Essential macOS Keyboard Shortcuts You’ll Need Every Day

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If you don’t use macOS keyboard shortcuts yet, you are losing out on the fun of using a computer. Learn these basic shortcuts, and you’ll complete your day job in half the time.

Intelligence is based on how efficient a species became at doing the things they need to survive. Charles Darwin

1. The Most Essential macOS Keyboard Shortcuts

This article covers the most critical and essential keyboard shortcuts for macOS. I have tried my best to keep this list as concise as possible while also maintaining variety. The following shortcuts are a great starting point, and most definitely won’t be your last.

a) General Shortcuts

These basic shortcuts come in real handy in various situations throughout your day. If you don’t want to learn all shortcuts, at least take a look at these seven. Seven! Everyone can learn seven shortcuts.

Shortcut Description
CMD ⌘ + N New (e.g. file, window)
CMD ⌘ + A Select all (e.g. files, text)
CMD ⌘ + C Copy
CMD ⌘ + V Paste
CMD ⌘ + S Save
CMD ⌘ + Z Undo (one step backward)
CMD ⌘ + SHIFT ⇧ + Z Re-do (one step forward)

See? It wasn’t so hard. Especially CMD ⌘ + Z is a lifesaver. If you don’t hit it about 400 times a day, you are doing something wrong. Or very right, depending on your perspective.

b) Controlling Apps and Windows

Almost everything you do with your Mac depends on apps and windows. Except you want to spend the rest of your life on your desktop. Learn the shortcuts below to navigate and handle your windows more easily and quickly. Primarily when you use a single monitor, you’re going to need ways to get your windows in order. Or out of your way.

Shortcut Description
CMD ⌘ + TAB ⇥ Switch between apps
CMD ⌘ + Q Quit app
CMD ⌘ + W Close window or tab
CMD ⌘ + M Minimize window
CMD ⌘ + H Hide app (including all of its windows)
CMD ⌘ + R Refresh
CMD ⌘ + F Search
CMD ⌘ + + Zoom in
CMD ⌘ + Zoom out
CMD ⌘ + 0 Reset zoom

Make it a habit to quit apps you don’t longer need. They won’t use the resources of your Mac any longer, and it’s just a much cleaner experience. Also, if you made a mistake, it doesn’t take that long to reopen the app in most cases.

c) Manipulating Files and Folders

If you handle a lot of files, you are going to need these shortcuts. Even basic tasks can become cumbersome if you have to do them repeatedly. Now, automation would be the best solution. But the second-best is to use keyboard shortcuts. A few seconds here, a few seconds there, and you’ve got your additional free hour.

Shortcut Description
RETURN ↵ Rename file, folder or app
CMD ⌘ + O Open file, folder or app
CMD ⌘ + ⟵ Backspace Move file, folder or app to trash
SPACE Quick Look (file preview)

With Quick Look you can not only preview images or text documents but even music and video files. One thing that I like a lot is to select multiple files of the same picture, press SPACE and then quickly use the arrow keys to switch just between these files. I find this to be the easiest way to compare different versions of the same image, maybe to decide which compression setting offers the best bang for my buck.

d) Taking Screenshots

Don’t you find it awkward to get your phone out to take a photo of your screen? With these two keyboard shortcuts, you make a real screenshot in a mere split second.

Shortcut Description
CMD ⌘ + SHIFT ⇧ + 4 Screenshot (area)
CMD ⌘ + SHIFT ⇧ + 5 Screenshot Tool (panel with all available functions)

“What do I need screenshots for?”, I hear you ask? Show somebody else something you don’t understand, struggle with, or can’t solve (like an error in an app). Share a text, image, or a combination of both quickly, especially if you’d like to preserve formatting. Or use screenshots to save things for later reference. It’s that easy.

e) Formatting and Navigating Text

Even though this article is about essential shortcuts, this doesn’t mean we can’t get a little advanced. The shortcuts below will probably have the most significant effect on your life, mainly when you work a lot with text. But they might not be as easy to remember as the others. So, take your time.

Shortcut Description
CMD ⌘ + B Bold
CMD ⌘ + I Italic
CMD ⌘ + U Underline
CMD ⌘ + Move cursor to: beginning of document, end of document, beginning of line, end of line
OPTION ⌥ + Move cursor to: beginning of paragraph, end of paragraph, beginning of word, end of word
SHIFT ⇧ + Highlight text (can be combined with CMD ⌘ or OPTION ⌥)
CMD ⌘ + CTRL ⌃ + SPACE Emoji and special characters panel
CMD ⌘ + OPTION ⌥ + SHIFT ⇧ + V Paste text without formatting

Every time you use your mouse or trackpad to move your cursor around in a text file, you are wasting your time. You can go anyplace with the keyboard shortcuts above in only a second; you just need to combine them in a smart way. You’ll figure this out the more you use them. After a while, you aren’t even aware of what you were pressing to get there. You’re just there. And that is what counts.

f) Controlling the Browser

Since we live in our browsers these days, here are just a few shortcuts to make this experience a bit easier. One might be obvious, but the other one not so much.

Shortcut Description
CMD ⌘ + T New tab
CMD ⌘ + L Highlight address bar

Why you need a keyboard shortcut to highlight the address bar? First of all, after hitting the shortcut, you can directly start typing a new address. No need to highlight or delete anything, the text is already selected and will be immediately replaced. Second of all, you’re just one CMD ⌘ + C away from getting the URL of your active browser tab into your clipboard. Imagine you had to use your mouse to move the cursor, control-click the line, and then choose copy. Don’t do that anymore.

2. How to Learn Keyboard Shortcuts Efficiently

The best way to learn keyboard shortcuts is to use them. I know that sounds cheesy, but this is the way to go. There is no shortcut to learning shortcuts.

However, it wouldn’t make much sense to learn them all at once. Or even in huge batches. Focus on one shortcut each day and try to use it as often as possible throughout your day. After about one month, you’ll have them all memorized. I know it’s tempting to get there faster, but wouldn’t it be better to have them all internalized within about 30 days than to keep struggling for months or years?

By the way, don’t print them out and learn them by heart. That is a waste of time. You’ll need the shortcuts in your muscle memory, and they’ll get there by being typed. Over and over again.