BlogJacob deGroot-Maggetti

Exploring Keyboard Shortcuts

In an effort to get the most out of the tools I use, I've spent time getting familiar with my laptop's keyboard shortcuts. While the hotkeys in this post are specific to machines running MacOS, there are similar Windows shortcuts for nearly all of them. These may be old hat to some, but I've found these to have a dramatic impact on how I interact with my computer.

Why?

Is it worth taking the time to learn keyboard shortcuts? In my experience, I've found the answer to be a resounding yes. I've more than made up the time I spent learning them: hotkeys allow me to get around faster, letting me quickly navigate my files and windows without having to move my hands from the keyboard to the trackpad and back. And this is doubly useful for me, as I find using a trackpad can lead to bouts of tendinitis in a way that my keyboard doesn't.

How?

There are lengthy pages of documentation on Apple's website, outlining all the shortcuts that work in various apps. While reading through these pages does lead to occasional moments of "oh, I can totally use that," it wasn't until I copied into an Anki deck all of the shortcuts I could imagine myself ever using that I found myself starting to feel fluent. Working repeatedly through my flashcards, I became familiar with what sorts of actions tend to have hotkeys assigned to them. Then, it was a matter of catching myself whenever I was about to perform these actions with the cursor (or doubling back and redoing them if I hadn't caught myself in time).

Shortcuts I Use Every Day

For an exhaustive list, look elsewhere; here, I present a short list of the shortcuts I can't imagine doing without.

The Basics: Command–Z, –X, –C, –V

Okay, so these I've been using for years.

Switching Windows: Command–Tab, Command–`

These two have been game-changers. To switch between open applications, hold down Command and press Tab until you've reached the desired app. Rotate through apps in the opposite direction by holding Shift-Command and pressing Tab. To switch between multiple windows of the same app, follow the same steps, substituting ` (just beneath the Escape key) for Tab. Need an app that isn't currently running? Open Spotlight Search by pressing Command-Spacebar and typing the name of the application. Having learned to navigate using these shortcuts, I've been able to minimize the dock and run everything full screen, all the time.

Managing Windows: Command–Q, –W, –H

Command-W closes the active window (or if you're in an application with multiple tabs, it closes the current tab), and Command-Q quits the active application. I frequently use Command-H to hide windows (while Command-M can be used to stow a window in the dock, it leaves the minimized window inaccessible to Command-Tab and Command-`).

Getting Around Text: Option and Command + Arrow Keys

If I had to recommend one set of shortcuts to learn, it would be Option + Arrow Keys to navigate text. Rather than moving one character at a time, Option-Left and Option-Right allow you to move one word at a time. Option-Up and Option-Down allow you to move by paragraph rather than by line. Command allows you to move even more quickly, skipping to the beginning or end of the line, or the top and bottom of the document. And these shortcuts work with other keys: combine with Shift to select text, combine with Delete to delete text, and combine with both Function and Delete to delete text in the opposite direction.

Getting Around Finder

Rather than navigating to my desktop to find and open files, I switch to Finder using Command-Tab, press Command-N to open a new window, and press Shift-Command-D to navigate to my desktop. From there, I can navigate via arrow keys and by typing the first letters of files/folders. I can open my documents folder in a similar way, using Command-Option-O (dOcuments?). There are a bunch of other Shift-Command shortcuts to get around Finder; the only other one I use with some frequency is the oddball of the group, Option-Command-L (downLoads? Command-Option-L opens the Libraries folder).

One last useful Finder shortcut is Shift-Command-N, which creates a new folder.

Getting Around the Internet

There are some useful keyboard shortcuts that are specific to browsers. Command-L brings you to the address bar. Command + Number Key allows you to switch tabs: Command-1 through -8 let you switch between your eight leftmost tabs, while -9 takes you to your rightmost tab. Safari also includes the useful function of allowing you to access your first nine bookmarks using Option-Command-1 to -9.

Shortcuts in Other Programs

Finally, most well-designed programs (or interactive websites, for that matter) have a range of useful hotkeys specific to the application. On youtube.com, for example, I've learned I can adjust playback speed with Shift-, and Shift-., can toggle captions with C, and jump through the video timeline in 10% increments by using the number keys. Google is your friend here (For YouTube, a hint: press Shift-? for the full list).


Since I began making a serious effort to learn and use keyboard shortcuts this past May, I'm certain that I've made back the time I spent studying them. My laptop feels more like an extension of my body/mind, compared to when I used to lose my train of thought trying to navigate by clicking on icons a few pixels wide. It's satisfying to know I've learned a skill that allows me to work more efficiently. And in certain moments, when I'm not focusing on writing up a paper or typing up a blog post, it's just fun to be able to get around quickly.

Posted: Dec 6, 2020. Last updated: Dec 19, 2020.