1. Computer Skills

Using Keyboard Maestro to Create Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

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Keyboard Maestro is one of the most powerful Mac productivity and automation apps available. You connect different Actions together in Macros which can then be triggered in any number of ways. There is almost no limit to what you can do.

Previously, I’ve covered Keyboard Maestro in a lot of depth. In this tutorial, I'll show you a single very basic use: creating custom keyboard shortcuts in your favourite apps. If you’ve ever looked at Keyboard Maestro and thought it’s too complicated, this is the tutorial for you. 

The Reasons to Set Up Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are often the fastest way to do something. If you’re typing, your hands are already on the keyboard. Tapping Command-A or Command-C takes no more effort than just typing a random letter. It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s there.

Other options are a lot slower. You can take your hands off the keyboard, grab the mouse (or put your finger on the trackpad), move the cursor to the Menu Bar, and start looking for the option you want. It’s slow, annoying and breaks the flow. 

Almost every Mac app comes with keyboard shortcuts assigned by the developer. They set some simple keyboard shortcuts for features they think you’re likely to use. 

Some, like Copy Command-C and Paste Command-V are universal. Others will be custom keyboard shortcuts for that apps specific features. For example, I’m writing this tutorial in Ulysses and Command-I sets text to italics; in Safari it does nothing.

The problem is that developers can only add keyboard shortcuts they think will be useful. If you use their app exactly as they intended, you’ll be fine. But if you do anything different, you might find that there aren’t keyboard shortcuts for features you use all the time, and that features you never need have some of the best ones. 

While you could just suffer through and use your keyboard to click on menu items, the best thing to do is create your own keyboard shortcuts. That way you get the exact shortcuts you want.

The Reasons to Use Keyboard Maestro

It’s possible to set up simple keyboard shortcuts in System Preferences but I prefer to use Keyboard Maestro for a couple of reasons. 

First, it’s more powerful. You can have the keyboard shortcut do more than just click a single menu item. For example, I have a keyboard shortcut that sets a target goal of 900 words for article drafts in Ulysses. With System Preferences I could create a keyboard shortcut to add a goal, but I’d need to manually enter it every time myself. This is obviously a very basic example but it shows what I’m talking about.

Second, setting up simple Macros like the ones we’ll be using for these keyboard shortcuts is a great way to learn to use Keyboard Maestro. The hardest problem a lot of people have with powerful apps is they’re not sure where to get started. They look at all the features and have no idea where to begin. By starting with something really simple, you learn the basics of the app without getting intimidated. 

Third, it’s quicker and easier to implement keyboard shortcuts in Keyboard Maestro once you have the hang of it. This means that you can quickly create one-off shortcuts if you know you’re going to have to do the same thing again and again, but only for a single project. Or you can quickly add shortcuts as you realise you need them.

Palettes like this are one of Keyboard Maestro's advantages.

Finally, as I'll explain in the next tutorial, you can use the same keyboard shortcut for multiple things within the same app with Keyboard Maestro. When you press the shortcut it will bring up a Palette with all the different options. 

For example, I’ve set Command-Shift-L to bring up a list of Envato Tuts+ articles I commonly link to. I can then select the article I want from the list and Keyboard Maestro sets my clipboard to its URL.

Setting Up a Simple Keyboard Shortcut

Lets look at setting up a simple keyboard shortcut Macro in Keyboard Maestro. You’ll need a copy of the app which you can buy from the developers’ website for $36. There’s also a free trial so you can get a feel for the app before spending any money. 

Open Keyboard Maestro and create a new Macro with the keyboard shortcut Command-N. I want to add a keyboard shortcut that lets me attach a goal in Ulysses so call it something like Add Goal.

new macronew macronew macro
Creating a new macro.

Click New Trigger and select Hot Key. Set it to Command-G.

setting the hot keysetting the hot keysetting the hot key
Setting the keyboard shortcut trigger.

Next click New Action and from Interface Control select Select of Show a Menu Item.

adding actionadding actionadding action
Adding the 

From the Menu dropdown, select Ulysses > Edit > Attach > Goal…

selecting the optionselecting the optionselecting the option
Using Keyboard Maestro to select the right menu bar item. 

Keyboard Maestro will automatically fill the fields.

ready to goready to goready to go
The Macro ready to go.

And that’s it, now the when I press Command-G I get the option to add a goal.

macro in actionmacro in actionmacro in action
The macro in action.

Setting Up a More Complex Keyboard Shortcut

I'll take things a little further. So far everything can just be done in System Preferences. I want to add a default goal of 900 words so I'll add another action. In Keyboard Maestro go to Text and add an Insert Text by Typing Action. 

Set the value to 900.

finished macrofinished macrofinished macro
The finished more advanced Macro.

And once again, it’s that simple. Now when I press the keyboard shortcut Command-G, it will add a goal of 900 words to Ulysses

Wrapping Up

Creating your own keyboard shortcuts for the features you most use in your favourite apps is one of the best ways to speed up your workflow. You can use System Preferences but, with an app like Keyboard Maestro, you can go further and use other Actions to add in default values. 

This is the absolute basics of what can be achieved with Keyboard Maestro. If you want to learn more, check out our complete series on it

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