Productivity Windows

Navigating Windows with Keyboard Shortcuts Alone

Ben Stegner 07-04-2015

Most computer geeks are big fans of keyboard shortcuts, and for good reason – they enable you to get around Windows without the clumsy time-wasting of using a mouse. The operating system is chock-full of them; we’ve recently compiled a long list of helpful Windows shortcuts, and Christian has shown how to get around your computer without a keyboard, mouse, or monitor using a handful of shortcuts – great for emergency situations.


Today we’re going to combine these two approaches. Whether you’d like to get around Windows with just your keyboard to increase efficiency or so you can show off to your friends, this is a nice geeky trick to have in your back pocket.

The Main Keyboard Trick

Depending on how observant you are, you may have noticed certain letters underlined in Windows menus. These aren’t just for show; they represent which keys you can push to jump to certain options. Once a menu is showing, press ALT, then the proper underlined letter to execute the command you want.


Most applications have a standard set of commands on this bar, but it depends on which one you’re using. Others won’t have this menu visible at all; Firefox is one such case that keeps the options hidden for aesthetic purposes. If you’re not seeing it, a quick tap of the ALT key will show the menu, then you can head into any option you want. Let’s take an example:



I’ve just opened an image in Paint.NET (an excellent free photo editor Paint.NET: The Best Image Editor Available That You Should Download We all edit images to some degree. Whether it’s a simple crop or resize, or maybe just adding some text, it’s nice to have an image editor that is reliable, fast, easy to navigate and... Read More ) and I want to resize it right away. Rather than go through the trouble of grabbing the mouse, locating the cursor, moving it up to the top, and clicking through menus, I press ALT > I[mage] > R[esize] to open the Resize menu, then from there I can tab ALT + B[y percentage] > 50 > ENTER to halve the image size. It’s not important that you’re familiar with this program to use these shortcuts; we just want to illustrate that you can go a few menus deep and still be using shortcuts.

Note that you can press ALT and the respective key at the same time to enter the first layer of menus (in this case the Image tab), or you can do them one at a time. After the first list is open, however, tap only the letter for the option you want. If you press ALT again, you’ll restart the process.

If you’d like to make using these shortcuts a bit simpler, especially when first starting out, you can enable a Windows accessibility option Are You Nearsighted or Farsighted? Tips to Make Windows More Accessible for Young & Old Computers use print that's too small, your eyesight changes, you get headaches, and the computer gets called a lot of dirty names. Consult this guide to Windows Accessibility tools for some stress relief! Read More to help you along. Search for the Ease of Access Center and find the Make the keyboard easier to use category. Finally, checking the box for Underline keyboard shortcuts and access keys will underline available shortcuts all the time, instead of just when you press ALT. It’s great if you want a heads-up of what’s available at all times, or if you haven’t committed your most-used combinations to memory yet.



In Microsoft Office

When you’re using Microsoft Office 10 Simple Office 2013 Tips That Will Make You More Productive MS Office skills remain entrenched in the top common skills employers look for. So, be more savvy with these ten simple Office 2013 tips and grab more free time around the watercooler. Read More (and hopefully taking advantage of Word’s handiest features 10 Hidden Features of Microsoft Word That'll Make Your Life Easier Microsoft Word wouldn't be the tool it is without its productive features. Here are several features that can help you every day. Read More ), you might notice that the menus don’t have underlined words. Not to worry; a simple tap of the ALT key will bring up floating letters to give you the proper keys for each command. From there, you can descend through the menus just as you would in other Windows software.


You’re likely to run into some bubbles with two letters. All you have to do for these is tap the letters one at a time – once you’ve pressed the first, any command that doesn’t begin with that letter will disappear and give you a clear view of what’s left.

ALT Not Working?

Unfortunately, sometimes software developers poorly code their work and as such certain programs might not have ALT codes like the above. In this case, try pressing F10 (which actually does the same thing as ALT in Office) to focus the cursor on the first item in the menu bar, usually File. From there, you can use the arrow keys and ENTER to get around without your mouse. If F10 doesn’t work, there’s not much else you can try; hopefully this doesn’t happen often.


General Mouse-Replacing Shortcuts

We’ve written before about all sorts of tricks for getting around Windows with just your keyboard Windows Shortcuts Read More , but there are some specific ones worth reviewing here. To avoid being redundant, be sure to check out our more comprehensive guides for additional shortcuts.

Faking the Mouse

Since we’re looking to completely avoid using the mouse, it makes sense that we’d need a way to emulate its functions on the keyboard. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect way to perform a left-click. Sometimes, SPACE or ENTER will work for clicking a button or confirming a dialog box, but there’s no guarantee.

For right-clicking, you have two options. The combination of SHIFT + F10 should send the right-click command. However, as SuperUser contributor Tergiver explains, many programs don’t respond to keyboard requests for a right-click context menu, so you may be out of luck with this method. The other way is to use the MENU key, usually located between the right side ALT and CTRL keys. This key’s sole function is to perform a right-click, but you won’t find it on every laptop or keyboard.



If you want full power, you’ll need to use AutoHotKey to re-assign keys How To Pimp Windows With AutoHotkey Scripts Using ac'tivAid Read More . Perhaps you could put that useless Caps Lock key to use Isn't It Time You Made Use of Your Caps Lock? The CAPS LOCK key is probably the most useless key on your keyboard. Netiquette forbids you to use it because it's considered screaming, which is simply rude. And what else would you use it for... Read More by reassigning it to a mouse click, or make your own shortcut similar to SHIFT + F10 that won’t fail to work in half the programs you try. Anything you want to automate on your computer is possible with AutoHotKey, so don’t let your primping stop there if you think creating some other custom combinations could prove useful.

You might consider this cheating a little bit, but you can actually control the mouse cursor (not just perform the same functions) using a built-in accessibility option. Head back to the Ease of Access Center under Make the Keyboard Easier to Use once again; this time, check the box for Turn on Mouse Keys. This lets you use the number keypad to move the pointer around; be sure to check the options so you can change the acceleration and toggle a few other features. For a reverse trick, you can also activate keyboard shortcuts using your mouse How To Run Windows Keyboard Shortcuts Using Your Mouse Read More .


Make Your Own

We’ve covered the main ways to move around Windows with just the keys, but perhaps you aren’t satisfied yet and want to make even more easy-to-use shortcuts for yourself. By remapping keys, you can re-assign ones you use less often to other keys that save you time. Maybe you’d use this to make certain shortcuts easier to reach, or give yourself a duplicate key (maybe an extra Backspace if you make a lot of typing mistakes Learn To Type Really Fast With The Intelligent Touch Typing Tutor TIPP10 [Cross Platform] Learning to type fast is almost a survival skill in the Darwinian digital jungle. It’s directly related to saving time you put into a work and improving your productivity. You just need to be methodical... Read More , for example).

To go even further, take some time to set custom shortcuts to your most-used Windows programs How To Launch Any Windows App At The Touch Of A Button Read More , or let Launchy give you one-touch access How To Be More Productive with Launchy Program Launcher Read More to nearly everything on your system. Once you get into the habit, you’ll be flying over your keyboard so fast you won’t even think about touching the mouse!

Now You Can Be Mouse Free

You might not always want to do without your handy mouse, but it’s a good idea to know your way around when you don’t have it. Force yourself to get around using just your keyboard for an hour once in a while; it’s a fun little challenge!

Don’t let your quest for shortcut domination stop here. Try adding shortcuts to your right-click menu 10 Best Shortcuts to Add to Your Right-Click Menu The context menu that pops up whenever you perform a right-click can help you become more productive. With the right tool, customizing the shortcuts within it is a breeze. Read More , and if you’re rocking a Mac there are plenty of shortcuts for you to master Everything You Need To Know About Mac OS X Keyboard Shortcuts No matter what operating system or program you're using, keyboard shortcuts are a tool you can use to make things quite a bit easier for yourself. Simply not having to take your hands off the... Read More , too.

Do you often have to get around your computer without a mouse? What are your go-to shortcuts and programs for saving time? Drop a comment below to contribute!

Image Credits: white keyboard Via Shutterstock

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Ace
    April 9, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    Thanks so much, Ben. Dang that is tricky.

  2. Ace
    April 9, 2015 at 11:11 am

    Thanks Ben for the clarification. I do notice however that pressing the ALT key + letter doesn't work on menus with words beginning with the same letter. Example, on the Firefox menu, there are the buttons HELP and HISTORY. Pressing ALT & H will trigger the HELP button, and pressing H again will trigger some button on the sub menu under the HELP button instead of taking you to history. Is there a way round this shortcut limitation?

    • Ben S
      April 9, 2015 at 6:59 pm


      You're looking at the wrong letter for History. In Firefox, History has the letter S underlined for History, not H (programs do this to avoid the clash you're describing). So once you press ALT + H and go to Help, anything you press from there will be in the Help sub-menu. In this case, S is the key for Submit Feedback, so ALT + H > S will bring up the feedback window. Example image below:

      If you pull up Help and decide you want history instead, after tapping ALT + H, press ALT + S again to start over and bring up the History sub-menu, and you can go from there.

      Make sense? I know the letters can be confusing and somewhat counter-intuitive at first!

  3. Vamsikrishna
    April 8, 2015 at 5:34 pm

    Hi Ben, Very Useful article. I just noticed a spelling mistake for "shortcut" under the subheading "General Mouse-Replacing Shortcuts" in 4th line

    • Ben S
      April 8, 2015 at 7:27 pm

      I'm glad you enjoyed the article, and I've alerted my editor to this typo. Thanks so much for catching it!

  4. Ace
    April 8, 2015 at 9:04 am

    Hi, can you clarify & give examples for these two parts:

    "After the first list is open, however, tap only the letter for the option you want. If you press ALT again, you’ll restart the process."

    "Note that you can press ALT and the respective key at the same time to enter the first layer of menus"

    I'm not sure I follow

    • Ben S
      April 8, 2015 at 2:07 pm

      Sorry it was unclear!

      By the first part, I mean that once you've hit ALT and a key to open the first layer of the menu (like File or Edit), you don't have to press ALT again. So for saving, hit ALT+F for file, then just S for save. If you hit ALT+S to save, it will jump out.

      For the second part, all that means is that to open the File menu, you can either press ALT and F at the same time, or press ALT and then F one at a time; whichever is easier for you.

      Let me know if you have any other questions!