The Best Keyboard Shortcuts, Ranked

The Best Keyboard Shortcuts, Ranked

Doing stuff with your mouse is cool. Doing stuff with your keyboard is cooler. These are the most important keyboard shortcuts, ranked from best to worst. (Unless noted, we’ve listed the Windows shortcuts; Mac users substitute Cmd for Ctrl.) With one exception, despite any flaws, all the shortcuts below are fundamentally good.

1. Ctrl + Z

The undo shortcut is so essential that you’ve probably tried to hit it in real life. The “shake to undo” feature on phones is a gimmicky substitute that only triggers when you didn’t need it.

2. Ctrl + Y

Undo your undo. And it uses the letter before Z. Legendary.

3. Ctrl + X, Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V

Cut, copy, paste. About once a week I go to hit Ctrl + V on my phone, before sighing and trying to hold my finger on the screen just long enough to pop up the paste menu, which always takes two tries. Cmd + X feels a bit weird on the Mac, but I used it to arrange this list, so I owe it some thanks. Thanks, Cmd + X.

4. Ctrl + K

In most text edit windows, this lets you turn selected text into a link, instead of just pasting the whole URL into the body of your text like some kind of caveman.

5. Cmd + Space

Open Spotlight (or the launcher you installed to replace it) on macOS. It’s like the Terminal command line for normies. Wish I’d discovered it earlier in life. I could be a whole other person by now.

6. Cmd + Shift + 4

Windows and macOS feature a whole array of shortcuts for capturing your whole screen, part of your screen, or a window, and saving it to your clipboard or as a file. On Windows you can even hit Windows key + H to capture your screen and pop up a share menu. We all have our favourites. But mine is Cmd + Shift + 4, which lets a Mac user select a specific area to screenshot, then saves it as a file on the desktop. The key combo is a bit spaced out, but even my little hands can reach it comfortably.

7. Cmd + ‘

On a Mac, this switches between windows of the same application. On Windows, you can do the same with Alt + ‘ if you install a little background app called Easy Window Switcher. What a smart idea, to incorporate an underused key that usually sits right above the tab key.

8. Ctrl + F, Ctrl + G

It’s cool to start a search with your keyboard. It’s even cooler to switch between results with your keyboard.

9. Ctrl + T

New tab. Makes sense. Easy to remember. T for tab. Don’t have to take your hand off the keyboard before typing in a new URL. Good job all around.

10. Ctrl + Tab

Switch tabs. Classic. Don’t waste your time contorting your fingers into Ctrl + Shift + Tab to go back one tab. Ugh. Not everything has to be optimised, you nerd.

11. Shift + Cmd + I

This is my custom Mac shortcut for resizing an image in Preview. It’s so insanely good that it ended up on this list of default shortcuts. Weird!

12. Ctrl + N, Ctrl + O, Ctrl + Shift + N

New file and open file are essential but boring. But that third shortcut: Depending on the context, ctrl+shift+N creates a new folder, a new smart playlist, or some other cool variation that technically makes you a coder.

13. Windows key + D 

Minimise everything. Good life advice, good desktop-clearing trick. Macs can almost do it: Cmd + Option + H hides everything but the current window, so if you click over your desktop first and you don’t have Finder open, you can hide all your windows.

14. Cmd + H

On a Mac, this hides the current window. It’s cleaner than minimising. To get the window back, just Cmd + Tab back to it. Windows users, you have to Ctrl + Alt + Click.

15. Alt + Arrow keys

Back and forward in your browsing history. Not inherently bad, and it was wise of Chrome to disable the backspace, which caused so many of us to accidentally close out our Flash games. But these are also the best two extra buttons on a mouse, so they’re not that special.

16. Cmd + S

Years ago, the “save file” shortcut would be on top of the list. Now everything auto-saves so you don’t have to obsessively tap this combo. You know what’s cool though? Ctrl + Alt + Shift + S to save a Photoshop project as an image.

17. Ctrl + Shift + T

Re-open a closed tab. Amazing function, terrible key combo. Rescuing a closed tab from oblivion makes you feel like Indiana Jones snatching his hat back. But to hit the keys, you either you stretch your left hand, or you take one hand off the mouse so you can hit it double-handed. I get that it’s an add-on to the Ctrl + T shortcut for opening a new tab. But to be honest, this action should have a dedicated F key.

18. alt+tab

The thinking man’s alternative to switching apps through your Dock or Taskbar. But the app you want is always a little further or closer than you thought, and you have to switch again, and now you’re paying attention to the process instead of moving on with your work. Maybe the Dock-breathers are right.

19. Alt + F4

This key combo is too arcane for closing an application. Mac users use Cmd + Q and you know what, it’s fine. We don’t accidentally close our apps that often.

20. Ctrl + Alt + Delete

First it meant restart, then it meant login. Now it’s disabled by default, and the top Google result for Ctrl + Alt + Del is the worst webcomic.

There are other shortcuts that matter and you’re about to tell me all of them, but you’ll already know where they belong on this indisputable 20-point scale.

This story has been updated since its original publication.

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