Big, Important Keyboard Shortcuts

3 minute read

This article isn't just about big, important shortcuts; it's about Big, Important ones. Unfortunately, I can't make that clear in the title. But anyway, if you don't know these three shortcuts you're probably wasting minutes of your life every day. If you already do, I have a couple more that might be new.

These shortcuts work almost everywhere--browsers, word processors, image editors, financial programs, you name it. If you're not sure if a program supports them, try it and see--sometimes they're not listed anywhere on the menu but they still work.
Part 1: Easy Stuff
Control-X: Deletes the currently selected text and places it on the clipboard (known more conventionally as "cutting").
Control-C: Copies the currently selected text onto the clipboard.
Control-V: Pastes the contents of the clipboard at the current cursor point.

(Note: You can also cut, copy, and paste files in a file management program such as Windows Explorer, the Finder, or Nautilus in the same manner. In the case of files, a file you "cut" won't be deleted until it's been safely pasted at the destination; if you copy something else to the clipboard by mistake, the original files will be left unchanged.)

I can't tell you how many minutes of my own life I've spent watching people slooowly selecting text, then moving their mouse all the way across the screen to select Edit --> Cut from a menu, when they could be done pasting the text already. If you don't already use these shortcuts, learn them. Paste a sticky note on your monitor until you've got it down.

Control-Z: Undoes the last action.

Control-Z is a nice extension to X, C, and V. All four keys are right next to each other and can be easily operated with one hand while selecting things with the mouse with the other. (Unless you use a non-standard keyboard layout, like Dvorak. Then you're out of luck on that particular front.)
Part 2: Slightly More Advanced Stuff
These aren't really "advanced", just lesser-known and less important. If I could only teach someone 10 keyboard shortcuts, these probably wouldn't be among them--but they do still come in handy.

Control-A: Select all text in the current document or text box.

Sometimes you need to copy an entire document and paste it somewhere else (for example, into an email). Or you might have finished writing a long comment in a text box on a website and want to save it yourself. This shortcut saves you from spending a few seconds trying to highlight a long document or blob of text.

Control-Y: Redo an action.

If you undid your actions one too many times, the Redo command is your friend. It's an undo for the Undo command. A few programs use the keystroke Ctrl-Shift-Z instead, but it works the same.

Confusingly, Redo also has another function in many programs (like Microsoft Word)--if you just moved or typed something and your last action wasn't an undo, hitting Redo will repeat your last action.

Soren "scorchgeek" Bjornstad

If you have found an error or notable omission in this tip, please leave a comment or email me:

Copyright 2011 Soren Bjornstad.
Verbatim copying and redistribution of part or all of this article
is permitted, provided this notice is preserved.