the sake of selecting and copying that text. Outside of Mark Mode, the keyboard’s up and down keys will load previously typed commands into your current prompt.
Remote Desktop Keyboard Shortcuts
Remote Desktop instances essentially run a version of Windows inside another version of Windows. In order to tell your PC which desktop you’re controlling, Remote Desktop shortcuts are slightly modified.
Alt + Page Up (PgUp) (normally Alt + Tab)
Display Start Menu
Alt + Home (normally Win)
Open Security Panel
Ctrl + Alt + End (normally Ctrl + Alt + Del)
Switch between Window and Full Screen
Ctrl + Alt + PrtScn: If your Remote Desktop has taken up the entire screen and you want to quickly view your local PC’s files and folders while logged into a Remote Desktop, use this key combination to view both desktop environments simultaneously.
Find More Useful Shortcuts
Many popular apps include their own highly specialized keyboard shortcuts. These typically require the app in question to be in the foreground of your Windows desktop, and a list of shortcuts can be found either on the app maker’s official website or within the app itself. (While an app is active, you may be able to load a built-in help menu by tapping your keyboard’s F1 key.) Some apps can run in the background and enable special shortcuts at all times—such as power user tools that analyze your computer’s performance.