For accountants, Microsoft Excel is a critical tool. We work in it so much that even the smallest changes in how we work in the program can make a big difference over time. One of the things we can do to maximize efficiency is to use keyboard shortcuts instead of our mouse to perform certain tasks. It may not seem like using the keyboard instead of a mouse will make much of a difference, if any at all, but if you really think about how you work in Excel you’ll see what I mean. Think about it. If you’re working in Excel you’re usually working with a bunch of numbers and labels – your hands are constantly on the keyboard. You’re keying in numbers, typing labels and descriptions, creating formulas, navigating around your worksheets, etc. Every time you use the mouse to perform a task, you have to take one hand off the keyboard, grab the mouse, maneuver the cursor, then do what you need to do – press a button, meander through a menu or ribbon system, drag some formulas, whatever. The more you can keep your hands on the keyboard, the fewer movements you make, and the faster you work. It can take a bit to get used to if you’re used to using your mouse for everything, but once you get used to the movements it becomes like regular typing – you just do it without thinking about it.

There are hundreds of different shortcuts, but here are a handful to start with that I think are the most helpful for the average accountant. These are Windows shortcuts, so if you’re a Mac user they will probably not be the same.

The Basics

For those of you new to using keyboard shortcuts, we’ll start with the most common – the bread and butter. If you get used to using the CTRL key for these, you’ll be able to smoothly roll into the more advanced shortcuts.

  • CTRL + c – copy the contents of the current cell(s)
  • CTRL + x – cuts the contents of the selected cell(s)
  • CTRL + v – paste the contents from the last cut or copy operation to the active cell
  • CTRL + n – Create a new workbook
  • CTRL + o – Open an existing workbook
  • CTRL + s – Save the current workbook

Navigating within the Workbook and Other Applications

If you work with large data sets, you’ll spend a lot of time navigating around. If you use these shortcuts the right way you may never have to click that scroll bar again!

  • CTRL + Home – moves the cursor to cell A1 in the current worksheet. If you have frozen panes, it will move to the upper-most cell in the column furthest to the left that is not part of a frozen pane instead of cell A1
  • CTRL + End – moves the cursor to the last used cell in the working area (last row and last column) whether or not the cell is empty.
  • CTRL + up arrow – selects the first cell in the range of cells in the current column. In other words, it will move from the current active cell up to the last cell in the same column before an empty cell, or to the top if there are no empty cells.
  • CTRL + down arrow – selects the last cell in the range of cells in the current column
  • CTRL + right arrow – selects the last cell in the range of cells in the current row
  • CTRL + left arrow – selects the first cell in the range of cells in the current row
  • CTRL + page down – moves one worksheet (a/k/a tab) to the right in a workbook with multiple worksheets
  • CTRL + page up – moves one worksheet to the left in a workbook with multiple worksheets
  • CTRF + f – opens the find window
  • CTRL + h – opens the find and replace window
  • CTRL + Tab – Switches between open application windows and documents, from left to right in the resulting popup window. This is particularly helpful when you’re referring to multiple spreadsheets at one time and don’t have dual monitors.
  • CTRL + SHIFT + Tab – Switches between open application windows and documents, from right to left in the resulting popup window.

Advanced

If you work with a lot of formulas, these shortcuts will not only help you speed things up, and will also help audit those formulas when you need to look back at the trail of bread crumbs!

  • F2 – Highlights any cells directly referenced by formulas in the selected cell and makes the selected cell editable, placing the cursor at the end of the formula
  • CTRL + [ – Selects any cells directly referenced by formulas in the selected cell (or cells). This works best with formulas in the same sheet. For example, if you are using a VLOOKUP formula that uses information from a different sheet, it won’t highlight the cells in the other sheet for you. This works similarly to the “Trace Precedents” command, but without the arrows, and will select the same cells shown when using F2.
  • CTRL + SHIFT + { – Selects any cells directly or indirectly referenced by formulas in the selected cell (or cells). This is similar to the CTRL + [ shortcut, but it will also pick up cells that are indirectly referenced.
  • CTRL + ] – Selects any cells that directly reference the selected cell with formulas. This works similarly to the “Trace Dependents” command, but without the arrows.
  • CTRL + SHIFT + } – Selects any cells that directly or indirectly reference the selected cell with formulas.
  • CTRL + d – fills formulas down in the area selected.
  • CTRL + r – fills formulas down in the area selected.
  • Ctrl + ` (single left quotation mark) – toggles between showing formulas in the cells on the active worksheet or the resulting values.