Master your Mac with custom keyboard shortcuts
Push the right buttons.
Perhaps you too have frowned whenever you think about those seemingly wasted seconds spent moving your hands from your keyboard to your mouse and back again, over and over and over. Time is money. That’s why learning the right shortcuts can be such an advantage, as they allow you to whizz around your system faster and more comfortably.
All operating systems have presets you can work with, but if macOS doesn’t have the shortcuts you need, you can easily create your own. These custom key presses can help you get stuff done much more quickly, from launching your favorite apps and menus, to manipulating files and performing repetitive tasks such as closing programs at the end of the day.
This is exciting, but before you dive in and make your own macOS shortcuts, we’d recommend familiarizing yourself with the ones already available. It’ll save you from duplicating existing combos, as what you need may already exist by default.
Use the built-in macOS tool
The good news is that there is an option to create custom keyboard shortcuts built right into macOS. The bad news is that it doesn’t give you a great deal of flexibility, and you might also need to use a third-party program depending on what you want to do. To get started, open up System Preferences from the Apple menu, then choose Keyboard and Shortcuts.
There, you’ll see a list with the shortcuts already enabled on the system. They cover a host of actions—from taking a screenshot to opening the Launchpad interface. Any of them can be enabled and disabled using the check boxes in the dialog.
To assign a new shortcut to an action that doesn’t already have one, click its entry in the list and choose Add Shortcut. To edit an existing shortcut, click the action, then the shortcut. To delete it, select it and hit Delete.
If you try to assign a keyboard shortcut that’s already in use, macOS will warn you with a message on the screen. You’ll still be able to carry on, though, as when you type in a shortcut, the system will launch all the actions linked to it. This, however, may result in your computer slowing down or even crashing, depending on what programs or actions the shortcuts trigger, so it’s better to keep combinations unique.
Click App Shortcuts, then the plus button down at the bottom to create new shortcuts for your installed apps. You’ll get to pick the app and then the menu item inside the app that you want to access. If the action you want isn’t listed on a menu, you can’t create a shortcut to it. Not with this tool, anyway.
Get some help from third-party programs
If the macOS shortcut tool doesn’t cover everything you need, there are plenty of third-party programs around to help you out.
One of our favorites is Alfred, which will be familiar to macOS power users. It acts as a supercharged system search tool and launcher that also supports customized keyboard shortcuts. You can use it to set key presses for a host of actions including opening apps and files and searching the web.
To customize your shortcuts, open Alfred from the menu bar and pick Preferences. There, you’ll see the General tab, where you can set the main hotkey to enable Alfred, and the Features tab, where you can set shortcuts for particular actions related to files and apps. For more complex keyboard shortcuts (including those controlling media and the clipboard), you can upgrade to a Powerpack version for £29 (about $40).
Another alternative is Keyboard Maestro. It’s $36, but it’s a very comprehensive tool, and you can try it for free. The program can create more sophisticated shortcuts than Alfred, with the option to tie several actions together, and support for everything—from entering text to controlling system settings.
Click the plus button down at the bottom of the interface. First you’ll need to assign the keyboard shortcut, then you can tell the program what you want it to do in response. Keyboard Maestro is slightly more complicated in terms of building actions, so if you don’t find it as intuitive as Alfred, you can get more information on how the app works by clicking on Tutorial from the Help menu.
Create keyboard shortcuts from inside your applications
We’ve got no idea which programs you have on your system, but chances are that at least some support customized keyboard shortcuts. If you have applications like this, you’ll need to manage your key combos inside each app rather than across macOS as a whole.
Microsoft Word for macOS is one program with customized keyboard shortcut support. To find the feature inside Word, you’ll need to choose Tools, then Customize keyboard. You’ll see a new dialog box with all the commands and menu options you can assign shortcuts to—select one and press your chosen shortcut to link them. Make sure to use unique combinations, as any new ones you create will override the old ones. Don’t worry, though—you’ll be warned if your chosen shortcut is already in use.
Finally, use the drop-down menu at the bottom of the dialog box to choose whether the shortcuts apply to all Word documents (the Normal.dotm template) or just the current one (Document1 or whatever the currently opened file is called).
If you have Adobe Photoshop on your Mac, you can set up customized shortcuts to get to your favorite tools more quickly. Just press Option+Shift+Cmd+K, or select Keyboard Shortcuts inside the Edit menu to start assigning.
Your selected shortcuts can launch menu items, interface panels (like Layers or History), and specific tools—select an entry in the list on the screen, click Add Shortcut, and then press your chosen combination of keys. As in Word, if your chosen shortcut is already in use, Photoshop will warn you, and if you continue, the new action will overwrite the old one.