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How To Move Around Your Mac At The Speed Of Light

Niklas Göke
Jan 30, 2018 · 9 min read

One of the biggest ideas in psychology is the concept of hedonic adaptation. Also known as the ‘hedonic treadmill,’ it asserts that even substantial rises in our income or material wealth rarely lead to a lasting increase in happiness.

Historically, most of our newfound amenities have relied on technology, but since the dawn of the internet, innovation has grown exponentially. By now, we’re used to our devices becoming stronger, better, faster each year, and so, technologic adaptation is on the rise.

In an interview, Louis C.K. describes the phenomenon, using smartphones as an example:

“This is what people are like now: they got their phone and they’re like: “Ugh! It won’t…”

Give it a second! It’s going to space! Can you give it a second to get back from space? Is the speed of light too slow for you?”

Remember how mad you were the last time the wifi broke down for five minutes? That’s technologic adaptation par excellence.

What’s ironic about this is that most of the problems with our tech aren’t caused by the devices, but by us. Operating errors. We get annoyed at tiny external delays, when the biggest lags reside in our own behavior.

What if you knew you were using your laptop as efficiently as possible? Wouldn’t you be a lot calmer when it actually does fail you?

For the past five years, I’ve studied not just through macOS, but macOS itself. As a result, I navigate around my laptop much faster than the average person.

Today, I’d like to show you the three components of that speed:

  • Muscle memory
  • Markers
  • Search

Let’s do this!

1. Muscle Memory

When an object is thrown at you, your body reacts in 0.1 seconds to catch or deflect it. That’s because your neural system keeps a list of shortcuts with certain muscle contraction combinations, so it can activate them quickly.

We call it muscle memory. While you can’t beat involuntary reflexes and ancient survival mechanisms, studies show you can significantly reduce the time it takes you to perform any specific task through practice.

Steve Kamb relates it to video games:

You were epically clumsy at first, having to learn how the controls work. Then, after just a few hours of gameplay, your muscle memory starts to develop. After a few days or weeks, these things seem effortless:

— Defeat a boss by thoughtlessly connecting a combo of rolling, attacking, defending, and spell casting.
— Make it through the dungeon by taking on hordes of enemies, using items and strafing effortlessly.

Developing muscle memory for your Mac is a huge speed booster. Here are three ways to practice.

Set your mouse speed to maximum

noah kagan shared this on a podcast with Tim Ferriss. Go to ‘System Preferences,’ then select ‘Mouse’ or ‘Trackpad,’ whichever one applies, and set the speed to the fastest setting possible.

Yes, this will feel uncomfortable for the next 10 minutes, or even an hour, but once you adapt, you’ll reach everything faster forever. Whether this increases your overall speed by 10%, 50%, or 100%, it adds a lot of time to your life over the course of 30 years.

Memorize keyboard shortcuts

Moving twice as fast with your cursor is great. What’s even better is not moving your cursor at all. In theory, you can use your Mac without ever touching the mouse or trackpad. In practice, I use shortcuts for at least 50% of the actions I’m taking.

The only way for these to become second nature is to memorize them, and then practice until your fingers automatically move when you think of the corresponding action. It’s the one time rote learning might be useful.

On your desktop

  • Cmd+N opens a new Finder window.
  • Cmd+M minimizes that window.
  • Cmd+T opens a new tab once you’re in a window.
  • Cmd+W closes the current tab, or window, if it’s the only tab.
  • Cmd+Shift+N creates a new folder.
  • Cmd+1/2/3/4 lets you move through different views.
  • Pressing Enter while a file is selected allows you to change its name. Press Enter again to confirm.
  • The space bar shows you a preview of any file.
  • The arrows allow you to move from file to file.
  • Holding down Shift while you press the arrows allows you to mark multiple files.
  • Cmd+Delete sends all marked files to Trash.
  • Cmd+Tab lets you flip through all open applications and select the one you’d like to view.

Here’s me demonstrating almost all of these in less than 30 seconds:

In your browser

Many of the same shortcuts apply when it comes to opening and managing tabs and windows. That said, there are a bunch more that make using your browser much easier.

  • Cmd+N opens a new window.
  • Cmd+Shift+N opens a new incognito window.
  • Cmd+W closes the current tab, or, once all tabs are closed, window.
  • Cmd+T opens a new tab and jumps into it.
  • Cmd+Shift+T reopens the last tab you closed.
  • Cmd+Option+Right Arrow moves to the next tab in your lineup.
  • Cmd+Option+Left Arrow moves to the previous tab in your lineup.
  • Cmd+1/2/3… jumps to the first, second, third, etc., tab.
  • Cmd+9 jumps to whichever tab’s last.
  • Cmd+R reloads the page you’re on.
  • Cmd+Shift+R reloads the page you’re on while bypassing the cache, meaning you can view it as if you arrived there for the first time.
  • Cmd+L lets you jump to the URL/search bar from anywhere on the page.
  • Cmd+F allows you to start typing and find any word on a page.
  • Cmd+Left Arrow goes back to the last page you visited.
  • The space bar scrolls down the current page in increments.
  • Cmd+P brings up the Print screen.
  • Cmd+M minimizes the current window.

Again, here’s me demonstrating a whole bunch in 30 seconds:

While typing

This is especially helpful if you’re a writer, but we all type from time to time, and keyboard shortcuts allow you to edit text much faster.

  • Cmd+Right Arrow lets you jump to the end of the current line.
  • Cmd+Left Arrow lets you jump to the beginning of the current line.
  • Option+Right Arrow jumps to the next word.
  • Option+Left Arrow jumps to the previous word.
  • Shift+Right Arrow selects the next letter or symbol.
  • Shift+Left Arrow selects the previous letter or symbol.
  • Option+Shift+Right Arrow selects the entire next word.
  • Option+Shift+Left Arrow selects the entire previous word.
  • Cmd+Shift+Right Arrow selects everything right of the cursor.
  • Cmd+Shift+Left Arrow selects everything left of the cursor.
  • Cmd+C copies whatever’s highlighted.
  • Cmd+V pastes whatever was copied.
  • Delete deletes whatever’s highlighted

Here are some of those in action:

Speaking of typing…

Learn 10-finger typing

When I was eleven years old, my parents sent me to a typing school. Over the course of two years, I learned how to type blind, using all ten fingers. It’s the single-greatest skill I have in terms of keyboard efficiency.

Most people claim they use all ten fingers to type, but they really don’t and they wouldn’t know what they were typing if their eyes were closed.

If you’re one of those people, I highly recommend you invest some time to learn touch typing. Today, there are thousands of resources online, and you can learn it for free, for example at Typing Club.

Muscle memory can get you around your Mac very quickly, but some things are either too complicated to remember or not worth the effort. For those, you can use markers.

2. Markers

In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, there’s a part of the game called ‘the Haunted Wasteland.’ It’s a desert with a raging sand storm, which you can only cross by moving from flag post to flag post, the only elements providing guidance. That’s how I think of markers on an operating system.

In that sense, the Favorites in the side bar of your Finder, your browser bookmarks, the icons in your dock, and even what’s on your desktop, all fall into this category.

Whatever you can’t access from muscle memory, you should ideally be able to reach via a marker that’s close by. For example, here’s the bookmarks bar in my Chrome browser:

Loaded mostly with direct access links for dashboards and applications, it’s an entirely visual system. The favicons tell me which website it is, no verbal description needed. To replicate this, just leave ‘Name’ empty when adding a page to your bookmarks bar (shortcut: Cmd+D).

In Finder, you can drag and drop hard to reach, but frequently needed folders into the side bar on the left:

Think about the three or four applications you use the most. They represent your first point of entry. How many markers do they contain? Is it easy to slingshot right from there to your destination?

As always, there can be too much of a good thing, so don’t let markers turn into clutter. That said, having the right flag posts in the right places goes a long way.

That reminds me…

3. Search

Whatever you can reach neither through muscle memory, nor a marker, you have to search for. This is your biggest time waster for two reasons:

  1. Searching itself is a result of weak organization. Ideally, you could eliminate it altogether.
  2. The process is inefficient and presents lots of opportunities to get distracted.

Organizing, while delaying our work, is a necessary evil. We’re not omniscient, so we can’t set markers or train our muscles for every possible scenario. But we can use them to optimize how we search.

Luckily, there is a pre-built solution for this. It’s called Alfred. Once you install this free app, you can set a keyboard shortcut that triggers a launch bar, from which you can search and directly access most of your files, apps, web searches, and even definitions or the weather report. Think Spotlight on steroids.

I use Control+Space as my trigger shortcut for Alfred, as this combination isn’t used elsewhere already. Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Type the name of any application on your Mac, then hit Enter to launch it.
  • Hit the apostrophe key (‘), then type any file name, hit Enter to open, or Shift to get a preview of the file. If you type ‘find’ instead of the apostrophe, it opens in Finder.
  • For basic math calculations, simply enter numbers with the according symbols, hit enter to copy the result to your clipboard.
  • Type ‘define,’ followed by a word, to get its dictionary entry.
  • Type any phrase you want to search for with Google, then hit Enter to open a new tab with the search. If you use Cmd+2 you can search Amazon instead, Cmd+3 browses Wikipedia.
  • Search for names of contacts and view their data in the Contacts app.

Here’s another 30-second demo:

There’s a powerpack you can purchase for more features, but so far, I’m doing fine with the basic version. You might still have to search, but using shortcuts and typing, you can drastically shorten the path from A to B and eliminate most distractions along the way.

I don’t think we’re ever really angry at our devices. Most of us are aware in what amazing times we live. We’re angry at ourselves, because we know we’re not using our tools to their full potential.

The external delays are a bump on the road, but it’s the internal delays that pose the real problem. Unless we resolve some of them, all we’re doing is standing on a moving walkway, yelling at it to go faster, when we could just start walking.

It’s not that the speed of light is too slow for us, we just have to catch up.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most…

Niklas Göke

Written by

Writer with 30M views, 50k email subscribers, and 500k monthly readers. Get 5 free top notch writing tips:

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Niklas Göke

Written by

Writer with 30M views, 50k email subscribers, and 500k monthly readers. Get 5 free top notch writing tips:

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.