CheatSheet – Learn Keyboard Shortcuts, the Easy Way

Have you ever admired how professionals get stuff done so incredibly fast on their Macs? It’s often hard to follow what they’re doing because they never stop to grab their mouse or use their tablet. They keep hammering away on their keyboard, controlling apps via shortcuts in a way that makes us wonder how they ever memorized them all.

If you want to take your skills on the Mac to the next level as well, a tiny utility will now help you find you all the shortcuts you need to be a pro. Readers, meet CheatSheet.

The Challenge We Are Facing

The most difficult challenge – next to memorizing shortcuts – is finding them in the first place. There are the usual suspects like CMD+S for saving or CMD+C for copying, but those apply system-wide and are not application specific, so you’ll find them much easier to memorize.

To find out what makes Sparrow or Pixelmator or Chrome tick, you usually have to go to the menu bar and click through the menus to see the available options. Next to the actions you will – sometimes – find the shortcuts.

Without CheatSheet, you have to find the shortcuts manually yourself.

Without CheatSheet, you have to find the shortcuts manually yourself.

Now, that might be ok to use once or twice, but remember, you still need to grab your mouse to get to the menu in the first place. Kind of defeats the purpose of being more efficient. Plus, there are often shortcuts that are not associated with a menu bar entry. You’d be missing out on those.

Up until now you might have wandered over to Google to find out if some action had a shortcut. That costs time, is frustrating, and above all, if you forgot the shortcut, you had to start the entire thing all over again.

Not anymore.

Know Your Way Around With One Keyboard Stroke

Here’s where CheatSheet comes in. The tiny utility by Swiss developer Stefan Fürst doesn’t do a lot, but what it does is priceless. Really.

All you need to do is start it up and then long-press the CMD key on your keyboard. It can take a couple of seconds until you see anything, but then you’ll see a light popover window that shows you all available shortcuts for the app running in the foreground. If you have no apps open, you’ll see the keyboard shortcuts for Finder. You have to keep the CMD key pressed until you’ve found what you are looking; once you release it, the window vanishes.

With CheatSheet, all available keyboard shortcuts are displayed (no loupes in the app, I just couldn't fit the huge screenshot in here at full resolution)

With CheatSheet, all available keyboard shortcuts are displayed (no loupes in the app, I just couldn't fit the huge screenshot in here at full resolution)

Tip: If you keep pressing the CMD key and nothing happens, quickly switch between applications (CMT+tab) and then return to the app you want the shortcuts displayed for. Sometimes CheatSheet becomes unresponsive, but it’s easily fixed this way.

Now, this in itself is already pretty decent. As you can see above, I have the shortcuts for Sparrow and Photoshop displayed. I’ve also tried CheetSheet with Chrome and Pixelmator, and CheatSheet pulled those information as well. (Do note: I only used the loupe to enlarge the screenshot portions, there’s no loupe in CheatSheet. Also, in real life, you’ll only see the shortcuts for the one app you’re using at that time.)

But wait, it gets even better! If you were wondering why there are only a few shortcuts shown for Photoshop, which is one of the few applications that has about a gazillion combinations of keystrokes to do stuff, do not doubt: the screen above depicts what is available to you right after you start Photoshop. Once you actually start working on a document, obviously there will be more actions that you can take. And CheatSheet reflects it. These are the shortcuts available while working in a (very simple) PS file.

A portion (!) of the available shortcuts when editing a file in Photoshop

A portion (!) of the available shortcuts when editing a file in Photoshop

It’s quite clear there are more available now than there were before. It’s amazing that CheatSheet actually differentiates between just having an app open and working in it. Very smart. It does this by showing all active shortcuts from the file menu, helping it be dynamic based on what the app exposes to the system. And, obviously, it’ll only work with apps that actually provide shortcuts.

Tweak Your System To Take Full Control

Now, some app actions don’t have keyboard shortcuts associated with them by default or they are really difficult to type if you don’t have a standard English keyboard (yeah, I’m looking at ya, Photoshop: rotate, scale, save for web…). That puts you in a dilemma: you might want to quickly execute a task, but there’s no shortcut and therefore CheatSheet won’t show anything for it.

There are solutions for this problem which are quite easy and can be implemented quickly. In Photoshop (and the other Adobe apps), go to Edit –> Keyboard Shortcuts. The window is a little confusing at first, but you can assign a shortcut to pretty much everything (best of all, if your chosen keyboard shortcut is already taken, you will be warned). Once you set those shortcuts, CheatSheet will happily display them for you.

Set your own shortcuts in Adobe apps to be displayed in CheatSheet

Set your own shortcuts in Adobe apps to be displayed in CheatSheet

The other option for adding keyboard shortcuts is in the Keyboard tab of your System Preferences. You can change shortcuts there to something more easily typed or remembered and even enter completely new ones. The only problem, these likely will not show up in CheatSheet, as they didn’t in my tests with Byword, so you’ll have to memorize them on your own.

Verdict

When I first discovered CheatSheet on the App Store, I didn’t realize the full potential of the app. I just downloaded it because it was free. But after I worked with it for just an hour – mostly in Pixelmator and Byword – I wondered how I ever could have done without it. I am a keyboard junkie, so I hate having to grab my pen tablet to control something. I want to do it all from one place. Now I can, and so can you. Give it a try, and you’ll be amazed at what it will do for you.*

* You’ll still have to memorize the shortcuts yourself, though.

Editor’s note: I’ve been using CheatSheet for the past week myself, and have used it extensively in Sublime Text 2 and Photoshop, and it’s worked great. I was skeptical at first, but it’s already become indispensable to me. If you want to always have it available, you can add it to your Login Items under your User Account in OS X so it’ll automatically launch when you run your Mac.

The only apps that haven’t worked great with it are those in the Microsoft Office suite, which unfortunately don’t integrate with as many OS X features as most Mac apps. You’ll see a few shortcuts in, say, Word, but the vast majority are still hidden for you to learn the old fashioned way.


Summary

CheatSheet pulls up all keyboard shortcuts for any given Mac application, allowing you to speed up your workflow significantly.

10
  • Redswill

    Well deserved 10/10 score. Make sure to check out Media Atelier’s other apps as well, all are top notch, except Dynamite though.

  • http://technicallysimple.com Tim Stringer

    Definitely a handy app. A few more Preferences would be nice to make for an even better experience. Specifically – it would be nice to limit the size of the window…I find that it’s a bit too big on my 27″ iMac. Also, I sometimes activate the CheatSheet accidentally. It would be nice to have the option of defining a hotkey that opens up the shortcut window. Lastly, being able to select different print layouts (or at least have a more compact layout) would be a welcome addition.

    • matthewguay

      Good points … I’d also like to see the window shrink when there’s less commands, so you’d only get the size that you need to show the keyboard shortcuts in that app. Still, I’m amazed how nicely it integrates with apps.

  • sabes

    I tried the CheatSheet, but the first time I used CMD-TAB to tab through my apps and the CheatSheet window came up, I had to stop using it. I wish there was a way around this issue.

    • matthewguay

      Seems to be working fine with CMD+Tab for me…

    • Christian

      Yes this happened in early versions of CS, the last update (1.02) fixes that problem. Give it another go and you’ll be amazed.

      • sabes

        Thanks! I’ll give it a shot!

  • http://about.me/docziandras András Dóczi

    I have recently made the transition to the Mac and been using this app since it’s out. It’s practically a lifesaver, completely agree with the 10/10 score.

  • Amnios

    I like KeyCue the better.

    • Christian

      €20…! How overpriced can an app be?

  • Wesley

    Can’t you just search via the help menu? This shows a list of menu items with the title you searched for.

  • Christian

    Yes 10/10 all the way! Stefan has found an amazingly cleaver solution for something that I always tried to acomplish by creating desktop backgrounds with all the custom shortcuts in it. That’s works when there aren’t too many of those, very obtrusive when shortcuts get so integrated in ones daily routine that the whole desktop is covert with shortcuts!

    Thank you Stefan!

  • Sebastian

    Handy app perhaps but why only for Lion?

  • http://www.500px.com/linkert Robin Lundgren

    The most simple, yet best app in a looooong time for me. Now I finally feel a thrive to explore all the shortcuts there is.

    Thanks Media Atelier, good job!

  • Carl Bergman

    As far as I am concerned, each line works backward. It gives you the command on the left and the action on the right. It would make a lot more sense if there were an alpha list of operations on the left and the command on the right. As it is, you have to search on the right to get to what you want to do and its not in any particular order.

  • http://justinlawes.com Justin Lawes

    I love the idea but it seems a little buggy to me. Half the time I try it nothing shows up. Sometimes switching applications with cmd+tab then holding cmd works but only sometimes. This app would be awesome if it worked consistently and had more preferences.

  • Kyle

    I find it buggy too. But yea, would be a great tool. Same problem as Justin.

  • Ted Bates

    Cheat sheet will not open by holding CMD key. Your note states to use CMT +tab. What is CMT? I cannot find where to amend time delay as the shortcut on my desktop will not give me that option. For a number #1 app in Itunes,your instructions are confusing. Please help.

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