How I Save Time & Effort Every Day

Episode #71

I spend a lot of time in front of my Macs -- 8 to 10 hours on most days. And this is the way things have been for the better part of the last twenty years. Since I'm inherently quite lazy and computers are supposed to improve my productivity, I'm always on the lookout for a product or technique that will save me time, effort, or keystrokes. And so, gentle reader, here are some of the programs and procedures I use to save time effort every time I turn on one of my Macs.?

When I think of saving effort, the first program that comes to mind is QuicKeys. QuicKeys is a "macro" utility that creates "shortcuts." Put another way, it provides tools that let me automate almost any repetitive action on my Mac and trigger it with a single keystroke or menu selection. For example, I have shortcuts for all of the applications I use regularly. So Control-F1 activates GarageBand; Control-F2 activates System Preferences; Control-F3 activates Photoshop (see Figure 1); Control-F4 activates Microsoft Word; and so on and so on. This way it takes me but a fraction of a second to begin using any of the dozen or so programs I use daily -- the four I just mentioned plus Mail, Safari, iCal, Address Book, RapidWeaver, SOHO Notes, and a few others.

Figure 1: The shortcut that activates Photoshop when I type Control-F3.

Another way QuicKeys saves me time is by letting me add keyboard shortcuts to menu items that don't have their own keyboard shortcuts. I know you can (allegedly) do this with the Keyboard System Preference pane, but my experience with that technique has been that it doesn't usually work the way I expect it to work. With QuicKeys it always works the way I intend it to. For example, I type Control-minus to "zoom" the active window. In other words, Control-minus does the same thing as clicking the green "zoom" gumdrop found on most windows in most programs. Control-left arrow and Control-right arrow switch to the previous or next application (like Tab or Shift-Tab), but hide all other visible applications at the same time.

I also use QuicKeys shortcuts for oft-used folders. So typing Command-Option-Control-W opens and activates my "Work" folder, where most of my documents live, even if I'm working in another program. So that single keystroke switches programs (to the Finder), opens the Work folder (if it's not already open), and makes it the active window. Sweet!

Yet another way I use QuicKeys is to store things I type frequently such as my snail-mail address (with and without tabs between items) and my e-mail address.

There's a lot more QuicKeys can do -- it can create application specific or universal shortcuts; it can create timed shortcuts; it can create on-screen palettes for your shortcuts; and much more. And you can build your shortcuts step-by-step (see Figure 2), or you can record what you do and play it back with a single keystroke.

Figure 2: You can build shortcuts step-by-step by selecting items
from a menu as shown here, or record them in real time (not shown).
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image.)

I have used this program for many, many years. And I truly believe it's saved me literally millions of keystrokes over the years. It is among the most useful utilities I own and one of my very favorites. Don't take my word for the 30-day trial and give it a shot. If you take the time to get to know it, I'm certain you'll find it as indispensable as I do.

QuicKeys. Startly Technologies. $79.95.

Moving right along, another extremely useful little utility is Karl Hsu's Deja Menu. What it does is display the entire menu bar of the active application right under your cursor when you press its hot key. So in my case, when I press Command-Option-` (tilde). Figure 3 shows what Deja Menu looks like when I do it while Microsoft Word is active.

Figure 3: Deja Menu pops up the active applications entire
menu right under the cursor (Microsoft Word menus shown here).?

It's a one trick pony but its trick is a real timesaver, especially if you have two large displays like me. And not only is it a freebie, but instead of suggesting a donation the author says, "If you like DejaMenu, do something nice for someone :)." That's pretty cool.

Deja Menu. Karl Hsu. Free.

Well, that's all for now. Please let me know if you liked this column. I've got a bunch of other time and effort saving utilities I would be happy to share with you in a future column if you found this column useful.

And that's all he wrote...

Actually, this week there is one more thing:

Special Offer for my Macworld Expo Class

I'll be teaching an all-day class at Macworld Expo in San Francisco on Wednesday, January 10th from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. It's called Welcome to Macintosh: Dr. Mac's Introduction to the Macintosh Way and it's chock full of tips, techniques and information about how to get started with your Mac. It's the perfect course for both switchers and newbies, or anyone else who has made the leap to the Mac and wants to get up to speed quickly and painlessly.

I've got a few special super discount passes that I can offer to my readers for $99 (regular price is $295), so if you want to attend, drop me a line at and I'll set you up.