We all want our Macs to be labour-saving rather than labour-causing devices. Yet, even if you've been using a Mac for a long time, the thought, "There has to be a better of way of doing this," will probably come to mind on a daily basis.

Whether you're undertaking a repetitive task that has to be done often or just a one-off job that seems to be more complicated than necessary, it's your time that's being wasted and we're here to put an end to it.

So we're going to show you 30 brilliant ways you can make life with your Mac that much easier – and we're not going to use Automator once. We'll ease you in with great ways to work faster with OS X and Finder, and then move on to iLife, with tips for iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD and GarageBand.

Then, to wrap things up, we'll give you 10 ways to make Safari and Mail even more powerful, either through built-in functions or with add-ons. Here's to getting things done faster!

Working faster in OS X

1. Making aliases

Aliases are useful files that point to other files somewhere on your Mac. Certain applications also require files and folders to be in certain places, but if you don't want them there you can always move the items and create aliases to them.

The simplest way to create an alias is to hold down Cmd + Option and drag the item to the new location. Coincidentally, you can use that key combination to drag an item onto a Dock application icon to force the item to open in that application, even if it wouldn't normally be allowed.

2. Use Exposé more
Exposé (activated using the Exposé & Spaces pane in Systems Preferences) is a great, timesaving way to switch between windows in any of the applications you're running. They can be triggered using the screen corners, hot keys (like F9) or the Exposé application in the Applications folder.

But if you use your Desktop for storing items and shortcuts, Exposé also provides a handy way to get straight to your Desktop without minimising all the windows its hidden under. You can even drag and drop in Exposé.

Select some text, or an image, then start to drag and drop it, then hit F9. Now hover it over the application you want to drop it in. After a few seconds Exposé will make it the foremost application, so you can drop it there.

3. Spotlight tricks
Spotlight's the best tool around for finding things on your Mac, but sometimes it gives you more than you can deal with. The Spotlight pane in System Preferences lets you remove files you're probably never going to want to include in searches, such as System Preferences and Fonts, and lets you reorder categories so the items you want appear at the top.

But Spotlight is also a great way to launch an application quickly, simply by typing its name then hitting Enter. It also has a few secrets for those in a mathematical hurry – type a simple calculation into it and Spotlight will give you the answer straight away.

4. Proxy icons
The icon you see at the top of every window is a 'proxy' that performs loads of functions. If you click on it then drag and drop to another window or icon, it'll be as though you're dragging and dropping the files.

Spotlight 03

PROXY OPTIONS: The file 'proxy' or icon has hidden features for helping you find files quickly

You can hold down Option while you're doing it to copy the item, or hold down Cmd as you click on the icon to get a menu of all folders enclosing the current item – selecting one will open it in Finder.

5. Dynamic spellchecks
Save time on spellchecks by getting OS X to check as you type, using Apple's built-in dictionary. The Check Spelling While Typing and Check Grammar With Spelling options are available in the Edit > Spelling menu in most apps.

Another great tip is to bring up the spellchecker using Cmd + ;, then set the dictionary to British English rather than the standard (American) English. It's surprising how many people don't know that this can be done.

6. Find unusual characters quickly
There are some characters that we all forget the shortcuts for – or maybe we just never knew them. However, they're easily found in the Character Palette; this is available from the Special Characters option at the bottom of the Edit menu of most applications. You can also add it to the Input menu, available from the International pane in System Preferences.

Special characters

ODD CHARACTERS: These strange symbols are easily accessed in OS X once you know how

Then, either scan through all the available lists, grouped by category, such as punctuation or the language they're used in, or by typing a description of the character into the search box at the bottom.

7. Use file shortcuts
Navigating your Mac for frequently used files takes time. You'll find that dragging folders, disks and servers to the Dock can provide quicker access to their contents, particularly with the List view, selected by clicking and holding down the mouse button on a folder. But the more items you add to the Dock, the more cluttered it becomes.

Finder windows are only one extra click away and offer an alternative – you can add any item to the Finder sidebar by dragging and dropping it, and once that starts to get full, drag items to the toolbar as well.

8. Faster camera access
While iPhoto is great for storing your photos in albums, Image Capture lets you automate the import process and gives you access to several 'pro' options. You can create custom icons, embed ColorSync profiles and add information to Finder file comments.

Image Capture (in the Applications folder) works with every camera iPhoto works with, and when you plug in your camera, it can automatically sort pictures into the Pictures folder and movies into the Movies folder. It can also create web pages, crop pictures to the right size, open them in another application or run an Automator task on your files.

9. Finder copy and paste
Even with the help of Exposé, dragging a file from one window in Finder to another can be fiddly and it's easy to click off your selection. It's better to Copy and Paste a Finder item.

Select the item, or items, you want and use Copy from the Edit menu, choose the destination you want and Paste. Copy and Paste are also available from the contextual menus (right-click a file) or the cog in Finder's toolbars.

10. Use Default Folder X
Although you have to pay for it, Default Folder X will save you hours. It customises Open and Save dialogs to include a whole range of extra file-and folder-handling features, accessible through mouse clicks or keyboard shortcuts.

Navigate the whole of your file system from the pull-down menu at the top of the dialog box, use the toolbar at the side to go to your favourite folders, or mouse-over their 'shadows' to select folders that are open in Finder.

Default Folder also gives you access to Finder features within dialogs: you can QuickView files, change permissions, add comments and add Spotlight info to items. There are even options to rename and compress items, move them to the Trash, and 'tag' them to find them easily.

Handily, all this goodness isn't just confined to dialog boxes, there are optional menubar and Dock items to give you access to your folders whenever you like.