Resources for Shortcut Keys to Increase Your Productivity

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One of the principles that I follow in my time management strategies is "Rule your technology - don't let it rule you." This idea come from the book The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity, one of my favorite productivity books. (Short aside: It's the book that got me started in earnest on becoming a better time manager and serious about productivity. I highly recommend getting your hands on this book and I have a book review here.)

The principle of ruling your technology starts with understanding the relationship we have with our devices and apps that drive those devices. If you're like me, maybe you get distracted (quite often) with the dings and buzzes of notifications. Maybe you spend a little too much time playing that mobile game or scrolling through your social media feed.

But we have these devices to get access to information in order for us to do our knowledge work. Once we understand the how we use our devices, we can start thinking about how we can use these as tools to be more productive, or, as the book phrases it: Extraordinarily Productive.

A Master Move

Learning keyboard shortcuts is one of the ways to rule the technology in front of you. A typical day in the office probably has you  in front of the computer nearly the entire day and, once getting home, there's probably even more computer time needed to manage our personal lives. Given that we spend so much time using a computer with its keyboard, finding small, continuous improvements like keyboard shortcuts adds up to big increases in efficiency and productivity.

One of the "master moves" in ruling your technology is the idea of winning without fighting. In short, it's the idea of making tasks easy to accomplish. Although the book uses the context of emails and specifically creating rules to automate how to handle on overflowing inbox, I think winning without fighting is a broader idea of creating ease in your processes. If it's easy for you to do some task, chances are you'll do it. For example, if it's easy to file something away, chances are you'll do that filing. Otherwise, how many of us have cluttered desktops because it was easier to put it on the desktop?

Shortcut keys are those master moves that are (1) small, continuous improvements and (2) make things easier which (when used consistently) can lead to big efficiency and productivity gains, whether at work or at home.

A Small Barrier to Entry: Learning the Keys

There's a small barrier to entry if you've never used shortcut keys. You have to spend a little bit of time upfront learning some of the keys. All of us started out with the mouse or mouse pad navigating around our computer and apps. If you didn't take the time to commit any to memory, looking at lists of shortcut keys can get overwhelming. The following paragraphs are strategies to overcoming that barrier to entry.

Create a list: Figure out repetitive tasks

What are the things that you do on a repeated basis on the computer? Here is a list with the Windows shortcut first followed by the Mac OS shortcut:

  • Cut: Ctrl+X or ⌘+X
  • Copy: Ctrl+C or ⌘+C
  • Paste: Ctrl+V or ⌘+V
  • Select text: Shift+cursor key
  • Search (within a document): Ctrl+F or ⌘+F
  • Save: Ctrl+S or ⌘+S
  • Print: Ctrl+P or ⌘+P
  • Close application windows: Ctrl+W or ⌘+W
  • Navigate between windows: Alt+Tab or ⌘+Tab
  • Screen Shots: Windows key+Print Screen Key or Shift+⌘+3

This is a starter list. For you, the list is most likely different and might take some time to figure out what additional repetitive task you have for your work. Keep a piece of paper handy to jot down any repetitive tasks as you complete them. You'll need this list to know what to commit to memory.

Keep the list handy

Whether in digital form or a printout, once you've figured out your repetitive tasks, make the list accessible to you whenever you're working on your computer. I don't normally advocate for keeping files on your desktop, but this list would be good stored there (provided your desktop is clean) because you'll need it for easy access. When I learn new shortcut keys, I prefer a physical piece of paper (i.e., sticky note) near the computer.

Easy access for your list of shortcut keys is important because there are so many different activities we accomplish on our computers. If the list we're trying to learn from isn't accessible, it's easy to forget about the shortcuts and therefore harder to learn.

Start small

If you're list is a dozen or more, that's great! But don't feel obligated to remember them all at once. Having a lot of shortcuts to learn all at once may feel overwhelming and this overwhelm just adds to that barrier to entry.

Instead, working from your list of repetitive tasks, commit to learning three or four of the shortcut keys at a time. This is why I like the sticky note method. The classic sticky note is a small space and limits you to just a few keys to jot down. Once you've mastered those handful, refer back to your list and commit to learning the next handful of shortcut keys.

Be patient!

It will take time to commit shortcut keys to memory. Part of the reason is that there are so many! The other part is that the frequency that we use the keys. The more frequent we use, say, cut and paste (Windows: ctrl + C and ctrl + V / Mac: ⌘ + C and ⌘ + V), the quicker we'll learn that shortcut. The less frequent, the longer it will take.

It's not uncommon to take a few weeks to commit to memory a set of shortcut keys, so be patient. Keeping the list handy or in a spot where you see it constantly will help shorten your learning curve.

My favorite shortcut keys

To help with creating your list, here's a list of the shortcut keys that I use and the context that I use them in.

  • Delete an email: Ctrl+D. This is for MS Outlook. For the dozens of emails that I get daily, this is the #1 shortcut key I use!
  • Save a screenshot: Shift+⌘+3. This saves screenshots to your desktop in the Mac OS. There are three other options for taking screenshots in the Mac OS. I use this option when I'm on a webinar and want to take notes. This option saves the screenshot to your desktop. The other options are (1) save a selection of the screen to your clipboard, (2) save a selection of the screen to the desktop, and (3) save a complete screenshot to your clipboard.
  • Create a new thing: Ctrl+N or ⌘+N. This is pretty ubiquitous across different apps. In MS Outlook, it creates a new email, calendar appointment, task or note. If you're in a web browser (doesn't matter which one), it will pull open a new window. The same when browsing for files (it will open a new window). It will create new documents, workbooks, or other files, depending on on the application.
  • Close the current app: Alt+F4 or ⌘+Q. This closes the current app that you're in
  • Close the current window: Ctrl+W or ⌘+W. If you have multiple windows up of an app, this closes the current window that you are on.
  • Force quit: Ctrl+Alt+Esc or ⌘+Option+Esc. Pesky app that won't close, you can force an application to shut down. This one was a little bit tougher to remember because I use rarely. But the motivation to commit this to memory was that I couldn't remember the names of the applications to force quit an app (it's Task Manager in Windows and Activity Monitor in Mac OS).
  • Search (across the operating system): Windows key+S or ⌘+Space Bar. If you need to search across your operating system for a file, folder, or application, this shortcut pulls up the search bar to start your search.
  • Find (within an application window): Ctrl+F or ⌘+F. Another ubiquitous command that searches within the application. If you're looking for text in MS Word, Excel, or a .pdf document, or searching for text on a website or a notes application, this pulls up a search bar for your search.
  • Selecting text: Shift+cursor key. As I write my blogs, I've found this to be super handy. Simply hold down the Ctrl or ⌘ button and then use the cursor keys to go left, right, up, or down. Easy way to select text for when you need to bold, italicize or underline (se the next bullet).
  • Bold / Italicize / Underline text: Ctrl+B, Ctrl+I, Ctrl+U or ⌘+B, ⌘+I, ⌘+U. These were probably the first shortcut keys I learned to format text.

This is my personal list that I generated from memory. Don't feel like you need to learn all these at once. It's taken me a a few years to get to this point with shortcut keys, and I persisted with committing these to memory because I found myself to be more productive knowing these shortcuts. I think you will too!


I've thrown multiple lists at you in this blog post, and these were to get you aware of the most common shortcuts to get started with. There's plenty of websites that have more complete lists to build your own lists from. I also have two apps I recommend down below that I've used for the past couple of years.

  • Cheat Sheet by Media Atelier is my favorite shortcut key tool in Mac OS. Just hold down the ⌘ key to bring up a list of shortcuts and in the application that you're working in. (Free download and install required.)
  • If you don't want to download anything, you can get a printable list of Mac OS (Catalina) shortcut keys here.
  • A fairly comprehensive guide of shortcut keys for Windows 10 users.
  • If you would like a .pdf file to download and print, you can visit this website. Scroll to the bottom of the article for a link to their OneDrive site. The file is titled "Keyboard shortcuts for Windows 10, by Digital Citizen."

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