Six productivity tricks

If you could choose to get more work done in less time, wouldn’t you? Luckily, with a few simple tips, you can streamline your workflow and use your Mac more efficiently. Here are six ways to make that happen.

1. Make the most of your keyboard

You use your keyboard constantly, but it’s easy to forget how powerful it is. Avoid moving your hand to your mouse—and save time in the long run—by learning keyboard shortcuts for frequently used commands.

Learn Shortcuts To learn keyboard shortcuts, first check your favorite applications’ menus—often you’ll see the shortcuts noted right next to the commands themselves. Here are a few good ones:

  • In Apple’s Mail, press Command-shift-N to check for new mail or Command-shift-F to forward a message.
  • In Microsoft Word ($239), Command-option-R brings up the thesaurus, Command-option-P switches to Page Layout view, and Command-option-N switches to Normal view.
  • In Safari, hop to your home page by pressing Command-shift-H. To check bookmarks, press Command-option-B.
  • In iChat, show or hide your Buddy List by pressing Command-1.
  • In iTunes, press the spacebar to play or pause.
  • Create Your Own In Mac OS X 10.3 and later, you can set keyboard shortcuts for any menu command and for most applications. (This won’t apply to some older programs or anything running in Classic.) For instance, you may want to create a shortcut for removing attachments from messages in Mail since there’s no preset shortcut for that command (Message: Remove Attachments).

    Go to the Keyboard Shortcuts tab of the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane. Click on the plus sign (+) and choose your target application from the Application pop-up menu. Type the exact name of the menu command in the Menu Title field—for example,

    Remove Attachments
    . Then place your cursor in the Keyboard Shortcut field and press the key combination you want to assign to the command. Click on Add and you’re set. (For more information, see Save Time with Shortcuts.)

    2. Personalize the Finder

    The Finder is at the center of everything you do on your Mac. Use its features to get easier access to the programs and folders you use most.

    Use the Sidebar By default, when you open a Finder window, OS X displays certain folders (such as Desktop and Documents) in its sidebar (the column on the window’s left side). You can add your own items here, too. Either drag a folder to the sidebar or select a folder and press Command-T. Now you’re one click away from its contents.

    Drag and Wait Drag an application icon to the Finder window’s toolbar to store it there for quick access.

    Customize the Toolbar Say there’s an application you use often—but not often enough to add it to the Dock. The toolbar located at the top of the Finder window is the perfect place to store a shortcut for it. Drag the application’s icon to the top of the Finder window and wait for the cursor to change to a plus sign. When you release the mouse, the icon stays in the toolbar. (If you change your mind, control-click on the icon and choose Remove Item from the contextual menu.) From there, you can click on the icon to launch the program, or drag a file on the icon to open the file.

    Switch between Views You probably know that you can set Finder windows to icon, list, and column views via the toolbar. But did you know that you can do the same from the keyboard? Press Command-1 for icon view, Command-2 for list view, and Command-3 for column view.

    3. Corral your e-mail

    Sorting through the barrage of e-mail flooding your inbox can be frustrating. Sometimes it can be a headache just to determine which messages you’ve read and which ones are new.

    The Tiger version of Apple’s Mail includes a great organizational tool: smart mailboxes. Use them to create a mailbox that shows only unread messages. Select Mailbox: New Smart Mailbox, click on the left pop-up menu, and select Message Is Unread. Name the mailbox something like Unread Mail and save it. Now, when you click on this mailbox, you’ll see only messages you haven’t yet looked at.

    You can create other types of smart mailboxes—for instance, one for messages from specific contacts (select From Contains contact name ) or companies (select From Contains domain name ). Or you can create a mailbox for messages containing certain keywords (Subject Contains keyword or Entire Message Contains keyword ). To learn more, see Use Mail’s Smarts.

    4. Preserve Web pages

    When browsing the Web, you probably happen upon pages you’d like to save for future reference. Sure, you could bookmark them, but the contents—or the URL itself—may have changed when you go back, and that means spending extra time searching.

    Using Safari The easiest way to save Web pages is to use Safari’s Save As Web Archive feature. Select File: Save As; then choose Web Archive from the Format pop-up menu. Doing so saves a special archive file that retains the text, images, and layout of the original page.

    Going Further For even more control over Web archives, use a special tool. You’ll find a wide variety out there: Rick Cranisky’s SiteSucker (free), Limit Point Software’s Blue Crab ($25), and Softchaos’s Webstractor ($80) are just a few. My current favorite is Bare Bones Software’s Yojimbo ($39), an information-management application designed to store notes, serial numbers, passwords, Web archives, and more.

    To save a page to Yojimbo as a Web archive, copy the page’s URL, press Yojimbo’s hot key (F8 by default) to display the Quick Input panel, press Command-5, and then press return. Open Yojimbo to view your Web archives or search them by keyword.

    5. Find files faster

    If you’re anything like me, you probably hate constantly navigating through several levels of folders to locate the file or application you want to open. To save time, use a launcher.

    LaunchBar This excellent $20 program from Objective Development lets you open applications and files without taking your fingers off the keyboard. To open iTunes, for example, press LaunchBar’s activation keys (Command-spacebar by default); it will appear below the menu bar. Next, type a few letters from the name of the application you want to open—iTunes, in this case. LaunchBar reveals a list of programs, files, and folders that contain these letters. Use the arrow keys to select iTunes and press return to open it. The program learns your shortcuts, so after you use a certain letter combination a few times for an item, that item’s name jumps to the top of the list.

    Butler Another cool utility is Peter Maurer’s free (donations accepted) Butler. It performs many of the same tricks as LaunchBar, but it also has powerful bookmark-management features, multiple Clipboards, and the ability to assign keyboard shortcuts for many common actions.

    6. Get a smarter rodent

    Apple has long clung to the one-button mouse as a symbol of simplicity. But additional buttons can save you hundreds of clicks each day, especially if you program them for common actions, such as double-clicking or control-clicking. If you’re still using a one-button Apple mouse, consider upgrading. If you already own a multibutton mouse, make sure you’ve programmed the buttons to maximize productivity.

    Your Apple Mouse Apple’s Mighty Mouse ($49) offers four buttons, though you need OS X 10.4 to customize it fully. In the Keyboard & Mouse preference pane, go to the Mouse tab. Here you can program the extra buttons to launch Dashboard, Exposé, or any application you use frequently.

    For more customization options, check out the $20 SteerMouse software, which lets you program your Mighty Mouse’s buttons to perform double-clicks, keyboard shortcuts, scrolling, and more. The software even lets you program separate commands for different applications. Plus, it supports both Panther and Tiger.

    Other Mice Don’t mind if your mouse and Mac aren’t a matched set? Consider an input device from a company such as Kensington or Logitech. Using the included software, you can program buttons to do such things as emulate a double-click, invoke keystrokes (say, Command-S for Save), eject a CD, or launch a Web page.

    [ Kirk McElhearn is the author of many books, including How to Do Everything with Mac OS X Tiger (McGraw-Hill Osborne, 2005). ]

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