It may seem cliché, but there are two types of people: those who use keyboard shortcuts, and those who don't. On the one hand (pardon the pun), some people waste time putting hand to mouse, cursor to menu, and hand back to keyboard. Others press a combination of keys to do the same things. Instead of choosing File: Open from the menu, they press Command-O; instead of Edit: Copy, they go for Command-C.
Now, you know these keyboard shortcuts are there—you see them on the right side of all your application menus—but learning them takes some commitment. Start using them, if only for your most common operations, and you’ll save time and muscle power. If you’re already a keyboard-shortcut convert, read on for power tips that will make you a shortcut guru.
Search for the Hidden Shortcuts
You can’t use a shortcut if you don’t know—or can’t remember—what it is. But some programs don’t display all available keyboard shortcuts in their menus. (Even if they do, you may appreciate a reminder. See “Jog Your Memory” for a utility that helps.)
Apple Tricks Most Apple programs, including the Finder, tuck many of their shortcuts away. To find the hidden ones, look in the Help menu. A few applications, such as iTunes and iPhoto, have a menu item here specifically for keyboard shortcuts. With others, select Help: application name Help, type shortcut in the search field, and press return. In most cases, you’ll find a page (or in the case of the Finder, many pages) listing the application’s keyboard shortcuts. Often these lists produce unexpected things. (Did you know that you can open a folder selected in the Finder by pressing option-down arrow?) Print them out and stick them up on your wall for quick reference.
Access Other Apps Sometimes you’ll have to hunt around to find hidden shortcuts in other programs. In Microsoft 2004, select Tools: Customize: Customize Keyboard to see every command available and the default keyboard shortcuts. (Access the same sheet in Word or Excel 2001 or X by selecting Tools: Customize and then clicking on the Keyboard button.) As noted in Mac OS X Hints last month, there’s a tricky way to print these lists. Select Tools: Macro: Macros to bring up the Macros dialog box. In the Macro Name field, type ListCommands and click on Run. In the dialog box that appears, choose All Word Commands and click on OK to start the macro. A document of 30 or so pages will open, containing every Word shortcut.
Adobe Photoshop also has many more shortcuts than its menus let on. For instance, the Tools palette is probably the most commonly used palette in Photoshop; from here you select the marquee tool, the crop tool, the text tool, and so forth. You don’t have to click on the palette buttons to select a tool; each has a keyboard shortcut. Hold your cursor over one of the buttons for a couple of seconds, and you’ll see a ToolTip that reveals it. For example, the crop tool’s ToolTip reads Crop Tool (C), which means that the shortcut for activating this tool is the C key. Need a cheat sheet? Choose Edit: Keyboard Shortcuts and click on Summarize. Open the HTML file that Photoshop creates in your default Web browser, and print it.
Create Your Own Shortcuts
So now you know how to find the shortcuts that software companies think you need, but what if there’s no shortcut for the command you use most? No problem—use Panther’s Keyboard Shortcuts tool or the options built into some applications.
Panther Power With Panther, Apple introduced a way to customize keyboard shortcuts for most programs’ menu items. Open System Preferences, click on the Keyboard & Mouse icon, and then click on the Keyboard Shortcuts tab. You’ll see a handful of special shortcuts for actions such as taking screen shots and turning on Universal Access. Generally, you’ll want to leave them be, but if you ever decide you prefer to use these key combinations for other shortcuts, you can.
To set up a shortcut for your favorite app, click on the plus sign (+) button below the shortcut list. A sheet opens (see “Tap Panther’s Potential”). Select All Applications in the Application pop-up menu to create a shortcut that works in almost all your programs. (This won’t apply to some older programs or anything running in Classic mode.) You can also choose a specific application. If you don’t see the one you want in the list, scroll to the bottom, select Other, and navigate to it.
In the Menu Title field, type the exact name of the menu item for which you want to set a shortcut. Make sure it’s spelled correctly, or your shortcut won’t work. If the menu item’s name contains an ellipsis (...), type option-semicolon (;) for that character. Next, click on the Keyboard Shortcut field and press the key combination you want. Click on OK to save the shortcut; if the application is open, quit and relaunch it. Your keyboard shortcut will now appear in the menu, and you can use it whenever you want.
If your shortcut doesn’t work, a different shortcut may already be using those keys. (You’ll be warned of conflicts only if you’re creating a Finder shortcut.) Check your application’s menus. If you ever want to remove a shortcut, scroll down the Keyboard Shortcuts list, click on the triangle next to your application, select a shortcut, and click on the minus sign (-) button. To nuke custom shortcuts, click on Restore Defaults.
Programs’ Built-in Tools While the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane lets you set shortcuts for most applications, some apps won’t let you use this method. But you’re not completely out of luck. Many programs, including Adobe Photoshop and InDesign and Microsoft Word and Excel, contain their own systems for customizing keyboard shortcuts.
If you want to set your own keyboard shortcuts in Microsoft Word and Excel, select Tools: Customize: Customize Keyboard (or click on the Keyboard button). You can create, change, or add shortcuts here. For example, to add a key combination to a command, click on the Press New Shortcut Key field, press your key combination, and click on Assign. Click on OK to save the shortcut. Sometimes you’ll have to search to find a command’s proper name, which may or may not make sense. For instance, you won’t find a command named Insert Comment in the list—Word calls this command Insert Annotation (and has assigned it the shortcut Command-option-A).
Word and Excel will tell you if another function is already using your shortcut. If you want to assign that combination anyway, find the function that uses it in the Commands List, click on the function’s name, click on the shortcut in Current Keys, and click on Remove. Now you’ll be able to assign the shortcut to whatever you like.
Some other programs offer a similar interface for setting shortcuts. In Photoshop CS, select Edit: Keyboard Shortcuts. Set shortcuts for menu commands, palette menus, and tools, and even save them in files to share with others.
Turbocharge Your Shortcuts
It’s one thing to master individual keyboard shortcuts in the applications you use most, but once you get addicted to using the keyboard, you’ll want to go further. How about pressing a couple of keys in the morning to open all the applications you need, or pressing a shortcut to save a file and send it via e-mail to your boss? You can do all this and more.
Powerful QuicKeys The gold standard of shortcut software is CE Software’s $100 QuicKeys X2 ( ; October 2003). It lets you create single-step shortcuts that launch applications, open files, or select individual menu items, as well as multistep shortcuts that automate more-complex procedures.
For example, use QuicKeys to hide all your applications and open a specific folder in the Finder. Use it to change the font, size, and style of text in a word processor. Or have it type boilerplate text—your name, your Web site’s URL, or longer text—whenever you press a certain key. If you’re a mouse lover but want to reduce the number of steps that common tasks require, you can use QuicKeys to create shortcut toolbars for all applications or only for specific programs. (See “Increase Your Shortcut Savvy” for other articles about working with QuicKeys.)
Inexpensive Options Are your shortcut needs simple? Check out less-expensive utilities. The $20 Keyboard Maestro and its free light version let you perform all kinds of actions with single keystrokes (; “More Software Bargains,” May 2003). Maestro is not as powerful as QuicKeys—for example, it doesn’t let you set up multistep shortcuts. (If you’re adept at AppleScript, though, you can get similar results using Keyboard Maestro.) However, for many users it’s more than enough.
Application launchers also offer a handy way to open applications in a snap (see “Quick App Access”). Some can also help you get to your favorite folders and more. And if you have a third-party mouse or trackball, don’t overlook the software that came with it (see “Work That Mouse”).
Reduce Your Mouse Mileage
No matter how many keyboard shortcuts you use and how you use them, they all save you lots of time. And since excessive mousing can lead to repetitive strain injuries, it’s in your best interest to try more keyboard shortcuts and save your muscles.