Master your computer’s keyboard shortcuts
Ian Paul shows how to incorporate keyboard shortcuts into your workflow and boost your productivity
Using keyboard shortcuts may seem complicated since you have to remember a bunch of key combinations. However, when it comes to efficiency you just can’t beat them. It’s much faster (and eventually easier) to keep your hands on the keyboard while navigating around your PC.
Still, it can be hard to know where to get started with keyboard shortcuts. To give shortcut newbies a possible usage template, we’ve broken down how we use keyboard shortcuts on a typical working day.
Firing up programs
We use the mouse or Cortana voice commands to open up programs, but you can use keyboard shortcuts as well. If you have anything pinned to your taskbar you can open each item using the Windows key plus a number shortcut. In the screenshot of our desktop (top right), we have the Control Panel, File Explorer, and Chrome pinned to my taskbar. To start the day by opening Chrome, we use Win-3 (Chrome is the third program pinned to the taskbar). To open File Explorer, we use Win-2.
Another method is to just hit the Windows key to open the Start menu (on Windows 7 and 10), and then scroll through the Start menu to find the right program. That is not very efficient, though. Another option in Windows 10 is to hit Win-C to call up Cortana and search for each program.
Navigating the browser
Now that the applications are open – in our case Chrome, OneNote, Outlook 2016, Slack and Sublime Text 2 – it’s time to get to work. After checking in with the news team in Slack, we switch to the browser using Alt-Tab and get to work on our research for whatever the news topic is.
When in the browser, we use a combination of standard Chrome browser shortcuts, as well as the specialised navigation features of Vimium (a must-have extension). To begin, we need to open a new tab to carry out a Google search, so we hit T and then type our query into the address bar.
If it turns out that our query didn’t get us what we wanted, we hit Ctrl-L to highlight the contents of the address bar (the Google search URL in this case), and then type in whatever our new inquiry is.
If this result gets us what we want we hit Shift-F, which is a Vimium command that says we want to open a link on the current page in a new tab. Vimium then labels every possible link on the Google results page with a keyboard shortcut. That can get a little messy, but you get used to it. In this case, we hit the L key and we’re off.
On the new website, we start navigating the web page using the J and K keys to scroll up and down the page as we read. Once we reach the bottom, we realise we want to double-check some information at the top so we hit GG to jump back up. Oh, but what was that thing we wanted from the bottom again? We hit the G key to jump right back to the bottom.
Our research is now finished and stored in OneNote via a quick succession of Alt-Tab shortcuts to switch between OneNote and Chrome. Now it’s time to go back to the Google search tab, so we hit Shift-J to move to the next tab to the left in Chrome. We find another page we want to check out in the search results. This time, however, we land on a page where, for whatever reason, Vimium just isn’t working that well – these pages are rare but it happens sometimes. We can navigate up and down the page, but can’t jump back with a Shift-J. No problem, Chrome has a built-in keyboard navigation shortcut. Google occupies the second tab in our window, so we hit Ctrl-2 and we’re back where we started. We go through a few more pages, close a bunch of tabs using Vimium’s close tab command (a simple x), and then it’s time to get to work writing the news story. At this point, we hit Alt-Tab again to jump into Sublime Text. We might hit the Windows key, plus the right arrow to snap Sublime to the right-hand side of the screen, and then use the mouse to select OneNote as the program to occupy the left of the screen.
Once the research is complete, we give up on shortcuts of any kind and use the traditional keyboard and mouse setup. Keyboard diehards could take their love of efficiency to an extreme by customising Sublime to work like Vim (tinyurl.com/j33vbmu): a keyboard-controlled text editor that inspired Vimium.
A Google results page with Vimium activated