I’ve been a Mac user for years now and over time, have learned a number of useful Mac OS X tips and tricks that make my user experience easier and more enjoyable. Below, I’ll share a few of them with you. All of these can be accomplished on a Mac OS X Lion operating system, but may not work with Mountain Lion. (Like many others, I haven’t yet upgraded to Mountain Lion since I am waiting for the next release, which will likely fix some of the bugs found in the first release of Mountain Lion).

Create a digital signature

It’s easy to follow a one-time process to create a digital signature, which you can then use in the future to to digitally sign PDFs. To create the digital signature for use with PDFs, open  the Preview app and click on the “Preferences” tab. Next click on the Signatures tab. Write your signature on a piece of white paper, then click on the “+” button to add your signature by taking a photo of it using you Mac’s built-in camera.

That’s it! You now have a digital signature. To add it to a PDF, simply open the PDF with the Preview app and then open up the Annotation toolbar. Then, click on the pencil icon in the Preview toolbar. The Signature drop down menu should appear and you can then simply choose your signature and place it into the document.

Use the built-in dictionary function

You may not be aware of it, but your Mac has a built-in dictionary function, which allows you to quickly and easily obtain the definition of any word in a document that you are viewing. To enable this feature, click on the apple in the upper lefhand side of your screen. Open up “System Preferences,” then “Trackpad,” and then choose the  “Point & Click” tab located at the top of the box. Check the “Look up” box.

Once you’ve done this, you can look up a word in the Mac dictionary by hovering your mouse’s arrow over the word and using three fingers to double tap over that word. The definition of the word will then appear.

Preview files in Spotlight

Although many don’t seem to realize this, it is easy to preview files in Spotlight or files  located in your dock (either “documents” or “downloads”). Simply hover your mouse arrow over the file and press the space bar. You can learn more tips about using OS X’s Quick Look feature from this Macworld post.

Take a screenshot using a simple keyboard shortcut

I often find myself taking screenshots for any number of purposes. It’s surprisingly easy to do so if you know how. Simply hold down the following keys at the same time: Command-Shift-3. Doing so allows you to take a screenshot of the entire screen and save it as a file on your desktop.

Alternatively you can take a screen shot of just a portion of your screen by holding down Command-Shift-4 and selecting the area of your choice, at which point your Mac will automatically take a screenshot of the specified area and save it as a file on your desktop.

Apps to help you learn keyboard shortcuts

There are a ton of other keyboard shortcuts that you can use to simplify your user experience and I know plenty of people that swear by them. But the tricky part is memorizing the many keyboard shortcuts available. Well, don’t despair. There are a number of apps available that can help you with the memorization process.

First, there are apps which provide you with “cheat sheets” for the shortcuts available to you at any given time, depending on which program you happen to be using. CheatSheet and dashkards are two good choices.

Another great option is Eve, an app that actually trains you to use keyboard shortcuts. So, every time you perform a function, the corresponding keyboard shortcut that you could have used to perform the function will pop up on the screen, so that you can learn it and recall it the next time you perform that function.

Disable programs from launching automatically at start up

One last tip. If you have unwanted programs that launch every time you start up your computer, it’s easy to turn them off, although the process to do so isn’t exactly intuitive. First, click on the apple in the upper left hand corner of your screen. Choose “System Preferences,” then click on the “Users & Groups” icon, which can be found under the “System” heading. Next, choose a user, then click on the “Login Items” tab at the top of the box. The programs that automatically start up will be listed. Uncheck those which you would like to disable. And that’s it! They will no longer slow down your Mac’s boot up process.

So there you have it! A few Mac OS X tips and tricks to make your user experience simpler and more enjoyable. Feel free to add your tips in the comments.

(photo: keyboard and apple from Shutterstock)


  1. Clay says:

    Upgrade to Mountain Lion. You’ll be pleased. I was going to wait but couldn’t because I don’t have that much self control. I’m glad that I upgraded. I have a mid 2007 iMac and a 2009 MacbookAir and the performance on both is much better with Mountain Lion. I haven’t experienced any issues with the first release.

  2. My biggest beef with Lion / Mountain Lion is how much RAM it hogs up.

  3. Nicole Black says:

    Clay–I’ve been toying with the idea since it was released, but wanted to wait out any bugs. I think based on your recommendation, I’ll bite the bullet and give it a shot. It’s not a costly upgrade, by any means. Thanks for the feedback/suggestion!

  4. Charles Horowitz says:

    The digital signature trick is neat, but anyone receiving the document electronically, e.g. as an attachment to an email, can steal your signature with just a couple of mouse clicks: highlight the signature, then copy and paste. I tried in vain to figure out a way to easily “flatten” the signature (I think that’s the term) to avoid this problem. None worked, including printing the document as a .pdf, either from Safari or Preview. Any ideas?

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