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20 Handy Windows Keyboard Shortcuts

Arthur Smalley
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Picking up some Windows keyboard shortcuts can be a real gamechanger. They may seem like small changes to make, but given how much time we spend on computers the difference can really add up. You’ll soon wonder how you spent so long without them.
Forget scrolling around with your mouse for everything. Windows keyboard shortcuts are much more convenient, saving time and improving your work productivity. Plus, they’re simple to pick up. It only takes using them a couple of times, and before you know it, Windows keyboard shortcuts become second nature.
A lot of people may know some basic Windows shortcuts. You might have picked up these, for example.
  • Ctrl C for copying
  • Ctrl V for pasting
  • Ctrl Z for undoing a mistake
But there are a considerable number of Windows hotkeys out there that will transform how you use your computer. And Microsoft is continually adding new Windows keyboard shortcuts with each update. As a result, there are many more Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts with every new OS compared to previous operating systems.
Here are our favourite 20 handy Windows keyboard shortcuts you can start using today.

Navigation shortcuts

1. Alt + Tab – Switch apps

We’ll start with a classic that’s been around since Windows 2.0 in 1987. Alt + Tab allows you to switch between your open windows quickly. One press, and you can switch back and forth between your two most recently used windows. Holding Alt and hitting Tab multiple times allows you to cycle through all your open windows. Alt + Tab is extremely helpful when running multiple applications – not just for quickly switching back to your work when your boss walks into the office.

2. Win + D – Show/hide the desktop

Use the Windows logo key (Win) + D to minimize all your windows and go straight to your desktop. Pressing it a 2nd time restores your windows to open or full screen. If you launch apps from your desktop a lot, this provides quick access to save you time, rather than having to minimize all your open windows to get back to the desktop.

3. Win + left arrow or Win + right arrow – Snap windows

Being able to snap windows and divide up your monitor space is a great Windows feature. It allows you to make the most of your monitor, viewing multiple apps at the same time. Instead of dragging windows into the side of your monitor, you can simplify the process with Win + left arrow or Win + right arrow keys, depending on which side of your monitor you want to snap to. This is especially helpful when using multiple monitors that can prevent snapping using the mouse, since in that case dragging to the side moves the window onto a different monitor.

4. Win + Tab – Open Task View

Windows Task View can improve efficiency while working with multiple apps open, allowing you to switch between apps and spread across separate desktops. So why not get even more efficient by opening it with the Windows 10 shortcut, Win + Tab.

Opening and closing application shortcuts

5. Alt + F4 – Close current app

Instead of scrolling your mouse up to the top right corner, you can quickly close your active window using Alt + F4. This is good when you want to close multiple apps in quick succession, saving you from scrolling around to close each app.
It is also helpful for forcing an unresponsive program to close. Don’t worry about losing unsaved work; you still get a prompt to save your documents before closing. On many keyboards, you will have to use the Fn key to access function keys like F4.

6. Win + I – Open settings

Need to adjust your settings? Win + I takes you straight to the Settings dialogue window.

7. Win + A – Open Action Centre

On a similar theme Win + A will take you directly to the Action Centre window.

8. Win + S – Open search

Often it is quicker to find a file or application by typing into the Windows search bar. With Win + S, you don’t have to take a hand off the keyboard, just use the Windows hotkey and type what you are searching for.

9. Ctrl + Esc – Open the Task Manager

The Task Manager shows you everything running on your computer. It can be a godsend to understanding your computer and why it might be running more slowly than usual. Often it is used to end an unresponsive application and make your computer usable again.
Ctrl + Esc is extra valuable for these situations, taking you straight to the Task Manager. For an unresponsive computer, the added layer of using Ctrl + Alt + Del to get to the Task Manager can add considerable time and frustration.

10. Win + E – Launch File Explorer

Useful for people who take advantage of the File Explorer quick access page. Win + E launches File Explorer, showing you your recent files and frequent folders.

11. Win + X – Open the quick link menu

A lot of people may not know about the quick link menu. It is a pop-up menu from the Start button that includes shortcuts to crucial areas of your system. Press Win + X right now and take a look; it gives quick access to common management, configuration, and other Windows tools.

Other Windows shortcuts

12. Ctrl + A – Select all

Whether you want to copy or adjust formatting, Ctrl + A saves significant time when you want to select all the content in a given window. Instead of dragging and clicking your mouse, this selects all the text in a document or all the files in a folder.

13. F2 – Rename

When you right-click on a file, the menu seems to get longer every time you see it. With this Windows keyboard shortcut, you no longer have to scan around to find “Rename”. Instead, just highlight your file and hit F2.

14. F5 – Refresh

You can refresh your browser or File Explorer by pressing F5.

15. Win + L – Lock your computer

Locking your computer when you step away is an excellent practice to increase security. A lot of businesses make this part of company policy. It keeps your computer’s content safe from any potential bad actors. Most people who lock their computers take the scenic route, using Ctrl + Alt + Del and selecting Lock. It’s much faster with the Win + L shortcut.

16. Win + PrtSc – Save screenshot

Screenshots are great, but after hitting PrtSc, you have to open another tool to save or use it. With Win + PrtSc, the screenshot gets saved directly to the screenshots folder in your computer’s Pictures folder. Great when you are in a rush and want to take a screenshot for later use quickly.

17. Alt + PrtSc – Copies current window to clipboard

Alt + PrtSc takes a screenshot of just your active window rather than your whole desktop. This even works on a multiple monitor set up, or with the window hanging off the side or spread across multiple monitors. Unfortunately, it only copies the screenshot to your clipboard, so you must use another tool to save it.

18. Ctrl + P – Print

We may be moving more and more towards a paperless society, but many people still like or even require printouts. Ctrl + P brings up the print dialogue box so you can choose which printer to use.

19. Win + C – Start talking to Cortana

Cortana is Microsoft’s virtual assistant for searching or opening apps, among other things. Win + C puts Cortana in listening mode so you can start talking to it. You do, however, need to activate this shortcut. From the Cortana taskbar search box, hit the cog icon and turn on this keyboard shortcut.

20. Shift + Del – Permanently deletes a file

The Windows Recycling Bin has saved many accidental deletions. But, if you are 100% sure you want to delete a file, Shift + Del will bypass the recycling bin and get rid of a file for good. Maybe you desperately want the hard drive space right now or just don’t want to have to empty your recycling bin continually.

Summary

There are lots of handy Windows keyboard shortcuts out there that improve your computer use. Whether you end up picking up a couple of helpful hotkeys or try to learn them all, you’ll barely have to touch your mouse again. There is real value in Windows keyboard shortcuts.
If this whets your appetite, there are plenty more keyboard shortcuts to investigate. Look into shortcuts for specific web browsers like Chrome and Firefox or commonly used programs like MS Office and Google Docs.
About the Author: Arthur Smalley is a science and technology writer based in the UK.

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