Everyone knows you can work faster when you don’t need to take your hands off the keyboard while typing. If you want to hit peak efficiency in your work, learning the Mac keyboard shortcuts will be a big step in the right direction.

Not too surprisingly, many of the Mac shortcuts are similar to those used on Windows (and also Linux, Unix, and many other operating systems). This is not a coincidence. It makes sense for operating systems to try and have some things in common, so users don’t need to spend huge amounts of time just learning to do basic tasks.

Unfortunately, the compatibility isn’t done perfectly due to differences in the keyboard layout, as illustrated below.

As long as we’re aware of the difference, it should not take long to reprogram our minds to use the slightly different key combinations to perform common tasks.

Even though there are standard system-defined keyboard shortcuts, individual applications can override these shortcuts with application-defined shortcuts.

Operating system essentials

  • You normally use these when something goes wrong, or when you need to get quick access to something that’s not in the context of any currently open applications.
  • ⌘ ← = move one work space to the left
  • ⌘ → = move one work space to the right
  • Tab = switch active application window
  • ⌘ Q = terminate active application (politely)
  • ⌘ Opt Esc = kill active application (abrupt)
  • ⌘ H = hide active application (remains running)
  • ⌘ M = minimize all windows of the active application (remains running)
  • Tab = switch active application window
  • ⌘ Shift ~ = switch windows in the active application
  • ⌘ Shift Power = immediately activate screen lock
  • ⌘ Ctrl Power = immediately force restart
  • Shift Ctrl Power = hibernate
  • ⌘ , = open preferences dialogue if possible
  • ⌘ shift 3 = take screenshot
  • ⌘ shift 4 = take screenshot with area select
  • ⌘ shift space 4 = take screenshot of active window or dialogue

Shortcuts specific to file manager windows

These shortcuts are different because they only apply to file manager windows, plus they may have other functions when used elsewhere. These are not always directly equivalent in other operating systems.

The most commonly used file manager in Mac OSX is “Finder”, and it’s generally discouraged to use other file managers, though it is possible to use them. When using other file managers, there is no guarantee that the shortcuts will work or that they won’t have unexpected effects.

  • Space = use “quick look” to preview selected file
  • ⌘ 1 = change finder view to icon view
  • ⌘ 2 = change finder view to list view
  • ⌘ 3 = change finder view to column view
  • ⌘ 4 = change finder view to cover flow view
  • ⌘ N = open new finder window
  • ⌘ T = open new finder tab
  • ⌘ W = close active finder tab
  • ⌘ shift W = close active finder window
  • Ctrl Tab = switch between finder tabs
  • Delete = delete selected folder
  • Enter = rename selected folder
  • ⌘ C = copy selected file(s)
  • ⌘ V = paste selected file(s)
  • ⌘ Opt V = move selected files to active folder

Application-specific shortcuts

These shortcuts are almost universal in computing, except that the “command” key is used on Mac where you would use the “control” key in Windows or Linux.

  • Tab = switch active application window
  • A = select all (text, images, files, etc)
  • ⌘ C = copy selection
  • ⌘ X = cut selection
  • ⌘ V = paste selection
  • ⌘ Z = undo
  • ⌘ shift Z = reverse undo

Weird shortcuts only found in Mac applications

These ones are a bit more unusual because they’re not standard in any of the other operating systems, while others do have equivalents in Windows, Linux, and Unix.

  • ⌘ ← = go to start of line (equivalent to “home” key)
  • ⌘ → = go to end of line (equivalent to “end” key)
  • Opt ← = go to start of word (equivalent to Ctrl ←)
  • Opt → = go to end of word (equivalent to Ctrl →)
  • Ctrl D = Delete one char right of caret position (equivalent to “Del” key)
  • Ctrl K = Delete all chars right of caret position and end of line
  • Ctrl H = Delete all chars left of caret position and start of line
  • ⌘ ↓ = Go to end of document (equivalent to Ctrl End)
  • ⌘ ↑ = Go to start of document (equivalent to Ctrl Home)

Browser shortcuts

Finally we have a category of shortcuts that are intended to make working in the browser easier. These also have equivalents in Windows, Linux, and Unix, but with the exception of the first one, they’re not even slightly related to the shortcuts used in the other operating systems.

  • ⌘ T = open new browser tab
  • ⌘ W = close active tab
  • ⌘ R = refresh active tab
  • ⌘ L = shift focus to the location bar
  • ⌘ F = open find dialog
  • ⌘ ← = navigate back one page in current tab history
  • ⌘ → = navigate forward one page in current tab history
  • Ctrl Tab = change active tab

The shortcut keys on Mac are a bit less intuitive than they are for Linux and Windows. Once you become familiar with them, however, you may find that they actually do help streamline your work so you won’t have to reach for the mouse quite as often.