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Tips & Shortcuts

How to Create a Keyboard Shortcut for Menu Items Everywhere

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Keyboard shortcuts are an awesome way to improve your productivity and the swiftness with which you move through certain tasks. They are a valuable asset to quick navigation by default, but isn’t it disappointing when a menu item doesn’t have a shortcut? Let's learn how to add one.


Understanding Why You Need It

A shortcut is missing.
A shortcut is missing.

If you’re wondering what on earth is going on with shortcuts in OS X, let me explain. Developers assign certain shortcuts to menu items in their apps so users can quickly use the function without a mouse. In Calendar, for instance, there’s no way to show the "Calendars" menu without clicking a button because Apple hasn’t assigned a shortcut for it. The same goes for the "Zoom" option of the "Window" menu in every app, because no one uses it.

Some people think Apple, or the developer of the app, has left them out in the cold and they will need to find a different app for the job. Not so. In fact, the "Keyboard" pane of System Preferences has just the settings for you and your zooming, or whatever it is that you need to get done. There’s also a way to add custom shortcuts for every function of the app — if you don’t like the ones it currently has.

Before you begin, however, it’s important that you find an app whose shortcuts you want to change or add to. It could be "Subscribe to Podcast" in iTunes’ File menu or just a simple "Bring All to Front" for Finder. Be sure to make a list of everything you want to customize so you’re ready to start things off.


Step 1: Go to the Keyboard Pane

The Keyboard pane holds many secrets, so tap away.
The Keyboard pane holds many secrets, so tap away.

Go to System Preferences and then click the "Keyboard" icon. Once it’s opened, click the "Keyboard Shortcuts" tab and click "Application Shortcuts" at the bottom of the list on the left. There will probably only be one thing in the pane on the right (a "Help" shortcut as a sample) so now it’s time to start adding your own items to this list.


Step 2: Pick the App and Menu Item

List formed, Keyboard pane open, are we ready? Okay, click the + button at the bottom to begin. Now click the "Application" drop-down menu and choose your first app.

If it’s not in the menu, click "Other" to browse for it. I decided to change the default shortcut for opening a new tab in Safari, and I did this by typing the name of the menu item in the "Menu Title" field. If you miss the ellipsis (…) at the end of the title, it won’t register correctly, so make sure you type the exact name, including capitalization.


Step 3: Add the Shortcut

Adding a different New Tab shortcut to Safari.
Adding a different New Tab shortcut to Safari.

It’s important that you don’t choose a shortcut that the app is already using. For some reason, OS X doesn’t tell you it’s a duplicate. If you leave the new one in place of the old, it’ll erase the former. You can always bring it back by changing the shortcut or deleting it from the custom list entirely, but it’s best not to waste time. Make sure you browse all the menus of the app you’re customizing to make sure nothing is a duplicate. Of course, you can always replace a shortcut you don’t use — it won’t hurt anything.

When you’re ready, click the "Shortcut" field and then put in your key combination. It’s best to go with something like Command+E. Think of something unique or natural for you, but remember that Option+8 will yield an unequal sign, as will many other keys pressed only with Option. To play it safe, try using Command or Control for everything, else you’ll get things popping up when you are typing away in a document.

All finished? Click "Add" and your changes will be saved immediately.


Step 4: Test It Out

It's now Command+Y instead of Command+T.
It's now Command+Y instead of Command+T.

There’s no need to restart your app to find the modified shortcut. Just bring the window back into light and try out your new keys to see if you like them. If something doesn’t function properly, go to the "Keyboard" pane, select the new shortcut, and emove it. You can always try again until you find a natural finger-dash.


Advanced: Apply to All Applications

Let's maximize the size of things much faster.
Let's maximize the size of things much faster.

There are many global menu items, like "Minimize" and "Zoom," which you probably use extensively. Even if it’s just something like "Close Window," it can be customized in the Keyboard pane.

Instead of selecting one app when you’re adding a shortcut, click the "All Applications" button in the drop-down menu. Now type in the name of the menu item and shortcut just as you would with any other app. Remember, though, that this shortcut will be global and all your apps will use it. Check the menus of software you use frequently to ensure it won’t be affected by something like Command+Z for Zoom, because that’s already Undo in all apps. When you’re all finished, just click "Add."


How Will You Use It?

There are a lot of applications for this nifty feature and I’ve only just scratched the surface of what you can do. We’d like to know how you want to use this tip to your advantage. Will it be a different copy and paste; something like Control+C if you’re a former Windows user, or are you planning to just navigate an app differently than before? I personally enjoy having a shortcut to check iTunes downloads and show DOS drives in Boxer. What about you?

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