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excel how to

Excel how to: speed up by using keyboard shortcuts

Author: Simon Hurst

Published: 12 Oct 2022

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In this series we will be looking at the Excel tools and techniques that help you accomplish a range of day-to-day Excel tasks more efficiently and effectively. As part of each article, we will be scouring the extensive Excel Community archive to provide links to additional details and ideas. This is the story of the series so far:

Speed up formula entry

Speed up formatting


One section of the previous post in this series was devoted to the use of keyboard shortcuts to help with data entry. In this article, we will look at other keyboard shortcuts that can help speed up further aspects of Excel. Given that lots of comprehensive lists of keyboard shortcuts are available, this will be a personal selection of some of the keyboard shortcuts and techniques that I find particularly useful. Many people will use many more keyboard shortcuts and others fewer. How much difference using keyboard shortcuts makes will depend on how you use Excel, your keyboard skills and how comfortable you are using a mouse or a trackpad. The benefits of using shortcuts can also change depending on where you are using Excel – for example, when sitting at a desk with plenty of room to use a mouse, compared to using an over-sensitive trackpad on a cramped and busy train.

Discovering keyboard shortcuts

If you do find keyboard shortcuts useful then there are several ways to discover the shortcuts that are available. For a comprehensive list of keyboard shortcuts, organised by category, click on the Help Ribbon tab, then select Help from the Help group. The Help pane should appear and you can type ‘keyboard shortcuts’ into the search box. Alternatively, you can type ‘Keyboard shortcuts’ directly in the Search box in the Title Bar and select the ‘Keyboard shortcuts in Excel’ option:

Excel Community
If you hover over a command in the ribbon, the tooltip will often (though not always) display the keyboard shortcut for that command. Here, we can see that hovering over the % command in the Number group of the Home Ribbon tab displays a tooltip that includes the Ctrl+Shift+% shortcut:
Excel Community

Standard operations

Possibly, the shortcuts I use most are those for cut, copy and paste which, remembered in that order, correspond to three adjacent keys:

Ctrl+X (open scissors for cut)
Ctrl+C (Copy)
Ctrl+V paste with very sticky glue

Undo (Ctrl+Z) and Redo (Ctrl +Y) would come a close second for frequency of use. Although it doesn’t always work as you would expect, the F4 key will often repeat the last action you performed. For example, if you were to apply a highlight to the selected cell, you could then select any cell, or set of cells, and use F4 to apply the same highlight. Note that this only applies to the last action so, if you make two or more format changes, only the most recent will be repeated by using F4.

File operations

Particularly since the main file operations were relegated to the File Ribbon tab, using keyboard shortcuts rather than the mouse or trackpad to access these commands can save a large number of small amounts of time:

Ctrl+S (Save)
F12 (open save as dialog)
Ctrl+O (open file Open dialog)
Ctrl+N (New workbook from default template)
Ctrl+W (close current Workbook)
Ctrl+P (Print)

Navigation and selection

There are some general techniques when using keyboard shortcuts to navigate through workbooks or to select content. Using the Ctrl key with a navigation key will extend the navigation to the end of the current area (which will vary depending on context) and holding down the Shift key at the same time will change the navigation to a selection. For example, if you select the top, left-hand corner cell of the data area within an Excel Table, Ctrl+Shift+Right arrow will select the entire top row of data and, with that row still selected, Ctrl+Shift+Down arrow will select the rest of the data area of the Table. Note however that, as we shall see shortly, there is an even quicker shortcut option available to select just the data area of a Table:

Excel Community
If you need to select an entire Table including the heading row, you can use the Ctrl+* shortcut with any cell in the Table selected.

The effect of using the Ctrl and Shift modifiers is not limited to using the keyboard arrow keys: they can also be used with the Home and End keys to move/select to the beginning/end of the used area of the worksheet. When editing cell contents, Ctrl+Shift+Home will select from the current insertion point to the start of the formula, and Ctrl+Shift+End will select from the current insertion point to the end of the formula.

(for All) is also very useful for selecting everything. So, in a formula, Ctrl+A will select the whole formula. Outside of cell editing, Ctrl+A will potentially select all the cells in a worksheet but, where the selected cell or cells are part of a block of data, just the block of data will be selected. For a Table, if any cell or cells in the heading row are selected Ctrl+A will select the entire Table, but if the selected cell or cells are wholly within the data area, then Ctrl+A will select just the data area.

Ribbon commands

If you really want to replace the mouse or trackpad with the use of the keyboard, then the Alt key allows you to access all of the Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar commands. Pressing Alt will show a letter, or letter combination for each Ribbon tab and some Title Bar options, together with numbers for Quick Access Toolbar items:
Excel Community
For the Ribbon tabs, pressing the key or keys indicated will open the Ribbon tab with further letters allowing access to individual commands:
Excel Community
As you continue to use the access keys, dialogs also display the keyboard equivalent for each option allowing you to use entire strings of keys to access a particular command. Here we are using a Paste Special option:
Excel Community
To paste a copied selection as Values for example, you could use (sequentially):


Other shortcuts

It’s worth mentioning a few other useful shortcuts:

F4 when used within, or adjacent to, a cell reference to cycle through the absolute/relative variations
Alt+= to use AutoSum
Ctrl+Enter to enter the value being entered or edited in all the selected cells in one go.
There are plenty of other very helpful shortcuts available so it’s worth investigating further and we would certainly like to hear your own suggestions for shortcuts that you have found to be particularly useful. Please send an email to excel@icaew.com.