19 essential keyboard commands that every Mac user should know

FinderIconXHotkeys are exceptionally useful for specifying actions you want a particular program to perform. In some cases, these are specific to a given program (such as creating a new tab in Safari), and in other cases commands are more universal, such as those for copying and pasting content.

Given that hotkeys allow for specific tasks to be performed, they can often be a more efficient method than using point-and-click options, where errors can be made. For instance, when dragging items to the trash, you can easily release your selection at the wrong time and drop items on whatever window is in the background. With a hotkey to move items to the trash, you won’t make this mistake.

While you can peruse the various system and application menus in OS X to explore hotkeys relevant to the applications and tasks you use, there are a small set of 19 hotkeys that will likely benefit every Mac user.

The basics for managing windows and program visibility are useful for reducing clutter, and can easily be invoked instead of having to click menus or window buttons.

Command-W — Close the current window
Command-Q — Quit the current program
Command-M — Minimize the current window to the Dock
Command-H — Hide the current program, even minimized windows, but keep it running

In addition to managing windows, the universal “Save” command (Command-S) for preserving changes can often be overlooked, especially when some programs in OS X use Apple’s autosave features while others do not.

Since you will be using the Finder to primarily manage your files, there are several hotkeys for doing so. Some of these are specific to the Finder, and while others are more universal, they have special functions when used in the Finder.

Command-I — Get information on a file or folder, to view details like timestamps and size on disk
Command-N — Create a new Finder window, if necessary
Shift-Command-N — Create a new folder in the current window
Command-delete — Move any selection to the trash (hold Shift with this hotkey to empty the trash)

The next commands are those that print and open documents, respectively. They can be performed within specific applications, but can also be used in the Finder to print and open selected documents in their default applications.

Command-P — Print the current document, or any selection of documents in the Finder
Command-O — Open any document, or any selection of documents in the Finder

While used generally for managing text and images in various applications, you can use these next two in the Finder to copy files from one location to another. You can also add the Option key to move files when pasting, instead of copying them. These allow for easy specification of what to move and copy, without the relatively more cumbersome approach of dragging and dropping.

Command-C — Copy a reference of the current selection to the clipboard
Command-V — Paste that references, copying it to the specified location. Include “Option” here to move the item instead of copying

Of course, you may need to switch between windows and applications, where the following two options come in handy. You can also include the Shift key with each to these to cycle through windows and programs in reverse.

Command-Tab — Cycle through open programs
Command-Tilde — Cycle through the current program’s windows

When you need to search for items, Apple’s Spotlight can be used to find documents, look up definitions, and perform calculations, among other functions. You can also invoke Finder searches that are more contextually specific, can be filtered, and are limited to the contents of specific folders.

Command-Space — Open a new Spotlight window
Command-F — Open a Finder Search starting at the current location

When chatting, emailing, and otherwise composing text, you might wish to have access to special symbols. A quick hotkey that should be universal for opening the Character Viewer panel is the following:

Option-Command-T — Show the character viewer panel

Finally, there are some advanced options that might be useful, especially when troubleshooting or needing to get behind the scenes in your Mac.

Option-Command-Esc — Show the force-quit window to close frozen applications
Shift-Command-G — Display the “Go to folder” panel, even in open/save dialogue boxes

Do you have any favorite hotkeys for OS X to add to the list? These are ones that greatly help to optimize workflow in OS X, but you might have a few that you would like to add. If so, then let us know about them in the comments.

7 thoughts on “19 essential keyboard commands that every Mac user should know

  1. MaX

    Why not 20 round number?
    Option Command esc — Force quit


    Control Eject — Shut down
    Shift while booting — Boot in safe mode (just restart at login window to repair disk)
    Option while booting — Select booting disk
    Option Command PR while booting — Rebuild PRAM
    Option click — Copy or paste stubborn text

    1. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

      Option-Command-Escape is already in Topher’s list.

      Command-R is one of the most important startup commands; it boots you into the Recovery partition.

      I use Control-Eject all the time to get the Restart, Sleep and Shut Down window. I find most people are unaware of this simple option. On my Wireless Apple keyboard I also use Function-Delete to erase forward. This command also works on Mac laptop keyboards.

      Beside these I use most of the shortcuts on Topher’s list. Since I finally got into the habit, copying and pasting files in order to move or copy them to another location, this shortcut has saves me plenty of carpal-tunnel inducing strain holding down the left mouse button to drag files around.

    1. B. Jefferson Le Blanc

      There’s an option you can turn on or off in the Keyboard preferences under the Keyboard tab. It will make the Character and Keyboard Viewers available in the Input menu. You also need to make the Input menu available in the menu bar by checking the appropriate box in the Input Sources tab in the Keyboard preferences. This is generally on by default.

      But even with these set I don’t get any response to Command-Option-T on my Mavericks system either. Not can I fine the shortcut anywhere in Shortcuts tab of the Keyboard preferences. I can only wonder where Topher found it.

  2. DavidBy

    I use this one many times a day:
    Option-Command-PowerKey — Puts the computer to sleep immediately

    Very handy.

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