Take control of your Mac
Get more from input devices and windows by making use of gestures and tweaking essential built–in macOS features
Mouse and trackpad tips
1 DEFINE YOUR CLICKS
It can be tiring repeatedly pressing down on a trackpad to trigger actions, so don’t. Instead, head into the Trackpad pane in System Preferences and turn on Tap to click. Now, a light tap is all you need. In both Trackpad and Mouse, define whether you want secondary clicks activated (for bringing up things like context menus) and how they should appear, from the various options provided.
2 CONTROL THE WAY YOU SCROLL AND ZOOM
If you’ve reasonable dexterity and are comfortable using the pointer, there’s no need to keep to the default tracking speed. In the Mouse and Trackpad panes, ramp up Tracking speed to whatever gives you the best balance between usability, accuracy and not having to swipe multiple times to get your pointer to its intended destination. You’ll especially want tracking sped up when using larger displays, such as the one on an iMac.
3 USE HOT CORNERS
In the Screen Saver tab within the Desktop & Screen Saver pane, click the Hot Corners button. In the Active Screen Corners dialog, use each menu to select an action that will be triggered when you move the pointer into that corner of the screen. It’s a good way to quickly trigger a screen saver, especially if you’ve fast pointer tracking on. Be mindful to disable selections, though, if you subsequently often trigger them in error.
4 USE GESTURES TO DO MORE
Your Apple mouse enables you to swipe between pages and apps, and to bring up Mission Control. Find and experiment with them in Mouse > More Gestures. Apple Trackpads are more versatile — dig into what’s available in Trackpad > More Gestures, which provides quick ways to access Notification Center, and more.
1 DEFINE KEYBOARD SHORTCUTS
You likely know keyboard shortcuts for cut, copy, paste, and other tasks. But explore application menus to see if others exist to trigger actions you commonly use. If one’s missing, add it in the Keyboard System Preferences pane. In the Shortcuts tab, click +, choose an application, type the exact name of the menu command, and define a shortcut. Be mindful to not use a combination that’s in use in the app or system-wide, or you will override the original shortcut.
2 USE COMMAND+?
When working on text-oriented documents, keeping your hands on the keyboard is more efficient than using the mouse pointer to navigate menus. But what should you do when you forget a keyboard shortcut or a command doesn’t have one? Bring up the Help menu with Command+Shift+/ (which, if you think about it, is Command+?) and start typing. Menu items will appear, filtering to match your search term. Use the arrow keys to navigate the results and you’ll be shown the selected item’s original menu position. Press the Return key to confirm the command or Escape twice to back out of the search.
3 INSTALL CHEATSHEET
On iPad, hold down the Command key and you’ll see all of the current app’s keyboard shortcuts. Big Sur doesn’t have something similar built–in, but CheatSheet (free, mediaatelier.com/ CheatSheet) plugs that gap. After installing the app, you’ll need to give it access to Accessibility and Input Monitoring; this is done in the Privacy tab of the System Preferences Security & Privacy pane. Quit and restart CheatSheet and you then hold Command to view the current app’s shortcuts. Use the app’s preferences (via the cog icon) to adjust the delay or print the current app’s shortcuts sheet.
4 NAVIGATE TEXT
As inefficient as it is to use the mouse to navigate menus when working on text-based documents, it’s even worse to use it to adjust the cursor’s placement. So learn and embrace Mac’s keyboard text navigation shortcuts. Jump between words with Option+left/right arrow or to the start/ end of lines with Command+left/right arrow. Option and up/down jumps between paragraphs, and Command–up/down sends you to the start/end of a document. Add Shift to those shortcuts and they become a quick way to select words, lines and paragraphs.
5 ACCESS EXTENDED CHARACTERS
Extended characters are readily available in macOS — you just need to know the combination of keys to press. For example, if writing about temperature, the degrees symbol (°) is Shift+Option+8. Need an ellipsis (…)? Option+; will get you one. To learn how this all works, open the Keyboard in System Preferences and turn on the Input menu in the Input Sources tab. Click the Input menu in the menu bar and select Show Keyboard Viewer. You can then see, live, combinations required for different symbols.
An alternate option exists for characters closely related to letters — hold a letter key down and type a number to choose from the pop–up that appears. So to write é, you could press Option+E and then E, or hold E for a moment and then type 2.
Capture your screen
> To shoot a screenshot, use Shift+Command+3. The resulting document will be sent to your desktop. To capture a window, use Shift+Command+4, press Space and then click the window.
To grab a portion of the screen, use Shift+Command+4 and drag a selection. Prior to letting go of the mouse/trackpad button, which shoots the grab, you can move the selection box by holding Space and dragging. Hold Option to expand the selection from the centre, or Shift to limit expansion to horizontal or vertical only, depending in which direction you next move the cursor.
Shift+Command+5 brings up a capture interface, with buttons for aforementioned features and those for videoing the entire screen or a portion. Also explore the Options menu, which enables you to set a timer, toggle whether the pointer is visible in screenshots, and define where screenshots are saved. Consider using a Screenshots folder in iCloud Drive to make them immediately accessible across all your devices.
Manage Mac windows
> USE SPLIT VIEW
Click hold the zoom (green) button at the top–left of a window. You can then send it to a screen half and choose a second window to fill the rest of your screen. This enables you to work with fewer distractions.
> SWITCH APPS
Cmd+Tab shows the App Switcher. With Cmd held, press H on an app to hide it or Q to quit it. You can navigate with arrow keys, use up arrow to enter App Exposé and Tab to return to the App Switcher.
> HIDE APPS
Command+H will hide the current app and all its windows. Alternatively, focus on the current app by using Command+Option+H, which hides all other apps. Command–OptionOption-clickp’s Dock icon for the same.
> TRY MISSION CONTROL
Modern Mac keyboards have the F3 key trigger Mission Control, which shows all open windows. But hold Cmd while pressing that key and you’ll instead see your Desktop. Use Option+F3 for the Mission Control.
Accessibility for all
Apple’s accessibility features can improve the Mac experience for everyone
1 REDUCE MOTION
In System Preferences, open Accessibility and select Display from the scrolling pane. In the Display tab, turn on Reduce Motion. This replaces several macOS animations with simpler crossfades. The feature is designed to aid people with vestibular conditions but removes visual noise for every user and makes the aforementioned actions feel faster.
2 REDUCE TRANSPARENCY
The Reduce transparency button takes semi–translucent elements of macOS and makes them solid. Again primarily designed to assist people with vestibular disorders, the setting also makes macOS more broadly legible and stops semi-transparent elements from being a distraction if something’s moving/playing behind them.
3 ADJUST MORE SETTINGS
Poke around in Display and you’ll find more goodies. “Increase contrast” is a bit extreme, but handy if you fail to locate buttons. You can also adjust the size of the macOS pointer in the Cursor tab — useful if you frequently lose it and don’t want to keep shaking the thing to make it bigger.
> USE SPOKEN CONTENT
In Spoken Content, you can choose a system voice (click the menu and Customize to download new ones) and adjust its speaking rate by using the slider. Press Play to preview your chosen voice. Then click Options next to “Speak selection” and define a keyboard shortcut unlikely to be used elsewhere, such as Control+Esc. Set Show controller to Never. Choose OK and ensure that Speak selection has a checkmark next to it. Now select some text elsewhere and use your shortcut — your Mac will read it. This is ideal for proofing documents.
> TYPE TO SIRI
Under Siri, check Enable Type to Siri. This enables you to type in the Siri prompt, rather than talking to the feature — useful in crowded places or a quiet house at night. Note that Siri will still respond to “Hey Siri!” if set to in the Siri System Preferences pane. There, you can also further quieten Siri by turning off Voice Feedback.
> SCALE UP YOUR SCREEN
Your Mac will default to a preferred screen resolution. But in the Displays System Preferences pane, click Scaled and you can adjust this resolution, making on–screen text and interface elements larger. Should you hanker for more control, install Resolutionator ($3, manytricks.com/ resolution at or), which puts an old–school resolution item in your menu bar — and optionally lets you define a keyboard shortcut to trigger a resolution picker overlay. No more squinting!
Boost your productivity
Streamline processes and save loads of time
> OFFLOAD WEB PAGES
If you’re often distracted by clicking on interesting articles in Safari — or end the day with a dozen unread tabs — change your browsing habits. Use an RSS reader like NetNewsWire (free, netnewswire.com) to subscribe to favorite sites and peruse their headlines and articles at your leisure. And when you more randomly chance upon something interesting, send it to Pocket (free, getpocket.com). Both apps also have excellent iPhone and iPad incarnations that you can try out.
> USE VIPS
Email can seem like a never-ending deluge, but there are ways of coping with the flood. For any vitally important contact, click their name in an email and select Add to VIPs. Their emails will then appear in the VIPs mailbox, thereby filtering your inbox between what’s important and what is less so. Beyond this, get into the habit of not having Mail open all day. Instead, try to schedule two or three sessions a day where you focus on email and nothing else, to blaze through your inbox at a set time.
> PIN THINGS
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