Excel Sort Via The Ribbon & Quick Access Toolbar
Sorting is an essential task in Excel, and one that you might perform often, so it makes sense to become efficient at the basics.
Despite being a common task, Excel puts the sorting icons slightly out of the way — on the far right side of the Home tab and in the middle of the Data tab.
Here it is on the Home Tab (far right end of it), where you actually need to click on the Sort & Filter drop-down to get the sort options:
Here’s the Data Tab where at least you don’t have to click down another level (here I’m hovering over the “Sort A to Z” icon):
Because I use sorting fairly frequently, and I’m not happy with the Ribbon placement, I put it on my QAT to make it more accessible (as you can see above).
Excel Sort Using The Mouse & The Context Menu
Another option is to (1) right click within the range that you want to sort in order to bring up the context menu, then (2) select the “Sort” option in the context menu. Following these two steps brings up the menu below, which includes multiple quick sort options:
Once the context menu above appears, you can use either the mouse or the keyboard to make your menu choice.
Excel Sort Shortcuts Using The Context Menu
To provide just one example of how you can derive some shortcuts, let’s say you just want to sort from smallest to largest (the first option). One way is to simply click on the menu options with your mouse, but here are some other methods:
Notice in the left context menu above that the letter O is underlined in “Sort.” This means that if you type “O” the sub-menu will appear. Put another way, O is the shortcut key to bring up the sub-menu (note: sometimes other menu options share the same shortcut letter — in which case you’ll need to keep hitting that shortcut letter until you get the choice you want, and then simply hit the spacebar to select it). While O is the shortcut key for “Sort” in the main context menu, S is the shortcut key for “Sort Smallest to Largest” in the sub-menu. Therefore, after right-clicking, you can simply type “O” and then “S” to select “Sort Smallest to Largest.” I call this a “hybrid” shortcut because it combines both the mouse and the keyboard:
Sort Smallest to Largest (hybrid): RC-O-S (RC stands for Right Click)
If you want to do this fully with the keyboard (and not use your mouse at all), just remember that hitting the Menu Key (typically somewhere to the right of the spacebar) does the same as right clicking. Therefore, a good keyboard-only shortcut for sorting smallest to largest is as follows:
Sort Smallest to Largest (keyboard): MK-O-S (MK stands for Menu Key)
I’m not entirely happy with either of these shortcuts. The first one requires me to type “O” either by moving my left hand all the way across the keyboard, or by taking my right hand off the mouse, which is also disruptive. The second shortcut (using the Menu Key) also requires me to put my right hand on the keyboard, which I find disruptive as well (since my right hand is usually on the mouse).
Therefore, I have a third method, another hybrid shortcut, which I find slightly faster. While it is slightly tedious to move the mouse down the context menu to select “Sort,” I find it less disruptive than typing “O” with either hand. I can then simply type “S” (very convenient for my left hand) for “Sort Smallest To Largest.” So the shortcut I prefer for sorting is as follows:
Sort Smallest to Largest (hybrid #2):RC-<Sort>-S (<Sort> means click on the Sort option on the menu)
Alternatively, you could use the Tab key (with your left hand) to navigate down the first Sort option, then hit the Spacebar (instead of clicking OK) to open up the submenu. However, you would need to hit tab 9 times. So the full shortcut would look like this:
Sort Smallest to Largest (hybrid #3):RC-Tab-Tab-Tab-Tab-Tab-Tab-Tab-Tab-Tab-Spacebar-S (<Sort> means click on the Sort option on the menu)
While this may be impractical for this shortcut, Tabbing can be helpful other times when navigating a right-click menu. (For example, to Insert, you can right-click, then Tab only four times to get to the Insert option, then hit the Spacebar. This may be a little less distracting than having to move your cursor down to the Insert line).
That’s it for shortcuts that go through the context menu.
Excel Sort Using The Filter Drop-Down Menu
But there’s another route to get there — by activating Excel’s Filter. Once Filter is activated, you can open the Filter drop-down menu, which has sort options at the top.
As you can see below, Filter is on the Data tab (it’s also on the far right of the Home tab, but grouped with the sort options — see the first image above).
A good keyboard shortcut for activating filter is Alt-A-T. Once you’ve done that, the following appears (see the filters in row 1):
The next step is to open the drop-down by clicking on it, as below (you can also move your cursor onto the cell with the drop-down, and then hit type Alt-↓). Once you’ve done that, you’ll see the familiar “Sort A to Z” option.
Since I frequently use Filter, this is the method by which I most often access the Sort menu. From here you simply click on the drop-down menu option (“Sort A to Z”) or, even faster, simply type “S” after opening the drop-down (just as we did this earlier with the context menu). So here’s how I would describe it with some creative nomenclature:
Sort Smallest to Largest (hybrid #3):<Filter-drop-down>-S (“<Filter-drop-down>” means click on the Filter drop-down)
This method obviously requires you to have activated the Filter first.
That’s it for Excel sort shortcuts. Hopefully you can shave off a few minutes here and there with them. And remember, the benefit of using shortcuts isn’t merely the time saved immediately by using the shortcut. It’s also the time you save in the long run by not losing your focus from fumbling around on the keyboard, or looking here, there and everywhere on your screen. These types of mini-disruptions can lead to errors that cause major problems. As always, I welcome your feedback.