If you’ve used a Mac longer than the span of a typical Hollywood awards show, you probably know that Command-P means print, Command-C means copy, and Command-V means paste. That great—it shows you already have a taste for how keyboard shortcuts can save you time. There are hundreds of keyboard shortcuts for just about anything you can do with a mouse. But shortcuts can be intimidating. They’re not always intuitive and they can take a lot of time and practice to commit to “finger memory.”
Adding just a few keyboard shortcuts to your repertoire can be painless and easy. And painless in more ways than one, since shortcuts mean spending less time on the mouse, which in turn means a lower risk of Carpel Tunnel and Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI).
Let’s take a look at three of the places where you probably spend most of your time on the Mac and see how keyboard shortcuts can make you more efficient.
You may not think of it as an application at all, but the Finder is the glue that holds the rest of your Mac experience together, and you probably spend more time here than you realize.
If you want to get to the Finder (or if you prefer to think of it this way, your desktop), but you can barely see it through all the open application windows, there’s a way to clear things up in a snap. Hold down the Command and Option keys and click anywhere on your desktop. That key combination takes you to the Finder while hiding all other applications at the same time. If you’re already in the Finder, type Command-Option-H for the same effect. (By the way, this shortcut isn’t only for the Finder—holding Command-Option as you click on any application will simultaneously hide all your other open apps.)
But what if it’s open folders and not apps that are cluttering your desktop? There’s a shortcut for that too: Command-W (think “Withdraw Windows”) will close one window; Command-Option-W will close them all in one fell swoop.
To get to your Applications folder from the Finder without having to dig down through your hard drive, just type Command-Shift-A, for Applications. (Similarly, Command-Shift-U will bring you straight to the Utilities folder.)
You may already know that typing Command-Space will invoke Spotlight. While it’s open, type the first few letters of the application, folder, or file you’re looking for and Spotlight will likely find what you’re after before you finish typing its name. Pressing Return will open the object of your search.
To give credit where it’s due, Windows had it first, but there’s a keyboard shortcut that will let you cycle through all your open applications. Hold down the Command key and tap Tab. You’ll see a nice big bar that displays all your open apps. Each tap of the Tab key will take you to the next application, from right to left. Want to go the other way? Hold down the Shift key in addition to Command and Tab through your apps in reverse.
There are a couple of other neat tricks that Apple added to the Command-Tab shortcut: While any app is highlighted, tapping the H key will hide it and tapping Q will quit it. If you haven’t quite mastered the art of the neat desktop, these shortcuts will become indispensable in short order.
There are lots of keyboard shortcuts in the Mail app as well, but learning just a few can have a big impact on your email habits.
You can choose how often Mail checks for new messages in its preferences, but you always have the option of manually checking for new mail. To do so without having to visit the Mailbox menu, type Command-Shift-N (for New messages.) Leave out the Shift key and Command-N will create a new, blank message.
If you want to add an attachment to your message, a keyboard shortcut is a much faster way of getting the job done. With a draft message open, type Command-Shift-A and you’ll get a dialogue box ready to navigate to the file you want to attach. (Here’s a non-keyboard shortcut tip: If the file you wish to attach is visible in the Finder, just drag it on top of this dialogue box and it will be ready to send.)
Finally, there’s no need to pick up your mouse and click on Send. Type Command-Shift-D (“Deploy?” “Deliver?”) and your message will be on its way.
We spend a lot of time in our web browsers these days and even a few seconds saved by using keyboard shortcuts can make a big difference over time. Here are some favorites you may have overlooked.
For the fastest way of getting to the address bar and entering a URL, try Command-L (for “Location”). That puts your cursor in the address bar so you can immediately start typing. When you’ve entered your URL, just hit Return and you’re on your way.
When you get to the bottom of the screen, don’t reach for your mouse to scroll. Instead, press the spacebar and Safari will jump down a screen. (Press Shift-Space to jump back up.) Looking to navigate a little farther? Function-Left Arrow and Function-Right Arrow will bring you to the top and bottom of the current web page, respectively. (Note that the Function key on third-party keyboards may not work with shortcuts like these.)
Keyboard shortcuts even let you navigate between pages. Type Command-Left Arrow to go to the previous page and when you’re ready to go forward again, type Command-Right Arrow.
What if you want to navigate between multiple tabs? Keyboard shortcuts to the rescue. Type Command-Shift-] to jump to the next tab and Command-Shift-[ to jump to the previous one. And if you have multiple windows open in your browser (or pretty much any application), Command-` will cycle through them.
The long and short of shortcuts
The biggest hurdle to becoming proficient with keyboard shortcuts is allowing them to overwhelm you. Even these 20 or so shortcuts may be a lot to absorb at first. But if you start with just a few at a time—or maybe just one of the applications discussed here—you’ll soon see that they make you a more efficient Mac user.
Have a favorite shortcut that we didn’t get to? Let us know about it in the comments below.