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Top Five Keyboard Shortcuts

If you’re of a certain age, the first computers you used did not have mice. They certainly had no graphical user interface, or GUI, a term now as archaic as WYSIWYG — what you see is what you get. Then along came Steve Jobs and his merry band at Apple to popularize the GUI, and the rest is history.

Chances are, you use a pointing device with your computer today. It could be a touchscreen. It could be a built-in trackpad. It might be a trackball. It could even be that original of the species, the humble mouse. Your keyboard? That’s only for creating text, of course. Who needs it to execute commands? You do — if you value faster computing.

Keyboard shortcuts, both built-in and custom-created, give seasoned keyboard jockeys a step or two up on their shortcut-deprived colleagues.

Remember, They’re Called Shortcuts for a Reason.

In much of the software you use today you’ll find all sorts of shortcuts. You can also create new shortcuts of your own. Here’s a list of my time-saving favorites, from the obvious to the more obscure.

1. Saving documents

Years of bitter experience taught me to never go more than five minutes without saving the document I’m creating, despite autosave features. By “bitter experience” I refer to losing 50 minutes’ worth of work thanks to a power outage. The Save shortcut is standard in both Windows and macOS applications.

  • In Windows, press Ctrl-S
  • In macOS, press Cmd-S

2. Switching applications

Most of us work with several applications open at any given time. The window of the active application often sits on top of the windows for other applications. If you frequently find yourself moving windows out of the way, don’t go to the mouse to click an application icon. Instead, use the system-wide shortcuts:

  • In Windows, press Ctrl-Tab
  • In macOS, press Cmd-Tab

Application icons will appear onscreen. If you tap on the Tab key while holding the other key, the next icon in the grouping gets highlighted. Let go of both keys and the computer brings that application window to the fore.

Bonus tip: You can move backward in the app list by holding the Shift key.

3. Apply Word styles to paragraphs

Everything you write in a Word document ought to have a style applied to it. The wrong time to apply styles is after you finish a document. The right time is while you write. (See Five Word Styles Every Lawyer Should Know.) Applying styles as you type takes far less time than fixing inconsistent formatting later. Fortunately, you can apply styles quickly using keyboard shortcuts. Here are shortcuts for the most common Word styles.

  • Normal – Ctrl+Shift+N – Shift+Cmd+N
  • Heading 1 – Alt+Ctrl+1 – Alt+Cmd+1
  • Heading 2 – Alt+Ctrl+2 – Alt+Cmd+2
  • Heading 3 – Alt+Ctrl+3 – Alt+Cmd+3

Do you consider yourself a Word pro? Try creating your own Word shortcuts.

4. Search everything on your computer.

Windows Explorer. macOS Finder. These file management systems have served computer users well for decades. If you continue to use them today to find files, consider instead the alternatives in the OS.

  • In Windows, hit the Windows key.
  • In macOS, hit Cmd-Space.

In both cases, proceed to type your search term. The OS ought to list items — files and applications, primarily — that contain your terms in the title or the contents. It’s like having a web search feature built into your computer.

5. Force-quitting applications.

It sometimes happens: an application stops responding, and it prevents the computer from shutting down or even responding. This “three-finger salute” brings up a dialog showing all currently running applications and gives you the opportunity to “force-quit” any of them.

  • In Windows, press Ctrl-Alt-Del
  • In macOS, press Alt-Cmd-Esc

Pro Tip: Adding a New Task to Your To-Do List

If you use a task list, create a keyboard shortcut that lets you quickly add tasks to it no matter what application is active on your desktop. This shortcut lets you quickly capture ideas and plan to execute them at a later date. You can then go back to the work you were doing. This technique helps you minimize the interruption your “free-thinking” self-creates for your “work self.” My shortcut is Ctrl-Alt-T (“T” for ”task” makes it easy to remember). Look for such shortcuts in your task management application.

Common Microsoft Word-specific Shortcuts

Here’s a bonus list of shortcuts you can use in Word.

  • Left Justify a Line – Ctrl-L – Cmd-L
  • Center Justify a Line – Ctrl-E – Cmd-E
  • Right Justify a Line – Ctrl-R – Cmd-R
  • Track Changes Mode – Ctrl-Shift-E – Cmd-Shift-E
  • Spell Check – F7 – F7 or Alt-Cmd-L

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