pplication shortcuts

Here is one workflow thing I use all the time and I want to share — using keyboard shortcuts to switch between applications.

I’m talking not about those system shortcuts — cmd+tab/alt+tab. They are awful — because they are modal. You can’t tell at any given time what would be the result of using such shortcut: those shortcuts switch focus between the recent used apps, so you need to remember which applications you used and in which order. Which could be rather frustrating when you use more than two applications.

The solution is rather easy (my colleague Vitaly Harisov shown it to me in December 2009): you just need to set a shortcut to any often-used application.

In 2009 I used Spaces in macOS for this — you could make a lot of spaces, each with just one app, and then set up the shortcut for each of those spaces. We used shortcuts like option+A, option+S, option+D etc. — those keys are always under your fingers, and the symbols you’d get by those native shortcuts are not that useful anyway, so we could live without them.

Vitaly offered me this layout: in the centre row of letters there were shortcuts for browsers, so you could switch between them to check your markup (something changed there since 2009, but the main idea is clear):

Other apps were somewhere near:

I also added shortcuts using shift, so option+shift+E went for the secondary code editor, option+shift+A — for the Opera Next etc.

Right now I have shortcuts for messenger, mail, image editor, iA Writer and a lot of other stuff I use.

With one of the macOS versions Spaces become worse to use with shortcuts and at the same time I bought great Alfred Powerpack, which had a very handy way to set any apps or files to keyboard shortcuts. With Alfred the setup of such shortcuts become so much easier, I set up the sync for those settings across my two MacBooks using Dropbox, and the switch between apps became even faster than with Spaces (even after disabling the space switching animation). As I know, there are a bunch of similar apps for Mac like QuickSilver or BetterTouchTool, that can do the same trick. I think there should be apps for other OS like this, so if there are — write me and I’ll add them here.

Anyway, you really should try them — your workflow would be so much faster and seamless with them:

  1. When you’ll need to switch to any app, you’ll just press its keys. You don’t need to remember which app you used before, if it is already launched or not (Alfred would launch it for you if it’s not) and about a lot of other needless hassles.

  2. It’s way much faster and easier than using other ways of switching — like using your mouse or touchpad, or calling apps using Spotlight, Quicksilver or Alfred prompts.

  3. And if you’d use the same shortcuts in teams, it would be really easy to come and show anything on your colleagues’ machines — you’ll know what to press to get the kind of app you need, even if your friends uses vim instead of your lovely ST, or another browser, or anything else. And they could have Dock hidden in a place you’d never guess (or another monitor). But with the agreement on the common shortcuts for apps you could just work with their environment as with yours.

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