Do you feel slow in Excel? Do you want to learn Excel shortcuts but don’t know where to start? Let’s go through some easy and useful keyboard shortcuts, plus some simple ways to commit them to memory.
If you’re a beginner in Excel, you probably use the Ribbon a lot, which is the area below.
While this gets the job done, there are faster ways. But where should you start?
I will briefly walk through three Excel actions that (a) you probably perform regularly, and (b) have easy shortcuts. These actions are: saving, cutting/copying/pasting and formatting fonts.
You can also take my free one-hour online video course. It covers even more: Save, Copy, Paste, Cut, Undo, Redo, Bold, Italics, Underline, Find and Replace.
By easy shortcuts, I mean those that can be accomplished with the left hand in its standard typing position. This way you don’t have to remove your right hand from the mouse and use it to help with a keyboard shortcut (which is inefficient).
So let me roll out the top candidates where you should focus your initial efforts.
Here’s one that you’ll definitely use every day:
Excel Shortcut For Saving A Document
Save (keyboard): Ctrl+S
It’s that simple. Typing Ctrl+S is the same as using the mouse to go to File > Save. However, Ctrl+S is much faster and less disruptive. Think about the steps involved in using File > Save:
- Move the mouse to the File tab
- Click on the File tab
- Move the mouse down to Save
- Click Save
- Move the mouse back to the cells
That’s five annoying steps.
Ctrl+S is one step.
And it’s easy to remember: S is for “Save.” And you can do it with your left hand while your right had remains comfortably on the mouse.
For all Ctrl+ keyboard shortcuts, you must have both the Ctrl key and the second key pressed simultaneously (hence the “+” sign). For Ctrl+S I put my pinky on the Ctrl key and my middle finger on the S key. Depending on your keyboard, your hand size and your personal preferences, you may do it differently.
Now that you have a fast way to save your files, you can indulge your paranoia and type Ctrl+S every few minutes, or whenever there’s a lull in the action.
Note: this “Excel shortcut” is actually a fairly universal one for saving documents — both within and beyond the Microsoft Office suite. How’s that for some extra incentive to remember Ctrl+S?
Excel Shortcuts For Copy, Cut and Paste
Like Ctrl+S for Save, these three tasks are also high frequency and also have shortcuts that can be easily performed with the left hand (no need for the right hand to leave the mouse).
Copy (keyboard): Ctrl+C
Cut (keyboard): Ctrl+X
Paste (keyboard): Ctrl+V
These shortcuts are much faster than going back and forth all day long from the spreadsheet to the ribbon. Using them instead of the mouse can therefore save you lots of time. In fact, you’ll probably kick yourself for not having used them earlier. While they’re not necessarily easy to remember (the X and V don’t seem to stand for anything), they are very easily accessed by the left hand. I suspect that Excel wanted these easily reached keys to be reserved for high frequency tasks such cutting, copying and pasting. The best mnemonics I’ve come up are that “C” stands for Copy, while “X” stands for Cut because the “X” looks a little like a pair of scissors — and with scissors, you Cut. “V” is the odd man out (maybe it looks like a pointer that points where you’re going to paste, or maybe a pair of tweezers that you open to drop something — but these are admittedly weak).
These “Excel shortcuts” are virtually universal as well — not specific to Excel or Microsoft. And they work across programs. For example, you could copy something from Word into Excel using Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V. Or you could copy a URL from Chrome into Word. Or you could copy an email address from Outlook or Gmail (or other email program) into Word, Excel, Outlook, Gmail, etc. In other words, these “Excel shortcuts” can save you time way beyond Excel. They are indispensable for becoming faster at computer work in general.
Visit my Paste Special post to learn about advanced pasting capabilities (including Paste Values, Paste Format, Values & Number Formats and Paste Picture), and my Excel Shortcuts – Mouse/Keyboard Hybrids post to learn some faster ways to paste.
How To Memorize Keyboard Shortcuts
You may tell yourself, “Well, this so-called “shortcut” actually makes me less efficient because now I have to think about it every time.” You’re right – but only in the short run. But that will change quickly once you practice a few times and get the hang of it. Along those lines, I strongly recommend the following two simple techniques to help you master any new shortcuts — the first for plain old memory, and the second for muscle memory:
- Write down the keyboard shortcuts on a Post-It note and put the note on the bottom of your monitor where it’s easy to see (I’ve done this many times for new shortcuts I was committing to memory). Once you’ve memorized them, you can remove the note — and maybe replace it with one that has new shortcuts you want to learn. Keep doing this one Post-It note at a time and before you know it you’ll have amassed at least a dozen shortcuts in your arsenal.
- Practice using the shortcuts for five minutes straight (I’ve done this many times as well — it helps with muscle memory). It may look strange to someone peering over your shoulder, but who cares? You’ll get the last laugh when you surpass that person in speed.
Regardless what you do, you must break out of your inertia. Learning shortcuts requires you to move outside of your comfort zone because you’re changing a long-standing habit. But once you master your first few, you’ll kick yourself for not having started earlier. And this will add motivation and make it much easier to break out of your inertia for your next batch of shortcuts.
Now let’s move on to the third batch of shortcuts.
Excel Shortcuts For Formatting
The third item I recommend for beginners is some simple formatting shortcuts, since formatting is probably another thing you do frequently in Excel. The following are common formats that also have easy keyboard shortcuts. For each shortcut I’m providing two methods — one that’s easier to remember (because uses letters that make sense), and one that’s faster because it doesn’t require your right hand to leave the mouse.
Bold (keyboard): Ctrl+2 (or Ctrl+B) — both methods are easy (fast) to pull off with the left hand, though Ctrl+B is easier to remember (B is for Bold)
Italics (keyboard): Ctrl+3 (or Ctrl+I) — here, Ctrl+I is easier to remember (I is for Italics), but unlike Ctrl+3 it requires two hands
Underline (keyboard): Ctrl+4 (or Ctrl+U) — here, Ctrl+U is easier to remember (U is for Underline), but unlike Ctr+4 it requires two hands
(Note: typing the keyboard shortcut a second time will reverse the formatting — e.g., if you type Ctrl+2 to get Bold, then typing Ctrl+2 again will remove the Bold).
Visit my Excel Formatting Shortcuts post to learn more formatting shortcuts.
A shortcut is useless if you can’t memorize it. And so you may be tempted to stick with Ctrl+B/I/U as a group since it’s easier to remember. However, given that Ctrl+2/3/4 is faster, I recommend you find a way to memorize it. For example, you could use a mnemonic: 2/3/4 = B/I/U. B/I/U is arranged alphabetically, and also in order of increasing letters in the word (“bold” has the fewest letters while “underline” has the most), and it also sounds like BYU (as in the university). As silly as it sounds, you can augment your mnemonic by just practicing the shortcuts for five minutes. For example, find a cell with some characters in it and then type Ctrl+2, Ctrl+2, Ctrl+3, Ctrl+3, Ctrl+4, Ctrl+4 to see the formats appear and disappear. Whatever works for you. If Ctrl+2, Ctrl+3 and Ctrl+4 are too much of a stretch for your left hand, then just use Ctrl+B, Ctrl+I and Ctrl+U.
So what are the takeaways for you as you begin learning Excel shortcuts?
- Be willing to change old habits.
- If you’re skeptical, take a leap of faith with your first shortcut(s). Once you see how really cool they are, #1 will be easier.
- Commit shortcuts to brain memory using Post-It notes on your monitor, and to muscle memory by simply practicing.
- Once you’ve mastered your first few, repeat step 3 with additional Excel shortcuts that you can find on this web site.
What is your advice for someone just learning their first Excel shortcuts? How did you start, and how did you memorize them?