Excel Shortcuts For Going Between Workbooks
A slow (but common) way to switch Excel workbooks is to hover over the Excel icon on the taskbar (see image below). Doing so will display thumbnails of all of your open Excel files. To go to one, just click on the thumbnail.
But there are faster ways. First, you can type Alt-W-W to bring up the “Switch Windows” drop-down menu on the View tab — see below:
Open “Switch Windows” Drop-Down Menu (keyboard): Alt-W-W
The most recently opened window is on the top. This will remain true no matter how many times you switch files. This fixed order of files will help you keep your orientation any time you type Alt-W-W.
Second, you can use Ctrl+Tab to go forward through your files (Ctrl+Shift+Tab to go backwards):
Go Forward/Backward Through Your Open Excel Files (keyboard): Ctrl+Tab / Ctrl+Shift+Tab
Once you have Ctrl pressed, you can keep it pressed while continuously tapping the Tab key to rotate through files one at a time. It simply takes you to the next file. But unlike with Alt-W-W or hovering over the Excel icon on the taskbar, you have no preview or roadmap whatsoever of where you’re going. Thus, in a way, you’re flying blind.
Technically, Ctrl+Tab first goes to the file you were in the longest time ago, then ends with the file you were in most recently (Ctrl+Shift+Tab will go the other way). If you have only two or three workbooks open, you can probably remember the order (and it won’t matter much anyway). But if you have, say 10 workbooks open, then it becomes difficult to memorize what order they’re in. In this case you’ll have to hit Ctrl+Tab, then keep tapping away at the Tab key until you get to the file you want.
In my personal experience, I typically have, say, five to ten workbooks open. But I’m mostly going back and forth between only two of them. You can use the methods above to do this — but they’re rather slow for that purpose.
Luckily, there’s a faster solution. But before we get there, let me briefly go through a more general, but related, shortcut. This shortcut is for going between all open windows (not just Excel).
Excel Shortcut For Going Between All Open Windows
If you hit Alt, keep it pressed, then press Tab while Alt is held down, you’ll see all open windows — not just Excel files, but all windows.
Rotate Through All Open Windows (keyboard): Alt+Tab
Alt-Tab opens the matrix of windows and advances you to the next window; keep pressing Tab to rotate through all windows (while keeping Alt pressed) [note: this method works if you’re NOT in Excel — I’ll cover the slightly-different Excel version shortly]
Alt+Shift+Tab will take you backwards through the matrix.
After I hit Alt+Tab my screen will look something like the following (note that it has already advanced me to the second window — the “Untitled” Notepad document):
What’s nice about this method is that you can see all of the windows — so you have a map of where you’re going. From here you can obviously just click on the window you want. Or you can keep hitting the Tab key while keeping Alt pressed, and then let go when you’re on the window you want. Finally, if you keep your finger on the Tab key, you’ll zoom through all of the windows at a very rapid clip. This shortcut is actually a Windows shortcut, not an Excel shortcut, but it can be used to great advantage in Excel (which I’m about to explain).
Back To Excel Shortcuts
When you’re in Excel, the shortcut is a little different. In Excel, you have to hit Tab twice in order to move to the second window. The first Alt+Tab will open up the matrix of files above, but it won’t advance you — see below.
If you let go after hitting Alt+Tab, you’ll remain in the same Excel file. Nothing will change.
But if you hit Alt+Tab, and then hit the Tab key again (while keeping Alt pressed), you’ll start advancing through the windows. When you’re on the one you want, simply let go.
Rotate Through All Open Windows While In Excel (keyboard): Alt+Tab
Here, Alt-Tab opens the matrix of windows, but does not advance you to the next one (you need to hit the Tab key again while keeping Alt pressed)
Now here’s the important part for Excel nerds:
The key behavior here is that the order of the windows is the order in which you visited them, with the current one in the upper left and the “oldest” one on the bottom right.
Because of this, if I have 10 Excel files open, and I keep going back and forth between two of them, those two will keep occupying the number 1 and number 2 slots in the matrix. Therefore, to toggle back and forth between them, I simply hit Alt+Tab+Tab. Alt+Tab+Tab is my shortcut to toggle back and forth between two Excel files. Each time you hit Alt+Tab+Tab, the two files will merely swap the number 1 and number 2 positions.
Toggle Between Two Excel Files (keyboard): Alt+Tab+Tab
So there you have it — a very fast way to go back and forth between two important Excel files out of the ten that you have open. This is great when you’re copying and pasting back and forth, or checking two different versions, or doing a quick comparison, etc. Just remember that once you’re out of Excel, you just hit Alt+Tab (not Alt+Tab+Tab).
Note: I tested this Alt+Tab+Tab approach using Excel 2010 in Windows 10. Apparently, it doesn’t always work in other versions of Excel or Windows, so you may need to experiment a little until you find what works for your situation.
As always, I look forward to your thoughts!