Turn your Mac function keys into shortcuts to work faster

5 min read

The function keys on your Mac’s keyboard are probably the least used of all. In fact, they’re so underused that by default when you press a function key it doesn’t act as a function key at all. Instead, it performs its other duty, whether that’s media playback control, brightness adjustment, or invoking Launchpad or Mission Control. To use a function key as a function key, you must hold down the fn button at the bottom left of your keyboard.

Change the behavior of function keys on your Mac

Nevertheless, function keys can be very useful if you customize them to do what you want them to do. Here’s how to create some of the best time-saving function key shortcuts for your Mac.

Use function keys without pressing fn

First thing first, let’s make function keys functional again:

  1. To reverse the default behavior of function keys, go to the Apple Menu and select System Preferences
  2. Click on the Keyboard pane
  3. Choose the Keyboard tab
  4. Check the box next to “Use F1, F2, etc. keys as standard function keys”

Use function keys without pressing fn

Customize function key shortcuts with preset actions

The easiest shortcut you can make is re-assigning function keys themselves to more useful actions:

  1. In System Preferences, choose the Keyboard pane
  2. Click on the Shortcuts tab
  3. Choose one of the categories on the left-hand side
  4. Select a preset from the list
  5. If the preset already has a shortcut assigned, click on it and tap the function key you want to use
  6. If it doesn’t have a shortcut assigned already, click Add Shortcut and tap the function key

Customize function key shortcuts with preset actions

If the function key you’ve chosen is already assigned to something else, you’ll see a yellow warning triangle appear next to it and the original shortcut. You will have to alter one of them to proceed.

Create function key shortcuts with custom actions

Now, to actually create shortcut combinations, do the following:

  1. Launch the app for which you want to add a shortcut
  2. Go to the menu that hosts the command you want to create a shortcut for and make a note of the precise name of the command
  3. Go to the Keyboard pane in System Preferences
  4. Select the Shortcuts tab
  5. Choose App Shortcuts
  6. Click the plus button
  7. From the All Applications drop down menu, choose the app for which you want to add the shortcut
  8. In the Menu Title box, type the name of the command exactly as it appears in the application’s menu
  9. Type the function key shortcut in the Keyboard Shortcut box

Now, whenever you’re in that app and tap the assigned function key, it will perform the specified command. For example, if you set up a shortcut to save a document as a template in Pages and assign it to the F1 key, then when you’re using Pages and press F1, the current document will be saved as a template.

Create function key shortcuts

If you want to go further than customizing function keys, there are several apps that can help you work faster and become even more productive.

Quick Tips: make your own shortcuts to work faster and more efficiently

Expand text with Rocket Typist

If you find yourself typing the same phrases over and over again in email messages or documents, Rocket Typist is your holy grail. It allows you to store organized snippets of text and recall them with custom abbreviations.

For example, instead of typing “Hello, my name is John Appleseed, I am a developer interested in…” you could just type “hmn” and Rocket Typist will fill out the rest. You could also find the pre-saved phrase in the app itself and paste it in that way. 

Rocket Typist shows how minimal but productive a text expansion app can be.

Expand text with Rocket Typist

Rocket Typist supports macros for things like time and date so you can be sure the current time and date will be placed in your document. And you can share snippets using AirDrop or Mail.

Search intelligently with Lacona

Lacona is a bit like a keyboard version of Siri for those of us who don’t like talking to our Mac. Press the keyboard shortcut to invoke its text input bar and type a command, such as “search Amazon for bluetooth speakers” or “schedule lunch with Carol at 1pm tomorrow,” or even “play Born to Run.” As you type, Lacona will show a list of suggestions beneath the window, and you can use the arrow keys to navigate to and select the one you want.

Lacona can also perform actions like copy, move, and rename on files in the Finder and activate system events like Empty Trash and Shutdown, it can create reminders and make calls, quit, activate and relaunch apps, and so much more, all by typing in its text bar. The app can even hook into third-party services, like IFTTT, so you can control those just by typing as well.

lacona search

Create custom gestures with BetterTouchTool

Apple’s built-in gestures for the Trackpad and Magic Mouse are great, as far as they go. With BetterTouchTool (BTT) though you can take them much much further. The app allows you to create completely custom gestures and assign them to actions, which can be either global or application specific.

Create custom gestures with BetterTouchTool

In addition, BetterTouchTool allows you to create custom keyboard sequences to trigger actions, and has its own built-in clipboard manager and screenshot tool. So you could, for example, set up a gesture to take a screenshot and then edit it right in BetterTouchTool instead of saving it to the Desktop.

Save multiple text snippets with Paste

Paste is a clipboard manager that allows you to store multiple items for pasting later. It then categorizes each copied item and places it in its own section of the clipboard, which you can easily change. Moreover, Paste syncs your clipboard in iCloud, meaning you can access its pinboard on multiple devices.

To paste an item you’ve copied into a document, just use Paste’s keyboard shortcut to view the pinboard, find the snippet of text, image, URL, or whatever else you’ve copied, copy it and then paste it into your file.

Save multiple text snippets with Paste

As you can see, your Mac’s keyboard can be customized in different ways. By creating shortcuts for function keys as well as combinations of other keys, you can start working much more quickly and save time. And using the apps listed above, all of which are available to download for free on Setapp, you can take your productivity to another level altogether.

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