When I want to step away from my desk, I move my pointer to the top-left corner of my display. My screensaver activates and my screen locks. When I want to see if I have any messages in Notification Center, I move my cursor to the top-right corner and Notification Center appears. Dashboard? Who needs a keyboard shortcut? I just slip my pointer to the bottom-right. And to see all my apps in Mission Control, the bottom-left corner of my screen does the trick.

OS X's Hot Corners come alive after you set a not-so-easy-to-spot preference. This lets you determine what actions will trigger when you move your cursor into a particular corner of your Mac's display. Select Apple menu > System Preferences and then click Mission Control. At the bottom of the window, click the Hot Corners button to see a dialog box with options for all four corners.

How can Hot Corners save you time? I'll take you through all the possibilities for this little-used, yet powerful feature.

What you can activate with Hot Corners

I've told you about the four Hot Corners actions I use, but there are other great options. Here are your choices:

Mission Control: If you choose this, you'll enter Mission Control when you slide your cursor to the designated corner. You'll see all your open applications and windows in miniature, and, if you use different desktops, then all of them as well. Click an element to bring it to the front. This is a particularly fast way to find a window and switch to it: just click the window you want to activate.

Application Windows: This setting lets you see all the windows of the frontmost app. Say you're working in Microsoft Excel, and you have a dozen spreadsheets open. Move your cursor to the designated corner to show all the windows, and then click the one you want to activate. It's a much quicker method than using Excel's Windows menu.

Desktop: This option lets you zip to your Desktop, hiding all windows. The windows slide off your screen, and when you switch back to an application, they return to their places. If you store files on your Desktop and want to get to one in a jiffy, then this is a great way to do so.

Dashboard: Apple's Dashboard widgets can be useful tools for following information such as stock prices, weather, and more. If you use Dashboard, display your widgets by choosing this option and then slipping your cursor into the corner you chose.

Notification Center: Mountain Lion's Notification Center lets you keep track of things like reminders, instant messages, emails, tweets, and more all in one place. It's easy to see what's happening by setting Notifications Center to display with a hot corner.

Launchpad: If you use Launchpad to launch apps, then a hot corner could be the quickest way to get there. Instead of clicking the Launchpad icon in your Dock, or assigning a keyboard shortcut to it, use a hot corner to save time.

Start Screensaver: If you use a screensaver, you can set a Hot Corner to activate it immediately. Better yet, use all the features here to keep your Mac secure. Select the Security & Privacy system preference pane, click the General tab, and then select the Require password immediately after sleep or screen saver begins option. Now you can lock your screen by just swiping a cursor into a corner. This is a great way to provide instant security to your Mac when you step away from your desk.

Disable Screensaver: If you find yourself watching videos often on your Mac, you may find that your screensaver kicks in just when you get to the good parts. Use this option to set a corner that will keep the screensaver at bay.

Put Display to Sleep: With this option, you can swipe your cursor to the designated corner, and your screen will go black. If you don't use a screensaver, this is a good way to keep others from seeing your screen when you're away from your desk, especially if you couple it with the security option I mentioned above.

The Hot Corner advantage

Try out some of these options to see if they become part of your workflow. I only wish Hot Corners offered other options, such as activating certain applications, or running AppleScripts. Maybe we'll see something like that in a future version of OS X.