It’s not an exaggeration to say that Excel is the most-used business software tool in the world. Some have even described it as the “Swiss Army Knife” of business analytics, but whether you use the blade or the spork, all users benefit from learning keyboard shortcuts that keeps their hands on the keyboard.
How to Add Shortcuts to Your Workflow
There are (non-scientifically) two phases of learning shortcuts: First is remembering what to type, second is being able to do it without even thinking. Here are some tips and tricks for tackling the first phase. And then luckily – or not so luckily, depending on your mood – repetition is what gets you to the second!
- Create a cheat sheet – Choose the shortcuts you want to learn and print them out or keep a notes window open so they are always in front of you. Refer to the sheet when you are performing a task that has a shortcut.DON’T print the entire set of available shortcuts! A giant list of commands you will never use will discourage and slow you down. If this method works for you, print short lists at a time and then start a new one once the last list is committed to muscle memory.
- Choose a “learning project” – Identify a project or recurring task that offers many repetitions of one or at most two shortcuts you want to learn. When you sit down to work, commit to ONLY using the shortcut each time the task comes up. Post a sticky that says “SHORTCUT” or has the command on your monitor to remind you. Plan for being slower at the beginning, but you will quickly gain speed as you repeat the command.
- Use a practice tool – If you learn best when you don’t also have to think about work, try playing a SkillBuilder Game or keyboard practice tool to drill the keystrokes.
- Use Mnemonics – Words, phrases, or images can help you learn information that is otherwise abstract. To help you remember Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V for copy/pasting information, you might think or even say out loud: “Create a Copy – C for Copy, V for Paste”. For Ctrl+X, you could say “X that out before I paste it.”
Over time, continue to remind yourself of the commands as you go. Don’t give in to the temptation to just grab the mouse because it’s faster for now. You’re spending time now to save more time later. Keep that cheat sheet handy for the shortcuts that you only use “now and then.”
Here are some of the best shortcuts to start with:
Shortcuts for Basic Excel Users
Universal Shortcuts – Several common tasks have nearly universal application. In fact, these 8 keyboard commands are available in almost all software packages used today.
- Ctrl+S = Saves your file
- Ctrl+F = Opens the Find tool
- Ctrl+C = Copies selected content, then…
- Ctrl+V = Lets you paste that content elsewhere
- Ctrl+X = Copies selected content and deletes it when pasted into its new location
- Ctrl+Z = Undoes the last action you just did, then…
- Ctrl+Y = Lets you redo the last action you just undid
- Ctrl+A = Selects “all” the content in the worksheet or cell that you have selected
Formatting Shortcuts – Quickly apply the most common text formats so that you can spend more time analyzing. They are also usually available in software that includes text.
- Ctrl+B = Applies the Bold format
- Ctrl+I = Applies the Italic format
- Ctrl+U = Applies the Underline format
At risk of sounding pushy, everyone should commit these basic shortcuts to muscle memory and use them often in all your applications.
Shortcuts for Intermediate Excel Users
If you’ve mastered the basic shortcuts even before you open Excel for the first time, then you can start working on intermediate Excel shortcuts and avoid having to re-learn how to perform common repetitive tasks.
Navigation Shortcuts – As you enter data, you will move your curser between cells, rows, columns and even worksheet tabs. These shortcuts get you to where you want to work without taking precious seconds to move your hand to a mouse.
- Tab = Moves to the next cell
- Shift+Tab = Moves to the previous cell
- Arrow Keys = These often-unused buttons on your keyboard can be put to great use in Excel; use them to navigate stepwise between cells in any direction
- Ctrl+Arrow Keys = Jumps your cursor to the edge of your data in the direction of the arrow
- Ctrl+Home = Moves your cursor to the beginning of a worksheet
- Ctrl+End = Moves your cursor to the lowest row of the rightmost column of filled cells
- Ctrl+Page Down = Moves your cursor to the next worksheet tab
- Ctrl+Page Up = Moves your cursor to the previous worksheet tab
Selection Shortcuts – Many tasks involve selecting multiple cells. These shortcuts keep your hands on the keyboard (mostly) while doing so.
- Ctrl+A = Selects the entire active worksheet, even unfilled cells
- Ctrl+Spacebar = Selects the whole column
- Shift+Spacebar = Selects the whole row
- Ctrl+Shift+Arrow Keys = Selects all cells from the selected cell to the end of the filled row or column in the direction of the arrow
- Ctrl+Click = Selects individual, non-adjacent cells
Tab Shortcuts – Quickly open the Ribbon you need with these keyboard commands.
- Alt+F = File menu
- Alt+H = Home tab
- Alt+N = Insert tab
- Alt+P = Page Layout tab
- Alt+M = Formulas tab
- Alt+A = Data tab
- Alt+R = Review tab
- Alt+W = View tab
Shortcuts for Advanced Excel Users
At the advanced level, you are most likely specializing in tools and procedures that are specific to your field or industry. A command you use daily might be something another user has never even clicked before. Therefore, learning advanced shortcuts is more about identifying what you do frequently and then finding the ones that apply to you. Here are a handful of shortcuts that benefit any advanced user.
- Alt+H+A+C = Applies center alignment to cell contents
- Alt+H+B = Applies a border to the cell
- Ctrl+; = Inserts the current date
- Ctrl+Shift+: = Inserts current
- Ctrl+K = Inserts a hyperlink
- Ctrl+Shift+$ = Applies the currency format
- Ctrl+Shift+% = Applies the percent format
- Ctrl+9 = Hides Row
- Ctrl+Shift+9 = Unhides Row
- Ctrl+0 = Hides Column
- Ctrl+Shift+0 = Unhides Column
- Ctrl+Alt+V = Opens the Paste Special dialog window
What tasks have you learned a keyboard shortcut to accomplish? Do you still have to think about it?