Basic Mac Workflow Tips – 18 Easy Ways To Improve Your Speed & Productivity

I’ve been using Apple computers with the Mac operating systems for nearly a decade now, and as a graphic design student turned professional Web site editor and photographer I’ve become extremely proficient at getting a lot done on the computer in a short amount of time. A lot of that can be attributed to practicing good workflow tips that allow me to move around within my machine quicker than the average keyboard jockey. After helping a friend speed up her workflow recently I realized that just about anyone can increase their speed and productivity on a Mac just by learning a few simple tips and tricks. Here are some of the basics and my favorite Mac workflow tips…

1. Use A Mouse With A Track Wheel
There is no way you can work as quickly without one as you can with one. Having a mouse with two buttons (right and left click) and a track wheel is one of the best things you can do to improve your overall workflow speed. The track wheel can quickly scroll down through documents and Web pages.

Nothing fancy here, but I've been using this same mouse for several years and it gets the job done quickly and efficiently.

2. Use Arrow Keys Within Folders
Often times when navigating through a series of folders through OSX’s finder it is quicker to use the arrow keys as opposed to a mouse.

3. Use Space Bar To Preview Documents
When searching for a particular file, instead of double clicking a document to open it, when it is highlighted simply hit the space bar to see a preview of the item.

4. Use Two Hands
Having one hand on the computer will only let you do half the work as two hands. Keep either both hands on the keyboard, or one hand on the mouse and the other on the keyboard at all times.

5. Use Keystroke Shortcuts
Use as many keystroke shortcuts as possible while using the finder and while in applications. At the bottom of this post I have a list of some of the most common Mac keyboard shortcuts that will speed up your workflow.

6. Keep Your Open Documents To A Minimum
The more documents you have open at any given time, the more energy your computer is using. By keeping only the documents you need open, you will free up the short-term memory on your computer, which will allow your computer to work faster. Also, the less windows you have open, the less visual clutter you will encounter.

7. Keep Your Visuals Simple & Clean
By keeping your desktop clean, organized, and clutter free, and keeping a simple image set as your desktop background, you will have less visual distractions. Visual distractions lead to mental distractions, which lead to more stress and less productivity. Likewise, keep your Internet browser theme clean looking for less visual distraction.

Here's how my desktop looks on any given day. I also feel that a relaxing, beautiful photograph helps with your energy and mental state while working.

8. Save Your Work Constantly
Saving your work every few minutes (or seconds) by hitting Command + S will ensure that in the event of a system or program crash you can jump right back into working on your project where you left it off. If you loose half of your work because you forgot to save the file before the program crashed you’ll have that much more work to redo, and a lot more frustration and stress.

9. Use Tabbed Internet Browsing
Once you get comfortable using “tabbed browsing” in Firefox or Safari you will be able to navigate through multiple Web pages much more quickly.

From within your browser, click on the preferences option and open this tab.

10. Hold Command Key When Opening New Links
When you are opening multiple Internet pages, hold the “command” key when selecting the links to open those pages in new tabs of the browser. A good example of this is when you are using a search engine like Google to look for articles on a particular topic and you aren’t sure which of the top five articles will best suit your needs. Open all of the top five articles in new tabs, go look at each one, and if none of them work for you, close them out and you still have the Google search left open.

11. Right Click In Dock To Quit
Depending on what you are working on and what you have open, it is often quicker to right click and select “quit” from an application in the dock as opposed to maximizing that application and quitting it from within the program.

If an application is hidden, then reopening the program window and scrolling to File > Quit (or even hitting Command + Q) takes longer than simply quitting the program from within the dock.

12. Use Search Properly
Learn to use the spotlight search (the magnifying glass in the top right corner of your computer to locate documents, files, or programs on your hard drive. Also, learn to use the search function of Internet browsers (Command + F while in the browser) to easily find what you are looking for within Web pages, and the search function in your word processor to locate items in your written document quicker.

13. Use Colored Labels For Folders
To help visually organize folders and files on your hard drive, select the item and right click on it. Then select a colored label for the item. You will have to figure out a labeling system that works well for you. For instance, I have one folder for my invoices. If the invoice has a green label I know it has already been paid. If it has a red label, I know it is still pending payment. This organizational technique eliminates the need to break one folder of invoices into two separate folders.

14. Use Hot Corners
In the System Preferences of your computer there is a section for “Expose & Spaces.” By setting “hot corners” you can perform a number of tasks simply by pushing your cursor into a pre-set corner of your monitor. I find it most useful to have my top left corner reveal all open windows and my bottom left corner to reveal my desktop.

15. Compress Items Into A .Zip
Instead of attaching multiple files to an email, compress multiple files and/or folders into a single .zip file so you only have to attach one item. To do this simply select all the items you want to compress together, right click them, and choose “Compress X Items.”

16. Enter Changes File Names
Instead of double clicking on a file or folder to change the name of it, when it is selected, simply hit enter/return and type the new name.

17. Keep Your Dock Basic
The “hiding” and “magnification” effect of the Mac OS X dock is kind of fun at first, but not very convenient for a serious worker. Turn the hiding and magnification off, make it small, and keep it at the bottom of your monitor. It will make opening applications quicker and will allow you to see which programs are open easier.

18. Organize Your Folders
Keeping your folders and files organized is probably the thing most people have trouble with when using a Mac. I keep only two folders on my desktop at all times, and those are used on a daily basis. Most files are within those folders and their sub folders, and all other items that aren’t used as often are kept in the dock (as opposed to on the desktop), or on my hard drive. When trying to figure out how to organize your folders, think about what you use your computer for the most, and then break those needs into sections.

Most Common And Practical Mac OS X Keystroke Shortcuts
Command + A = Select All
Command + C = Copy
Command + X = Cut
Command + V = Paste
Command + Q = Quit
Command + W = Close Window
Command + Z = Undo
Command + Y = Redo
Command + M = Minimize Window
(In Most Programs) Command + H = Hide
(In Most Programs) Command + N = New
(In Finder) Command + N = New Finder Window
(In Finder) Command + Shift + N = New Folder

Private & Personalized Mac 101 Classes
If you live in the Southern California area and would like a private lesson of these techniques and more, along with a personal analysis on how you can use your Mac more effectively in the workplace, please email me at