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20 essential Windows keyboard shortcuts to save you a click

Popular Science logo Popular Science 01/10/2017 David Nield

Windows keyboard © Peignault Laurent/Unsplash Windows keyboard Compared to reaching for the mouse or navigating a menu, a single keyboard shortcut shaves a moment off your task. This might not seem like much, but add up all those saved moments over a week or a month, and you're gaining a substantial chunk of time. That's why it's important to know as many shortcuts as possible for your operating system. Try a keyboard command a few times, and you'll find out just how useful it can be. Here are 20 of the most indispensable keyboard shortcuts for a Microsoft Windows computer.

The basics

Ctrl+Z: Undo

No matter what program you're running, Ctrl+Z will roll back your last action, whether you've just overwritten an entire paragraph in Word or deleted a file you didn't mean to. This one is an absolute lifesaver.

Ctrl+W: Close

Another shortcut that works just about everywhere, Ctrl+W will close down whatever you're viewing. Shut that File Explorer window, browser tab, or open image file without bothering to hone in on the close button.

Ctrl+A: Select all

This command lets you highlight all of the text in a document or select all of the files in a folder. Applying the keyboard shortcut can save the time you'd otherwise spend clicking and dragging your mouse.

Alt+Tab: Switch apps

This baby is one of the classic Windows shortcuts, and it can be hugely useful when you're running multiple applications. Flick through all the windows quickly with Alt+Tab.

Alt+F4: Close apps

Another old school shortcut, Alt+F4 shuts down active apps so you can skip the process of hunting for the on-screen menus. Don't worry about losing unsaved work with this command—it will prompt you to save your documents before closing them.

Better Windows navigation

Win+D: Show or hide the desktop

This keyboard combo minimizes all of your open windows, bringing your home screen into view. If you store rows and rows of files and shortcuts on the desktop, it will let you access them in in moments.

Win+left arrow or Win+right arrow: Snap windows

Snapping a window simply opens it on one side of the screen (left or right, depending on which arrow you hit). This allows you to compare two windows side-by-side and keeps your workspace organized.

Win+Tab: Open the Task view

Like Alt+Tab, this shortcut lets you switch apps, but it does so by opening an updated Windows application switcher. The latest version shows thumbnails of all your open programs on the screen.

Tab and Shift+Tab: Move backward and forward through options

When you open a dialog box, these commands cycle forwards (Tab) or backwards (Shift+Tab) through the available options, saving you a click. If you're dealing with a dialog box that has multiple tabs, hit Ctrl+Tab or Ctrl+Shift+Tab to switch from tab to tab.

Ctrl+Esc: Open the Start menu

This shortcut will open the Start menu without a mouse. If you decide to keep using the keyboard, you can also navigate the Start menu with the cursor keys, Tab, and Shift+Tab.

Advanced tricks

F2: Rename

Want to rename a highlighted file? Simply hit F2 to speed up the process. This command also lets you edit text in other programs—tap F2 in Excel, for example, to edit the contents of the current cell.

F5: Refresh

While you're exploring the function key row, take a look at F5. Hitting this key will refresh a page, a good trick when you're running File Explorer or your web browser. After the refresh, you can see the latest version of the page you're viewing.

Win+L: Lock your computer

Stepping away from your computer for a moment? This shortcut locks the machine and returns you to the login screen. Any snoops will need your user account password to regain access.

Win+I: Open Settings

Any time you want to configure the way that Windows works, hit this keyboard shortcut to bring up the Settings dialog. Alternatively, use Win+A to open up the Action Center panel, which shows notifications and provides quick access to certain settings.

Win+S: Search Windows

The Windows taskbar has a handy search box that lets you quiz Cortana or sift through your applications and saved files. Jump straight to it with this keyboard shortcut, then type in your search terms.

Win+PrtScn: Save a screenshot

No need to open a dedicated screenshot tool: Win+PrtScn grabs the whole screen and saves it as a PNG file in a Screenshots folder inside your Pictures folder. At the same time, Windows will copy the image to the clipboard. Don't want to snap the whole screen? The Alt+PrtScn combination will take a screenshot of just the active window—but it will only copy this image to the clipboard, so you won't get a saved file.

Ctrl+Shift+Esc: Open the Task Manager

The Task Manager is your window into everything running on your Windows system, from the open programs to the background processes. This shortcut will call up the Task Manager from wherever you are and whatever application you're using.

Win+C: Start talking to Cortana

This shortcut puts Cortana in listening mode, but before you give it a whirl, you must activate it: Open Cortana from the taskbar search box, click the cog icon, and turn on the keyboard shortcut. Once you've enabled the shortcut, hit the Windows key and C whenever you want to talk to the digital assistant. You can do this instead of, or in addition to, saying, "Hey Cortana."

Win+Ctrl+D: Add a new virtual desktop

Virtual desktops create secondary screens where you can stash some of your open applications and windows, which gives you extra workspace. This shortcut lets you create a virtual desktop. Then, to switch from one desktop to another, click the Task View button to the right of the taskbar search box. Or stick with shortcuts: Win+Ctrl+arrow will switch between desktops, and Win+Ctrl+F4 will close whichever one you're currently viewing (and shift your open windows and apps to the next available virtual desktop).

Win+X: Open the hidden menu

Windows has a hidden Start menu, called the Quick Link menu, with access to all the key areas of the system. From here, you can jump straight to Device Manager to review and configure the hardware, such as printers or keyboards, currently attached to the system. Or you can quickly bring up the PowerShell command prompt window to access advanced Windows commands. To open the Quick Link menu, right-click on the Start menu—or save a few moments with the Win+X shortcut.

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