Your computer is an instrument — learn to play it like one.

As a software engineer, it’s assumed that knowing how to elegantly navigate a computer is a known skill. It’s an aspect of the craft. It’s what we do. In my opinion, one of the earliest initial indicators of a developer’s skill set is their ability to navigate the very machine that helped me write this article.

This is great, but what about the rest of the working professionals that use a computer for a majority of their day to day tasks?

How much time is spent clicking through tabs at the top of your browser to find which tab you were looking for?

How much time is wasted by switching from your web browser, clicking on your calendar, and then opening email again?

Worst of all, how much time do you spend on a daily basis arranging the windows on your screen to fit in just the right space side by side?

As an instrumentalist of the computer, this is painstaking to watch.

It’s so painstaking that I would argue that lack of ability to effortlessly navigate a computer is one of the lowest hanging fruit one could pick in order to increase their productivity. And of course, what would this post be if it didn’t provide a few fundamental beginner chords for those new to this incredible instrument.

Here are my 5 favorite shortcuts that I use throughout the day that drastically increase my productivity (Mac specific).

  1. Use a tool to manage screen real estate
Shift It
Shift It is a simple tool that adds 10 useful actions to control Mac windows.

By using a screen management tool such as SizeUp or ShiftIt above, you can create shortcuts to move your windows to various parts of the screen. Want your calendar to only show up on the top right-hand corner of your screen? There’s a shortcut for that. Maybe have a stream of information along the right 20% of your screen while you work on the left screen? You can set up a shortcut for that as well. The sky is the limit, and I feel embarrassed to admit I once used a mac without one of these tools installed.

2. Use command + spacebar to open new applications and search for documents using Spotlight

Notice in the above image. I only had to type command + space and then the letter “c” to open chrome instead of reaching for the mouse to click on the Chrome icon. This allows you to hide the dock of applications along the bottom/side of your screen as well. Faster to open and frees up screen real estate. Win-win.

3. Use command + tab to toggle through open applications

Not my personal screen for lack of ability to take a screenshot whilst switching applications.

Instead of reaching for the mouse to click on a new application, simply press command + tab to jump to the last application you were using, or command + shift + tab to jump the opposite direction to the application that has been open the longest without being used.

4. Use command + option + left/right arrows to switch web browser tabs

We’ve all been here. We’re doing some research and after a few minutes we look up and all of a sudden have 20 tabs open on the top of our screen. Reaching for the mouse to click through each of these tabs to find what we’re looking for may seem relatively quick, but doing this over and over throughout the day starts to add up. Quickly jump between open tabs by using command + option + left/right arrows, or add to your collection of open tabs by pressing command + T.

5. Use command + L to select the url bar when typing in a new web address

How many times have you finished looking at a webpage and decided to go to another website? Again, instead of taking your hands off of your instrument to reach for the mouse, you can type command + L to highlight the url bar to enter you next web address.

The brief list of shortcuts and productivity hacks are great, but what I would love for you to take away from this piece is the recurring theme — simple things like reaching for the mouse can be incredibly slow compared to a quick shortcut.

A simple exercise to help yourself improve on this is to set your mouse off to the other side of your desk from time to time during some of your most common tasks on the computer, and figure out when you use it most. This is a great opportunity to explore what kinds of shortcuts that particular application has to offer instead of having to use the mouse.

We all know what that humming, almost soothing sound a proficient typist makes as they are working on their day to day activities with no interruptions. The computer is an incredible instrument, and you can learn to play it like one.

Have any more great productivity hacks of your own you’d like to share? Feel free to leave a comment, or reach out via Twitter or LinkedIn.