How to create application shortcuts to save time and effort in macOS

A step by step guide to defining keyboard shortcuts on the Apple Mac to save time and effort. Add shortcuts to your favourite apps.

Everyone knows the Command+Q keyboard shortcut used to quit an app on the Apple Mac and it saves fiddling with menus. Here’s how to create your own shortcuts to carry out actions in apps.

Both macOS and applications already have shortcuts and the Command+Q one is universal. Some other very common ones include Command+C to copy, Command+V to paste, Command+S to save and so on.

In some applications, and perhaps in parts of macOS too, there may be actions that you perform quite a lot, but there are no keyboard shortcuts for them. If only there were, you could save time and effort by pressing the keys instead of searching through menus.

There is a great feature in macOS that enables you to define your own shortcuts, not only those in macOS, but shortcuts in applications too. If an app you use does not have a shortcut for a function you can simply add it. It is a brilliant idea.

Choose the keyboard shortcut action

I use GIMP for image editing and on the File menu are many menu options that already have keyboard shortcuts, but the Save a Copy... menu option does not.

The File menu in GIMP on the Apple Mac

Command+S is used for Save, Shift+Command+S is Save As..., but there is nothing for Save a Copy... Let’s add a shortcut for it. How about Ctrl+Command+S? That would fit in nicely with the other two save functions.

Keyboard shortcuts in System Preferences

  1. Open System Preferences
  2. Click the Keyboard icon
  3. Select the Shortcut tab
  4. Select App Shortcuts
  5. Click the plus button

Create a keyboard shortcut in System Preferences on the Apple Mac

Create the shortcut

At the top I have selected GIMP for the application. Any app that is installed on the Mac can be selected, but there is also an All Applications option, which makes the shortcut available in all applications.

In the Menu Title box, enter the menu text exactly as it appears on the menu in the application. I entered Save a Copy... including the three dots, because it must be exactly the same.

Click in the Shortcut box and then press the keyboard shortcut you want to use. I am going to use Ctrl+Cmd+S. It is actually harder than you might think to create shortcuts because there are often lots of shortcuts in apps and each one must be unique. It is even harder if you are creating a shortcut for all applications and trying to find an unused key combination is not easy.

Create a keyboard shortcut in System Preferences on the Apple Mac

Click the Add button and the shortcut is added to the list.

Try your new shortcut

Now when GIMP is started, or whatever app you choose to add the shortcut to, you can see the shortcut on the menu. Save a Copy... is Ctrl+Cmd+S. Brilliant!

The File menu in GIMP on the Apple Mac

This procedure works with any standard Mac application and you can add as many keyboard shortcuts as you need. If you find yourself repeatedly selecting a menu option, see if there is a shortcut and if there isn’t, create one yourself.



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