Improve Window Management, Productivity Using OS X Spaces

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Spaces is one of the most underutilized features in OS X. And I’m just as guilty as any other person here. The problem with Spaces is that it’s great at building virtual desktops but not much more, at least in the default state.

Spaces is a useful feature. You can have different desktops for different types of apps, or just have apps take up the full screen (which is one of my favorite things in OS X. I love making Write for Mac fullscreen and going to town on that keyboard).

If you’re a Mac power user, you probably have more than a dozen apps open at once, and I’m low balling here. Spaces can help you make sense of these apps better, decrease the time you spend switching between apps and thinking what to do next to navigate to a particular program.

The Basics

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I’m sure you know this already but still, let’s recap.

  • Swipe left/right on the trackpad with four fingers to switch between spaces.
  • Swipe up with four fingers to see the Mission Control. On the top you’ll see all the desktops, or Spaces. You can add desktops from here or delete them.
  • More importantly, this is where you’ll be sending apps from one desktop to another. Click and hold an app window and drag it to any of the desktops above to move it there.
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The Keyboard Shortcuts

While the touchpad gesture is great, the keyboard shortcuts might be faster. Use the shortcut Ctrl + 1, Ctrl + 2, Ctrl +3 to directly jump to desktop 1, 2, 3 and so on.

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The shortcoming here is that it’ll only jump to desktops – fullscreen apps don’t count.

For this, you’ll need another shortcut. Ctrl + Left/Right Arrow does the same thing as the touchpad swipes, only it takes less time and the animation is faster.

Our Ultimate Guides: Check out our Ultimate beginners guide to OS X Yosemite and keyboard shortcuts.

Assigning Apps Their Own Spaces

For better management, you can assign a specific desktop to an app. You can do this for the apps you don’t have fullscreen.

For example, I have one desktop for communication. In there, Slack, MailBox, and Current are the defaults.

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You can have another one for reading. For example an RSS reader, Pocket, or something else. Depending on your work, you can have desktops dedicated to programming, video editing, photos etc.

The particular use cases will depend on you. I’ll just tell you how to do it.

Open the app in the desktop you want and right-click on the Dock icon. From Options, select This Desktop. Now, even when you restart your Mac or reopen the app, it will open in the desktop you assigned.

Sending Apps to Different Desktops

Say you quickly want to move one window to another desktop. Click and hold the window using the touchpad and press Ctrl + N to switch to the desktop you want. Release the touchpad and the keyboard button and the window has been moved.

This is much faster than pulling up Mission Control or dragging four fingers to switch desktops.

To Recap

  • Make apps like the browser or text editor fullscreen to use them without any distractions (the added space is a boon on MacBooks).
  • Pool apps of the same type and assign them one desktop. Switch to defined desktops using keyboard shortcuts.

This should help you make sense of scattered windows across your machine.

Do you use any kind of window management system? If you have any similar tips and tricks, share with us in the comments below.

Last updated on 03 February, 2022

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