The Most Powerful Keyboard Shortcut

The most powerful keyboard shortcut for your Mac is the Tab key. This single key helps you get around in windows, dialog boxes and even web pages. You can modify how it works in System Preferences and also in Safari's preferences. Once you master using the Tab key you can speed up your computer use by keeping your hands on your keyboard more and using your mouse or trackpad less.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: The Most Powerful Keyboard Shortcut.

So probably the most useful keyboard shortcut on your Mac is not something that you're going to find here in the Menu Bar. It's not something that you even use the Command or Option key for. It's a single key press. It's the Tab key. The Tab key is very useful yet a lot of Mac users don't use it at all. Mostly what the Tab key does is it allows you to go between elements on the screen without lifting your hands off the keyboard. That's what a keyboard shortcut is, really. Allows you to do things without having to go to the mouse or trackpad.

So as an example, let's go into Pages here. I'm going to open a new document. I have this dialogue here. This file open dialogue. I can click with my cursor on various things here. But I can also use the Tab key to move between them. So as soon as I hit Tab the next item, which is usually the first item, will get highlighted. You can see right here this element got highlighted. If I hit Tab again it goes to the next one. The next one. The next one. Notice when it's something where I can type text I can now just start typing. So without actually using the trackpad or mouse I was able to tap over to the Search bar here and now I can start typing a search term. If I continue with the Tab key it goes to the next item. New document, there is cancel. I can even then use other keys like Return or Space to actually activate the item. So I can hit the Spacebar, for instance, to activate Cancel.

So there's a lot that you can do with that. I mean even after you create something new, like let's create a new document here, and I want to Save it for the first time so I'll do Command S you can use the Tab key to move between all the elements here and get around. In conjunction with that I can use Space to activate something or even arrow keys to move within an element. So within the list here on the left I can go up and down with arrows.

Getting to different parts of the screen all has to do with the Tab key. Now you do have some controls for exactly what the Tab key goes for. If I go to System Preferences and under Keyboard if I look under Shortcuts there is this option down here called Full Keyboard Access. It says in windows and dialogues press Tab to move keyboard focus between, and you have two options. Text boxes and lists only or All controls. You have a keyboard shortcut here. If you go to Keyboard it's the first thing here. Change the way tab moves focus. You can see it also repeats it here. Control F7 is what it's set for by default but you can change that to anything you want.

So you can switch between these two without having to go to System Preferences. So if I go to Text boxes and lists only and I go back to the Save dialogue you can see it's only going between these items here and it's not actually going to any of these buttons. If I change it back now it's going to all the different buttons.

Now Safari makes the Tab key even more powerful. So I can go to a page in Safari and you can see that this page starts off with my cursor in the Search field there. You can see it blinking. If I use the Tab key it goes over to the next element that you're supposed to click on. Kind of like a submit button or a popup menu or a field that you can type in. So not links. But if I go there I go to button, I go to this control here and then when it runs out of these buttons on the screen I get it going to the interface up here. So you can see now I'm going through the regular interface elements and when it runs out of those it goes back to the ones on the webpage.

Now what about links. Well, you can actually get to links by using Option and Tab. So Option and Tab will go to each and every thing just like before but now it includes links. You can see the links get highlighted there. I can go through all the links and use the Return key to actually activate any of those links. So you can browse around on webpages, at least simple ones like this one, using just the keyboard. Then if I wanted to go to something I just hit Return.

Now you have a control for this in Safari. You go to Safari Preferences and you go to Advanced and you can see Press Tab to highlight each item on a page. If I turn that on now just pressing Tab acts like pressing Option Tab. Option Tab acts like before. Just pressing Tab and going to the main elements. So you can toggle which one you want there. You always have the other one available.

So I want to show you one last interesting use for Tab. Even if you knew everything I showed you before I bet you don't know this. So you go into the Finder here. I'll create a new finder window and I will bring that in here. Let's say let's go into my Documents folder. I've got a bunch of stuff sorted by Name. I select a file. Now I hit Tab and it's going to go to the next item on the list. Ah ha, you knew this right.

But here's something really interesting. Let me change the sorting order by Date Modified. Now it's Date Modified. You would think if I hit Tab it's going to go from Other to the next item. Right. Nope. It jumps down from Other to Personal. Why? Because Tab stays in alphabetical order. It will still go through the items alphabetically no matter what the sort order is in List view. The same thing if you've got icons. The icons could be in all sorts of different ways. So let's sort it here. Let's clean up by Date Modified. So now it's not in that order. Tab will go and find them alphabetically. Which could be useful. For instance, there's my Project A folder. I want to get to Project B but I don't want to change the sort order to find it. Tab and Project B because it is the next one in alphabetical order. Shift Tab, of course, works in reverse.

Comments: One Response to “The Most Powerful Keyboard Shortcut”

    Don Fuller
    3 months ago

    Useful tips, some new even after many years and some reminders. Thanks.

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