If you’re like most medical students, you probably spend hours behind the computer every day, especially if your school has switched to a hybrid or fully virtual curriculum. And, if you’re like most medical students, you probably find yourself getting sidetracked by social media or other distractions more often than you’d like. After staring at your screen for hours of Zoom lectures, it’s hard to make yourself get through your daily Anki reviews, let alone make new cards for that day’s material.
If you’ve installed some of the top Anki add-ons for increasing productivity, you’re already in great shape, but it’s always good to be on the lookout for more ways to speed up the Anki process. For people using a MacBook Pro from 2016 or later, personalizing your laptop’s Touch Bar — the touchscreen-like interface at the top of your keyboard — to make it compatible with Anki is a great way to save time while also adding some personal flair to your studying.
In this article, I’ll walk you through how to customize your Mac’s Touch Bar for the Anki app. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll be surprised to learn just how much time you can save by streamlining small but repetitive tasks. It may take a little troubleshooting at first, but if you spend an hour or so fine-tuning your system, you’ll quickly find that the initial investment repays itself many times over. By creating one-tap shortcuts for the tasks you perform the most, from taking screenshots to making Cloze deletions, you’ll cut down on the time you spend studying every day and finally be able to browse Instagram guilt-free.
- Install BetterTouchTool
- Add the Anki app to the BTT sidebar
- Create groups for different Anki tasks
- Install the Customize Keyboard Shortcuts add-on
- Choose the shortcuts you want
- Create actions for each shortcut
- Bonus: How to launch apps from the Touch Bar
Step 1: Install BetterTouchTool
Before you can start personalizing your Touch Bar, you’ll need to download the BetterTouchTool (BTT) app. It’s free for 45 days, so you’ll have plenty of time to decide whether you like it. After that, the app costs roughly $8.50 (the price varies slightly depending on your region and currency), so take advantage of the 45-day trial period to test the app and find out whether it will be worth it to you.
Step 2: Add the Anki app to the BTT sidebar
BTT lets you create Touch Bar buttons that are active no matter which app you’re using (called “global actions”) as well as shortcuts for app-specific use, which are automatically hidden when you switch to a different window. You probably won’t have any use for the functions described in this article outside of Anki, so your first step will be to add the Anki app to the BTT sidebar. (If you want to get more out of BTT, check out the projects users have posted on the forums at community.folivora.ai — this Spotify widget is one of my favorites for studying.)
To add an app to the BTT sidebar, click on the + icon at the bottom left of the window (marked in red below). Choose “select app from file system” and click on Anki in your Finder. Now you’re ready to start adding the buttons you want.
Step 3: Create groups for different Anki tasks
The shortcuts you use while reviewing are probably going to be different from the ones you use while making new cards. To keep things organized, I like to separate my shortcuts into groups depending on what I need them for: reviewing, managing cards from the AnKing deck in Browse, or making my own cards.
To add a new group, just click on the folder button at the bottom of the column under “Groups & Top Level Triggers.” A new column will pop up on the right of the screen with an option to enter a group name. I made separate groups and named them “Review,” “Manage cards,” and “Make cards,” but you can make as many groups as you want.
When you open the Anki app, you should now see this display on your Touch Bar.
If it doesn’t show up, check under the “Preferences → Touch Bar” menu in BTT to make sure you’ve checked the box next to “Enable Touch Bar support” as shown below.
Step 4: Install the Customize Keyboard Shortcuts add-on
This step is optional, but it will help you get a lot more out of BTT. First, install the Customize Keyboard Shortcuts add-on and restart Anki. When you reopen the app, you can go into the add-on configuration to create as many keyboard shortcuts as you want for the actions you perform frequently but that don’t come with a built-in shortcut.
For example, I make a lot of cards with Cloze deletions, but I don’t always want to increment the Cloze interval. Incrementing means that a new Cloze will be one higher than the previous deletion, which will create separate cards for each Cloze. That’s often helpful, but not always, like when I want to make two c1 deletions and then two c2 deletions on the same card.
Within Customize Keyboard Shortcuts, I added the code outlined in red below to make the process of creating Cloze cards quicker and easier. Now, I can select a fragment of text and hit Ctrl-Shift-C to make an incremented Cloze. If I don’t want to increment just yet, I can hit Ctrl-Shift-Alt-C instead.
This is just one example of how this add-on can save you valuable time, but there’s practically no limit to the number of shortcuts you can add. If you run into trouble, the creator of the add-on is very responsive to comments on the AnkiWeb page linked above.
Step 5: Choose the shortcuts you want
You’ll use different shortcuts depending on whether you’re making cards, reviewing, or doing something else, which is where the different groups you just created come in handy. First, I’ll walk through the different options I use for reviewing cards.
During review, the only functions I use frequently are marking or suspending a card. To create one of those options, double-click on the “Review” folder that you created in step 3. Within the column that appears, click the large + button to create a new button (the bar highlighted in purple below).
Now you can give the button a descriptive name that will appear on the Touch Bar. Once you’ve repeated the process for as many shortcuts as you want to install, you’ll have a separate button for each action in your Touch Bar groups.
As you can see here, I color-coded mine to make it easier to work quickly without pressing the wrong button. BTT even comes with a selection of open source visual icons that you can use if you’re feeling fancy.
Step 6: Create actions for each shortcut
Now that you have your buttons set up, the next step is to make them functional. To do that, click on the large + button in the column labeled “Assign First Action to Selected Trigger” (see the picture above for an example), then click on the “No Action” button in the rightmost column as shown below.
You can spend some time exploring the various options, but the one I use most often is “Send Keyboard Shortcut,” which you can locate easily by typing it into the search bar. Once you click on it, you can enter the keyboard combination for the shortcut that you want to link with that button. For example, by typing “Shift-8” as the keyboard shortcut for my “Mark” button, I can now mark any card during review just by tapping that button on the Touch Bar. This is especially useful for longer shortcuts like the Ctrl-Shift-Alt-C one I programmed for a non-incremented Cloze deletion.
If you’re not sure whether there’s a pre-existing keyboard shortcut for an action you want, try exploring Anki’s Help menu or doing a quick Google search. AnkiWeb in particular is full of creators who are happy to answer questions from newer users.
Bonus: How to launch apps from the Touch Bar
I loved using these Touch Bar shortcuts while working on Anki, but I realized that I still spent a lot of time taking screenshots from my lecture slides to make image occlusion cards. Fortunately, you can use BTT to streamline that process as well.
After creating a new button (the one marked “Screenshot” below), click on the + sign to assign an action to it just like you did for the other buttons you created. This time, instead of choosing “Send Keyboard Shortcut” from the menu, select the option that starts with “Launch Application” (outlined in red below).
As you can see in the image below, you’ve just created an action called “Launch (null).” The final step is to connect this to the app that you want to open when you press this button on the Touch Bar. In the example I used, I want to open the Screenshot app that comes preinstalled on Mac, but you can also create buttons to open Spotify, Outlook, or any other app you prefer — you can even set it to open a Word document or PDF of your lecture slides. To get started, click on the “Select App/File” button highlighted in blue below.
This will open the Applications section of Finder. All you have to do now is select the app that you want to launch and click “Open” at the bottom right of the window. The next time you click on your “Screenshot” button, the Screenshot app will launch automatically without ever leaving Anki.
With that, you’ve successfully optimized your Mac Touch Bar for Anki. All that’s left is to get going on those reviews!