Become Tech Savvy: Navigating macOS with ease

First time checking out this series? You’ll get the most value by starting at the beginning, however you can also use the series overview if you’d like to go buffet style.

Note for regular readers, the already tech savvy, and IT professionals: this series is designed as a resource you can share with those you are helping or for those looking to become tech savvy on their own.

How to navigate your Mac with confidence and ease

Background, Expectations, & Best Practices

Last week we covered building confidence and ease with iPhone and iPad navigation by dialing in to five different features and how they work. We’ll do the same today looking at macOS (previously known as OS X) which is Apple’s operating system for Macs.

Like Apple’s iPhone and iPad which are known for high overall user friendliness with iOS, macOS for the Mac also has the same reputation. However, like I mentioned in last week’s post, even with arguably the most user-friendly desktop operating system, not everything will always feel obvious or clear until you learn it and make it a habit. Let’s start with one of the most useful features for easy navigation on your Mac.


Apple’s search tool in macOS is called Spotlight. It has been around since 2005 (brought to iOS in 2009) and continues to become more useful and feature rich with each update. There are many ways Spotlight will help you navigate your Mac with more confidence and ease. One of the biggest benefits is it will often be the fastest and easiest way to find what you are looking for, let’s take a look…

Pull up Spotlight by either clicking the magnifying glass icon in the top right corner of your screen or pressing ⌘ command – Space bar.


Give a try to searching for anything you have on your Mac, or even things that aren’t 🤓. As shown in the example below, typing in “movies” brings up current movies that are now playing as well as files on my Mac and other related items.


Double-click on the listed files and items on the left side to launch, or you can also click on the content on the right side of the Spotlight search window.

Some of my favorite things use Spotlight for include launching apps, pulling up contact cards, doing math, and finding content when I know the name or what’s included in the file but forget where I saved it.

For a full look at all the things that you use Spotlight for navigate to System Preferences → Spotlight.


You’ll now see a window that shows all the categories of content that Spotlight will show in the search results. This will help give you more direction on how to utilize the feature. You can also uncheck any category to limit what you see in Spotlight searches.


I highly recommend using the shortcut to activate Spotlight (⌘ command – Space bar) which will help make it a habit to use regularly.

Menu bar

The Menu bar is the bar that sits at the top of your Mac’s screen. By default it’s always there (although you can set it to hide and show automatically in System Preferences → General) and will always show the application that is currently being used on the far left.


On the right hand side you’ll find Menu bar icons for specific apps and macOS utilities. Looking to the right after the keyhole icon (1Password) we have Time Machine, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AirPlay, Battery, Date, Spotlight, Siri, and Notification Center. If you haven’t done so before, click around and get a better feel for all that you can do with the Menu bar.

If you’re coming from Windows, note that Preferences for each application is usually found by clicking on the applications name such as iTunes in the photo below. You’ll also find the option to Quit the application in this drop down menu.



The Dock in macOS is the rectangular bar at the bottom of your screen with applications and more. It stays visible by default, but like the Menu bar you can change it so that is hides and shows automatically when you hover your mouse over the bottom of your screen (or wherever you have your Dock positioned).


One click on apps in the Dock will launch the application. Notice that any application that has a black dot below it is currently open. Right click on an application to get options like Quit and more (to right click, perform a two-finger click on a trackpad, hold the control key and click or right click with your mouse).

One way to change the Dock’s settings is by navigating to System Preferences → Dock where you can adjust the size, magnification, position, and more.

One nice trick to know if you’re having trouble quitting an app is using the keyboard to press ⌘ command – option – esc. This will launch the Force Quit Applications window. Select the app that won’t quit, and click Force Quit (most times Not Responding will appear next the app having issues).



One last aspect to cover for now is Finder. Think of this as your tour guide for macOS. You can launch Finder by clicking the blue and white smiling app icon in your Dock, or by using Spotlight. Here’s a look at a Finder window’s anatomy…


This Finder window shows All My Files which is selected from the Sidebar on the left. Take some time to navigate and change some of the various settings like view options, arrange options, etc. to get a better feel for how to modify and navigate with Finder more effectively.

You can rearrange the order of the locations and items in the Sidebar list and also drag new locations and folders to it for quick access.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you can have multiple Finder windows open at the same time, just like web pages in Safari or other applications. Try the shortcut ⌘ command – N to open a new Finder window (Finder also support opening new tabs instead of using separate windows).

You can also click File next to Finder in the Menu bar to open additional Finder windows and more.

Do This

1. Go through each of these features another time or two to get a good feel for them.

2. As you continue using your Mac, make a deliberate effort use Spotlight more often to navigate your Mac more and more efficiently and effectively.

3. Have questions on these features or others that you’re not quite confident in yet? Ask in the comments below!

Next week: Updating applications and software

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