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The Keyboard Shortcut That Will Change Your Life

Hey, there!

You don’t often think about how slowly you work with your computer, until the moment someone shows you a very cool move that makes you substantially more efficient.

This is one of those moments.

If you’ve been using computers since the text-based days of DOS, like I have, this may be old news to you. But I’ve gotten handwritten thank you notes from people after I’ve shown them how to use this simple keyboard shortcut.

It seems straightforward to use your mouse to switch between applications on your Mac or PC, right? Click on an exposed window of a background app, and boom! It’s right up front.

But compared to CMD-TAB or ALT-TAB, using your mouse is deadly slow. Especially if you’re working with text: composing, cutting and pasting, email and so on.

Why?

Because using your mouse requires you to stop your typing, moving your hand from the keyboard to the mouse, sliding the mouse over a target like your dock or taskbar, or that exposed window, accurately clicking on that window or an icon to switch to that other app and then moving your hand back to your keyboard to find the home keys and resume your typing.

Do this instead:

While typing on a Macintosh, without having to move to the mouse, hold down the Command (CMD or cloverleaf or Apple) key, and hit TAB.

If you’re on a Windows machine, hold down the ALT key, and hit TAB.

You’ll switch between applications and windows in the order they were opened, and you’ll be able to resume typing instantly with your hands still in position to do so.

User interface engineers will tell you that this deceptively simple move to switch between apps is actually more than 5 times faster than using your mouse. Why? Because your total hand movement is very limited, as you never actually remove your hands from the keyboard on which you’re typing.

You also don’t have to use eye-hand coordination, as you do when using a mouse, to target and click on an icon that is almost never in the same place on your Dock or taskbar. Each new open application and document moves other icons around just enough to be annoying, and you have to accurately hit the right icon to go where you want; the Command, Alt and Tab keys are always in the same place, and just like any typing, you get used to where they are.

If you have more than one app and/or window open, the whole lot of them will be displayed on the screen, and ALT- or CMD-TAB will cycle through them in order. And you can easily go back and forth between the last two apps you’re using by using this shortcut repeatedly – it remembers the last app you were in.

Get used to using this keyboard shortcut. If you become proficient at it, you can quickly switch between, as an example, your audition script in Preview and the recording of that script in Audacity, and back again.

CMD-TAB or ALT-TAB. A simple speed gain that will make your auditioning life faster and better.

Hope this helps.

David

6 Responses to The Keyboard Shortcut That Will Change Your Life

  1. Deborah Geffner August 17, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    Wonderful! Thank you.

  2. Christopher Anderson August 17, 2013 at 11:52 am #

    Great shortcut! And, if you accidentally skip over the icon that you want, while still holding down ALT, hold down SHIFT as well and now when you tap TAB, you’ll cycle through in the opposite direction!

    If you have a lot of windows open, it sure beats cycling through them all to get back to the beginning!

  3. Jenn Wong (@wayofthewong) August 17, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    I know that your trick is part of the OS, but as an additional time saver, I love these two programs: Quicksilver & Text Expander. With Quicksilver, I just have to think it and I can launch programs, look up phone numbers & find a file w/o moving my hands from my keyboard. TexExpander allows me to type form emails that I use all the time w/ just a few keystrokes. Both are invaluable to me in my everyday life.

  4. Richard Wilson July 25, 2015 at 10:09 am #

    Very nice. You just significantly added to my productivity. As a Mac user for 30 years, I am blushing that I didn’t know this…but I’m grateful to know about it now.

  5. Michael Brian Montgomery July 25, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    Also, for PC users, you can use TAB and SHIFT + TAB to toggle back and forth between text boxes like the one used at the bottom of this page to reply to this post. TAB will take you to the next text box, while SHIFT + TAB will take you back to the previous text box. This, too, makes typing information into a lot of text boxes (i.e., for a website profile) a snap as your fingers never leave the keyboard. Sorry, Mac users, I don’t know the corresponding keys for you.

    • David H. Lawrence XVII July 25, 2015 at 7:23 pm #

      MBM: they are exactly the same on the Mac as they are on Windows machines: TAB to move to the next box or control/menu, and SHIFT + TAB to move to the previous box or control/menu. Thank you!

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