For most popular apps and operating systems, there are keyboard shortcuts designed with the intention to minimize the time and effort you spend to accomplish common functions.

For example, most people know that ctrl + c will copy your selected text, while holding Ctrl (or Command) + v will paste it.

But keyboard shortcuts go much deeper than that. For example, keyboard shortcuts for Gmail can help you access commands like opening a new email window or accessing a specific folder without returning to your mouse to navigate.

That said, learning those keyboard shortcuts can be time-intensive and an exercise in memorization. Not only do you have to find a solid resource that can offer you a concise list of shortcuts, you have to put them into practice—regularly—if you want them to be intuitive enough to actually save you time.

So are keyboard shortcuts worth the effort to memorize?

Questions to Ask

If you’re considering whether or not to learn keyboard shortcuts for a given app or operating system, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much time do you spend on this program? First, think about how often you use the program in question. If you only access it once a week, or less often, it may not be worth the trouble of learning shortcuts for it.
  • How often do your fingers leave the keyboard? If you’re the type of user who spends most of their time typing, keyboard shortcuts are going to be even more beneficial to you.
  • How much time will a single shortcut save you? This question is subjective, but worth considering. Glance at a few sample keyboard shortcuts, and consider how much time each one could save you. If you can’t see a time benefit, even long-term, they may not be worth it.
  • How easily do you adapt to habit changes? Quick studies will spend less time learning keyboard shortcuts, and will therefore get more value out of them over time.

Tips for Faster Learning

If you’ve decided to learn keyboard shortcuts, use these tips to master them more efficiently:

  • Start with the basics. Find the most common and most needed keyboard shortcuts for a given program, and start with those—preferably only two or three at a time.
  • Use them in context a few times. When learning a new shortcut, try it out in a live environment. Repeat that action several times so it sticks in your memory.
  • Add in new shortcuts gradually. As you learn new shortcuts, roll in new ones gradually; for example, you could learn a new shortcut once a week. That way, you’re never too bogged down with the learning process, but you keep adding new material.
  • Use an app to help you. In some cases, you can use a third-party app to prompt you when to use a keyboard shortcut.

Keyboard shortcuts aren’t worth it for everyone, but they do have the potential to save you time and make your operations more fluid.

Understand your own computer habits before proceeding, and know the strengths and weaknesses of shortcuts in general before you spend time learning them.