The great thing about computers is that they can work much faster than you can. But telling them what to do is often a slow process. Well, there's a fix.

I'm talking about keyboard shortcuts. To perform a keyboard shortcut, you press two, three or sometimes four keyboard keys at once. A single, quick shortcut can accomplish the same thing as moving your mouse across the screen and clicking through several menus or hunting down buttons.

There are dozens of them, from pressing Ctrl+a to select everything in a window to pressing Ctrl+b to make selected text bold. Press Ctrl+f to find a word in a document or web page. When you want to print something, press Ctrl+p. (Most of the shortcuts are the same on a Mac, except you use the CMD key instead of the Ctrl key.)

The six shortcuts below are the most essential to know, however. Get in the habit of using them, and your mouse soon will start collecting dust!

Ctrl+s (Save)

The first thing I stress to anyone learning to use a computer is save your work often. You never know when the program you're using, or your entire computer, is going to crash.

For the past decade, many programs have included auto-save features that save your work every five to 10 minutes. That's fine as a last resort, but I still prefer to make a habit of manual saving. It comes in handy when you use programs that don't have auto-save.

That's why the Ctrl+s shortcut is so handy. It works in nearly every program in existence and takes only a fraction of a second to type. You don't have to take your hands off the keyboard and move the mouse cursor up to the Save icon.

When writing, I generally press Ctrl+s after every few paragraphs I type or whenever I pause for a new thought.

Ctrl+z (Undo)

One of the best things about using a computer for content creation is the Undo feature. With a typewriter, handwriting or traditional photo manipulation, undoing a mistake is a major process.

With a computer, the Undo button gives you the freedom to experiment and make mistakes, and then change things back if you don't like them. I use it all the time when editing photos.

Many computer users don't even realize the Undo feature exists.

Using the Ctrl+z shortcut, you can undo a mistake very quickly. Hitting Ctrl+z several times often will undo the last several changes. If you go too far back, hit Ctrl+y to Redo.

Ctrl+c (Copy), Ctrl+v (Paste)

Another joy of using a computer is copying and pasting. It makes moving text, photos, files, folders and everything else a breeze.

Every program has Copy and Paste icons, and if you right-click on files and folders in Windows, you'll see Copy and Paste as options. For those who do a lot of copying and pasting, however, the keyboard shortcuts are a big time-saver.

Just use the mouse to select what you want to copy, hit Ctrl+c, click the mouse where you want to paste, and hit Ctrl+v. You're done!

Ctrl++ (Zoom in)

Thanks to larger, high-resolution monitors for laptops and desktops, many websites and programs are hard to read. The text just looks too small.

Instead of moving closer to the screen and squinting, hit Ctrl++ (plus sign) a few times. This will increase the zoom level in most browsers and some programs. To zoom out again, just hit Ctrl+- (a minus sign). To reset the zoom level to 100 percent, hit Ctrl+0 (zero).

Bonus tip: If you already have one hand on your mouse, you also can hold Ctrl and scroll the mouse wheel to zoom in and out.


This also is known as “the 3-finger salute.”

Years ago, this was the first keyboard shortcut most people learned. In the olden days of computers, it rebooted your computer if it was acting up, which happened quite a bit. You could solve a lot of problems with these three keys.

Bonus history: Ctrl+Alt+Del was added to computers in the '80s by David Bradley, an engineer at IBM. He wanted a quick way to reboot test systems that were locked. Ironically, he never intended for the public to actually use it.

In modern computers, Ctrl+Alt+Del either brings up Windows Task Manager or a list of options, including Task Manager. Task Manager is useful for killing programs that are acting up or unresponsive. Plus, you can see what is slowing down your system.

If you are using a Mac, it's not uncommon for programs to freeze, and you get to see the spinning beach ball of death. When this happens, press the CMD+OPT+ESC keys, select the offending program and force quit. Restart the program and you're on your way again.

Kim Komando hosts a talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. Hear it locally at 94.3 WSC News Radio noon-3 p.m. Sundays.