Using the Macintosh without taking my hands off the keyboard

25 Apr 2020


Every time I take my hands off the keyboard and reach for the mouse, and drag the mouse across the desk, I’m losing time. I’m going slower and moving out of flow. It’s especially true when I’m working with a large monitor, or dual-monitors, and I have to moooove the mouse all the way to where it needs to me. Or the mouse cursor has disappeared on me, and I have to frantically slide the mouse until the movement traps my eyes and I can see where it is on the screen.

We all know the basics are Cmd+C for Copy, Cmd+X for Cut, and Cmd+V for Paste.

But we also have the following hot-keys for navigating between applications, windows, and window tabs.

Shortcut Action
Cmd+` (backtick) will cycle between windows for the current application. (And Cmd+Shift+` to cycle in the opposite direction).
Cmd+Tab will cycle between applications. (And Cmd+Shift+Tab to cycle in the opposite direction)
Cntl+Tab will cycle between tabs in the same window (e.g. a web browser

Setting keyboard preferences

You can use the keyboard to navigate menus and dialog boxes, but this isn’t a default; you have to enable it.

  1. Choose Apple menu  System Preferences, then click Keyboard.
  2. Click Shortcuts.
  3. From the bottom of the preferences window, select ”Use keyboard navigation to move focus between controls”.

Changing Hotkeys

I dislike hotkey combos which use the function keys, so I’ve set my own hotkey-combos for favourite items.

Shortcut Action
Cmd+Space Move focus to the menubar
Cmd+Shift+Space Move focus to the dock

Navigating the menus with the keyboard

I can hit now Cmd+Space to move focus to the menu bar. I can then select a different menu with the left/right arrow keys, or by typing the menu name. Press Enter or down arrow to open a submenu, up/down arrows to navigate the submenu, Enter to select an item from the submenu.

Using a dialog box with the keyboard

Now, no one wants to navigate all the control menus with the keyboard (there’s a reason Douglas Engelbart invented the computer mouse). But it’s lovely to be able to get rid of a simple popup with just a few keys pressed.

Shortcut Action
Tab / Shift+Tab Navigate between buttons or controls
Space Choose selected item
Esc Close the dialog
Enter Click the button / perform the action

There are more, but that’s enough to keep me happy.