Saving time: The art of the shortcut

The last thing we want to be doing is spending our precious, late semester, time struggling with our computer interfaces.  Here at the CTL we thought you might enjoy saving on time (and irritation) by learning some keyboard shortcut tricks that can make quite a few common activities easier as well as give you a real sense of control over your computer.  In doing so, we will address Windows and Mac Users primarily, not because because other operating systems are unimportant, but because we expect that their users are already savvy enough to not need help with the basics.  Let us know if you are interested in finding out what other operating systems are available and what kind of efficiency support you can get for them.

General Shortcuts for Your Desktop

Tip: Did you know that you can create your own keyboard shortcuts for various purposes?  In both Windows and Mac OS, for example, you can assign keystrokes that will launch your most frequently used programs: Mac | Windows.  For example, since I use Firefox all the time, I’ve set it up so that I can just turn on my computer and hit Ctrl-Shift-Z (all with one hand) and Firefox will open to my main workspace.  I’ve also done this to quickly open documents that I work on every day.

Tip: As we mentioned in an earlier Tech Tip on getting help, both operating systems provide key combinations for quickly grabbing images from your computer’s workspace.  Grabbing screenshots can be invaluable in a number of contexts including getting technical help and creating multimedia documents.

Tip: Have you ever wanted to quickly get back to your desktop after you have opened multiple programs and windows?  Windows (Windows logo key-M*) and Mac OS (Command-Option-M**) offer quick keys to minimize all the windows in one shot.  This can be extremely helpful for any number of reasons — such as quickly grabbing a file you just downloaded to your desktop.

Tip: One of my favorite shortcuts involves setting up 2 windows side by side to compare 2 web pages or 2 documents.   As you probably know, you can switch between open windows on both Windows and Mac using the Alt-Tab / Command-Tab shortcuts, respectively.  But if you want to just take 2 and juxtapose them, there is a great way in Windows to quickly arrange your them side by side.  Here’s how you do it:

  1. Select the window you want to appear on the left and click Windows logo key -left arrow
  2. Select the window you want to appear on the right and click Windows logo key -right arrow
  3. The result looks like this:

jusxtaposed screens

I use it to compare documents, follow instructions as I read them, drag and drop files from one folder to another and etc.  The possibilities are legion.  Currently you have to do this manually in Mac OS X unless you download a window manager to help;  however, if you click the F9 key (or fn-F9 on a laptop), all your open windows will appear tiled and selectable.  This feature, part of Mac’s Exposé functionality, allows you to quickly switch between any open window.


When working with texts, not only will being able to move around in your documents and performing administrative functions without taking your fingers off the keyboard save you time, but it can help keep you in the flow of your thoughts and thus help you stay focused on the task at hand.  Once you get proficient with keyboard shortcuts, you will start to realize that, in most contexts, you can be much more efficient using the keyboard to navigate rather than the mouse or mouse and keyboard combination – just ask a computer programmer.

Most of you know about Ctrl-A (select all text), Ctrl-C (copy selected text), Ctrl-V (paste selected text), etc. and/or their MacOS equivalents (Command-A, Command-C and Command-V), but did you know that you can also do the following?


Windows Shortcut

Mac OS shortcut

Align Text Left Ctrl-L Command-{
Align Text Center Ctrl-E Command-|
Align Text Right Ctrl-R Command-}
Open the Find word window Ctrl-F Command-F
Go to end of a line Ctrl-down arrow Command-right arrow
Go to the beginning of a line Ctrl-up arrow Command-left arrow
Go to the end of the doc Ctrl-end Command-down arrow
Go to the beginning of the doc Ctrl-home Command-up arrow
Go to the next word Ctrl-right arrow Option-right arrow
Go to the previous word Ctrl-left arrow Option-left arrow
Save the Document Ctrl-S Command-S

Holding the shift button with any particular navigation keystroke will also allow you to quickly select chunks of text.


And that’s just the beginning!  Imagine yourself quickly selecting a full paragraph of text, cutting it, and then pasting it 5 pages away – all without touching your mouse.

A more complete list of word processing shortcuts can be found here: Windows | Mac.


When using the internet there are also quite a few keystrokes that can ease the way to a smoother browsing experience.  Although the particular browser (e.g. Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox) you are using has the final say on whether these shortcuts will work, for the most part, they comply.

Tip: Instead of clicking the back or forward buttons on your browser to follows the breadcrumbs of your browsing history, you can use Alt-left/right arrow (Windows) or Command-left/right arrow (Mac).

Tip: You can make your web pages appear bigger or smaller using Ctrl-minus/Ctrl-plus (Windows) or Command-minus/Command-plus (Mac)

Selecting, Copying and Pasting text also works similarly to how they work in word processing programs, so feel free to use that to your advantage.   Here is a link to further browser shortcuts.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed

Learning all the keyboard shortcuts we are linking to here can be a bit overwhelming; in fact, sometimes it can feel like trying to pick up a new musical instrument.  So start with the functions that you perform most often and/or cost you the most time.  For example, if you don’t know yet how to use the keyboard to select text, copy text, cut text and paste it, learn how to do so.  It will save you a lot of time by keeping your fingers away from the mouse and in a typing position where they can work the best.  If you are mindful of how you accomplish tasks on your computer, you will start to notice more and more opportunities for improving your efficiency and quality of life.  We promise that the learning curve is nowhere near as steep as most musical instruments.

Keep in mind that by learning keyboard shortcuts over time, you will begin to incorporate the secret optimizations that such pros as programmers and graphic designers use.  As you become more knowledgeable, don’t forget to share your findings with others here!


*The windows logo key is the key that looks like the following:  WindowsLogo

**The Mac Command key usually has the word “Command” on it, but if not, look for the key with the command symbol.


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2 comments to Saving time: The art of the shortcut

  • JL

    Align Text Left Ctrl-L Command-{
    Align Text Left Ctrl-R
    One of them must be wrong!

    Go to the end of the doc Ctrl-home
    Go to the beginning of the doc Ctrl-end
    Are they right?

    Have you guys check the information before you post it?

    • Thank you for catching the typo on Align Text and the mix-up with the windows keys for beginning and end of the document. We have corrected that. Every shortcut key posted has been checked, including Ctrl-home and Ctrl-end in MSWord for Windows. Thanks for your reply.