If the sixteen function keys (typically called F-keys) on your Mac keyboard are not being clicked regularly, you might be missing out on their time-saving uses.
If you rarely use these keys, launch System Preferences on your Mac and click Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts. In the resulting open window, click on Display in the left column and you will see by default that keys F14 and F15 are assigned to decrease and increase brightness of your computer screen. Under Exposé & Spaces the F9, F10, and F11 keys are assigned to “All windows”, “Application windows”, “Desktop,” respectively. If you have never used these keys, just click them and you‘ll see what they do.
The F-keys on your Mac keyboard can be a powerful set of application and Finder item launchers, saving you the trouble of burrowing through the Finder and bookmarks to launch say iCal, Address Book, your favorite websites, and other items. So why use the F-keys when you can simply launch items from the Dock? Well, sometimes the Dock may get overcrowded with applications. At the same time, it can be much faster to click say F5 to quickly launch iCal, your Dropbox folder, or your bank account website.
If your F-keys are not being used, there are two ways you can assign functions to them. You can download a paid app called Function Keys Mapper, and/or you can use Automator in your Applications folder to build workflows that you can be activated by your F-keys. There are several articles on MUO that explain how to use Automator. You can also download my Automation Guide for Mac Users to learn more. But I’ll briefly take you through an exercise that shows you how to set up an Automator workflow for launching a website (in this case, MakeUseOf.com) that in turn can be activated by an assigned F-Key.
Star off by launching Automator. Select the Services template and click, “Choose.”
Change the “Service receives selected,” drop-down button to “URLs” in “any application.” This simply means that the action you are building will appear in the Internet section of the Keyboard Shortcuts, in System Preferences. It also indicates that this workflow will work in any application.
Now click on the Internet actions in the Automator Library.
Slide the following two action in the main workflow window: “Get Specified URLs”, followed by “Display Webpages.”
Change the default Apple URL in the first action to the “http://makeuseof.com” URL or any site you wish. Notice that you can add a series of URLs if you like, and you will be able to open them all in one single click.
Click the Run button on the top-right side of the Automator toolbar to make sure the workflow is set correctly.
Click on File > Save, and give the workflow a name, such as “Open MUO.”
Assign a Function Key
Now open System Preferences and click on Keyboard. Select Keyboard Shortcuts, and then Services. You should find your Automator workflow under the Internet section.
Select the workflow and click inside it. In the blank space, click and assign an F-key that will activate your workflow—i.e. launch your designated website(s). If your selected F-key is not accepted it means that it’s being used for another application or Finder item. After your F-key is applied, it’s ready to use. While it took a few minutes to put together this workflow, you’ll gain back that time and more when you can simply open your chosen website with a click of a button.
F-keys and Modifier Keys
You are not limited to using single F-keys as hotkeys. You can add one or more modifier keys to create a hotkey.
For example, your hotkey could be Command+Option+F4, or any combination you can remember best.
Now that you have created your fist Automator action and assigned an F-key to it, go back to Automator and check out many of the other types of workflows you can create to assign F-keys to.
In similar fashion, you could create a workflow to open a designated folder, e.g. your Downloads folder, or a similar action for creating a new mail message to someone or a company that you write to on a regular basis.
For you Mac laptop users who want to customize the function keys on your portable Mac, check out Jackson’s article about how to Switch Your Mac Function Keys with FunctionFlip.
For more about Mac keyboard shortcuts, check out How to Master the Power of Mac Shortcut Keys.
Let me know how this is tutorial works for you, and feel free to share other tips you know for using the F-keys on your Mac.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.com