4 tips to become a productivity ninja using the keyboard (Mac OSX and Chrome)

Whac-A-Mole

Whac-A-Mole

Today, I don’t use that mouse anymore. I live by the keyboard and I find myself much more efficient with it. Here are some tips and tricks I have learned along the way.When I switched to MacBook Pro laptop from a Windows desktop earlier this year, I bought a wireless mouse. The MacBook Pro trackpad is nice but using it is like playing a bad version of Whac-A-Mole: move mouse, aim at tiny area, hit target. The mouse on the other hand, allowed for better control and accuracy; however it was cumbersome to carry around and didn’t allow all the trackpad gestures.

Update Feb 16th, 2014: SizeUp instead of Moom for moving and resizing OSX windows
I recommended Moom as a free app for moving and resizing windows. Moom is actually not free. I recommend the free alternative SizeUp instead (you do get occasional reminders to buy the software). SizeUp is not as powerful as Moom, but it has the basic features (split screen + keyboard shortcuts).
SizeUp: a nice free alternative to Moom

SizeUp: a nice free alternative to Moom

1. Learn OSX keyboard shortcuts (the easy way)

Learning keyboard shortcuts can be a daunting task. First, you have to find the list of shortcuts. Then you have to remember to use them. If you use 20 apps and 10 shortcuts per apps, that’s 200 key combinations you need to remember. Here are 2 free apps that can help you gradually learn keyboard shortcuts.

1.1. Hot Key Eve

Eve is a free OSX app that teaches you keyboard shortcuts as you go. Simply install it, then use your apps as you normally would: move the mouse and click. Whenever you click, Eve will send you a growl (popup message) with the associated keyboard shortcut.

Here is a typical scenario of how Eve can help:

In Chrome, mouse click on "Reload this page" (bad!)

In Chrome, mouse click on “Reload this page” (bad!)

Eve tells you to use Command + R instead!

Eve tells you to use Command + R instead!

1.2. Cheat SheetOut of the box, Eve will only catch mouse clicks on the menu bar (top gray bar) of the app. Using “GUI support”, Eve can even catch mouse clicks anywhere within the app (for example, a click on Chrome’s URL bar instead of using [Command + L]). The database of supported apps is limited, however. Also, you are limited to 3 GUI supported apps in the free version of Eve.
Cheat Sheet is another free OSX app. Hold the [Command] key for a few seconds while using your app; Cheat Sheet will pop up a list of keyboard shortcuts (a cheat sheet — hence the name) over your app. Cheat Sheet comes very handy to explore all keyboard shortcuts and has support for many apps.
Cheat Sheet keyboard shortcuts pop up

Cheat Sheet keyboard shortcuts pop up

2. Learn basic shortcuts for Google Search and GMail

If you are like me, you spend a lot of time on Google Search and GMail. According to timeStats, I
spend 15% of my internet time on those two sites alone. Here are 3 tips to drive them with your keyboard.

2.1. Basic Google Search navigation shortcuts

The beauty here is that there are only 3 shortcuts to learn to use Google Search more efficiently and they are quite simple.

Assume you searched on Google and have reached the results page:

3 simple shortcuts to navigate Google search results

3 simple shortcuts to navigate Google search results

  • Hit [Tab] to enter list of search results
  • Hit [Up/Down arrow] to navigate through the list of results
  • Type anything to adjust your search query
Note: you may have to enable Google Instant for keyboard navigation to work.

2.2. KeyRocket for GMail

KeyRocket is Eve for GMail. It’s a free Chrome extension which will send you growls  (popup message) for keyboard shortcuts that can replace your mouse clicks.
In GMail, click on "Compose". Key Rocket will tell you to use [c] instead.

In GMail, click on “Compose”. Key Rocket will tell you to use [c] instead.

Other Google sites (GMail, Google Calendar and Google Drive) offer a cheat sheet via keyboard shortcut [Shift + /]. This is helpful to get familiar with the keyboard shortcuts you want to learn most within those web apps.2.3. Keyboard shortcuts for other Google Websites

Keyboard shortcut "cheat sheet"for Google Calendar

Keyboard shortcut “cheat sheet”for Google Calendar

3. Use Alfred App

Alfred is free a replacement for Spotlight (you can actually use both). Alfred uses simple keyword driven commands to do almost anything you want on your Mac.

Alfred look like Spotlight, but it's better

Alfred look like Spotlight, but it’s better

When I first read about Alfred, it wasn’t clear to me why and how it was better than Spotlight. Alfred had a similar interface and used the same data as Spotlight. I used both side by side for a while until I completely got rid of Spotlight.

Here are the main reasons why I prefer Alfred over Spotlight:
  1. Alfred is faster than Spotlight. No more waiting for indexing.
  2. Alfred offers better (more relevant) results than Spotlight.
    That’s because Alfred learns and adapts itself (quickly) to how you use it. For example, items you use most, will show first. Moreover, Alfred has narrower search scopes than Spotlight: it won’t overwhelm you with irrelevant search results like Spotlight does.
  3. Alfred can launch anything you want from its bar. Some of those features are built in, others require the paid version of Alfred. Here is a list of features I use most.
    1. Search Google, Amazon, GMail, Flickr, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, IMDb (built in)
    2. Google suggest
    3. Calculator (built in)
    4. Weather forecast
    5. Hours in different timezones
    6. Screenshots — simpler than OSX’s keyboard shortcut
    7. Navigate file system (built in)
    8. Run terminal commands (built in)
    9. Evernote actions
  4. Alfred can launch your specific apps and websites and it’s easy to setup. One of my basic use case is to setup my coding workspace. For this, I launch coding apps (Code editor, Web server, DB server) and coding websites (Github, JIRA). With Alfred, I open all of those by typing one simple keyword.

4. Window Resizing for OSX

One of the major issue with using a trackpad over a mouse is resizing and moving around windows. On top of this, OSX makes it challenging to maximize windows with a keyboard shortcut.

Moom's basic screen resizer can be controlled via keyboard shortcuts

Moom’s basic screen resizer can be controlled via keyboard shortcuts

Moom makes it easy for you to arrange your windows and maximize your screen real estate. Moom has support for keyboard shortcuts and never fails at moving, maximizing any OSX window. Thanks to +Nicolas Embleton for this tip.

Conclusion

With the help of the apps above, it becomes very easy to drive OSX with your keyboard. Once keyboard shortcuts become a second nature to you, you will feel much more productive at your laptop or desktop. Then, just like I did, you can put away the mouse or sell it on eBay!

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