40 tips to get the most from your Mac (and macOS 'High Sierra')

Whether you have an iMac or a MacBook Pro, there are a variety of ways to turn Apple’s hardware/software combo into a productivity powerhouse.

macos high sierra icon

From the start, Apple has tried to make the Mac a productivity powerhouse. Though the platform has always been a favorite in the creative industry, Mac deployment among enterprise users is on the increase. With the latest version of macOS (High Sierra) now available, it’s time to offer up a curated list of the most useful Mac tips that allow you to be as productive as possible.

While they’re not all new, they will help you get the most from your Apple hardware, whether you're running High Sierra or an earlier version of Apple's desktop OS.

Scheduling your Mac’s work hours

Make sure your Mac gets to work before you do using Energy Saver. Simply go to System Preferences>Energy Saver and select “Schedule…” at the bottom right of the menu. In the next window, you’ll be able to tell your Mac when you want it to launch, ideally a few minutes before you reach your desk. (This can be useful if you’re running late and your boss happens to stop by before you get in.)

energy saver Apple

Same apps, every day

Do you open the same applications every day when you start up your Mac? Save a few clicks and get your computer to open those apps for you using Login Items. Go to:

System Preferences>Users & Groups

Select your User ID

Select Login Items

Click the lock icon and enter your admin password

Click the + button to select an app you want to run from your Applications folder

Or drag app icons across to Startup Items.

The apps you select will now launch automatically when your Mac fires up. (Tip: If you don’t want them to do so, just hold down the Shift key when you login.)

Unlock with your Apple Watch

If you use an Apple Watch, you can save precious seconds by enabling your watch to unlock your Mac. The Mac needs to running 2016’s macOS Sierra or later, you need to have 2-step authentication enabled and both devices must be logged into the same iCloud account. With those requirements taken care of, you enable the unlock feature in System Preferences>Security & Privacy and check Allow your Apple Watch to Unlock Your Mac.

unlock with apple watch Apple

Work smarter with Finder window sidebar

Save yourself time finding current projects by putting them inside a folder (call it ‘Current,’ perhaps), then open a new Finder window, select Show Sidebar (Command-Option-S) and just drag and drop that folder into the sidebar. Now, accessing your current projects is as easy as clicking in the sidebar.

You can also define which folder the Finder opens by default, so if you want your Mac to automatically open your Current folder, open Finder Preferences>General and select the folder in the drop down New Finder windows show menu. You can also make sure Folders are at the top of any Finder window sorted by name: in Finder, go to Preferences>Advanced>Keep folders on top when sorting by name.

No interruptions, please

Do Notifications sometimes get in the way when you’re trying to work? Silence them:  Press the Options key and tap the Notifications icon in the top right and its color becomes light gray. You’ve just enabled Do Not Disturb, and won’t receive Notifications until you switch them one again. (If you have a newer MacBook Pro with the TouchBar, holding down the Option key while tapping the Notifications icon in the TouchBar brings up a preference pane that let’s you get even more granular with notifications.)

Get to App Preferences, fast

The quickest way to get to Application Preferences in any app requires only this key combo:

Command + Comma.

To get to System Preferences fast, reader Abner Dumoff suggests using Command + Spacebar to invoke Spotlight, then typing 'Sy' -- you'll see System Preferences emerge as a suggestion, tap Return and they will open.

Where’s my (anything)?

The two fastest ways to find anything on your Mac: Tap the Siri icon and ask your voice assistant to find it, or tap Command-Space to get instant access to Spotlight search. Now type or speak the name of a document, application or anything else on your Mac you need to find.

siri what can you do Apple

Speaking of (and to) Siri

Siri can open apps, perform math, send Messages via a synced iPhone and perform a range of other useful tasks – so why not make use of it? To open an application, just tap the Siri button and say “Open [application name],” or to switch on Do Not Disturb, just ask it to do so. That’s not all Siri can do. To find out more about what it’s capable of, just tap the Siri button and say: “Siri, what can I ask you to do?” Siri can also raise or lower system volume, screen brightness and other mundane system tasks.

A smarter Spotlight

Spotlight supports intelligent Boolean searches. So if you are looking for an email that contains the word “iPhone,” but you aren’t sure if the name of the author was Daniel or Dave, tap Command-Space and write: iPhone author:Daniel OR author:Dave In the window you’ll see all the items on your Mac that match that description. Other keywords you can use in Spotlight searches include applications, apps, contact, folder, folders, email(s), mail message, event(s), image(s) and so on. Here’s a little more detail on these possibilities.

split view Apple

Use Split View

Sometimes at work you almost feel like you could use two displays. That’s great if you do have two displays; for the rest of us there’s Split View. This lets you look at two active applications side-by-side on your Desktop. You can drag-&-drop and copy-&-paste between them. To enter Split View, click and hold the green button in the upper left of the application window you want to use and drag it to the side you want. You can then open the other app you need and it will show up next to the first one. This tip is great for report writing.

Be clever with Quick Look

You may already know how to use Quick Look: select something in Finder, press the Space bar and take a glance at an item. Did you know you can also Quick Look multiple items? Select them (hold down Command at the same time as you do to select only certain items) and then press Option and the Space bar to see full screen previews of them all, which you can flick through.

quickview mutliple Apple

Network drives

If you work in a shared office, you may also use a shared network drive. It can be a drag to connect and log into the drive every day, so why not automate the process? You’ll need to connect to it as you usually do, but tick the box to save your login to your Keychain. Now that you’re logged in, open System Preferences>Users & Groups, select your account (you may need to click the padlock to unlock this item) and then drag the now-mounted share to your account’s Login Items list. From now on, you’ll connect to the network drive when you launch your Mac. 

Quick shutdowns and restarts

Want to sidestep the confirmation dialogs when you Restart or Shut Down your Mac? You can: Just press the Option key while selecting the Apple icon in the Menu and you’ll see the dots that usually follow the Restart or Shutdown command names disappear. When you select those commands they will happen immediately, no confirmation required.

printer pool Apple

Head of the printer queue

Here’s something that might help you get your printing done faster if you’re using shared printers in your office. Launch System Preferences>Printers & Scanners and select (highlight) all of the printers used in your office. You’ll see the phrase “Multiple Printers selected” and a new command called Create Printer Pool, which you tap to create a pool that includes all those shared printers. Name the pool, and in future, when you print something, select your newly-create printer pool to make your document for you. Your print job will be automatically completed using the first available printer from your collection – you’ll usually be first in line on shared printers this way.

Write better

Do you tend to write convoluted prose and want to make it a little simpler to read? This little-known Summarize tip can help:

Open System Preferences>Keyboard>Shortcuts and scroll down the list until you find the Summarize in the Text section, which you enable by checking the box.

text summarize Apple

To use the tool, select the text you want summarize. Now you must navigate to the app name in the Menu bar, choose Services and then tap Summarize. The summary window opens. It will contain the text you selected with a slider beneath. To summarize the text, just use that slider to go down the scale; your Mac will automatically edit what you write so that it still makes sense, but in fewer words. This tool doesn’t work with every app and the results aren’t always perfect, but it could help you manage your verbosity.


Tap this immediately when you make a mistake to undo your last action. You’ll find this very useful.

Special screenshot powers

Sometimes you want to take a screenshot of a specific part of the screen. When you do, just tap Command + Shift 4 and you can click and drag a box to define which part of the screen you want to capture. You can toggle between an image you select using the cross-hair or an application window by pressing the Spacebar at the same time. There’s a lot more screenshot tips here.

Control screenshot formats

OS X saves screengrabs as PNG files by default, but you can change this behavior using Terminal and the following scripts. (Be sure to type them exactly.)

To save screengrabs as JPEGS, type:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type JPG

To save them as PDFs, type:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type PDF

And to return to PNG files as the default, type:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type PNG

Notes you’ll use

Apple’s Notes application used to be the useless younger brother who tagged along but didn’t do much. That’s changed. These days, the Notes app competes with the likes of Evernote and OneNote to help you take notes, save links, images and other content, create checklists and even more. Your Notes now sync across every one of your Apple devices. And you can organize your Notes into folders to make them more easily navigable.

Pin Tab for a swifter Safari

Do you have websites you use all day? Save a second or two and use the ‘Pin Tab’ command to keep them available at all times. To do so, just Right-click on the pages tab and select Pin Tab. That page will come up when you launch your browser and will be visible in the top left portion of the tabs bar.

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