Six tips for efficient use of your Mac

FinderIconXWhile OS X is built to be simple, there are often times when I see people taking many unnecessary steps to perform basic operations on their Macs. For instance, to find a buried window, some people may resort to shuffling those in the foreground to the edges of the screen, in order to reveal those underneath.

There are many ways to optimize the way you use your Mac, but here are six tips that may help you reduce frustrating and seemingly cumbersome approaches to dealing with window clutter, or locating files and folders that are buried in your hard drive.

Command-drag background windows

If you are working on a document and need to view a window that is partially obscured in the background, as long as this window’s title bar is partially visible, then you can hold the Command key and drag the window. This will keep the window in the background, so you can move it without bringing it to the front and changing your current window arrangement.

I’ve found this particularly useful if you need to just nudge a window around slightly.

Use Expose shortcuts or hotkeys

Expose in OS X

Expose will show all windows of the current application, allowing you to quickly switch between them.

For its visual approach, Apple’s Expose feature may be as good as, if not better, than the classic Command-Tab option for switching between applications. With a keyboard shortcut, gesture, or hot corner bound to show all windows (ie, “Mission Control”) or only an application’s windows (ie, “Expose”), you can quickly switch between windows or switch to another application you have open.

You can set up hot corners and key shortcuts for this in the Mission Control system preferences, and then set up gestures (three- or four-finger swipes) in the Trackpad system preferences.

Hide unused applications

The ability to hide an open application and all of its windows is a convenient way to clear clutter from your screen, without interrupting your workflow. You can do this by pressing the Command-H shortcut in most applications to hide it, or by holding the Option key when switching to another application (such as clicking one of its windows, or its icon in the Dock), to hide the previously active window. You can also hide all but the current application by pressing Option-Command-H.

Use Finder’s Column view

Column view in the Finder

Column view shows you the entire folder tree from your starting directory.

If you need to quickly traverse your filesystem, you can do so in the Finder by using Column view (press Command-3 in any Finder window to switch to this view). This view will give you full access to your directory trees with only the arrow keys. Simply press the up and down arrows to select files and folders in the current directory, the left arrow to move up a directory, and the right arrow to move into a new directory.

In addition to arrows, you can start typing the name of files and folders to jump to them. By doing this, if you have the column view arranged by name then pressing a letter on your keyboard will jump to the area with files and folders that begin with that letter. Therefore, if you open a new directory in Column view you can press the “K” key to get to the middle of the list where items that begin with “K” are located, and then further use the arrow keys to navigate.

Launch or switch applications with Spotlight

Spotlight as an App launcher

By typing a program’s name in Spotlight, you can quickly select and open it.

Apple’s Spotlight search feature can be exceptionally useful for purposes other than finding files. If you go to the Spotlight system preferences and drag the “Applications” category to the top of the list, then you can use it as a convenient application launcher, instead of having to navigate to the Applications folder or peruse through Apple’s LaunchPad interface. To do this, simply press Command-Space followed by typing the first few letters of the program you would like to open, and it should pop up as the first item in the search results. Selecting it will then open this application, or switch to it if it’s already open.

Use copy, paste, and delete hotkeys for managing files

Finally, you can avoid using Drag and Drop features altogether for managing files in the Finder. Instead of arranging two windows side-by-side and then dragging files between them, you can use one window and then select one or more files followed by pressing Command-C to copy their location in formation. Then go to the place you want to move or copy them, and press Command-V to copy, or press Option-Command-V to move (note you can also press Shift-Option-Command-V to copy an item and preserve its permissions).

Using this approach, you can copy a file selection and then forget about having to immediately move them to a new location. You can check an email, or even leave your system and return in a few minutes, and then continue the copying or moving process.

In addition to copying and moving, you can delete files by selecting them and pressing Command-Delete to move them to the trash, following this, you can press Shift-Command-Delete to empty the trash.

To undo any of these actions (minus emptying the trash), you can press Command-Z and the moved or copied files should go back to their original locations in the Finder.

3 thoughts on “Six tips for efficient use of your Mac

  1. xAirbusdriver

    You didn’t mention my most used ‘shortcut’ (even with a 27′ monitor). Command-tab! Add the mouse or just keep tapping the tab key to cycle through all open apps. Only two fingers, no typing, no Spotlighting. 😉

    I’ll suggest the command-drag method to my wife, she never closes a window, much less an app, even though she works on a MBP. She could also benefit from command-H…

    You mean there’s ANOTHER way to view directories/files/stuff INSTEAD of Column View??!! :blush: I’m sure you remember Gregg’s Browser (or at least his implementation of column view back in OS 7, or maybe 6!). 😉

  2. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

    xAirbusdriver: Column view has its charms, but I prefer list view most of the time because it can show more than the name, or part of a name, of an item – and moving right or left to see other column categories is easy with a trackpad or Magic Mouse (or even the renamed Apple Mouse [no longer so Mighty]). You can expose more column categories in Column view, if you use a very wide window and adjust the column widths, but such a window can be overbearing and futzing with column widths can waste a lot of time. Besides typing Command-3 to get into Column view, you can type Command-2 to get back to List view – or Command-1 to go to Icon view and Command-4 to go to Cover Flow, both of which are more attractive but somewhat less useful.

    Another advantage of List view is the ability to easily switch sort categories (which you can also do in Cover Flow). Navigating in List view is perfectly easy as well, using letters to get to the vicinity of a folder you want to open (just as you do in Column view), Command-O or Command-down-arrow to open a folder and Command-up-arrow to move back up the folder hierarchy. The right and left arrow keys will open and close the flippy arrows to reveal or hide a folder’s contents in List view – though leaving them open can really mess up navigation. One more advantage of List view is that there is no confusion about what folder you are in, as there can be in Column view.

    I use most of the other tips Topher describes, with the exception of launching or switching applications with Spotlight. For switching apps I agree with you that the App Switcher is superior (you don’t have to move the cursor); even the Dock is easier to use than Spotlight. For launching I use the Dock for the apps I use most often and DragThing for the rest; among the advantages of DragThing is that you can scan your apps’ icons in case you’ve forgotten the name of one or another of them and, unlike Launchpad, apps are easy to organize as you like, with tabbed windows for as many categories as you choose (I have one each for Applications, Utilities and Communications).

    Of course, all this gets away from the simple primer of Mac tips Topher was offering, but then that’s part of the purpose of MacIssues, to encourage discussion.

  3. msadesign

    Amen on List View, but with one exception; the left-most column defaults to about a billion pixels wide and no amount of fiddling will change it. User error no doubt.

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