Take command of your Mac: essential tips for a better experience

Aug 9, 2016 | 0 comments

Would you drive a car around in first gear all the time? Leave the radio station on whatever it was set to at the factory? Of course not. But I’m constantly surprised (and pained) at how many people do equivalent things on their Mac, and suffer as a result, whether they realize it or not.

Do you ever drag a document window to the bottom of the screen to get to something behind? Search the Dock or even type in a keyword search, just to find a program that’s already open? Click about half a dozen times to add an attachment to an email?

You could achieve the same things with a mere motion of your hand, and in doing so, gain a sense of real control over your iMac experience.

So, take a few minutes and – with my help – get familiar with the incredible tools Apple provides for moving around on your Mac.

Take a shortcut

There’s more than one way to skin a cat – or to do most tasks on the computer. For example, you can select a command from a menu, but most items have a keyboard shortcut that’s much faster. How much difference could it make? Well, you’d be surprised how much faster it feels to punch in a shortcut with barely any hand movement needed, when compared to taking your hand off the keys, steering it toward a menu, pulling it down, clicking, and returning to the keyboard. For the most often used commands, you’ll never use the mouse again after a few times.

In fact, despite the fact that the mouse was the very innovation that helped the “personal computer” go mainstream, most of the time you don’t want to use it. (But watch for a major exception to this rule a little farther down.)

Quick switch

Here’s where I most often see people doing something that just kills me: shuffling windows around to “get to” the program or document they want to work with.

Don’t do that, which makes you repeatedly reposition windows needlessly. Keep them where you want them, and just bring the program you want which is “underneath” to the top with the keyboard with Command-Tab.

Hold down the Command (⌘) key, and just tap the Tab key. (And yes, this should be done with only one hand.) Voila! A bar with the icons of all your open programs appears. Keep your thumb on the Command key and keep tapping Tab until you get to the program you want. Then just… release. That’s it.

To switch back and forth between the same two programs, just hit Command-Tab and let go – it automatically switches to the last app you used.

You can also simply move your mouse over the program you want (keeping the list on-screen by holding down that Command key, of course) and when over it, don’t click… just let go of the keyboard.

So far, I’ve focused on avoiding the mouse. But there’s a time when reaching for it is actually the real timesaver. When? Read on.

Get cooking with hot corners

Keyboard shortcuts and the Command-Tab shortcut will get you pretty far and have you feeling like quite the speed demon if you haven’t used them. But there’s a third level that, while it takes a moment to set up, will truly take you to usability Nirvana. It’s “Hot Corners”.

In a nutshell, you set up certain views to be activated when you move the mouse into one of  your screen’s four corners. You can achieve many things more quickly and smoothly with this method than any other way. Personally, I couldn’t live without it. Here’s the basics.

How you get to this setting varies depending on your operating system. First, go to System Preferences (under the Apple menu). Then…

For Snow Leopard
Go to Exposé and Spaces, then click the “Exposé” tab (or button, or lozenge…) at the top.

For Mavericks or Yosemite
Go to Mission Control (in the top row of icons), then click the “Hot Corners…” button at lower left.

Now you’ll see a representation of your desktop, with a pop-up menu next to each corner. Simply select the action you’d like to occur when you move the mouse into each area.

I set mine up thusly (I’m on Yosemite):

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 2.24.23 PM

(For Snow Leopard, I choose “All Windows” for the upper left.

And now the magic happens. Whip the mouse to the upper left and you’ll see a God’s eye view of all  your currently running programs gathered in groups. You can select the particular program and window you want by just clicking it (watch for the blue highlighting to confirm you’re on the right one). And there you are. No window shuffling required.

Want to check your desktop? Again, don’t worry if there’s a hundred things between it and you. Just whip into the lower right, and there it is. Note the grey line around the outside of your screen to indicate that this is a temporary view.

How to get out? Just repeat the gesture – OR, hit any other corner instead. You’ll be returned to the view you had before.

It gets better. You can hold onto stuff while you’re hitting hot corners. This opens up all kinds of new vistas of convenience. My ultimate use of this feature is when I’m adding an email attachment, and the file I want to add is out of sight on the desktop.  Here’s what I do.

  • I’m composing my email (this only works using Apple Mail or equivalent, not webmail). I whip the mouse to lower right.
  • I find my attachment right there on the desktop, and click down on it to “hold onto it”.
  • I whip my mouse into the lower right corner again, which brings back my email just as it was.
  • Holding the mouse over the message, I let go. Voila, it’s attached!

Just writing it out like that makes it seem like more steps than it really is. It actually happens very smoothly – especially after you’ve done it a few times.

If the file you want to attach isn’t on the desktop, you can click on the desktop first and make a new Finder window with ⌘-N, and navigate your way to it within that window, then proceed as above.

And if there’s windows open on the Desktop, you’ll note that they don’t appear in the Hot Corners view of your desktop. To see them, use the upper left corner instead, where you’ll see them in the “Finder” group.

Summing up

I could go on, but this covers 90% of the ease-of-use benefits that anyone on a Mac should (in my humble opinion) be using every day. I hope you find this helpful!


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