Time saving apps for more productive work
Keyboard shortcuts are great—they save you a few seconds each and every time you use them. And if you use them often, that’s a lot of seconds saved. But there’s one problem: just because they’re shortcuts, doesn’t necessarily make them better. Which is why I heavily rely on an app called Keyboard Maestro.
Keyboard shortcuts should be easy to pull off and easy to remember, but that’s not always the case. Take
Option+Shift+Command+I, for example, which brings up a window for reporting a Google Chrome issue. Or
Option+Shift+Command+V to paste and match style in Safari. Granted, you may not use these shortcuts very often, but four keys for a keyboard shortcut? Pfft.
Even some of the more practical keyboard shortcuts still require some dexterity. In Slack,
Command+G brings up the search bar to find a past message, which I do often. But trying to hit that key combo with one hand—at least with my small hands—is like playing a game of Finger Twister. (Yes, it’s a real game.)
Granted, there are a lot of keyboard shortcuts that are dead easy—
Command+V are about as simple as it gets. But even then, why hit two keys when I could just hit one? And what other possibilities are there for one-key macros? This is where Keyboard Maestro and my keyboard’s numpad make an epic duo.
What is Keyboard Maestro?
At its most basic, Keyboard Maestro is a tool for creating all sorts of shortcuts and macros for automating stuff on your Mac. Open a website, copy files into a specific folder, or launch an application, all with keyboard shortcuts or other triggers. You can have stuff automatically happen when you quit a certain application, when a file is moved into a particular folder, or even when you draw a certain gesture with your mouse or trackpad. And that’s really just scratching the surface.
If you’re looking for free options, Karabiner-Elements and Hammerspoon are decent open source alternatives. And there’s Apple’s built-in Automator feature that will soon be discontinued in favor of Shortcuts. None of these truly compare to Keyboard Maestro, in my opinion, so if you can shell out $36 for it, it’s well worth it.
If you’re looking for something on Windows, AutoIt and AutoHotkey are probably the closest alternatives, but they’re kind of script-y and aren’t as intuitive as setting up triggers and actions. There’s also FastKeys, but it’s not quite as expansive as Keyboard Maestro.
How to get started with Keyboard Maestro
Once you’ve downloaded and installed Keyboard Maestro, open it up, and you’ll be greeted with some pre-installed shortcuts and macros that you can try out. But you probably want to make your very own custom shortcuts, so here’s how to get started creating a very basic one.
We’re going to create a shortcut that will launch the Zapier home page by pressing
Command+Option+Z. To start, click the small plus button at the bottom of the second column in the Keyboard Maestro window.
Give the shortcut a name, like “Open Zapier.com,” and then click New Trigger. This is the thing that needs to happen first in order for the action to occur.
Select Hot Key Trigger from the list, and type in the shortcut you want to use. In this case, I’m using
Now, click New Action. This is what will happen when I hit
A huge list of actions to choose from will appear on the left side. I want to open a URL (zapier.com). I could scroll and look for it in the list, but I’m going to search for it using the search box at the top by typing in “URL” and then selecting Open a URL.
A new box will appear to the right where you’ll type in the URL. In this case. “https://www.zapier.com.” And yes, you need to include the https:// for the shortcut to work.
That’s it! Give it a try. Hitting
Command+Option+Z will open a new tab in your default web browser and take you immediately to the Zapier home page.
This might not be the most useful example, and it’s just the very tip of the Keyboard Maestro iceberg. But it should give you a better idea of how Keyboard Maestro works so that you can go out there and create your own shortcuts and macros.
How I use Keyboard Maestro
To give you an idea of the possibilities, let me describe one keyboard shortcut I have set up. It’s for when a client emails me store numbers and I need to ship items to those stores.
The shortcut brings up a window where it asks for the store number. After typing that in and hitting Enter, Keyboard Maestro opens up a new Chrome tab, performs a store number search on DuckDuckGo, clicks the first result (because it’s always the first result), finds the store’s address on the page, copies it to my clipboard, and then closes the Chrome tab. From there, I can paste the address wherever.
All of that happens with a simple keyboard shortcut.
That’s one of the very few intensive macros I have in Keyboard Maestro. Most of my shortcuts and macros accomplish more basic tasks, but they’re still really handy. The kicker, though, is using my keyboard’s numpad as sort of a built-in macropad, a part of the keyboard that I wouldn’t use otherwise. Keyboard Maestro can differentiate between a number key along the top row and a number key on the numpad, so it works out great for one-key macros.
Here are some shortcuts and macros I’ve set up, all of which happen with the tap of a single key:
Click the mouse and move the cursor down to the next checkbox. (The timecard software we use doesn’t have a Select All feature, so this is my workaround.)
End a Zoom call by putting the Zoom window in focus (if it isn’t already), hitting
Command+Wto end the call, and then hitting Enter if it asks for confirmation.
Toggle mute in Zoom calls by putting the Zoom window in focus and hitting
Command+Shift+A. (Yes, you can hold the spacebar to temporarily unmute, but the Zoom window has to be in focus first. My shortcut takes care of that part.)
Save an image from the web by right-clicking, selecting “Save Image As,” and hitting Enter. (Three clicks is too many, so I made a shortcut for this.)
Resize windows to predetermined sizes (full screen, right half, left half, etc.)
Close the window in certain applications with the escape key. (Some applications support this, but many don’t.)
Copy, paste, move, and delete files. (Yeah, these are just two- and three-key shortcuts, but one key is even better.)
Download a YouTube video using yt-dlp and Terminal. This grabs the video’s URL, opens a Terminal window, types in the command along with the URL, and then hits Enter.
Type out frequently-used phrases, like my email address, canned responses in Slack, and more. (Keyboard Maestro is also a text expansion tool!)
If you’d like the macro file for any of these, hit me up and I can share it with you. But more importantly, I hope this gives you some inspiration to think of even cooler shortcuts and macros than what I have. Go forth and automate!