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.

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