Working Smarter with macOS Preferences

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #268

We sometimes forget there are myriad options we can set for our Macs. Starting with my first book (Dr. Macintosh) and countless times thereafter I’ve implored readers to poke around and try various settings. I explain that it’s quite difficult to break a Mac by changing a Control Panel (old-school) or System Preferences (modern) setting.

So here are a few System Preference pane settings you should tweak if you want to be more productive.

Low-hanging fruit: Tracking, Scrolling, and Double-Click Preferences

First up, the low-hanging fruit: Tracking, Scrolling, and Double-Click speed in your Mouse or Trackpad System Preference panes. I suggest adjusting all three to the setting you like best. Changes to these options occur immediately, so leave the System Preferences window open and test away.

Close the window and your settings are confirmed.

Zoom Zoom!

Another thing I use regularly are global Zoom In and Zoom Out shortcuts, which you enable in the Accessibility System Preference pane’s Zoom tab. When enabled, just press Command + Option + 8 to enable or disable Zoom, and then use Command + Option + Equals to zoom in, or Command + Option + Minus to zoom out.

Here’s another tip: When you’re zoomed in you can use Command + Option + Backslash to toggle Image Smoothing on or off.

Wanna Be a Dictator?

Do you know about macOS’s built-in Dictation, which you enable in the Dictation tab of the Keyboard System Preference pane?

This rendition isn’t awesome, but it’s not bad, especially when you consider its price.

If you also enable Dictation Commands in the Accessibility System Preference pane’s Dictation tab, you can then use your voice for things like cursor control; editing and formatting text; opening and switching applications; and more.

Full Keyboard Access = Mouseless Satisfaction

Finally, I was reminded of this setting last week’s episode of my favorite podcast for Apple geeks, Mac Geek Gab ( While I’ve set mine the way they described since time immemorial, it reminded me that not everyone knows of its charms.

The control is Full Keyboard Access and yours is probably set to Text Boxes and Lists Only (the default). Look for it at the bottom of the Keyboard System Preference pane’s Shortcuts tab.

I prefer to keep both hands on the keyboard as much as possible, so this is one of the first things I adjust on a new Mac. Try changing yours to All Controls and then use Tab and Shift + Tab to select controls in dialogs from the keyboard.

This setting lets you keep both hands on the keyboard, if that's what you prefer.
This setting lets you keep both hands on the keyboard, if that’s what you prefer.

So, for example, to click a button that isn’t the default button (i.e. highlighted) with All Controls enabled, press Tab (or Shift + Tab) until the button you desire is highlighted, and then press spacebar to activate it.

If you don’t like using it all the time, press Control + F7 to toggle between All Controls and Text Boxes and Lists Only on the fly.

I love this setting. Just remember to use Tab (or Shift + Tab) instead of reaching for the mouse or trackpad and I guarantee you’ll save time with it every day!

By the way, if you liked these tips, consider joining my free Insiders email list. You’ll receive a weekly newsletter full of tips, hints, techniques, and other pearls of wisdom aimed at helping you work smarter…

One last thing: For more info on Full Keyboard Access and how to use it, check out this tutorial  Andrew Orr wrote for us last month. Thanks, Andrew!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.