Which is best to use – mouse or keyboard?

But surely you need to use both?

Yes and no… some tasks can only (efficiently) be performed by one or the other. For example, data entry: a keyboard is the obvious tool of choice. But you may be surprised at how many tasks can be completed be either. Typically, we are talking here about marking and amending blocks of data, inserting rows or columns, copy and pasting etc. All tasks commonly performed when working in Excel.

Why does it matter?

You may be surprised how much more efficiently you can work with the appropriate tool. Spoiler alert… at this stage I can reveal that I am a big fan of keyboard shortcuts which can dramatically reduce the time needed to perform especially simple tasks like copy and paste. Added up over the course of a working day, these small savings of time add up and can result in you simply being able to get more work done! And all for a little effort required in learning to use shortcuts.

What do you mean “best to use”?

Before we dive in, let’s be clear about what we mean by “best to use”. It is the user that uses these tools, so we need to consider him or her… therefore I would define this to mean most appropriate and most efficient for the user.

What are the options?

To make my analysis comprehensive, I have considered two types of mouse – the mousepad you usually get with a laptop nowadays and a separate, “old school” mouse – as well as two types of keyboard – again, the one you get with a laptop and a separate keyboard, the type you have to use if you are using a desktop PC and which is optional when using a laptop.


😊 Advantages


Laptop mousepad

  • Can be used on a plane or train, where the table is small and there is no room to use a separate mouse

  • Hard to forget… if you have your laptop with you on a business trip, then you also have your mouse!
  • I find them extremely inefficient to use; to move the mouse pointer any length over the screen requires multiple touchpad strokes; only experienced users can hope to come anywhere near the efficiency of the other tools

  • For non-users, must be turned off to avoid “ghost working” (accidental activity caused be inadvertently touching the touchpad)


Separate mouse

  • Generally, much more efficient than the laptop mouse

  • Enables menus and icons to be easily used

  • Particularly good for inexperienced users – easy to use and no need to remember keyboard shortcuts


  • Often not as efficient as keyboard shortcuts for frequent tasks such as copy & paste (Ctrl C, Ctrl V)

  • Usage requires more space on your desk or work surface

Laptop keyboard

  • Compact – does not take up much space

  • You can use the full gamut of keyboard shortcuts, albeit this can be somewhat awkward (see disadvantages)

  • No need to research and buy a separate keyboard
  • Compact, so functions are often combined into single keys, thus requiring laborious (dare I say tortuous?) key combinations to get what you want, e.g. using the function keys such as F2 edit where you often have to press a “function-enabling key” as well as the function key itself… yuk!

  • No separate number keypad to enter numbers, which I tend to do a lot in Excel!


Separate keyboard

  • You can use the full gamut of keyboard shortcuts… yahoo! A real boon to all who know them or learn some of them!

  • You usually get a separate number keypad to enter numbers; a common task when using Excel

  • Function keys can usually be operated on their own without the need to press any “function-enabling key” (sadly not always the case)
  • Tasks up space on the desk; IMHO this is more offset by the advantages

  • More space means more keys and sadly a higher risk of additional keys with functions which I never use and/or which do not always work (media start/stop, home, arrange Windows, settings, picture etc)

  • I am such a fan, I will sometimes take my separate keyboard to meetings where I expect to have to do a lot of computer work; this is then something extra to transport


To sum up, many common tasks in Excel can be performed by either mouse or keyboard, so you have a choice. I recommend the keyboard – ideally a standalone keyboard - so that you can use time-saving shortcuts. You can download a list of the best shortcuts under downloads.


This is A4 in size, but you can fold it in half in the middle to have A5 size with two sides if that suits you better. The best way to learn these is "little and often". Pick one or two new shortcuts each week and use them as often as you can to make them second nature. Some people like to use a highlighter pen to mark the ones they have learnt to show progress and aid motivation.

Have fun!