If we replace every standard light bulb with an energy efficient light bulb, we’ll save enough electricity to go to the moon and back 11 times. Everybody knows that, of course. But what you may not realize is that if you use the commonly available shortcut keys that were designed into your computer, you would save enough keystrokes that all the computer keyboards in the world would last an extra 11 years. Honest.

So, we are going to start learning some shortcut keys.

Here I am ready to use the short cut keys to go back and fix a few typoes. Typos.

The way to learn shortcut keys is to write down or otherwise record a small number of them in a handy place. Then, when you encounter an opportunity to use a shortcut key, and you can’t remember how to do it, you look it up and use the shortcut. This way, the short cut takes LONGER than not using it, which forces you to learn.


You are typing along and you wake a mistake somewhere earlier in the sentence.

So you either use the mouse to go back (to change “wake” to “make” or you backspace backwards, change the letter, and retype. Or some other totally dumb-ass thing.

But instead, using this method, you reach over to the piece of paper on which you’ve written your shortcuts, or open the “tomboy” like post-it notes on your computer, and look up the short cut key. You re-learn for the third or fourth time that Ctrl-arrow (in this case left arrow) moves you back one word at a time. This gets you back to the point you need to be to make the correction much more quickly than you can get any other way.

Now, of course, you will have to find out what the short cut keys are for each application you use, but there is more consistency than you might realize between both applications and operating system.

Here are the first few short cut keys you need to learn. These work in a Firefox web browser window:

1: Ctrl – Arrow Move one word at a time
2: Shft – Arrow Select one letter at a time
3: Ctrl-Shft -Arrow Move one word at a time while selecting it

Almost any software will use some subset of ctrl/alt/shift and the arrows to do something interesting and useful.

This public service announcement inspired by this post.


  1. #1 JL
    September 23, 2008

    I print out cheat sheets like these double sided and in color:


    then laminate them and keep next to the computer for future reference.

  2. #2 Alan Kellogg
    September 23, 2008

    I’ve seen something a lot like that at Frys. I’ll have to check them out the next time I’m out there.

  3. #3 llewelly
    September 24, 2008

    I’ve previously mentioned that I type all my comments in emacs. Why? Because I know the shortcuts – M-f is forward-word, M-b is backward-word, M-t is transpose-words, C-x C-l is downcase-region, C-M-$ is ispell-word, C-M-% is query-replace-regexp, TAB is dabbrev-expand, and so on.
    Best of all, there’s an emacs game designed specifically to help you memorize the shortcuts.
    I’m sure someone could write something similar in greasemonkey, but I’m too lazy for that.

    Oh, and C-h b displays a list of all keybindings.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    September 24, 2008

    Llwelly: OK, so I go to EMACS and hit Ctrl-h b and see the keybndings, and there is Ctrl-Meta l “reposition window”. So I hit it, and I am now signed out of the computer and the oddest, never before seen dialog box (allowing me to sign back on) appears in the secondary monitor!

  5. #5 Llewelly
    September 24, 2008

    Greg, your window manager or your desktop environment is probably trapping C-Meta l for some purpose – to logout, I guess. emacs probably never sees the key at all.

  6. #6 llewelly
    September 24, 2008

    Googling for gnome shortcut keys finds this page , which claims CTRL + ALT + l is lock screen.
    So if you have gnome and your ALT key is your Meta key (almost universal, but not quite) it’s gnome’s fault, not emacs’ fault.

    You can either bind a different key to the emacs function reposition-window to something else, or you can change the gnome keybinding.
    Personally – I have my wm configured so it only uses keyboard shortcuts containing either Hyper or Super. emacs never uses Hyper or Super, so, no conflicts.
    But on a typical linux system there are no keys mapped to Hyper or Super. So I map one of my control keys to Hyper using xmodmap.