How to Access Menu Items From the Keyboard on Mac

Are you tired of constantly switching between your keyboard and mouse to access menu items in complex programs like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop? Well, you’re in luck if you’re a Mac user! There’s a way to access any menu item right from your keyboard, without having to set up custom shortcuts or memorize countless keyboard combos.

Imagine you’re working on a project in Illustrator or Photoshop, and you need to use a specific feature over and over. The problem is, this feature is buried deep in one of the menu items, but it doesn’t have a keyboard shortcut, or you don’t remember the shortcut for it.

What do you do?

Do you really want to take your hands off the keyboard, grab the mouse, and manually wade through all the menu options every time? That’s a real time-suck, especially if you need to use it repeatedly.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could access any menu item in your apps right from your home row? Well, you can do just that on a Mac and the best part is it’s baked into macOS, so you don’t have to install any third-party tool.

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A Command Palette for all your apps

In popular text editors like Visual Studio Code or Sublime Text, there’s a command palette that houses all its functions in a searchable list. To use any of the function in the app, you just have to pull it up with a shortcut (like Cmd + Shift + P) and search for the command you want to execute.

This command palette saves you from remembering dozens of app-specific keyboard shortcuts and makes everything just a search away.

With the keyboard shortcut I am about to discuss, all your favorite apps on Mac will have command palettes accessible from the keyboard.

Making it work in all apps

If you click on the ‘help’ tab on the menu bar of any app, you will notice the first item in the dropdown is a search box.

In the MacOS help menu, the search box can be used to search through all the menu items of an app, giving you a keyboard friendly experience.

This search box is present in (almost) every app, and it is your gateway to searching for every feature that’s tucked inside one of these menu items.

To test it out, start typing in it, and you will see that it opens the relevant menu and also shows you the searched menu item in real time —

You can think of it like ‘Spotlight’ for menu items — just search for an item and press enter.

Now the question is, how do you trigger this search box with a keyboard shortcut so you don’t have to use your trackpad or mouse. Thankfully, macOS comes bundled with this option.

Here’s how you can access it:

  1. Go to your Mac’s System Settings → Keyboard → Keyboard Shortcuts → App Shortcuts → All Applications dropdown → check the ‘Show Help menu’.

You will see a shortcut to its right side. The default one on my machine is Cmd + Shift + /, but you can customize it by double-clicking on it and typing your desired key combination.

MacOS settings panel which gives you a Spotlight-like feature but for all the menu item of any app (like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Da Vinci Resolve etc.)

You are all set now! Just press the key combo and have fun.


Another option is to use a launch bar like Raycast, which comes with this functionality out of the box.

Raycast is like the native Spotlight on macOS, just a lot better. It is like Alfred, which is another popular launch bar on macOS. Once configured properly, it can replace about a dozen apps with its suite of extensions and all that.

Right out of the box, it comes with an option called ‘search menu items’. This option lists all menu items of the focused app in the command bar, so looking for menu items is just a matter of navigating up and down with the arrow keys.

Accessing all menu items of the focused app from your keyboard from within the Raycast app.

I have found that ditching the mouse always leads to more productivity and less fatigue. And thankfully, macOS has excellent support for keyboard shortcuts for almost everything.

Must read: How to Automatically Focus Windows Under the Cursor on Mac

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