Quick Tip: Access Menu bar Commands

This article is heavily focused on the MAC platform

Menubar

As you may well know, Actions relies heavily on an app’s existing keyboard shortcuts to trigger actions. Unfortunately there are a myriad of apps that offer a very limited set of keyboard shortcuts. A common workaround in the past would be to create a global shortcut to trigger the menu bar entry and then assign it in Actions.

With the introductions of Flows, I thought it was about time to pare down the dozens of shortcuts I had create and instead rely on just one: Move focus to the menu bar. I soon realised that this was unreliable. Numerous threads online advised changing the default shortcut (^F2), however this still produced erratic behaviour. After a couple of days it would simply stop working and I’d have to change the shortcut once again.

Frustration quickly set in and as any respectful self appointed nerd would do, I hastened to create a script to change this shortcut on the fly. Fortunately common sense prevailed. I took a step back and found a simpler, albeit not as obvious solution.

The Global Help menu

The solution I’m referring to is the help menu accessible from the menu bar. With the advent of Flows in Actions, this often overlooked feature of OS X gains new power.

As with most things, it’s easier to explain with and example. Therefore, I’ll guide you through setting up a flow to do something I do quite often — Purge “Deleted Messages”… (I’m OCD like that).

First, you need to see which hot key is assign to trigger the global help. Open System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts and look under App Shortcuts. In my case, I’ve setup ⌥⇧7. Keep in mind that the help menu is context sensitive and will show information pertaining to the active app.

When you trigger the help menu and type in some text, a list of possible commands will appear. The more you type the more the list is filtered. Selecting an item in that list reveals the command’s location. What may not be immediately apparent is that by clicking the list entry, the command is also triggered.

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Armed with this knowledge we can now create our flow, but before doing so let me set the stage:

  1. I’m using MailMate as my email client. It’s extremely powerful and chockfull of customisable shortcuts — so it’s perfect for Actions;
  2. Empty “Deleted Messages” is only active when the Deleted Messages mailbox is selected;
  3. MailMate allows me to navigate to a mailbox with ⌘T + Name of Mailbox;Tip: Postbox is also a nice alternative that allows navigation mailboxes with shortcuts.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s create a new flow with the following actions:

  • Shortcut targeting MailMate with ⌘+T;
  • A Wait, giving MailMate time to become active;
  • Snippet with Deleted followed by a carriage return (this will navigate to the Deleted Messages mailbox);
  • Another Wait (just so MailMate doesn’t stumble over itself);
  • A shortcut with ⌥⇧7 (change to your hotkey of course);
  • A snippet with Empty “Deleted Messages”;
  • A shortcut with a down arrow selecting the help menu list item. Add as many as needed to select the correct entry, however if you type the command in it’s entirety there should only be one entry;
  • A shortcut with enter.

As you can see, I no longer have a need to configure separate hotkeys for menu entries that don’t already have them. All I need is Actions, the help menu and a good flow.

Now, go create some interesting new flows with this little tip and let us know in the comments what you came up with.

Pedro Lobo

A System Administrator by day and freelance technology writer by night. I put words together to express my opinionated views on software, hardware or anything that strikes my fancy. Said words can be found in a variety of places, among which my blog. When not spending time with my family and taking photographs, I can be found on app.net or Twitter
  • Neal Cassady

    Great tip this – and well played – would never have thought of using the Help menu!!

    • Thanks Neal,

      this has indeed proven to be a huge timesaver for many tasks, that in the past required a little more work to setup ;)