20 essential Windows keyboard shortcuts to save you a click

Let your fingertips fly.

a black Windows computer keyboard
Know your way around one of these?Peignault Laurent via Unsplash

Compared to reaching for the mouse or navigating a menu, a single keyboard shortcut shaves a moment off your task. This might not seem like much, but add up all those saved moments over a week or a month, and you’re gaining a substantial chunk of time.

That's why it's important to know as many shortcuts as possible for your operating system. Try a keyboard command a few times, and you'll find out just how useful it can be. Here are 20 of the most indispensable keyboard shortcuts for a Microsoft Windows computer.

Basic Windows keyboard shortcuts

Ctrl+Z: Undo

No matter what program you’re running, Ctrl+Z will roll back your last action. Whether you’ve just overwritten an entire paragraph in Microsoft Word or deleted a file you didn’t mean to, this one is an absolute lifesaver.

Ctrl+W: Close

Another shortcut that works just about everywhere, Ctrl+W will close down whatever you’re viewing. Shut that File Explorer window, browser tab, or open image file without bothering to hone in on the close button.

Ctrl+A: Select all

This command lets you highlight all the text in a document or select all the files in a folder. Hitting Ctrl+A can save you time you’d otherwise spend clicking and dragging your mouse.

Alt+Tab: Switch apps

This baby is one of the classic Windows shortcuts, and it can be hugely useful when you’re running multiple applications. Just press Alt+Tab and you’ll be able to quickly flick through all your open windows.

Alt+F4: Close apps

Another old-school shortcut, Alt+F4 shuts down active apps so you can skip the process of hunting down their on-screen menus. Don’t worry about losing unsaved work with this command—it will prompt you to save your documents before closing them.

Windows navigation shortcuts

Win+D: Show or hide the desktop

This keyboard combo minimizes all your open windows, bringing your home screen into view. If you store rows and rows of files and shortcuts on your desktop, Win+D will let you access them in in moments.

Win+left arrow or Win+right arrow: Snap windows

Snapping a window simply opens it on one side of the screen (left or right, depending on which arrow you hit). This allows you to compare two windows side-by-side and keeps your workspace organized.

Win+Tab: Open the Task view

Like Alt+Tab, this shortcut lets you switch apps, but it does so by opening an updated Windows application switcher. The latest version shows thumbnails of all your open programs on the screen.

Tab and Shift+Tab: Move backward and forward through options

When you open a dialog box, these commands move you forward (Tab) or backward (Shift+Tab) through the available options, saving you a click. If you’re dealing with a dialog box that has multiple tabs, hit Ctrl+Tab or Ctrl+Shift+Tab to navigate through them.

Ctrl+Esc: Open the Start menu

If you’re using a keyboard that doesn’t have a Windows key, this shortcut will open the Start menu. Otherwise, a quick tap of the Windows key will do the same thing. From there, you can stay on the keyboard and navigate the Start menu with the cursor keys, Tab, and Shift+Tab.

Advanced Windows shortcut tricks

a woman using a computer with two monitors
You don’t need to be someone with multiple monitors and a sweet setups to take advantage of these advanced Windows keyboard shortcuts.Patrick Amoy via Unsplash

F2: Rename

Simply highlight a file and hit F2 to give it a new name. This command also lets you edit text in other programs—tap F2 in Microsoft Excel, for example, and you’ll be able to edit the contents of the cell you’re in.

F5: Refresh

While you’re exploring the function key row, take a look at F5. This key will refresh a page—a good trick when you’re using File Explorer or your web browser. After the refresh, you’ll see the latest version of the page you’re viewing.

Win+L: Lock your computer

Keep your computer safe from any prying eyes by using this keyboard combo right before you step away. Win+L locks the machine and returns you to the login screen, so any snoops will need your user account password to regain access.

Win+I: Open Settings

Any time you want to configure the way Windows works, hit this keyboard shortcut to bring up the Settings dialog. Alternatively, use Win+A to open up the Action Center panel, which shows notifications and provides quick access to certain settings.

Win+S: Search Windows

The Windows taskbar has a handy search box that lets you quiz Cortana or sift through your applications and saved files. Jump straight to it with this keyboard shortcut, then type in your search terms.

Win+PrtScn: Save a screenshot

No need to open a dedicated screenshot tool: Win+PrtScn grabs the whole screen and saves it as a PNG file in a Screenshots folder inside your Pictures folder. At the same time, Windows will also copy the image to the clipboard. If you don’t want to snap the whole screen, the Alt+PrtScn combination will take a screenshot of just the active window, but it will only copy this image to the clipboard, so you won’t get a saved file.

Ctrl+Shift+Esc: Open the Task Manager

The Task Manager is your window into everything running on your Windows system, from the open programs to the background processes. This shortcut will call up the Task Manager, no matter what application you’re using.

Win+C: Start talking to Cortana

This shortcut puts Cortana in listening mode, but you must activate it before you can give it a whirl. To do so, open Cortana from the taskbar search box, click the cog icon, and turn on the keyboard shortcut. Once you’ve enabled the shortcut, hit the Win+C whenever you want to talk to the digital assistant. You can do this instead of, or in addition to, saying, "Hey Cortana."

Win+Ctrl+D: Add a new virtual desktop

Virtual desktops create secondary screens where you can stash some of your open applications and windows, giving you extra workspace. This shortcut lets you create one. Once you have, click the Task View button to the right of the taskbar search box to switch from one desktop to another. Or stick with shortcuts: Win+Ctrl+arrow will cycle through your open desktops, and Win+Ctrl+F4 will close whichever one you're currently viewing and shift your open windows and apps to the next available virtual desktop.

Win+X: Open the hidden menu

Windows has a hidden Start menu, called the Quick Link menu, that allows you to access all the key areas of the system. From here, you can jump straight to Device Manager to review and configure any hardware, such as printers or keyboards, that are currently attached to the system. Or you can quickly bring up the PowerShell command prompt window to access advanced Windows commands.