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Toggle sending accounts and signatures in Mail via hot keys

Hot keys can be used to access menu items even if they are not in the system menu.

As with most e-mail clients, Apple's Mail program supports multiple accounts so you can access all of your e-mail from one program, and as such it is not uncommon for people to have different accounts configured for work, home, and other activities that they would like to keep separate. While convenient in some respects, there are times when composing messages using multiple accounts can have you redundantly selecting the account to send from.

By default Mail should use the current selected account as the "From" account when replying to a message, so managing replies or forwarding messages should be relatively seamless; however, when composing a new message, Mail will default to the first account listed in the Accounts section of its preferences. In these cases if you would like to send from another account, you will need to specify it in the From menu at the top of your message. If you primarily use only one account and rarely use others, then this is not too much of a problem, but if you regularly use multiple accounts, you might find yourself accessing this menu more than you would like.

Hot keys for Mail composition window menus
Adding a custom hot key to Mail's composition menus can make selecting an account or signature far quicker than accessing the menus directly (click for larger view). Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET

If you find this to be a tedious aspect of your mail composing, you have several options available to you. The first is to enable full keyboard control in OS X (press Control-F7 or choose "All Controls" in the Keyboard Shortcuts section of the Keyboard system preferences), which will allow you to select and choose items from menus.

With this option enabled, you can tab through the various "To," "Cc," and "Subject" fields, and then continue pressing Tab to target the From and Signature menus and select items in them for use with your message.

This approach is easy enough to do, but a quicker way to access items in these menus is to assign custom hot keys to them. One feature in OS X that is quite useful is the ability to assign custom hot keys to almost any menu item in any application using the Keyboard system preferences pane. In this pane, you can add a new shortcut and target a menu item by entering it exactly as it appears in the menu.

While logical and convenient to use for application menu items you frequently use, it may not be so obvious that this can also be used for menus in Mail's composition window; this can be done with the following steps:

Custom hot-key shortcuts in OS X
Create a custom keyboard shortcut entry for your account as it appears in Mail's "From" menu (click for larger view). Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET
  1. Open the Keyboard system preferences and go to the Keyboard Shortcuts tab.
  2. Select "Application Shortcuts" and then click the plus button to create a new shortcut.
  3. In the Menu Title field, enter the account name as it appears in the From menu. For example, the following would be an entry:

         Joe Example <jexample@example.com>
  4. Next place your cursor in the Keyboard Shortcut field and type a key combination to assign to this menu item.
  5. Click the Add button to create the shortcut.

With these steps complete, open Mail (you can keep the system preferences open) and compose a new message; you should see the shortcut available next to the account name in the From menu if successful. If not, then go back to the Keyboard system preferences and edit the Menu Title name of the shortcut entry, ensuring you do not have extra spaces or an inadvertent typo (you can edit the name by selecting it and then clicking the name again).

Adding these shortcuts to accounts in the From menu is beneficial, but this can be applied to other menus as well. If you have a set of signatures you regularly use in Mail, then you can make one and similarly bind its name as it appears in the Signature menu to another custom hot key, and then invoke it to select the signature. You can also assign hot keys to entries in the outgoing SMTP server menu that appears if your account is configured with more than one SMTP option.

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