Shortcat: Use Your Keyboard for Everything Onscreen

It seems we’re always looking for ways to keep our hands on our keyboards and away from the mouse. From application launchers to apps that create extra productivity shortcuts, there’s a big market for tools that help us use our computers more efficiently.

Shortcat is just such an app, giving every element within an application window its own shortcut. I’ll take a look at Shortcat and see how good of a job it does at keeping my hands on my keyboard and me on task.

The Anti-Mouse

With Shortcat running, you’ll launch it using a keystroke shortcut. I didn’t like the default shortcut, so I set my own. Choose one that’s going to work for you in Shortcat’s preferences. When you launch Shortcat, you’ll get a text entry field. I’ll admit, it takes a little while to really get the hang of using Shortcat, but there are some good tips included in the application help file and on the website. Before getting started with Shortcat, remember to enable access for assistive devices in Accessibility in System Preferences.

After bringing up the text entry field using your shortcut, type in the first couple of letters of whatever you would be clicking with your mouse. Shortcat will start highlighting clickable sections of the active window. If what you’re looking for doesn’t have any obvious text for you to enter, type a period into the Shortcat into window, and everything will be highlighted.

Punch in the first few letters of the element you want to click.

Punch in the first few letters of the element you want to click.

The element Shortcat thinks most closely matches the text you’ve entered is going to be highlighted in green. Everything else is painted yellow. If you want the green element, just hit Enter, and Shortcat will effectively click it for you. To get at one of the yellow highlighted elements, hit space after whatever you’ve already entered, and type the black text Shortcat has superimposed over the element. Hit Enter to “click” it.

You may want to do more with an element than just click it using the Enter key. Keystrokes you would use to modify a click, such as Command+Click, will work the same with Shortcat, substituting the Enter key for a click. So to right-click on an element, hit Command+Enter, and double tapping Enter is the same as a double-click. Tap Control to hover over an element. This will be the same for the other keys you would use to modify a click, combining them with Enter, instead.

Typing a period will highlight all of the clickable elements.

Typing a period will highlight all of the clickable elements.

Making the Most of It

Shortcat isn’t compatible with all applications and won’t do everything everywhere. While I had a great time with Shortcat, and it did a bang up job finding stuff for me, there were apps it just couldn’t do anything with and parts of apps it couldn’t get to. Shortcat does better with some apps than with others, and you can read all about its compatibility in the help file.

What Shortcat did, what it did a really good job of, was keep my hands on the keyboard and off of my mouse. Rather than leaving what I was doing to navigate to other parts of my application window, Shortcat kept me where I was and saved me more than just time by allowing me to remain focused on the work at hand.

There isn't much to Shortcat's preferences, but you'll want to make sure you've visited the Accessibility preference pane.

There isn’t much to Shortcat’s preferences, but you’ll want to make sure you’ve visited the Accessibility preference pane.

I imagine Shortcat would provide the greatest benefit when teamed up with other apps that extend the functionality of your keyboard. If you’re doing a bang up job with Shortcat but then you have to constantly go for your mouse to open or switch to a new application, you’re likely losing a lot of the added productivity you gained with Shortcat. Combine Shortcat with a tricked out application launcher and a healthy knowledge of an application’s shortcuts, and you may never touch your mouse again.

Final Thoughts

While I hesitate to speak for anyone who uses the Accessibility preference pane for legitimate reasons and not just to make their display look like it’s nighttime, I could imagine Shortcat would be really handy for folks who are even more dependent on their keyboard than I am. While I avoid my mouse and try to get everything done with keystrokes because I’m lazy, some people really need to do everything with their keyboard. I bet there’s better and fancier stuff out there for those who need a lot of assistance, but Shortcat could be useful for someone who’s recovering from hand or wrist surgery or suffering from carpal tunnel and doesn’t need to invest in pricier accessibility apps or devices.

For my needs, at least, Shortcat worked great. It didn’t catch everything I could possibly want to click with a mouse, and Shortcat is upfront with the fact that it’s not universally compatible. All the same, though, I was able to keep my hands on the keyboard a lot more of the time using Shortcat. It saved me a lot of time and made me more productive, and that’s all I need.


Neat app for keeping your hands on your keyboard and off your mouse.