Commit #9: Mastering macOS keyboard for better efficiency

In the past few years, I have seen a rise in MacBook Pro usage in tech companies, including in Jakarta. Although pricy, MBPs are one of the primary go-to machines for tech folks around to world. The well-known butterfly-switch issues since 2016 don’t seem to prevent people from buying MBPs, which thankfully fixed for good in the recent new 16″ model. In my opinion, one of the main reasons for this rise is the productivity value it brings along with the macOS.

In the software engineering field, macOS has many things to love. It’s UNIX-based, which is almost similar to the Linux environment used for most server-side services. For mobile app engineers like me, macOS allows us to develop applications for both iOS and Android. Not to mention the OS integration with the trackpads, which unrivaled in the laptop realm – its buttery-smooth experience convinced several designer friends of mine to work mostly using them. Nevertheless, I found that the senior engineers I worked with use their keyboard more than their trackpads. They seemed to be able to do things way faster than others due to mastering their keyboards.

Throughout the years, I’ve tried to reduce my trackpad usage and use more keyboard for work, which I find to be efficient. I wrote this based on my experience, so you might find this post to be opinionated. Still, I hope you could draw some benefits that could increase your work efficiency.

1. Use macOS’ Spotlight

Most Indonesians (including me) grew up using a Windows machine as our daily driver. So on our first time we got our hands on a Mac, we’ll be looking for the “Programs” folder using our mouse and click the application icon to run them.

Windows XP’s Start Menu. I grew up seeing this menu a lot of times. Image taken from OpenDNS.


While we can run applications the same way in macOS, there’s a quicker way to do it: using macOS’ Spotlight. All we need to do is press the Command + Space key, type the application name, and then press the Return key (or Enter in other keyboard layouts).

Screen Shot 2020-01-06 at 20.27.33
A sample screenshot on how to open applications using Spotlight in macOS.

On the screenshot above, I only typed “xc” in the Spotlight, and it shows the most-used application with a matching prefix: Xcode. All I need to do next is pressing the Return key to open the Xcode.

Besides opening applications, macOS’ Spotlight also provides a lot of nifty features, e.g.:

  1. Opening a file based on filename,
  2. Calculating a simple conversion, e.g., “1000 USD to IDR” or “70 F to C”, or
  3. Searching a word definition in the thesaurus or dictionary, e.g., “hitherto.”

2. Use a third-party window manager

Coming from the Windows environment, I missed the Windows Aero’s Windows + Arrow keys combination to tidy up my application windows (pun intended). When I started using OSX Maverick, my friend suggested me to use SizeUp. The site page says that its the “missing window manager” for macOS, and it’s not an exaggeration.

With a simple combo of Control + Option + Command + Arrow keys, you could arrange your windows with ease! I find this approach is way more efficient than macOS Split View feature. For multi-monitor users, SizeUp could move the currently active window to another monitor using the Control + Option + Left or Right arrow keys. What’s not to love?

You can use SizeUp for free due to its unlimited demo. Still, it shows a pop-up periodically until you bought their license. If you wanted a free open source alternative, check out Spectacle. Be warned, though; the source code is not maintained anymore.

3. Use generic keyboard shortcuts for navigation

Most of us know that we can replace the Control key in Windows’ keyboard combo with macOS’ Command key. The classic Control + C for copying and Control + V for pasting in Windows are Command + C and Command + V in macOS, respectively. While this is a good start, there’s plenty of other combos to help for navigation, e.g.:

  1. Command + T creates a new tab in your window, if available (e.g., Finder, Safari).
  2. Command + Shift + ] focuses the app to the next available tab, and Command + Shift + [ to go to the previous tab.
  3. Command + W closes the current tab in the app.
  4. Command + N creates a new window for your application.
  5. Command + ` (tick) focuses the app to the next available window.
  6. Command + → or Control + E moves your cursor to the end of the line in a text editor, and Command + ← or Control + A move it to the beginning of the line.
  7. Control + → moves the cursor to the next word in a text editor, and Control + ← moves it to the previous word.
  8. Command + Tab opens the next available app, while Command + Shift + Tab opens the previous one.
  9. Command + Q quits the current application.
  10. You could combine #8 and #9. After pressing the Command + Tab then releasing the Tab key, you could quit the currently highlighted application in the navigation popover by pressing the Q key.

Combined with the SizeUp, I usually create one window of Safari for a particular context. For example, one window to display the web page I’m currently working on, another window to contain tabs of StackOverflow pages, and another window to play YouTube’s Lo-Fi tracks in the background. I think this is way superior compared to having dozens of tab opened in one browser window.

If you want to check the full list of keyboard shortcuts in macOS, check out this link.

4. Use ClipMenu to manage clipboard

Have you ever find yourself opening a StackOverflow page and code editor back and forth to paste several sample codes? Instead of this, I prefer copying multiple texts at once and choose which one I want to paste later, thanks to ClipMenu. ClipMenu allows you to choose what to paste throughout your recent clipboard history. By using Command + Shift + V instead of the Command + V, it shows your recently copied and pasted items. And yes, it’s available for free!

Screen Shot 2020-01-06 at 21.47.19
Sample of ClipMenu usage in a text editor.

5. Master your most-used applications’ keyboard shortcut

Last but not least, everyone has a different workflow and uses different applications. However, I believe there’s a chance that the application you use has keyboard shortcuts for your usual mouse-based operations. I started looking for shortcuts when I found myself clicking Xcode’s buttons to hide and show the debugger over-and-over again. When I searched for the shortcuts in Google, I stumbled upon this RayWenderlich’s blog post and saw this GIF in awe:

Combined with window management tips above, I ended up saving a lot of time instead of repetitive click-based tasks in Xcode. It also makes me feel comfortable working with my own machine. It’s a good feeling, and I think others will love it too!

It became a habit for me to search the keyboard shortcuts for the new applications I’m using. These days, I mostly use Visual Studio Code to work on my grad school projects and iTerm to navigate between the projects and executing Git operations. These applications have different keyboard shortcuts compared to Xcode, but they’re always a Google search away!

That’s the list of easy ways to master macOS’ keyboard for better work efficiency! I hope you gained some benefit after reading this post – whether you’re a software engineer or not! 😉

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