MacOS "Help" shortcut

If you asked me for one feature that could boost a macOS user productivity, I would help it’s a Help menu shortcut. Before I start, I would like to mention that this feature is mostly useful for people using touch typing, but it can also be valuable for people using other typing techniques. Let’s start.


So the shortcut is Cmd+Shift+/ . Press that combination in almost any application—and you’ll get a help menu dropdown, with focus on the “search” field:

macOS Help Menu

It doesn’t look surprising at all—just a plain help dropdown. But once you type you see, that it filters all the app’s menu items according to your query and highlights the items with a balloon:

Paste and match style command usage

You can also type beginnings of the words only: “pa ma” will highlight “Paste and Match Style” in Google Chrome.

Once you’ve done typing the query use arrows on your keyboard to choose the item you’re looking for and then press Enter to activate it.

Pro tip: if you’re using touch typing, you can navigate the items using Ctrl+N and Ctrl+P, use Enter to confirm the action.

And there’s one more cool feature of the menu I almost forgot about: it remembers your last query. So to repeat your command all you have to do is the following keys sequence:

All right, let’s talk about how to use it in real life!

Practical usage

Such a seemingly simple feature actually puts a lot of functionality to your fingertips. Let’s looks at some ways to utilize it.

New applications learning

First benefit: this feature allows you to learn how to use an app you’re unfamiliar with.

In my example I’ll use Sublime Text to illustrate. Most of Sublime Text users use command palette to navigate its functionality, and it’s very handy indeed; however some of the editor commands aren’t accessible from there.

Imagine you want to enable 2-column editing mode in Sublime Text. Sure, there’s a shortcut for it, but you don’t know it. So, instead of randomly browsing through menu you can press Shift+Cmd+/ and type “2”, just to start with. There’s the result:

Sublime Text layout menu

After that you can either select it by keyboard arrows (or Ctrl+N/Ctrl+P) or clear the query (Backspace/Ctrl+H) and then re-type it to match the item better; you can use “la co 2”, for example.

Note that after the item is highlighted you’ll see a shortcut you can use to activate the menu item:

Sublime Text '2 columns' shortcut

Then you can start to develop your muscle memory for that shortcut. But, if you’re not feeling like using this functionality or application very often, you can activate it via Help menu all the time.

You can use the feature the same way to navigate complex apps you use once in a while; so you might not care if you forgot the shortcuts next time you use the app.

Access features without shortcuts

Sometimes there are apps features that you cannot access with shortcuts. Whether it doesn’t have an assigned shortcut, or, maybe, it conflicts with another app you constantly use, you can use Help menu in order to activate this function.

Browse recent browser history or bookmarks

You can use the feature to browse your recent browser history or bookmarks, because many browsers (for example, Chrome, Safari, Firefox) put them in their menu.

Browser history menu access through Help shortcut

Activate bookmarklets

…and there’s a superpower you get with the Help menu: you can activate the bookmarklets from the Help menu, because they’re listen you your bookmarks!

This section might sound a bit advanced for you if you aren’t familiar with JavaScript, but you can find many useful bookmarklets online.

I’ll give you an example.

Imagine you’re browsing a website; and at some point you want all the links on the website to be opened in a new tab instead of the default behaviour.

In order to change the behaviour you might run this script:

document.body.addEventListener('click', e => { === 'A' &&'target', '_blank') }, true);

Here’s what is does: it adds a listener for “click” event on body element. When a body is clicked (i.e. any element on the page is clicked) and the target is a link ( === 'A') it sets “target” attribute of the link to “_blank”, and that makes the URL open in a new tab.

In order to use that as a bookmarklet, you’ll need to prefix it with “javascript:”.

So you can add a new bookmarklet, put “Open links in a new tab” in the title and then put following content in URL:

javascript:document.body.addEventListener('click', e => { === 'A' &&'target', '_blank') }, true);

Then you just press Shift+Cmd+/ and type “op li” and select the suggested bookmarklet. The links on the page are opened in a new tab now!

I often use this method to set up some specific filters for online stores, pre-fill forms; but it can be used for much more.


Thank you for reading the article, I hope that you can find this feature useful too. Let me know how you use it in your workflow by leaving a comment below.