Keyboard ninja skills

A keyboard ninja is someone who uses the keyboard to do things that most people would use the mouse for. Keyboard ninja’s can get stuff done way faster than mousers, and sometimes it can be mesmerizing to watch a good keyboard ninja flying through a task at speeds you’ve never dreamed of.


To become a keyboard ninja, you should be familiar with the basic Windows keyboard shortcuts. These work in pretty much all programs:

  • Control key shortcuts
    • Ctrl+a: Select All
    • Ctrl+x: Cut
    • Ctrl+c: Copy
    • Ctrl+v: Paste
    • Ctrl+z: Undo
    • Ctrl+f:  find/search
  • Alt key shortcuts
    • Alt is often used to access program menus (e.g., File, Edit, etc). Just press and release Alt and they keyboard focus will be on the menus. Navigate with the arrow keys or by pressing the underlined letters.
    • Whenever you see a single underlined letter in a word (usually in buttons, check box options), you can hold Alt and press that letter instead of clicking.
    • Alt+F4: close program
    • Alt+Tab: switch program. You can hold Alt and repeatedly press Tab to cycle through programs. Alt+Shift+Tab cycles backwards.
  • Win key shortcuts
    • Win+’search term’: the Win key opens the start menu and in Windows 7 you can start typing to search your computer.
    • Win+d: show desktop
    • Win+e: launch Windows Explorer (“My Computer”)
  • Tab
    • Tabbing is a very basic keyboard ninja skill, mainly used when better keyboard navigation is not available. In almost every program, you can Tab to cycle through the interface. Shift+Tab cycles backwards.
Next, considering that you probably spend most of your time in a browser, let’s looks at some useful browser shortcuts:
  • Ctrl+l: select address bar (that’s an L)
  • Ctrl+t: new tab
  • Ctrl+w: close tab
  • Ctrl+Tab or Ctrl+PageDown: switch to next tab
  • Ctrl+Shift+Tab or Ctrl+PageUp: switch to previous tab
  • Ctrl+d: add bookmark
  • Alt+left/right arrows: back/forward
  • Backspace: back
  • F5: refresh/reload page
  • F11: fullscreen mode
Many web apps are adding keyboard shortcuts for convenient navigation. If you use the app a lot, it’s definitely worth learning the shortcuts. They usually use the same basic keys so it’s easy to remember them all. And it’s standard for ‘?’ to bring up an overlay with the keyboard shortcuts, which is really handy for learning them.
  • Google search is now keyboardable using the arrow keys. Enter opens the link, Ctrl+Enter opens it in a new tab.
  • Gmail and Google Reader have great keyboard navigation
  • Hotmail
  • Yahoo! Mail
  • This website

These fundamentals are enough to make you a pretty good keyboard ninja. But these next tricks will really help you take your skills from impressive to amazing.



  • Use an application launcher, this makes it super easy and quick to start a program or open a folder. I love Launchy.
  • If you’re really serious about customizing/creating keyboard shortcuts and automating just about anything, spend some time learning Autohotkey. It’s like playing god with your computer.


  • Open links using ‘find-as-you-type’ links mode (press ‘ and type). Enable it in Firefox (Options > Advanced). Download the extension for Chrome.
  • To take mouseless browsing to the next level, try a Vim-like browser extension. I swear by Vimium for Chrome, it’s very simple to use and incredibly useful. Pentadactyl for Firefox is more for experienced Vim users.


This guide will give you a great start, but a good keyboard ninja keeps learning new moves to his skill set. Learn the keyboard shortcuts for programs you use frequently. And practice, practice, practice! Try not to use that mouse. Print yourself a cheat sheet. You need to internalize them.

Did I miss any good ones? Let me know in the comments.