Some people get really fast at navigating around their Mac. After they learn various shortcuts here and there, they seem to do everything in a jiffy. You can’t be left out, though, because everyone should be making use of shortcuts in their daily activities on a Mac.
In this tutorial, I’ll cover the basic navigation shortcuts as well as the more advanced and even “secret” ones.
OS X has some shortcuts that stay the same no matter what app you’re using. Here are the ones that will help you do things a bit faster.
1. Close Windows and Quit Apps
Command W will close a window and Command Q will quit it. In post-Lion (10.7+) operating systems, the app will remember its state if you quit the it without closing all the windows
2. Create a New Window
Command N will create a new window in apps that support it. In some apps, like TextEdit or Messages, this shortcut will create a new document or message, respectively.
3. Minimize and Hide Apps
You can hide all the windows of an app using Command H. When an app is hidden, you can show it again by clicking its icon in the dock or selecting it in the Command Tab menu, which we will look at later. If you just want to get rid of the active window for a second, Command M will minimize it to the dock.
4. Get Info
To look at an item’s info, whether it’s in Finder or iTunes, you can use the universal Command I shortcut.
5. Select Everything
Command A will select everything in the active window. If you’re trying to upload something, this may not work due to the limitations of the website, but usually you can either use the shortcut or click and drag to select things. Also, holding Command and clicking an item will select or deselect it individually.
Whether you want to save a webpage or text document, Command S is the shortcut you need. Remember that post-Lion (10.7+) operating systems automatically save things for you, so this shortcut is a manual method.
If you typed the wrong thing and want to retract it without holding backspace or selecting the text, just hit Command Z. This can be used for moving files in Finder, opening a new window in Safari, and much more. Try it.
8. Open an App’s Preferences
Changing settings for an app are easy with the Command Comma shortcut. It will quickly bring up the Preferences window for most apps, save for special ones like Adobe Bridge.
9. Scroll Slower
Holding down Option while dragging the scrollbar will significantly decrease its acceleration.
10. Ubiquitous Option
The Option key can be held down in many places to reveal special settings. When you click the WiFi menu bar icon while holding it, for example, lots of additional information will be displayed. Likewise, holding it down in the Go menu of Finder will display the hidden Library folder. For more on the Option key’s power, check out our full article Going Further with the Option Key in Mac OS X.
You can activate Spotlight, OS X’s system-wide search, by pressing Command Spacebar. It’s a very fast way to find or open anything.
12. Lock Your Mac
When you walk away from your computer in the office or coffee shop, you can quickly lock it (it stays on, but needs a password to be used) with Control Shift Power or Eject, depending on what kind of keyboard you have. This will put the display to sleep but allow the computer to finish its tasks.
13. Open Sound Settings
To quickly switch your audio device or adjust the sound settings in System Preferences, just hold Option and press one of the keyboard’s volume buttons.
14. Incremental Volume and Brightness Adjustment
Holding Option Shift while pressing a volume button will allow you to adjust the volume in small increments. The same principle is true for doing the same with the brightness keys. Rather than whole blocks displaying on the screen, you’ll see that it goes down by one quarter each time you press the button while holding the modifiers.
15. Fast App Switching
You can switch between apps quickly by holding Command and pressing Tab until the app you want is selected. This can be used to drag files from one app to another quickly. Also, when an app is selected in the Command Tab menu, you can continue to hold Command and hit Q to quit it. Pressing H to hide the app also works.
16. The Boot Menu
If you want to boot into recovery, Windows, or off of a flash drive, you can hold Option while your computer is starting up, use the arrow keys or mouse to select an option, and press Enter.
17. Reveal An App in Finder
If you want to see an app in Finder, simply Command click its dock icon.
18. Slower Animations
Hold down Shift when you minimize, open, or do anything involving an animation to slow it down. You can let go after a second or two because it’ll continue in slow motion until the animation is complete. This isn’t really that productive, it’s just fun, especially if you want to trick someone into thinking their Mac has a problem.
Working with Text
There are much faster ways of moving around a paragraph than clicking. Why use the trackpad or mouse when you don’t have to?
19. Cut, Copy, and Paste
There are three things you can do with the clipboard on Mac: remove the selected text and put it in the clipboard, copy it, or paste something you’ve already cut or copied. To cut text, select it and press Command X. To copy it, press Command C. To paste it, press Command V. Much faster than selecting it, secondary-clicking it, clicking Copy, finding a new text field, secondary-clicking again, and clicking Paste, isn’t it?
20. Transpose Characters
Say you typed “teh” instead of “the”. If autocorrect didn’t already fix it, you can using the transpose shortcut. Simply put your cursor between the two letters and press Control T. It’s easier than secondary-clicking to find the correct word.
21. Select Non-Contiguous Text
Holding Option while moving your cursor in a text field will turn it into a plus sign. If you click and drag too, you can select text that isn’t contiguous, meaning that it doesn’t have to be all the way to the end of the line.
22. Jump Words
Holding Option and using the left and right arrows will allow you to jump from word to word, eliminating the need to click. You can also jump from one paragraph’s end to another by holding Option and pressing the up and down keys.
23. Delete a Line of Text
Undo always works for things you’ve typed, but Command Delete removes just one line of text, making it faster to edit things.
24. Type the Degree Symbol
Whether you want to tell someone what the temperature is or how to cook roast beef, the degree symbol comes in handy. To quickly type it, press Option Shift 8.
25. Em-dash: The Real Dash
If you don’t like the short dashes your Mac yields when pressing the - button, just use the shortcut Option Shift Dash to get the real thing: an em-dash.
26. Secondary Clipboard
Very few people use the Mac’s secondary keyboard. Maybe you have lots of text to copy and don’t want to go back and forth. Whatever the case may be, you can cut text to this keyboard using Control K and paste it with Control Y.
Don’t forget you can save typing with Siri Dictation in the latest version of OS X. To activate it, press fn twice in a text field.
Apple’s default browser has shortcuts that are very similar to others, like Chrome and Firefox. Here are some of the most useful.
Sometimes Safari gets stuck when it's loading a website. To reload the page, press Command R.
29. New Tab
Tabs the most invaluable tool in the modern browser, especially to myself. Creating new ones is as quick as Command T.
30. Switch Tabs
When you have lots of tabs running, you may not want to move your mouse to each one to switch. Luckily, you can progress through them with a keystroke. Control Shift Right Arrow will move things along. Sadly, you can't go backwards. It's still pretty fast though.
31. Add a Bookmark
Despite most people going straight to specific sites or using their Top Sites page as a guide, there are still those of us who love bookmarks. To add the page you're currently visiting as a bookmark, press Command D.
32. To a Bookmark!
You can open the first nine bookmarks you have in the Bookmarks Bar with Command 1 through 9. This makes opening your favorite websites even faster.
33. Jump to the Address Bar
My favorite shortcut I've learned is the one that lets me search Google from wherever I am in Safari. It's Command L. Basically, it gives you a push to Safari's address bar so that you can type something without moving the mouse. It's indispensable.
The OS X file browser can be annoying at times, so here are some ways to speed things up.
34. Change the View
You might not like the Grid view in your Finder window. Not a problem! You can change to a list, column, or Cover Flow with Command 2, 3, or 4, respectively. To go back to Grid, use Command 1.
35. Create a New Folder
There’s no need to secondary-click the whitespace just so you can make a new directory to store things. Instead, use Command Shift N to quickly create a new folder. Your hands are then on your keyboard, ready to type a name.
36. Open View Options
I constantly have to remind Finder that I want things sorted a certain way. To make sure all the settings are correct, I head to View Options. This window can quickly be opened anywhere in Finder by using the Command J shortcut.
37. Fast AirDrop Access
Every time I try to share a file with my sister or hacker-friends, AirDrop eludes them and sometimes me. To quickly open it, just use the Command Shift R shortcut anywhere you are in Finder. If you want it to be available even faster, assign your own shortcut to the AirDrop option in an item’s secondary-click menu.
38. Connect to a Server
If you’re constantly opening your FTP server, it’s nice to do it while your fingers are still on the keyboard. Use Command K quickly open the Connect to Server window.
39. Move to Desktop
I constantly move things to my Desktop to remind myself to review them or just to upload them somewhere (since the Desktop is the easiest folder to quickly access). For this, there’s an even faster way than dragging and dropping: Command D.
40. Faster Folder Navigation
I hate having to use the back button in Finder, so I use Command up arrow instead. This will navigate to the level above the folder I’m currently in. It makes things much less annoying.
What Do You Use?
There are a bunch of other shortcuts available, but I’ve found the above 40 to be the most useful in my daily Mac usage. Shortcuts like Command L make it very easy for me to quickly find something in Safari, and Command Tab helps me quickly jump from one application to another. If you’ve had time to adopt your own shortcuts, please share them with us in the comments. Better yet, go create your own and tell us of those adventures.