Shortcuts Week Day 5: Remapping Keys

Let’s get weird.

Up to this point, we’ve only talked about using existing shortcuts or creating shortcuts for existing actions. You’re still very much in the realm of normalcy.

Today is the final day of Shortcuts Week, so let’s end it with something completely different.

You have even more control over your keyboard than you think. You actually have the power to create shortcuts not for menu actions, but for other keys. You actually have the power to change what individual keys do.

We’re getting into territory that makes a lot of people nervous.

“Remapping keys?” You think. “I don’t even own a pocket protector!”

Don’t worry. You got this.

Think back to where you were when you started this series, then think on where you are now. You’ve learned a lot and most of it is stuff that people get scared of.

You are an Empowered User. Your capacity to absorb new skills, master personal technology, and learn is bottomless. You belong among the ranks of people who mod their machines, who go off the beaten path, who get their computers working just the way they like them.

Changing a couple of keys around is no problem for you.

Today’s post will close by opening a door on possibilities you probably haven’t considered before. Try out these two things to get yourself going, and go forward with the knowledge that nothing is beyond your ability to change.

Shortcuts for Other Keys: Left Handed Delete (Space ➡︎ Delete)

Hate moving your right hand all the way up to the delete key? Use your left hand. Just use a utility like BetterTouchTool or Keyboard Maestro to make Space+Space trigger a delete. There’s no law saying you can’t create a shortcut for a single keypress, so why not do it?

Or maybe, “why do it” is a more immediate question.

  • Keep your right hand on the home row while typing: If you practice touch typing (I wish I did :-/), you’re probably very aware of where you’re fingers are at all times and remembering the first commandment of touch typing: Thou Shalt Return Thy Fingers to the Home Row. Unless you have fingers like an tarsier, hitting delete requires more hand and finger movement than should be necessary. Using Shift+Space as your delete is much simpler. Just drop your left pinky and hit space with your thumb. No need to move your hand anywhere.
  • Mouse with right hand, type with left: I frequently find myself controlling a mouse with my right hand and typing with my left (there’s a surprising amount of stuff you can do with just your left hand). It’s a pain to have to take my hand off the mouse or left hand off the keyboard to hit the delete button.

This is one of those modifications that you don’t how useful it is until you make it and start finding uses.

Left Hand Delete with BetterTouchTool

BetterTouchTool is free, powerful, and easy to use. Download and install it here.

BetterTouchTool Shift Plus Space to Delete

  • Shortcut: Shift + Space
  • Trigger Other Keyboard Shortcut: Delete

Create yourself a new shortcut in the “Global” Application, meaning that it can be used no matter what app you’re in.

I use the shortcut Shift + Space because it’s a combination that has no other use, plus it makes its own kinda sense. Press Space for a space and Shift + Space for a backspace.

Left Hand Delete with Keyboard Maestro

Keyboard Maestro Shift Plus Space to Delete

  • Trigger: Hot Key
  • Actions: Type a Keystroke

Create a new macro, set the trigger to the hot key ⇧Space, and use the “Type a Keystroke” action to simulate a delete.

The hot key option is important to how your new delete will behave. By default, hot keys are set to “is pressed” meaning, every time you press ⇧Space, it will be like pressing the delete key…once. If you hold down ⇧Space, nothing will happen.

If you’d like it to function exactly like your delete key, you’ll need to change “is pressed” to “is down”.

KM use "is down" option

Caps Lock Shmaps Lock! Make it an Esc Key!

How often do you use the caps lock? Unless you’re a really angry person online, you’ll run into a situation where it’s a real advantage to type in all caps for extended passages maybe once a year. And even then you could just use a text transformation on normal text to capitalize it.

It’s kinda silly when you think about it that there’s a key with close to zero utility just chilling on your keyboard, and on the home row of all places. You don’t need to put up with this, so here’s something you can do about it: turn it into an Escape key.

Escape is ridiculously useful. here are a few things it does:

  • If there is a “Cancel” on screen, escape will trigger it
  • Dismisses utilities like Spotlight or Alfred
  • Hides your cursor in some apps like web browsers
  • Close Facebook chat
  • Gets you out of full screen videos
  • Brings a fullscreen app back to normal when pressed twice

If you read that list and now think you’re underutilize it, well, that’s because it’s in a terrible position way up in the top left. Such a wildly useful key deserves to be right on the home row.

Native Remap on MacOS Sierra and Above

Possibly in response to the touch bar subsuming the whole function row on the Macbook Pro line, Apple included a new feature in Sierra letting users easily change their caps lock into an escape.

Simply go to System Preferences > Keyboard and on the Keyboard tab, click on Modifier Keys on the bottom right. The dialog that comes down will let you remap the caps lock (or any other modifier) to an escape (or any other modifier)

"System

Change Caps Lock to Escape

Do this for yourself and you’ll never use anyone else’s computer again because your muscular memory will be so tied to hitting escape with your pinky finger that using another computer feels like typing with oven mitts.

Conclusion

I told you things would get weird.

I won’t go on with more examples, because frankly I don’t think they’re useful. The ball is in your court from this point forward. This series has equipped you with a set of specific tools and methods of learning and discovery, but it’s up to you to be mindful of the actions you’re taking during your work and identify where improvements can been made.

Now that you have this tool, don’t be afraid to experiment with it!

Series Wrap Up

An Empowered User is someone who pays attention to what’s not working and trusts in their abilities to solve the problem. They do this because they believe that they are entitled to be free from tedium in all its forms, even if it’s just moving your hand a couple of inches.

You don’t need to click on the menu more than you need to, you can find and use a short cut. You don’t need to move windows around, you can cycle through them. You don’t need developers to give you shortcuts, you can make them yourself. You don’t need to to be limited by the keyboard in front of you, you can make the keys do what you want.

Keyboard shortcuts are by far the simplest, most accessible practice you can adopt to become a more empowered user of your computer.

Being an Empowered User is not about trending apps, life hacks™ or silly productivity gimmicks. It’s about being a self-advocate. You spend so much time on your computer that you owe it to yourself to do everything you can to cut out as much tedium as you can.

As you go forward, I hope you will remember that there’s always a better way to do something, and you’re just the person to figure out what that is.