Introducing XL Shortcut

It’s been a looooong time since I updated anything on this site. To my shame, I have to admit. A lot of things have changed since then which I want to quickly share before I jump into the topic of this post.

Last year I spend most of my spare Excel-time developing the XLPublish add-in together with Dick Moffat. XLPublish allows Excel users to use Power BI as a front-end to their existing spreadsheet models. If you haven’t heard, with Power BI you can create online dashboards, really fast. And Power BI integrates really well with Excel, which is awesome.

But there’s a downside to all this goodness. You must have Excel tables in your spreadsheets (or a data-model) to publish your results to Power BI. And you’d probably agree that Excel tables are still underutilized in the real world, just like the data-model.

XLPublish to the rescue! We convert any Excel object (tables, pivots, charts or regular ranges) to a Power BI dataset. That way ANY Excel user can build an awesome dashboard and share it with his/her colleagues.

A more recent development is propelling me forward as well. Since my old employer is merging with a bigger one, I decided it is time to start doing what I love – helping people do more with data – self-employed that is. Exciting times…

So what is XL Shortcut?

Back to the topic of this post. XL Shortcut was a passion project of mine back in the fall of 2016. As many of you, I too was fascinated by the productivity gains that Excel shortcuts provide. My learning curve was nothing spectacular. I mainly picked up shortcuts along the way, from colleagues, surfing online resources, following e-training and reading books.

Whenever I was fed up with my shallow shortcut-knowledge, I’d print out a list of shortcuts, put them on my desk and told myself to learn the combinations by heart. To no avail of course. I guess I am not that gritty after all, oh well…

Interactive Excel shortcuts keyboard

Then no particular day I stumbled upon the concept of keyboard covers – silicon covers for your keyboard that show application-specific shortcuts right on top of the key. As far as I can judge, these covers are typically used in the creative industry (video, graphics & audio editing software) as well as education.

What a splendid way of learning your shortcuts! I figure you just use the cover during work and with time the shortcuts come naturally. That sure beats the hell out of learning pages of shortcuts by heart!

If only there was a keyboard cover for Excel… Even if there is, there is a problem. Excel has too many shortcut combinations to fit a single cover. That made me wonder…

What if I created a digital keyboard that displays shortcuts right on top of the keys and responds to user keypress events? That’s right, the idea of XL Shortcut was born! Now came the part of coding it up in VBA, which was a hassle, but I made it! I guess I have some grit in me after all 😉

Here’s an animated GIF of XL Shortcut end-result:

Excel shotcuts interactive display

XL Shortcut is an add-in for Excel – just a plain .xlam file that you can safely install without the help of your IT department. You can download the add-in here, totally free of charge. XL Shortcut is a single button on your Home tab on the Excel ribbon, which will show an interactive QWERTY keyboard with US layout. There’s more to this add-in that meets the eye, so I provide you with a list of its features and capabilities.

XL Shortcut:

  • Displays shortcuts for all possible key-combinations of Control/Shift/Alt right on top of the corresponding keys;
  • Covers most of the shortcuts available directly from the main Excel UI, except those inside dialog, ribbon and file menus;
  • Responds to both mouse-click and key-press events;
  • Makes browsing shortcuts much more intuitive than scanning plain lists;
  • Is always at your fingertips with the shortcut [Shift + Esc];
  • Displays a description of the shortcut when you hover over a key;
  • Supports the old Excel 2003 file menu shortcuts;
  • Supports execution of the shortcut by clicking or pressing a key;
  • Comes with a ‘keypress preview’ mode enables users to preview the shortcut description when using the keyboard to navigate XLS as opposed to the mouse;
  • Can be displayed in 3 different sizes (large, medium and small);

XL Shortcut was developed and tested on Excel 2013 and 2016, on both a Windows 7 and 10, 32 and 64-bit operating system. Using the shortcut execution mode will only work if your Excel language settings are set to English. For optimal learning, you should use a US layout QWERTY keyboard, although I can imagine you can find your way around on other layouts as well (some will work, others won’t I guess…).


Excel shortcut keyboard pages

XL Shortcut has some minor issues that I ran into during development and testing that I think you should know of:

  1. When you show the XL Shortcut keyboard, the NumLock key will be turned off automatically. This will be reversed whenever you close the dialog. This means that any shortcuts involving numeric and arithmetic keys have to be performed on the regular keys, not the number pad. For this reason, XL Shortcut does not show a number pad on its interface;
  2. Shortcut execution simulates key presses using the notorious SendKeys method. Make sure your system language settings are set to English US/UK, as well as your Excel application;
  3. Pressing the key combination [Alt + Shift] will toggle your system’s keyboard layout/language. If you have any other language installed on your system, like Russian in my case, you might be thrown off with this hidden trap.

As I mentioned, XL Shortcut is totally free of charge. I spend a considerable amount of my time to develop this and considered asking a price for it. I decided to share it with the world to give back something to the Excel community because it is from free online content that I learned so much.

If you find XL Shortcut is worth more than the zero-sum I am offering it for, you can donate any amount on this page.


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