20 essential PC shortcuts

I've always liked that Windows gives me multiple ways to perform popular tasks. Say you want to print something. You could go to the File menu and select the Print command, or you can press the Ctrl button and the letter P. Ctrl+P is just one example of a keyboard shortcut. Shortcuts combine two or more keys to do something special that neither key does alone.

I prefer to use shortcuts whenever possible. It’s kind of amazing how much time you can save by cutting out mouse clicks. Here are my top 20 shortcuts that you might not know about—but should.

Get to know the basics

There are certain shortcuts I use all day, every day. They work whether I’m doing stuff with photos, music, documents, or spreadsheets.

  • Copy a selected item: Ctrl+C

  • Cut a selected item: Ctrl+X

  • Paste a selected item: Ctrl+V

  • Undo an action: Ctrl+Z

  • Redo that thing I just undid: Ctrl+Y

  • Select everything: Ctrl+A

  • Print: Ctrl+P

Manage open windows

Chances are, you use your PC to do a lot of things at once. Shortcuts go a long way towards cutting the clutter. Go ahead and try these out as you read about them.

  • Switch between open windows
    Alt+Tab

    If you have lots of open windows and you're not sure exactly which one you need, press Alt+Tab, and get a quick thumbnail view of all open windows. Then, while holding down the Alt key, press the Tab key multiple times until you get to the window you want.

    Switching between windows
    Press Alt+Tab to switch between open windows
  • Clear away everything and show the desktop
    Windows logo key Picture of the Windows logo key+D

    Use this shortcut when you want to minimize a lot of open windows at once to check something on your desktop. Clutter-to-clean with two fingers.

    A cluttered desktop
    A desktop before pressing Windows logo key+D
    A clean desktop
    The same desktop after pressing Windows logo key+D
  • Minimize the window
    Windows logo key Picture of the Windows logo key+Down Arrow

    Minimizing a window is a surefire way to see what's underneath it. And it's fast to use the shortcut. If the window is maximized already (covering the entire screen) it'll go to “normal” size. And if it's normal size, it'll minimize entirely.

  • Maximize the window
    Windows logo key Picture of the Windows logo key+Up Arrow

    Maximizing windows works the same way.

Get even funkier with window management

It might surprise you to learn that there are even more options when it comes to dealing with your open windows and programs—but there are.

  • Compare and contrast in a snap
    Windows logo key Picture of the Windows logo key+Left Arrow or Right Arrow

    Snap is the easiest way I know to compare two documents—or to write up something while also looking at a web browser. The shortcut for Snap makes it even snappier. Go ahead and try this now.

    While pressing the Windows logo key Picture of the Windows logo key, click the Right Arrow key or the Left Arrow key and your browser will slide over to one side. Select another window (such as a Word document) and use the shortcut only with the opposite arrow.
    Snap in Windows 7
    You can use a keyboard shortcut to view windows side-by-side with Snap
  • Multitask with multiple monitors
    Windows logo key Picture of the Windows logo key+Shift+Right Arrow or Left Arrow

    Do you use more than one monitor at a time? Now you can shift an open window to your other monitor in less than a second.

Manage tasks

You might already be using a shortcut—Ctrl+Alt+Delete—to open up Task Manager or to lock your computer. But there are shortcuts for this shortcut.

  • Open Task Manager
    Ctrl+Shift+Esc

    This simple shortcut whisks you straight to Task Manager—without any intermediary steps.

    Task Manager
    Task Manager in Windows 7
  • Lock your PC or switch users
    Windows logo key Picture of the Windows logo key+L

    This shortcut locks your PC and instantly displays the login screen.

Display your way

No matter how you want to view your PC, shortcuts help you get there faster.

  • Choose a presentation display mode
    Windows logo key Picture of the Windows logo key+P

    Whether you're giving a presentation or are using multiple monitors, it's simple to switch settings.

    Choosing a presentation display mode
    Choosing a presentation display mode
  • Zoom in, zoom out
    Windows logo key Picture of the Windows logo key+Plus Sign or Minus Sign

    The Plus Sign key (+) zooms you in, the Minus Sign key (-) zooms you out. This lets you see small text on a webpage or to check out the pixels in a photo.

    Magnifier in Windows 7
    You can use your keyboard to zoom in on a photo detail

A few last tricks

Here are a few final shortcuts. For more keyboard shortcuts, check out the complete list.

  • Search for files and folders
    Windows logo key Picture of the Windows logo key+F

    In the past, finding a file could be like an archaeology expedition. But nowadays, search is really fast and thorough. Use this shortcut to get a search window, type in a few keywords, and presto, you’ll get your file.

  • Open a new instance of a program
    Windows logo key Picture of the Windows logo key+Shift+Click a taskbar icon

    I like Internet Explorer tabs—but sometimes I want a whole new browser window. To get one, I click the Internet Explorer icon while holding down Shift.

  • And when you need it …get help
    Windows logo key Picture of the Windows logo key+F1

    It's the simplest shortcut out there. When all else fails, and you're just not sure what to do, press F1.