Top 10 Tips Of A Mac Master [OS X Tips]



If you’ve written a book full of Mac tips, as I have, it’s inevitable people ask what my favourite tips are. So here they are, for one-time only—the top 10 tricks I use every day. They’re not all barnstormers, and they’re not guaranteed to be mind-blowing. They’re just the little things I do to make life easier and more efficient when I’m using my Mac. Please share your own in the comments!

Pretty much all of these tips (and many more) can be found in my new book Mac Kung Fu, which contains over 300 tips, tricks, hints and hacks for OS X. It’s available from Amazon as well as other bookstores, and also as an eBook for all eReaders. 

  1. Starting apps using Spotlight: If there’s an app I need to use that’s not in my Dock, I start it by hitting Command + Space to open the Spotlight search box, then I begin typing its name. After just a few characters Spotlight has usually realised which app it is, and I just hit Return to start that app. Simple, and quick. No mouse required!
  2. Quick Look everywhere: With OS X Lion Apple extended the Quick Look functionality to just about every aspect of OS X. You can hit Space to Quick Look items in a Stack, or in the print queue window, or in Mail, and so on (in Mail, the best technique is to click once the file attachment you want to Quick Look and then hit Space; clicking and holding the mouse before hitting Space also works for me).
  3. Quick open files: To open a file you’re currently Quick Looking, just double-click anywhere on the Quick Look window.
  4. Paste without formatting: I don’t know about you, but I never, ever want to paste something into a fresh document AND carry across its original formatting. To paste without formatting (i.e. as plain text), hold down Shift + Option + Command and hit V. It’s a tricky keyboard combo to master, and I hold down Option + Command with my thumb, and Shift with my pinkie, leaving a finger free to hit V.
  5. Open a link in a new tab: If you’re using a standard PC mouse that has a scroll wheel, you can click the scroll wheel while hovering over a link in the browser (or in Mail) to open the link in a new tab. For what it’s worth, this works on most operating systems, not just OS X.
  6. Uncluster apps in Mission Control: When using Mission Control, scrolling in the usual way on a touchpad or mouse (i.e. using the mouse wheel) causes the windows the cursor is hovering over to expand so you can better see their contents.
  7. Drag and drop the proxy: Let’s say I’m viewing an image in Preview and decide I want to edit it in Photoshop. I could open Finder and navigate to the file, before dragging it to the Photoshop icon in the Dock, but here’s a quicker way: just drag and drop the proxy icon onto the Photoshop icon in the Dock, which will then instantly open the file in the new app. The proxy icon is the little icon to the left of the filename in the titlebar. If the icon is greyed out, it means the file hasn’t been saved; this drag-and-drop trick won’t work until the file is saved.
  8. Use text clippings: If there’s some standard text I use all the time (such as a personal biography), I write it in TextEdit, then highlight all of it, and click and drag it to the desktop or to a Finder window. This creates a ‘clipping file’ containing the text (and like any other file, you can Quick Look a clipping by selecting it and hitting Space). If the clipping file is then dragged and dropped onto a new document (or any app that accepts text, like a web browser) then the text will be inserted at the cursor position.
  9. See other menu options: If you open any menu that run along the top of the screen, pressing and holding any of Shift, Option, Command or Ctrl (or any combination of these) will show what other options are available. Give it a try! Often this is a way of uncovering useful program features.
  10. View the desktop: To quickly move all the windows out of the way so you can see the desktop, hold down Command and hit the Expose shortcut (usually above F3).
Scroll over any window (or cluster of windows) in Expose to make them bigger
  • Jordan Clay

    Thanks for the tips. 

    The clicking the scroll wheel to open a new tab is great.  It saves so much time when you work on web-based systems for work

  • andymcclung

    Thanks.  I learned something new.  Tips 4 and 5 will be huge life savers for me!

  • Alan Natachu


    Got a tip for opening in a new tab without a scroll wheel mouse. Hold down the Command (Apple) key then click on the link. It will open in a new tab (at least in web browsers).

  • prof_peabody

    Another handy spotlight tip … after doing a search, holding down Command and clicking on one of the results in the list will open the folder the item is in (with the item highlighted), rather than the item itself.  Handy when you just want to find the folder something is in and not actually run the item. 

  • Nudsui

    about the past without formatting one…when will you ever need to format? go to settings>keyboard>keyboard shortcuts>appllication shortcuts

    add one called <paste and=”” match=”” style=””> (needs caps) under cmd+V and then its forever automatic. Its a lot easier than pressing 4 buttons at once…</paste>

  • KeirThomas

    This is great, thanks! 

    I’m not sure I like the idea of replacing Cmd+V as the default “paste”, though. It feels like it might have unexpected consequences. Some apps might not like it, for example. I can do the weird five-finger shortcut quite well nowadays, after quite a bit of training. The only time it’s difficult is when I’m on my Macbook and it’s balanced on my lap, so I can’t — quite — get — the — angle!

  • chabig

    Here’s a great tip for the master–get a Magic Trackpad and use gestures!

  • KeirThomas

    I have, and I do. What’s your point? 

  • ErgoOrgo

    Thanks for the excellent list Keir. Quicklook has been one of my favourite things on switching to the Mac almost a year ago, seconded by Spotlight, or maybe just lovely design.

    One design thing in OSX Lion that baffles me: how come scrolling forward / back through PDFs in Preview works the old way and not the new way (i.e. to go forward you push right, not pull left)? It feels wrong and so unnecessary. Am I the only who finds this?

  • Alex G

    I find tip 9 utterly incomprehensible. Could someone decode it for me, please?

  • David Butt

    People are still using a mouse? Having used a trackpad for some months I dug out my Magic Mouse for a task, but soon put it away in the closet. Navigating with the trackpad is second nature now, and I can’t see returning to the mouse.

  • KeirThomas

    Click any app’s menu. Hold down Shift, Option, Command or Ctrl to see alternative menu options. Can’t make it any clearer. 

  • KeirThomas

    I get crippling hand pain if I use a Magic Trackpad. I find Trackpads on Macbooks OK, though. 

    Gotta say that the Magic Trackpad is a typically Apple triumph of design over practicality, like most of their input devices (Mac mice have always been ergonomically awful but very pretty). 

  • chabig

    My point was that tips 5 and 10 have nice gestures to do the same thing. You chose to mention keyboard shortcuts and scroll wheels instead. There is nothing wrong with those, but the gestures seem so much simpler.

  • D. L. Fuller

    What do you mean by “usually above F3” in the last tip?  Is that the Mission Control key?  I use F9 for Mission Control instead on a standard Apple USB keyboard, but the Command key stops it from working.

  • Ed Smith

    Re. no. 10: “View the desktop: To quickly move all the windows out of the way so you can see the desktop, hold downCommand and hit the Expose shortcut (usually above F3).”

    I have a much easier and faster method. To initially set this up I go to “System Preferences” and click “Expose & Spaces.” I then set up “Active Screen Corners” with “Desktop” in one corner. Then, to instantly move all windows out of the way to see the desktop, I simply make a single, millisecond flick of the mouse to that corner and I immediately see the cleared desktop. 

    Also, I program the opposite corner with “All Windows” and with a flick of the wrist I can immediately see every window that’s open on my desktop.

    I’m surprised that very few people I ask use Active Screen Corners. In fact, most don’t know what they are. I use them very often every day and will never go back to punching keys for these actions.

  • Ed Smith

    Each to their own. After many painful tries I finally decided I HATE trackpads …. and roller balls even more. However,  I LOVE my Magic Mouse (not Mighty Mouse) which has programable R & L clicking, and with my index finger on the top of the mouse I can easily scroll up & down, and R & L. 

    Also, I think the visual design of the Magic Mouse is a masterpiece of simple-elegance. 

  • Ed Smith

    Re. no. 5: I right click on the tab with Magic Mouse and instantly have 6 different choices of what to do with a link (Open Link in New Window, Open Link in New Tab, Download Linked File, Download Linked File As …. , Ad Link to Bookmarks, Copy Link).

    Also, if the link is an image I have another 11 choices.

  • Erik Ward

    Hey Keir,

    I’m making my way through Mac Kung Fu and love it, and have found several items that caused a sudden, deep inhalation followed by some giddiness as I got to trying them out, and I can’t wait to start working more and more of these tips into my day-to-day use!  Anyway, although it could be in the book and I just haven’t gotten to it yet I’m going to ask here in case it ends up not being in Kung Fu…

    …is it possible, and if so how, for an OS X user to write their own content for the little window that appears after a few seconds of holding the cursor over something?  I’d love to be able to put my own descriptions in for docs and various Automator stuff that I’ve done for coworkers so they can quickly and easily identify what it does/contains/is meant to be used for w/o having to open/run it…

  • M.Farhan Murtza

    how can i get that wallpaper ? :) its look awesome right… (sorry for out topic comment)

  • Nigel Gentry

    Thanks for the tips. I was mainly looking for your tip number 4, pasting without formatting. Like you, I never want to paste in the same format from where text came from, it should be formatted like the destination text! I don’t know why this ridiculous “feature” is part of the Mac OS.