Using keyboard shortcuts instead of reaching for your mouse or trackpad and hunting through menus is a great way to save time and get work done efficiently.
Even though for complex tasks you could use a keyboard assistant like Lacona (which will semantically understand any operation you need to perform) for complex tasks, knowing essential shortcuts will speed up every repetitive action related to the basic Mac functionality.
Learning shortcuts takes time and practice; it’s only by using them repeatedly that you develop a habit. But then you start really saving time and boosting productivity to the point where you won’t know how you’ve lived without them.
Top time-saving Mac keyboard shortcuts everyone should know
To help you, we’ve collected the best keyboard shortcuts for the Mac — those that will save you the most time every day. Remember: learn them and practice them.
We’ve avoided the obvious shortcuts, the ones that all casual Mac users will know, like copy, paste, and cut. Before we start with a list, let’s take a look at all the modifier keys:
- Cmd = Command key (the one on either side of the spacebar that looks like this: ⌘)
- Ctrl = Control key, usually labeled "ctrl"
- Alt = old-time Mac users would call this “Option,” and it looks like this: ⌥
- Shift = ⇧
- Tab = ⇥
Now, let’s dive right in.
Navigate quickly to a folder in Finder
When you’re in Finder, there are a number of shortcuts you can use to go directly to a folder.
- Cmd-Shift-D goes to Desktop
- Cmd-Shift-H to your user folder
- Cmd-Shift-A to Applications
- Cmd-Shift-I to iCloud Drive
- Cmd-Shift-U to Utilities
Change the Finder view
In a Finder window, use the following shortcuts to change the view for all the items in a folder:
- Cmd-1 to display Icons
- Cmd-2 for List
- Cmd-3 for Columns
- Cmd-4 for Cover Flow
Manage folders and files in Finder
- Cmd-[ to move left
- Cmd-] to move right
- Cmd-Option-S to add a selected item to a Finder window sidebar
- Cmd-click the files you want to preview, then press Cmd-Option-Y to view a Quick Look slideshow of the selected files
- Use Cmd-F to search for something. In most applications, including word processors and web browsers, it’s used to search for bits of text on the page you’re on. Cmd-F in Finder opens a new Finder search window, with the cursor already in the search box
- Invoke the Spotlight search bar from anywhere by pressing Cmd-Space.
Quickly open Accessibility options
Your Mac has a number of features, such as the ability to invert colors on the screen, to help those who have additional needs when it comes to using a computer. To access them quickly, press Cmd-Option-F5.
Switch applications quickly
Press Cmd-Tab and keep holding Cmd to pull up the macOS application switcher. Press Tab again to highlight the next app and let go when you reach the app you want to switch to. Pressing Cmd-Tab and letting go of both immediately switches to the next app without further interaction.
Open any application’s Preferences and Commands
Press Cmd-comma to open any application’s Preferences window. If you want to see all the commands that the app offers, you’ll have to go through its menu in the menu bar. Unless you have Paletro installed on your Mac.
Paletro is a Mac utility that shows an app’s commands and features in one handy list with a search bar — so you can quickly find out if an app has a certain feature. To invoke all commands with Paletro, open your target app and press Cmd-Shift-P. If you have non-English apps, you can use Paletro to navigate through their features using Latin characters.
Open the Get Info window
Get Info is available for every file and folder on your Mac and provides information such as the size of the file and the application that will be used by default. To open this window, click on the file or folder and press Cmd-I.
Hide/show the Dock and add items to the Dock
- Press Cmd-Alt-D to show or hide the Dock in any application (note that this doesn’t work when applications are in full-screen mode).
- Select the item then press Ctrl-Shift-Cmd-T to add a Finder item to the Dock
AirDrop is a great tool for transferring files quickly between Macs or between a Mac and an iOS device. To get to it right away, press Cmd-Shift-R in the Finder.
This one is a huge timesaver and can get you out of trouble, depending on the app you use it in. Press Cmd-Z to undo your most recent action. In apps that allow multiple undos, press it again to move back another step, and so on. To redo something you’ve undone, it’s either Cmd-Shift-Z or Cmd-Y, depending on the app.
Shortcuts for when you work with text
- Press Alt-Right Arrow to jump a word or Cmd-Right Arrow to jump to the end of a line
- Alt-Left Arrow and Cmd-Left Arrow to jump backward a word and a line, respectively
- To select text as you jump, hold down the Shift key
- Press Cmd-semicolon to have misspelled words highlighted
- To select everything in a document or folder, press Cmd-A
- To paste text in the style of the document you’re pasting into, press Cmd-Option-Shift-V.
Tip: Replace the boring copy & paste shortcut with Paste — a clipboard manager app that lets you copy multiple selections of text and save all of them in “stickers” at the bottom of your screen. This way you never lose any text you’ve copied.
Take a screenshot
Press Cmd-Shift-3 to screenshot the whole screen. To grab a selection, press Cmd-Shift-4 and drag over the part of the screen you want to grab. To take a shot of a single window, press Cmd-Shift-4 then press Space and place the camera icon over the window you want to grab and click on it.
You can also copy and paste a screenshot in one move. If you add the Ctrl key to the shortcuts above, it will paste the screenshot to the clipboard rather than saving it. For example, Ctrl-Cmd-Shift-3 will take a screenshot of the whole screen and paste it to the clipboard. To paste it into your document, just press Cmd-V.
CleanShot X gives you all the screen capturing features a Mac user could possibly wish for. So if you have this app, don’t bother remembering any shortcuts and use CleanShot X instead. It lets you capture any area of the screen as well as record screen and capture scrolling content (something the macOS screenshot tool can’t do).
- Press Cmd-T to open a new tab. If you close a tab by accident, Cmd-Shift-T will re-open it
- Make the contents of a web page larger or smaller using Cmd and either the + or - keys, depending on whether you want to zoom in or out. This also works in some other apps
To make the universal zoom work, you’ll need to go to System Preferences, then click the Accessibility pane and choose the Zoom option, checking all the boxes. After that, you can press Cmd-Option-Plus to zoom in anywhere. Cmd-Option-Minus will zoom out in stages. To return to 100%, press Cmd-Option-8.
Manage Sound and Display
- Press Option-F2 to show the Display Preferences window
- Press Option-F12 to show Sound Preferences
- Press Option-Shift-Volume Key to move the volume of your Mac’s audio up or down by smaller increments than just using the volume key alone.
Shut down, restart, or put your Mac to sleep
- Hit Option-Cmd-Power (or Ctrl-Option-Cmd-Eject) and your Mac will go to sleep, gently and effortlessly
- To quit open programs and shut down your Mac without needing to hit a confirmation button, press Ctrl-Option-Cmd-Power (or Ctrl-Option-Cmd-Eject)
- Hit Ctrl-Cmd-Power (or Ctrl-Cmd/Eject) to reboot your Mac
- To prevent your Mac from going to sleep or customize how long it should stay awake, use the Lungo app.
Create your own shortcuts with Keysmith
We don’t know who came up with all the shortcuts above. Someone who works at Apple, I guess. This doesn’t mean those shortcuts should work for everyone, though. If you don’t want to memorize them or you haven’t found a shortcut you need, you can create your own!
Keysmith is a powerful shortcut recorder app that watches as you do things on Mac and creates custom macros based on your actions. You can then assign shortcuts to these actions. So if you often paste text from Google Docs to Evernote and then export it to Notion, for example, you can create a shortcut for that workflow! Imagine how much time you could save.
Want another alternative? With BetterTouchTool, you can create your own key combinations to speed things up. Here’s how:
- Open BetterTouchTool
- Click All Apps in the left sidebar
- Then select Keyboard Shortcuts from the drop-down menu at the top of the window
- Click the + button and follow the hints of the app to create your first keyboard shortcut.
Keep on learning
In this article, we presented some introductory shortcuts, just one level above the ones everyone is used to. But if you can’t wait to start cramming new shortcuts, KeySmith and BetterTouchTool are available on Setapp with a 7-day free trial — so get right into it!
Setapp is a productivity service that helps you solve tasks with Mac and iOS apps (currently, there are 240+ apps in the collection). By the way, all the apps we’ve mentioned (Lacona, CleanShot X, Lungo, Paste, and Paletro) are part of Setapp too. No need to choose one productivity booster; you can have all of them!