Shortcuts Day 4: Custom Shortcuts

Use shortcuts for a while and you’ll inevitably ask this question: What about when there is no shortcut?

The menu of you favorite app may be jam packed with useful actions but the developers can’t add shortcuts for all of them. They do their best to supply shortcuts for the most common actions, but they can’t anticipate everything.

Well you don’t need to abide by the whims of the developers. You’re an empowered user and you can make your computer run any damn way you want it to. If they didn’t give you a shortcut for some command, you can just add one for yourself!

Example: “Adjust Size…” in

I use the default MacOS photo and PDF viewer, for simple operations like cropping, scaling and adjusting size.

Adjust Size... menu item

Oreo is mostly floof

Here I’ve got a picture of my “cat” open in Preview and want to adjust the size since to a manageable 600px or so.

I do that a lot actually—give photos a quick resize and crop. The problem is that the command to adjust size is located in Tools > Adjust Size… and it doesn’t have a shortcut associated with it.

How do we make it so we can just use a shortcut? You have two options:

  • Native Solution: Make it in System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > App Shortcuts
  • Badass Solution: Use a third party utility like BetterTouchTool or Keyboard Maestro

Native Solution: App Shortcuts

Make your way to System Preferences. You can find it in the “Apple Menu” in the top left and selecting “System Preferences…”. Once there, click on Keyboard and move over to the “Shortcuts” tab and click on “App Shortcuts” in the left menu.

System Preferences ><p class=Keyboard > Shortcuts > App Shortcuts” width=”673″ height=”584″> System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > App Shortcuts

To add a new shortcut, click the “+” sign, select the app you want from the menu and ender the command exactly as you see it in the menu (ellipses and all). Don’t worry what menu the item is under, it only cares what the command itself is called.

Enter menu title and desired shortcut

Enter the menu title EXACTLY as you see it in the menu

Now you can check back in the app in question to see if it did what it was supposed to.

Custom shortcut shows up in menu

Success! Now I can use ⇧⌘I to bring up the size adjuster dialog. It even documents the shortcuts for you which the other solutions here don’t do.

This is by far the simplest and most straightforward way to do get it done, but around here I advocate for taking future you into consideration when building automations or making modifications to your system.

I recently bought a new laptop and the process of moving all my modifications and automations has been mostly pretty smooth. The majority of my app data is synced with Dropbox, so my dozens of KM macros, Alfred workflows, and text expansion snippets all came over to the new machine. The shortcuts I had made natively using the process above were not backed up, however, so I had to remake them.

Badass Method 1: BetterTouchTool

BTT will get its own post going in depth, but for now, just the broad strokes.

BetterTouchTool is a free utility (available here) that let’s create custom actions for your keyboard, mice, trackpad, TouchBar, and more using gestures, special clicks, and shortcuts.

After installing BTT, go to Gestures, select Keyboard and click the + sign on the sidebar to create a new application set. Select the application and click the + Add New Shortcut or Key Sequence button.

steps to create new custom shortcut in bettertocuhtool

Set your desired shortcut and click Trigger Predefined Action. Then select Controlling Other Applications > Trigger Menubar Menu Item or just search for “menu item”.

Set shortcut and select Controlling other applications > Trigger menubar menu item” width=”1103″ height=”733″></p>
<p>Enter the path to the menubar item separated with semicolons.</p>
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Hit save and go and test that it works. If it doesn’t try making sure you entered the path correctly or restart BTT.

Sync Your BTT Data

In the top left click “Advanced” then click on “Advanced Settings” and select the “Sync” tab. Allow it to sync with Dropbox and you’re done!

It will create a folder in the root directory of your Dropbox called “Apps”. Fee free to move this to wherever you want.

Sync bettertouch tool options


You’re starting to look like a serious contender.

You’ve got the essential shortcuts down, you’ve picked up a few new tricks to help you manager your screen, you know how to figure out what you don’t know yet, and now you can give yourself tools the developer didn’t even think to include.

We’re not done yet. There are new frontiers of finicky control over your keyboard that you haven’t even dreamed of yet.

You’re used to pressing combinations of keys to trigger actions within an app. But why stop there? Why not change what your keys do everywhere? Does your caps lock need to be a caps lock? Would you like a delete key you could use with your left hand? You can have them.

The final day of Shortcuts week approaches and you’re about to ascend to a higher plane of existence…well maybe not, but it’s still going to be cool.

<< Day 3: Active Learning | Day 5: Remapping Your Keys >>