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  1. Computer Skills
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Computers

How to Declutter the Mac Desktop, Part 2

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:

Everyday we work with multiple application windows. You can perform various tasks in parallel. For example, you can read article on one window and take notes on another window.

There is a cost associated with multiple windows. You have to open and place the windows at the desired location, move the windows to uncover needed information on other windows, re-size and re-arrange the windows to meet the changing needs.

At times, you may just ignore the windows and leave it as clutter on the screen, hampering both time and productivity.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to

  • Clean windows clutter with the features included in macOS.
  • Develop good habits by making proper use of the workspace.

Hide Application Windows

If you use a Mac for multiple tasks, you may open several applications at a time. Heavy multi-tasking kills concentration. You just can’t focus on one particular window.

macOS has a feature that lets you hide all the windows except for the currently active window or app. To do this, press Command-Option-H simultaneously or click Hide Others from the application menu. 

Click the Dock icon to restore the windows to their original positions.

hide application window except for active window
Hide application window except for the active window

You can altogether ignore the state of windows and use third-party apps to either focus or automate the whole window management operations. By automating this operation, you’ll spend more time in completing the task rather than managing the interface.

HazeOver is an app that automatically highlights the front app window and masks the ones that are in the background. It puts a sort of translucent curtain behind the frontmost window. You can set the hazing intensity and speed to your liking.

hazeover app interface
HazeOver app interface

Go to Preference > General and configure the hazing intensity by rotating the wheel. Alternatively, click the menu and drag the knob to set the dimming percentage. 

Once the work is completed, you can turn off the app. To do this, go to Advanced tab and change the keyboard shortcut to toggle HazeOver on and off.

hazeover preference to adjust dimness
HazeOver preference to adjust dimness

Hocus Focus is a menu bar utility that helps you keep desktop clutter free by hiding the inactive windows automatically. After installing the app, click the menu bar icon to see the list of visible and hidden apps.

You may also configure Hocus Focus to hide away all applications except the one you’re using. This feature works just like macOS hide feature, but what makes this app different is you can customise the time-delays and grouping of windows.

By default, Hocus Focus will hide an app after 30 seconds. Slide the knob to the right to lengthen the time from 30 seconds to 10 minutes. You can also setup profile for different tasks, so your apps can timeout at different intervals.

hocus focus app to hide the inactive window
Hocus Focus app to hide the inactive window

Quitter for Mac is a menu bar utility that automatically hides or quits distracting apps after periods of inactivity. This app works great for minimising distraction from social apps like Twitter, Slack, News readers and more.

After installing the app, click the menu bar icon and choose Edit Rules. Click the [+] button and add the app. Also, select whether you want to hide or quit the app. The default value is ten minutes. Change this value to be shorter or longer as per your needs.

quitter mac app
Quitter mac app

Organise Workspace With Mission Control

Mission Control is a feature in macOS that combines Exposé, Dashboard, and Spaces—three tools available in older versions of macOS—in a single, powerful interface. It offers a bird’s eye view of open windows, desktop spaces, full-screen apps and Split View screens.

To open Mission Control do any of the following:

When you launch Mission Control, you’ll see the Spaces bar with all open spaces at the top of the screen. Below that you’ll see

  • Current desktop with all open windows
  • Any windows you’ve opened in full-screen or split view
  • Grouped or stacked application windows
Mission control interface
Mission Control Interface

All the open windows appear as a miniaturised version of a thumbnail. The more windows you open, the smaller it gets and becomes harder to see what’s in them.

To see the contents of this window, hover the mouse cursor over the window preview you’re interested in, and press Spacebar. Press the Spacebar again to shrink back the quick look preview to its original size.

quick look windows in mission control
Quick look windows in Mission Control. Notice the blue border around the window

macOS virtual desktop feature, called Spaces, is a nifty way to organise applications and windows across the desktops. It’s useful for managing applications with lots of little windows and dialogues. For example, you can research and write in one space while iTunes plays music in a second.

In Mission Control, move the pointer to the upper-right corner and click the + button to create a new desktop, or use full-screen mode to put an application in a new desktop by itself. macOS lets you create up to 16 spaces.

create a new space in mission control
Create a new space in Mission Control 1. Spaces bar 2. Add a new space or desktop

Once you create a new desktop, you can freely move the window from one desktop to another. Do any of the following:

  • Enter Mission Control. Hover the pointer over the window. Now drag-and-drop the window to another desktop in the Mission Control ribbon
  • Drag the window onto any blank spot on the Spaces bar. macOS creates a new desktop to hold that window
  • Hover the pointer over the window’s title bar. Hold the trackpad or mouse, then press the Control key with either Right or Left arrow key
move the window from desktop1 to desktop2
Move the window from Desktop 1 to Desktop 2

You can avoid this process and allocate specific applications for different desktops. To do this, navigate to the desktop and choose the app you want to assign from the Dock. Right-click on the app icon to reveal the Options menu. Select This Desktop to assign the app to the current desktop.

If the Mac has multiple displays, you can allocate an app to a desktop on a specific screen. With two screens, the Options menu will offer options for each screen.

assign an app to a desktop
Assign an app to a desktop

For the sake of explanation, I'll assume you have three desktops—Desktop 1 for productivity apps, Desktop 2 for social media apps, and Desktop 3 for news reader apps.

You can navigate between these desktops without launching Mission Control. Do any of the following:

setup shortcuts to move between desktops
Setup shortcuts to move between desktops

With Mission Control you can move a window from one desktop to another. But if you want to relocate multiple windows of a particular app to another desktop, then open the preference pane and tick Group windows by application.

Now drag-and-drop the application icon to the next desktop. All of the windows will move as a group. This way you can eliminate unnecessary distractions and reduce the windows clutter.

group windows by application in mission control preference
Tick group windows by application in Mission Control preference

Apart from reducing the windows clutter, Mission Control allows to copy or move items between different windows or to the desktop.

  • Copy the file or folder, press Command-F3 to move all windows aside and show the desktop, then paste the item. Press Command-F3 again to move the windows back
  • Copy the text or image, press F3 to show all open windows. Click a window and paste the item
  • To move a file or folder, drag the item from a window, press Command-F3 to move all windows aside, then drop the item. Press the keys again to move the windows back

Search and Switch Windows Quickly

Trying to find a window from all the open windows is a tedious task. Mission Control easily tackles this problem, with few keystrokes you can see all the open windows and switch between them, organise windows in different desktops, and copy or move items to and from desktop easily.

But Mission Control doesn’t let you search windows or support tabs from different application windows. Even the built-in application switcher works best with one-window applications. Navigating windows with tabs is still a pain.

Witch takes things further than built-in application switcher and offers many customisation options. Install the app and allow Witch to access Accessibility API.

toggle on witchdaemon accessibility option
Toggle on witchdaemon accessibility option

Click the Witch Prefpane and tick the Enable Witch box at the top left. Press and hold the Option-Tab key to activate the default window switcher. It displays all the open windows along with a search bar.

witch app default window switcher
Witch app default window switcher

With the switcher onscreen, use these keys to navigate

  • Tab to move the selection down
  • Right arrow key to navigate a window with tabs
  • Left arrow key to move back from the tab view to the main window

The Actions tab lets you add, configure, and remove switcher panels. You can set each part of the action. Click the Cycle Windows pop-up menu and choose the type of application switcher.

You can cycle apps, cycle apps and their windows, cycle minimised and non-minimised windows, and more. You can experiment with all the application switchers and see which one of them works best.

witch switcher cycle controls
Witch app cycle switcher controls

Now click the Sort by pop-up menu to change how you want to sort the Witch switcher panel. There are various types of cycling options— app activity, windows activity, app name, windows title, app launch, and app in Dock. Choose the one as per your needs.

If you prefer to search windows, choose any sorting action other than Window Activity or App Activity > Window Activity and ensure that you enable the search in the Advanced tab. 

Witch keeps the search field active, and the panel will remain onscreen.

sort witch app switcher controls
Sort witch app switcher controls

Choose the orientation of the switcher panel and assign a keyboard shortcut to that action.

You can altogether avoid the app switcher entirely and use the menu bar to access open window and apps.

witch menu bar to access open window and apps
Witch menu bar to access open window and apps

Conclusion

Windows clutter is a common problem among people using computers regularly. If not managed in the right manner, it can hamper both time and productivity.

In this tutorial, I’ve shown you various methods by which you can eliminate and avoid windows clutter on the desktop. Hide application windows when not needed and learn keyboard shortcuts for the Mission Control to organise the workspace. Use application switcher to navigate windows and tabs quickly.


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