Keyboard or Mouse… Which is more effective?

 In Learn Excel

Which is more effective?
This is a vital question if you use Excel a lot. Which is more effective to use, the keyboard or the mouse? This can definitely make a difference to your speed in Excel.

Obviously you need to use both at some point for maximum effectiveness, as you can’t point with the keyboard and you can’t type with the mouse (unless you have a custom setup).

I personally find that knowing when to use the keyboard and when to use the mouse can take some explanation and some exploration. Read on to find out more…

Make the best use of the tools at our disposal

In my best dreams I can control Excel with the power of thought, and don’t touch the keyboard or mouse at all. Back in the real world we can’t use mind control, so let’s maximize the physical tools at our disposal!

In this post, we start looking at ways to use the keyboard and mouse in Excel. Any shortcuts I introduce will be most relevant to Excel 2007 and 2010 for Windows, as these are the versions I currently use.

If you use another version of Excel then a search on the internet will reveal different keyboard and mouse shortcuts. To save you the time, we looked around the internet and found 15 great resources for Keyboard shortcuts in Excel which you can check out: 15 Awesome Resources for Excel Shortcuts

There are so many actions and shortcuts you can learn for both the keyboard and mouse. A little explanation is in order, then you can go explore. Let’s take the keyboard first.


Ways to use the Keyboard in Excel (examples in brackets)

Computer keyboard

  • Plain old typing – use the keyboard to type in numbers, text and formulas
  • Function keys – these provide shortcuts (F2 = edit the active cell, F4 = repeat last action if possible)
  • Modifier keys – press and hold shift, control or alt before typing another key, note these can also be used in combination like shift + control + key (shift + F2 = edit a cell comment, ctrl + ; = inserts current date, Alt + Page Down = moves one screen to the right in a worksheet)
  • Alt key combo – press alt to show keyboard shortcuts in the Excel menus, then type the underlined keys to activate further menus or commands, keep reading for an example

Obviously you can use the keyboard to do plain old typing, and you’ve probably found some function key shortcuts such as F2 to edit the active cell, and F4 to repeat the last action.

Have you used the modifier keys “shift”, “control” or “alt” with other keys, and also in combination with each other? If not, take a moment to go explore in Excel.

To get you started, here is a video showing how you can navigate using the Control + arrow keys (ctrl + right arrow, ctrl + down arrow, ctrl + left arrow, ctrl + up arrow).

Keyboard Modifier Keys Example (Ctrl + arrows)

Use the Ctrl key + arrow keys to navigate

Have you found the Alt accelerator key combinations, which can potentially turbo-charge your speed doing everyday stuff in Excel? If not, open up Excel and try some out, they may or may not be to your liking.

To get you started, here is a video showing how you can zoom to the current selection (Alt, W, G) and then zoom back out again (Alt, W, J). These Alt combinations are definitely faster if you know how to touch type so you don’t need to take your eyes off the screen to type them in.

The trick is to find commands you use often, then figure out what the Alt key combinations are for those commands and learn them.

Keyboard Alt Accelerator Combination (Alt + W + J)

(1) Press Alt, then W, then G (2) Press Alt, then W, then J


Ways to use the Mouse in Excel

Computer mouse

  • Left click – select a cell or activate a menu or perform a command
  • Right click – bring up a context sensitive menu
  • Left click then drag – extend the current selection or (if you click on the selection border) move the current selection or (if you click on the little fill handle) fill the current selection down / across
  • Right click then drag – (if you click on the selection border) move the current selection then give you context sensitive menu or (if you click on the little fill handle) fill the current selection down / across then give you context sensitive menu
  • Double-click – edit the current cell or (if you click on the selection border) move to the last cell in that direction stopping at the next empty cell or (if you click on the little fill handle) do some Excel magic and fill the current selection intelligently

Both left clicking and right clicking are quite self-explanatory, if you haven’t tried right clicking then go ahead and see what happens. But the less-frequent “left click then drag”, “right click then drag” and “double-click” offer interesting ways to speed up your work.

Here’s an illustration of left click then drag, where I have selected two rows and then moved them by left-clicking on the dark border and dragging that.

Left Clicking and Dragging

Use the left mouse button to drag the selection

Next I’ll show you a right click then drag, where there are formulas in the yellow rows and I have changed these to values. This time I am selecting the yellow cells with the left mouse button, then right-clicking on the dark border, dragging one cell to the right, then dragging one cell to the left and letting go. This brings up a context menu where I select “Copy here as values only”.

Right Clicking then Dragging

Use the right mouse button to drag the selection, release to show context menu

Finally here’s an illustration of double-clicking, where I have filled down a formula by double-clicking the fill handle “cross-hair”.

Double click the fill handle

Double click the fill handle to fill down the formula


Ways to use the Keyboard and Mouse together

Now that we’ve covered the keyboard and mouse separately, let’s see what happens when we use them together. Some fun things start to become possible!

You can right click on a cell, column or row, and then use the keyboard shortcuts shown by underlined letters on the context menu, as you can see in this example.

Right click with mouse then use keyboard shortcut

Right click on the column headings then use a keyboard shortcut to unhide "u" the hidden column.

Or you can hold down the shift key while left-dragging a selection, which moves and inserts the selection in between existing cells. That will save you some cutting and pasting, and if haven’t tried using the shift key while dragging with the left mouse button you should go try it now – it’s really useful!

Hold down the shift key while dragging a selection to move and insert that selection

Hold down the shift key while dragging a selection to move and insert that selection


Excel is flexible

Basically the take-away lesson today is that Excel gives you many ways to interact with it. If you haven’t already done so, it’s your turn to try out different shortcuts on the keyboard and mouse.

Remember if you really want to accelerate your Excel then you’ve got to practise these shortcuts until they are second nature. Maybe one day we’ll be able to control Excel with our thoughts, but until we get there I would recommend that you analyze your own work-flow to find out what actions or commands you do the most frequently, and then find and master the relevant keyboard or mouse shortcuts.

Victor Chan
Victor has been using Excel intensively since 2002. He is a Chartered Accountant (Fellow of the ICAEW) and has an MEng in Manufacturing Engineering from the University of Cambridge. He is on a mission to help you learn how to use Excel better.
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  • Lorena
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    Unparalleled accuracy, unequivocal clarity, and undeniable importance!

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