20 essential Windows keyboard shortcuts
Whatever familiarity you think you have with Windows keyboard shortcuts, think again. The nearly 40-year-old operating system has so many hotkeys that it can be easy to miss some surprisingly useful ones, and if you recently switched from Windows 10 to Windows 11, some shortcuts have changed.
No matter how often you’re using these efficient key combinations in your day-to-day work, it’s in your in interest to learn as many as possible. A single shortcut will shave a moment off a task, but you’ll save a substantial chunk of time over weeks, months, and years. To get you started, we’ve gathered 20 of the most indispensable keyboard commands for the latest Microsoft Windows computers.
Basic Windows keyboard shortcuts
- 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.
- Another shortcut that works just about everywhere, Ctrl+W will close down whatever you’re viewing. Shut that File Explorer window, eliminate that browser tab, or open that 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 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.
[Related: The fastest way to install Windows software]
Tab and Shift+Tab: Move backward and forward through options
- When you open a dialog box, these commands will 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
- 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.
- 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 screen. Alternatively, use Win+A on Windows 11 to open the Quick Settings panel. On Windows, 10, Win+A brings up the Action Center panel, which shows notifications and provides quick access to certain settings.
[Related: How to use File Explorer tabs on Windows 11]
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. Just know that this command will only copy the image to your clipboard, so you won’t get a saved file.
Ctrl+Shift+Esc: Open the Task Manager
- The Task Manager is your portal to everything running on your Windows system, from open programs to background processes. This shortcut will call up the Task Manager, no matter what application you’re using.
Win+C: Start talking to Cortana (Windows 10); open Microsoft Teams chat (Windows 11)
- This shortcut has changed a bit since Microsoft deemphasized its virtual assistant, Cortana. If you have a Windows 10 computer, this 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 Win+C whenever you want to talk to the digital assistant. You can do this instead of, or in addition to, saying, “Hey Cortana.” On Windows 11, though, Win+C opens Microsoft Teams chat.
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.
This story has been updated. It was originally published on September 30, 2017.
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