How to Learn Keyboard Shortcuts


As we’ve seen, keyboard shortcuts can drastically improve the efficiency of your work. So, how do we go about becoming such a master? There are two key steps to adopting a new habit – knowing and doing. These are the two steps you can take toward integrating keyboard shortcuts in your day-to-day. With a mind to keyboard shortcuts, let’s dig into each of these a bit.

Knowing Your Keyboard Shortcuts

The Scope of a Shortcut

It is important to know when and where a shortcut will work. This is called the scope of a keyboard shortcut. Global shortcuts are accessible and functional from anywhere on your computer. Other shortcuts may be limited to a specific application or to a particular space within an application.

Not only does your computer have native keyboard shortcuts, but many of the applications you use each day also come with their own set of shortcuts. Dig into the settings or preferences of these apps to identify the shortcuts that may be available for common tasks. As your repertoire expands, you may notice that there is some push among developers to standardize keyboard shortcuts for certain actions. For example, though not universally used, you may notice that many applications now use j and k for navigating and selecting list items. Unfortunately, there is no universal mapping of keyboard shortcuts. Sometimes you may find that multiple applications attempt to use the same shortcut for different actions. If these shortcuts perform only within the scope of the app, this should not be a problem. However, if apps have added globally accessible shortcuts, you might encounter conflict. Thankfully, many apps allow you to set your own key combinations in order to customize the available shortcuts.

The Key Combinations

There are several ways to identify key combinations that will perform actions for you.


Pop on the Google and search away. This is especially helpful as you look for shortcuts specific to your operating system. Want to learn how to switch or close applications on a Mac or Windows machine? You should be able to find a list in no time! Try it now – ⌘+TAB or CTRL+TAB.

Application Preferences

If you visit an application’s preferences or settings page, you might find a list of available shortcuts. Some may have pages or screens dedicated solely to these shortcuts and you might find that you are able to customize the key combinations in this same place.

Helper Applications

The sole intent of some applications is to assist you in becoming a pro at keyboard shortcuts. My go-to for this purpose on Mac is CheatSheet which allows me to view a full list of available app shortcuts by simply holding .

Doing Your Keyboard Shortcuts

There’s not much use in learning keyboard shortcuts if you don’t put them to use. And you should have ample opportunity to put them to use. Anytime you put fingers to keys and then find yourself reaching for your mouse/trackpad presents an opportunity. If I were to estimate, I’d say I’ve used 300-500 instances of a shortcut in writing this post alone (that’s nearly 10 minutes, according to this post). Here are a few tips to start employing these handy little tools into your regular workflow.


One of the best things you can do to make a habit stick is to practice it regularly. As with any endeavor, intentionality is key. If you’ve learned a new keyboard shortcut, make a conscious effort for at least two weeks to employ it every time you need it. Soon, muscle memory will take over and you’ll think of it no more. If you can’t recall the shortcut and need to revisit the resource from which you learned it, do so. It may take an extra two minutes now to look it up, but it will give you a good return, in time.

Trial & Error

If you’re not up for revisiting your learning resource, start punching keys. It’s probably sitting on the tip of your fingers somewhere. And, in the process of hunting for it, you’ll probably discover a few others shortcuts that you’d have never considered. Chances are you can’t do much damage. ⌘+Z or CTRL+Z will be your friend.

Grunt Work

Oftentimes, I encounter a task that requires a highly repeated action. What I will do in this situation, is to map out my actions, determine keyboard shortcuts for each, and plug away. If I can not touch my mouse or trackpad, I will complete the task in a fraction of the time it would have otherwise taken. Plus, it gives the benefit of building muscle memory for those few actions I am performing.

Next Steps

So, what say you? Will you join me in learning keyboard shortcuts? Get learning. Get doing. This week, pick one shortcut and add it to your repertoire. Here are a few to get the beginners started.

Undo last action⌘+ZCTRL+Z
Select all⌘+ACTRL+A

In future posts, I’ll introduce my favorite shortcuts. Stay tuned and thanks for reading!