Is it worth learning keyboard shortcuts?

I’m not a great believer in trying to remember a lot of “quick key” keyboard shortcuts

There are several reasons for this:

  • A certain amount of effort has to be put into learning a shortcut and this effort will quite probably interrupt the flow of whatever it is that you were doing.
  • A shortcut key combination may do one thing in one program and a different thing in a different program.
  • We are moving more and more into computing that works by screen touches, swipe gestures, mouse clicks, and so on.
  • If you don’t use a particular shortcut on a regular basis then you won’t remember it when you need it and, quite probably, you will not even remember that you ever learned it in the first place.

Keyboard ShortcutSo, is it worth the effort? My advice is “yes”, it is worth it for anyone who is interested in investing a little time and effort in becoming a more efficient computer user. Despite the move to touching screens, swiping, and so on, most people still do a fair amount of typing on a keyboard, even if it’s just for emails. When doing some concentrated typing it is often easier to keep your hands on the keyboard when issuing a command than it is to grab the mouse or even move around a touchscreen.

When I’m training my computer clients I approach the subject of keyboard shortcuts as follows:-

  • “Cut, copy, and paste” shortcuts are the essential ones. They apply to many programs and situations in both Windows and Mac computing.
  • Menus often include the shortcut keys that can be used instead of the menu. You can choose for yourself which of these shortcuts are worth learning.
  • Shortcut keys can be useful for things that you do often and/or things that are very awkward to do by other means (such as digging down three levels of menu). It’s usually very easy to find a list of shortcuts for any popular program. Just google “xyz shortcut keys” where “xyz” is the name of the program.

Yul Brynner
The original short cut?
Having found a list of available shortcuts, do not lose the will to live. Instead, just scan the list and pick out one or two that you think you would use. WRITE THEM DOWN. Write them down somewhere that you know you can find within seconds. A post-it note is fine as long as you can see it amongst the other 600 post-it notes that have taken over your workspace. Then, when you are using the program next, just try to remember that you’ve written a couple of shortcut keys down so that when habit leads you to do things in the old way you will say to yourself “aha, I’ve got a shortcut key for this” and you will be able to find the post-it note within seconds. Then use your new shortcut. This is a learning process. You must expect to spend a bit more time using the so-called shortcut than doing things the old way. If you use the shortcut often enough then you will eventually remember it and it will save you time. If you don’t use it often enough you will forget it and the post-it note will sink down the strata of other unregarded paper in your workspace.

I know that the above sounds facile, but the point of it is that you will only bother to learn a shortcut if you can remind yourself of it within seconds and if you then practise using it. If it takes too long to remember what the shortcut key is then you will say to yourself “blow this for a game of soldiers” and go back to your old way of doing things. On the other hand, if you force yourself to invest 5 seconds in looking for the right post-it note and then executing the shortcut then there’s a chance that you will do this often enough that it will stick in your mind and become a true improvement to your keyboard skills.

But a word of caution: don’t try to learn too many at once. That way lies disaster as the whole shortcut business will get in the way of what you were trying to achieve and you will, once again, say “blow this for a game of soldiers……”.