Keyboard shortcuts are a quick and easy way to speed up your workflow on Windows, Mac, and Chrome OS. Keyboard shortcuts allow us to instantly perform actions that would otherwise require many clicks. All desktop operating systems, whether macOS, Windows 11 or Chrome OS, come preloaded with many such key combinations for taking screenshots, multitasking, and more. However, they do not cover everything and certainly cannot adapt to your preferences. Luckily, you can easily create your own keyboard shortcuts from scratch.
Like clockwork, we repeat dozens of tasks on our computers every day. It could be launching a set of apps as soon as you start the work day or playing a specific Spotify playlist at a certain time. Built-in keyboard shortcuts are not suitable for these personal workflows. With a little help from third-party apps, you can create custom shortcuts on Mac, Windows PC, and Chromebooks. Here’s how to start.
Create custom keyboard shortcuts on macOS
MacOS offers a tool to assign a custom key combination to any program’s action. It works for all the commands you’ll find under an app’s menu items at the top, such as “File”, “Edit” and others.
Go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts and select “App Shortcuts” from the list on the left. Click the plus button to create a new keyboard shortcut.
Choose the application for which you want to create a shortcut from the “Application” drop-down list. In the “Menu title” field, enter the exact name of the action. For example, to set up a shortcut for the Finder’s “New Smart Window” command, type “New Smart Window”.
Next, select “Keyboard shortcut” and press your key combination. You can associate any number, letter or character with the “Command”, “Option” and “Control” keys. Make sure the combination is not already taken. You can mix and match by adding “Shift” key and save it with “Add” button.
You can also choose the “All Apps” option if you want to create a new key combination for a menu action available on all your installed apps. For example, most applications have a “Zoom” option in the “Window” menu, which enlarges the window to fit the screen. To create a hotkey for it, set “All apps” in the “Scope”, “Zoom” as the “Menu title” and perform a unique combination of keys in “Keyboard shortcut”. Press “Add” to save.
The native MacOS Shortcut Creator is limited to menu items and desktop programs. For example, you cannot turn your actions on the web into a shortcut with it. Enter Black-smitha third-party utility capable of compressing any series of clicks and keypresses into a keyboard shortcut.
The process of using Keysmith is simple. When you want to turn a task into a shortcut, run it as you normally would. Keysmith will record every step you take, like opening an app or clicking a button and save it as a macro. You can then assign a key combination to the macro. It works for just about anything you can do on your Mac, from opening a bunch of websites in your browser to reacting with a thumbs-up to the latest Slack message.
Keysmith is free for five macros. For more, you will have to pay a one-time fee of $34.
Create custom keyboard shortcuts on Chrome
Google Chrome does not officially allow you to create new shortcuts. You can only customize extension hotkeys, not the default hotkeys like “Cmd/Ctrl+T”.
To edit a Chrome extension’s shortcuts, type “chrome://extensions/shortcuts” in the address bar and press Enter. You will come across a list of installed extensions and their available shortcuts. Click the text field next to a shortcut to change its key combination.
When creating new shortcuts for Chrome actions like tabbed browsing, you’ll need to turn to third-party extensions like Shortkeys.
Shortcuts let you bind a custom shortcut to a range of Chrome tasks, including tab and window multitasking, webpage scrolling, URL changes, and more. It also lets you configure shortcuts for actions that even Chrome doesn’t cover, like the ability to directly copy the URL into the address bar.
Once you’ve downloaded Shortkeys from the Chrome Web Store, click the three-dot button next to its icon in the Extensions bar in the upper right corner, then select “Options”.
On the next page, type your key combination under the “Shortcut” column. Shortkeys offers great flexibility in how you can choose a combination for a new shortcut. It technically allows you to enter whatever you want. For example, it can be a single key like “T”, but these shortcuts will not work when there is an active text box on the webpage. Therefore, we recommend going the traditional route and binding a character key with Ctrl/Shift/Cmd/Option/Alt. They must be separated by a “+” – no spaces.
In the “Label” column, name your new shortcut and under “Behavior”, select the action. Click “Save Shortcuts” to put it into effect.
Create custom keyboard shortcuts on Windows 10 and Windows 11
Despite the more open nature of Windows, it doesn’t allow you to customize its keyboard shortcuts. Although you can create new shortcuts yourself, it only works for launching apps, files, and folders, not for tasks or actions.
To create a shortcut to open a specific file, program, or folder on a Windows PC, right-click on the desktop and under “New”, select “Shortcut”. With the “Browse” button, navigate to the location of the data or application, and double-click it. If you’re looking to create a shortcut for an application, you’ll need to navigate to where it’s installed (usually in C: > Program Files) and choose the “.exe” file.
Click “Next” once you’ve selected the target, and on the next screen, name your shortcut. Press “Finish” to save it.
Now find the shortcut file you saved, right-click on it and click “Properties”. Under the “Shortcut” tab, press your key combination in the “Shortcut key” field. You can associate characters with the Ctrl, Shift, Alt and Windows keys.
To set up custom shortcuts for other Windows actions, your best bet is a $40 utility called Comfort keys. It’s not as intuitive as Keysmith, but it offers several more options than what Windows offers by default.
With Comfort Keys, you can create new shortcuts for a range of activities, including launching programs and documents, adjusting active windows, controlling audio, and visiting web links. It also houses a handful of other utilities like a handy clipboard manager. When you open it, you come across a simple interface where you can easily link different keys together to form new shortcuts and attach actions to them.
You can try Comfort Keys for free for a few days. Once this period expires, it will cost you a one-time fee of $40.