5 Handy Mac Keyboard Tips to Increase Your Productivity

Apple has always been an advocate of using the mouse for almost everything. And while pointing and clicking is an easy way of moving around Mac OS X, you can greatly increase your productivity by employing some handy keyboard shortcuts and modifiers. Here are some to get started with.

Quickly getting to a file’s folder

Sometimes you want to quickly open the folder a certain file is sitting in. You can achieve this in two ways:

If the file in question is currently opened, simply the click the file name in the file’s window title bar while holding down the Command ⌘ key. The folder hierarchy will pop up, giving you easy access to the file’s containing folder or any folder above it in the hierarchy.

If the file in question isn’t currently open, simply enter its name in the Spotlight search bar and, instead of clicking it in the results list or launching it by pressing Enter, do so while holding the ⌘ key. That will open a finder window with the file’s containing folder.

Scrolling in Safari without the scroll bars or your mouse’s scroll wheel

Scrolling long web pages with your mouse’s scroll wheel can get pretty tiring, unless you happen to have the Logitech MX Revolution with it’s free-spinning scroll wheel. The scroll bars are faster, but you have to move your mouse to the window’s edge, grab the bar and drag it. But there’s an easier way: simply hold down the ^ key (the one labeled ctrl) and drag your mouse up and down. This might seem a little unusual at first, since the scroll direction is opposite to what you would expect it to be. But what you’re actually doing is moving the page – not the viewport – of the current window up and down, so moving your mouse up moves the page up, and vice versa. It’s basically the same as flicking the screen on your iPhone or iPod touch.

Quickly look up a word in the Dictionary

dictionary keyboard shortcutMac OS X’s built-in Dictionary app is one of those hidden gems that often lead a life in the dark because nobody is aware of their real powers. For example, Dictionary.app is extensible with additional modules and you can quickly look up a word via Spotlight. Yet another handy feature is that you can look up any word from within any application. One way to do this is to select the word and select Look Up in Dictionary from the contextual menu. But there’s an even faster way: select the word and press ^ ⌘ D and you get a small popup window with the word’s definition. A dropdown menu lets you select additional modules for looking up a word’s synonyms or its translation, depending on which modules are installed on your system. And by clicking on More … you can launch the full Dictionary app.

Copying and moving files around

One of the most common tasks on any computer is file management. Copying, moving and deleting files is something that we usually do several times a day. And since it’s such a common task, it could save you lots of time and work if you knew some handy keyboard tricks that make file management a lot easier.

It’s important to know the different cursor modes when dragging files in Finder. When moving a file, the cursor is the default arrow. When copying, a green plus sign accompanies the arrow. And when creating a shortcut, the default arrow is replaced by a little curvy arrow. Here’s what the cursors look like:

  • Default cursor
  • Copy cursor
  • Shortcut cursor

Also note that the default mode (no modifier key pressed) depends on whether you’re dragging a file to a different volume or the same volume. When dragging a file to a different volume (e.g. from your main hard drive to an external USB drive), the default mode is copy, on the same volume it’s move.

So how do you use these different modes for managing files? For example, once you start dragging one or more files to a new destination, you can use the modifier keys to tell Finder what you want it to do once you release the mouse button. Pressing and holding ⌥ will switch to copy mode. If you want to force a file to be moved instead of copied, simply hold down Command ⌘ while dropping. And if you want to create an alias (or shortcut) to a file, drag it to the desired location while holding down both ⌥ and ⌘.

One final note: if you start dragging a file and then change your mind, simply press the esc key to abort the drag.

Learning new keyboard shortcuts

If you like to be a bit adventurous, or at least discover some new things every once in a while, here’s a great way of finding some new keyboard shortcuts. In any application, open the menu and take a look at what commands are available. Some of these commands have their keyboard shortcuts displayed right next to them. What you may not know is that some of these commands have alternate behaviours when you press a certain modifier, such as the ⌥ key.

For example, open a Finder window and then open the File menu. Now press and hold the ⌥ key without clicking any command. See how some menu items change to reflect the modifier being pressed? Try the ctrl key for some more commands. This works with some contextual menu items, too. Just try it out with some different types of files.

This works not only in Finder but in many applications too. It’s a great way of learning all those useful keyboard shortcuts that can make your Mac life more productive and enjoyable.