The Six Most Useful Excel Keyboard Shortcuts

Need to work regularly with spreadsheets in Excel and find yourself constantly reaching for the mouse? A handful of common keyboard shortcuts can make you much more productive.

We recently wrote about End Mode, a relatively obscure Excel shortcut that makes selecting groups of cells easier. That’s a good one to know, but there are basic keyboard shortcuts that make powering through Excel much, much simpler. Here are the six I think every Excel user should know about.

I’ve largely ignored general keyboard shortcuts that work in lots of programs and concentrated on Excel-specific options. I’m not saying that Ctrl-V or Ctrl-A aren’t massively useful, but their application is a lot broader than just in Excel.

You can look up ‘keyboard shortcuts’ in Excel’s help for an utterly complete list of options, but that can be overwhelming. These are options you’ll use constantly.

The F2 key for editing

Simple but essential: F2 lets you edit the content of a cell. Sure, you can also double-click on it, but navigating there with the keyboard and using F2 is much faster.[imgclear]

Shift+the arrow keys for selection

A generalist tip but one lots of people don’t seem to know. To select multiple cells, just hold down shift and move the arrow keys in the direction you want. You can also do the same with the PgUp, PgDn, Home and End keys. Much easier and more accurate than the mouse.[imgclear]

Selecting a whole row or column

Ctrl+Space selects an entire row. Shift+Space selects an entire column. You can then use the shift keys plus the arrow keys as appropriate to select additional rows or columns.

Accessing the Format Cells dialog

Ctrl+1 accesses Format Cells, which lets you change cell formats, fonts, alignments, shading and many other options. Pre-Ribbon, this was the only place to perform many of these tasks. You can now access many of them on the Home tab of the ribbon, but keyboard navigation in the original dialogue can be faster.[imgclear]

Changing the direction of data entry

Not a shortcut in its own right, but still useful to know. By default, when you type a value into a cell and then hit Enter, Excel goes down to the next row. If you’d rather have it go right (or, more obscurely, up or left), you can change that. Go to File –> Options and choose Advanced. Make sure ‘After pressing Enter, move selection’ is ticked at the top of the list under ‘Editing options’, then choose your preferred direction and click OK.

The Alt key for the Ribbon

Like it or hate it, the fact the Ribbon has now made its way into Windows Explorer suggests it’s not going anywhere. And despite its mouse-centric design, you can access virtually anything on the Ribbon via the keyboard, though you might need several keys to do so.

The basic principle is this: hit the Alt key on its own and a series of highlight letters will appear on the Ribbon showing how you can choose particular tabs, such as H for Home or N for Insert (the File menu is still the old-fashioned Alt-F.) Hit that letter, and you’ll see more letters appear on each option on that tab (as in the picture above). Typing that letter or pair of letters will select that option.

So Alt then H then AC will centre the current selection, while Alt then H then V will paste, and Alt then P then B will bring up the Breaks dialog. It’s not very obvious or memorable, and in some cases there may be a faster alternative (such as Ctrl-V for paste). But if all else fails, you can commit your most common sequences to memory and virtually never touch a mouse again.

Lifehacker 101 is a weekly feature covering fundamental techniques that Lifehacker constantly refers to, explaining them step-by-step. Hey, we were all newbies once, right?

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