Whether you only use your Mac occasionally or you’re the kind of power user who spends hours sitting or standing in front of it every day, it’s likely that you sometimes become frustrated because it won’t run as quickly or as smoothly as you’d like it to or you think it should. It’s also likely that you’ve encountered the dreaded beachball, and that you know that there are things you could do differently that would make using your Mac more productive but haven’t got round to figuring out what they are.
That’s exactly what we’ll do over the next 11 pages. From everyday housekeeping tasks that will keep your Mac running smoothly, to tips and tricks to make you more productive, to third-party apps that can do a lot of the work for you, we’ll cover them all. We’ll even suggest hardware that can boost your Mac’s performance.
If you’ve thought about creating keyboard shortcuts, investigating the new Shortcuts app in Monterey, or dealing with all those duplicate files that you know are scattered around your drive, now is the time to do it. Consider this your prompt and your guide on the journey to a more productive, and fun, experience with your Mac.
While some of what we cover here, like the Shortcuts app, is specific to macOS Monterey, most of it can be applied to any recent version of macOS. However, whichever version you’re running, you should make sure you have installed the latest available update. That way, you know that your Mac has the latest security patches installed. Consider that your first tip. Now, on with the show.
OPTIMISE YOUR INPUTS
The way you tell your Mac what you want it to do has an impact on the result
Technology has come a long, long way since the first Mac was launched way back in 1984. One thing that hasn’t changed though, is how we interact with it. While some people use voice commands and dictation software, for most of us, telling our Mac what we want it to do involves a keyboard and either a mouse or a trackpad.
When it comes to choosing which keyboard to use, most Mac users stick with the one that came with their Mac (unless you use a Mac mini or Mac Pro, in which case you’ll have to supply your own). But that’s not always the best idea. The same is true of your mouse or trackpad. For example, if you use a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air predominantly at a desk, you’d be much better off putting your laptop on a stand and using an external keyboard and mouse or trackpad. That way you won’t be hunched over the screen all day. Better still if you can hook up a larger display.
Even if you use an iMac, the supplied keyboard and mouse may not be the most productive for you. For example, if you’re a gamer, you might be better off with a mechanical keyboard and a mouse with multiple buttons and a low response time. Choosing the optimal set-up for your situation will not only make you more productive and cause you to make fewer mistakes, it will improve your posture and therefore your overall health.
Set it right
Whichever keyboard, mouse, or trackpad you use, you should set it up in macOS so that it does exactly what you need it to do. We’ll show you how to do that in this section by using the options available in System Preferences. If you use a third-party mouse or keyboard, it may come with its own software, which you can use to customise how it works, so check out the literature for that device.
Check out our handy ‘Shortcuts’ reference guide (left) for the keyboard shortcuts you should learn and commit to memory to help you get more done in less time when you’re in front of your Mac. Do that, and you have more time to take breaks. And that’s something else that’s good for your health.
HOW TO Customise your trackpad
1 Point & Click
Click the menu and choose System Preferences. Select Trackpad. Choose Point & Click. Choose how you want to look up selected text. Repeat that process for the rest of the options in the Point & Click Section.
2 Scroll & Zoom
Now choose Scroll & Zoom. The options here are binary. The scroll direction can either be natural, where you swipe down to scroll down, or not. There are also options for Zoom and Rotate. Choose the options that suit you.
3 More gestures
Choose More Gestures. Work through each setting, clicking the down arrow underneath it to reveal the options. Note the difference between a swipe gesture and a scroll gesture. If that’s seems fiddly, choose only swipe options.
HOW TO Customise your Magic Mouse
In System Preferences, choose Mouse. First, choose how you want the scroll ball to work. Natural means that when you push it forwards, it scrolls down. Check the box if that’s what you want. Next choose ‘Secondary click’ and left or right.
2 More Gestures
Click More Gestures. If you want to swipe to move between pages, check the box and choose an option from the menu. Repeat if you want to swipe between fullscreen apps. Check the Mission Control if you want to use that.
3 Setup the mouse
If you need to set up a new mouse, or yours won’t connect, choose Set Up Bluetooth Mouse. Wait for the mouse to be found – you may need to press a pairing button. Click Continue and follow the instructions.
HOW TO Customise your Magic Keyboard
1 Choose repeat options
In System Preferences > Keyboard, choose the Keyboard tab. Use the sliders to set how long you must hold down a key until it repeats (Delay Until Repeat), and how quickly it repeats after that (Key Repeat).
2 Set function keys
By default, function keys are media keys. However, if you want to use them as function keys, check ‘Use F1, F2 etc as standard function keys’. Use the menu above to set what the Globe key does. Choose settings for the backlight.
3 Change shortcuts
macOS has a number of standard keyboard shortcuts (see left), but you can change them. Go to System Prefs > Keyboard > Shortcuts. Choose a category, then a shortcut, click on the key combination and type a new one.
MAKE THE FINDER WORK YOUR WAY
We all spend a great deal of time in Finder, looking for and working with files. Here’s how to get the most from it
Smart Folders are a really useful way to keep track of files you regularly need access to. They update live, so as new files are created or edited and meet the criteria, they appear in the folder. Files aren’t actually moved or copied, they’re just referenced in Smart Folders.
To create one, search for something in the Finder’s search box and press ®. Click the ‘+’ to add more criteria for the search and use the options to filter the results. When you’re finished, click Save and choose where to save the Smart Folder.
The Finder is the Mac’s file manager. Everything you do with files, whether launching an app, copying, pasting or moving files, or using Quick Look to preview them is done in the Finder.
There are a couple of improvements that have been made to the Finder in recent versions of macOS that are worth making a point of using regularly. The first is tabs. While the Finder still doesn’t have a proper dual-pane interface, tabs go some way towards that. They work in the same way as browser tabs in Safari (and use the same ç+T shortcut to create a new one) in that they enable you to open a different view without cluttering your desktop with windows. And you can drag and drop files from one tab to another one.
The other recent feature is Quick Actions. These enable you to perform actions on a file in the Finder. So, for example, you can rotate an image or trim a video. Dig a little deeper by clicking the More (…) button and you can convert an image to a different format. Dig deeper still by adding extensions in System Preferences and there’s a nifty tool to remove the background from an image.
If there are folders you access regularly, drag them on to the sidebar to make them easier to find as soon as you open a Finder window.
Even better, tag files with meaningful tags and you can click that particular tag in the Finder’s sidebar to view all files that have been assigned with it, regardless of where they are stored.
HOW TO Customise the Finder
1 Tidy the sidebar
Too many things in the Finder sidebar? Click the Finder menu and then Preferences. Choose Sidebar. Uncheck the boxes next to those items you no longer want to see in the sidebar. Check any that you want to add.
2 Create tags
In Finder Preferences, click on Tags. Click the ‘+’ and type a name for the tag. Press enter, then click on the circle next to the name and choose a colour for the tag. If you don’t want it in the sidebar, uncheck the box.
3 Add tags to menus
Drag any tag you want to add to a contextual menu in the Finder into the bar at the bottom of Finder > Preferences > Tags. When you ctrl-click on any file in the Finder, you will be able to apply that tag from the menu.
4 Specify preview details
To determine what is shown in the preview window when you click on a file, ctrl-click it and choose Show Preview Options. Check the box next to any of the items you want to see without clicking More in the preview.
5 Customise the toolbar
In the Finder, click the View menu then Customise Toolbar. Drag elements you want to appear in the toolbar into the toolbar at the bottom of the window. Choose whether you want to see the icon, icon and text, or just text.
6 Choose how to open
Select a folder and choose a view (List, Column, etc). Click the View menu and choose Show View Options. Check the box next to ‘Always open in…’ to make sure that folder opens in the same view. Choose how to group and sort files.
1 Sidebar Drag folders you access frequently to the sidebar so you can get to them quickly. That way you won’t have to burrow through lots of folders to get to them.
2 Tags Use tags to organise files and folders. When you create a tag, you can add it to the sidebar and when you click on it, all files and folders you have tagged will appear.
3 Views List view is useful for organising files by date or type, Column is good for seeing nested folders and Carousel is great for previewing folders full of images.
4 Quick Look Press the spacebar to invoke Quick Look. From there, you can mark up, share or rotate an image. If you decide that you need to do more, you can open Preview too.
5 Markup tools These tools enable you to rotate an image or access Markup tools without invoking Quick Look. You can also click More to convert an image or remove the background.
6 Show More Click More to see more details on the file that you’ve selected. You can choose what is displayed by default by using Show Preview Options. Click Add Tag to tag files.
Free up space on your Mac’s storage drive
Anyone who has used a Mac for more than a few weeks knows that while you might start out with a pristine storage drive with lots of free space, it doesn’t take long before you start to fill it with apps, images, music, documents and lots of other files.
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