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9 Tricks to Ease Cluttered Mac Desktop & Maintain Focus

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Desktop clutter happens to our best, even as we try our best to maintain a vastly simplified virtual workspace. Whether it’s too many icons thrown on your desktop to handle files, or just a million and one window opening for multiple applications, documents, and browser tabs, there are some simple ways to alleviate all of this, even if you’re in the right taste for thick things. The next time you’re flooded with virtual mix, use these tricks to stay focused and get back to work.

1: Focus in full screen

Full screen status icon for OS X. If you only need to work in one application, use the newer full screen feature of OS X. Send any application you deserve unlimited focus to full screen mode by clicking the arrow icons in the corner of the application window or by assigning a feature to it as your own shortcut.

This helps prevent distractions while increasing the workspace available for that application, which is useful in many situations. Full-screen mode is especially useful for portable Mac users, although there are (unfortunately) still quite useless dual-screen settings.

2: Use the “Sort” folder to overcome the extra desktop clutter

Drowned by tons of stuff on your desktop? Create a new folder, name it for sorting or cleaning, press Command + A to select everything, and then drag it to the new directory.

Clean up a messy desk by dragging everything to the sort folder

No, those files don’t take care of themselves, and you still have to sort them later, but if you just need to start over or minimize drawing gazillion icons to your desktop, it works, still providing access to new files stored on or ending up on your desktop. Plus, you can see your nice wallpaper again.

3: Turn off the desktop display

Disabling your desktop may sound extreme, but when you have too many icons and distractions on your desktop with a million files that you don’t have time to work on yet, it’s a really great option. Unlike quitting the Finder, disabling the desktop allows the Finder to continue to use, providing easy access to the file system if you need to access documents quickly. The result is an empty table that shows the wallpaper:

Desktop disabled in OS X.

What is the best way to do this? You can use the default commands or a third-party utilities. DesktopUtility is one such useful free utility to serve this purpose (and also other uses). With a simple drop-down selection in the menu bar, you can turn the desktop on and off as needed.

Otherwise, disable your desktop with this default trick by typing the following string into the terminal:

defaults type com.apple.finder CreateDesktop -bool false; killall Finder

The Finder restarts and all desktop icons are invisible. You can still access your desktop files by going to the ~ / Desktop / folder. Or you can just turn the desktop back on by changing ‘false’ to ‘true’ in this Defaults command or by flipping it back to DesktopUtility.

4: Hide everything else on the keyboard

Command + Option + H is an amazing focus key press, it hides all other apps and their windows except the active app.

Hide everything except pressing the front window

To restore this and see all individual windows again, drag down the primary application window and select “Show All”. This trick is usually best used with translucent Dock icons on, so you can easily see hidden apps, a little-known feature that is likely to become the default light on OS X.

5: Wrangle browser in Windows and tabs

Chrome: If you use Chrome as your primary web browser, we’ll be happy to find a number of extensions there that make it easy to manage your tabs and windows. One such item is OneTab, which basically sucks all open windows and tabs into a single window that contains links to pages you once opened. This also has a great side effect of freeing up tons of system resources, as each browser window takes up quite a bit of RAM. Unfortunately, there is no extension for Safari that we are aware of (hit Twitter @bollyinside if you know one!), So we will stick to the Chrome recommendation for now.

Tabville USA

SafariA: Not quite as powerful as Chrome’s OneTab plug-in, you’ll find Safari’s “Connect All Windows” feature available in the “Windows” menu, and it’s a decent option. As the name suggests, it pulls all open Safari windows into one tab, eliminating the extra browser clutter. You can even set a key command for this command if you find that you use it often.

6: Use iTunes Micro Player to manage music

iTunes has a fairly large interface by default, and if you just want to control your music, take advantage of the Mini or Micro player and allow yourself to ignore any extra information that would otherwise sit in the app’s interface. All you have to do is click on the small box in the upper right corner of the iTunes window to set iTunes as your mini player:

The mini player button turns iTunes into small music controls

To shrink the mini player even smaller, grab the edge of the window and drag it inward to make it even smaller:

The iTunes 11 mini player made it especially small

The iTunes window has always been able to shrink into a mini player, but since iTunes 11, this compact playback feature has been improved by adding drivers and options, making it even better and much more usable. Plus, there’s now a new ability to reduce an already small mini player into an even smaller microplay, perfect for situations where your desktop is full of windows or you just want a very minimalist music player.

7: Create a new virtual workspace in Mission Control

Got too much running on one screen and need to start over? Instead of closing all the windows, just create a new workspace and start over. The best way to do this is to use a four-finger up gesture to call Mission Control and hover your mouse over the top right corner until a “+” appears. Clicking this will create a new desktop from which you can then work.

Create a new virtual workspace in Mission Control

You can then easily switch back and forth between virtual desktops with three fingers sideways with your finger.

However, for virtual workspaces to be truly efficient, you need to be aware of how much RAM and processor your current applications use, because of course you don’t want to drop a platform on one virtual desktop that is full of CPU just to struggle with insufficient resources on another virtual desktop. Therefore, this is partly dependent on RAM and CPU, and if you try to maintain two applications, you can’t expect everything to be hunky-dory by creating a new workspace.

8: Quit unnecessary applications and trust with autosave and window restore

Too much is happening in one app and want to deal with it later? Maybe you have a couple of apps open that you don’t need right now? Just turn on their behalf and press Command + Q to close the app, trusting that your documents and data are exactly where you left off, thanks to auto-save and window restore features. Before you do this, make sure that these features are not turned off, especially auto-save, which is enabled by default and should be left on. Obviously, if these features are disabled, this whole trick will be pointless because you will lose your data and windows.

Although the auto-save and window restore features of OS X caused a bit of confusion when they were first introduced in 10.7, they were heavily cleaned up in OS X 10.8 and have since become both excellent features. Because auto-save and window restore features depend on modern versions of OS X, don’t try it with Snow Leopard or anything else before.

9: Go Extreme in single application mode

Single application mode causes OS X to show only the active application, automatically hiding unused applications. Switching between applications causes the focus to change and hidden applications to keep the active application only visible. This will give you an idea of ​​what it will look like when connected to an invisible desktop, leaving only the terminal visible, although about 15 other applications are open:

Single user status in Mac OS X.

Rumor has it that this feature was built by Apple to bring older versions of Mac OS X to the stage at events, but the Single App feature still works great in Mountain Lion, all you have to do is enable it by entering the default script through the terminal:

by default, type com.apple.dock single-app -bool true; killall Dock

The dock refreshes as well as the display windows. At first, you may not see the difference, but click on another application and you will notice that the previous application is automatically hidden by adjusting the focus to the new one. This can be quite steep and a big extreme, so whether it’s practical or not really depends on how distracting you are. Turn it off and return to normal with the same script, but changing “true” to “false”.

Still overwhelmed?

If you’re still invaded by a data attack, don’t forget these window management tricks and also consider creating a separate user account for work like you have for gaming, which can also help when you really need to focus on things without having luggage for other tasks. If you have never created a new user account before, you can read here.

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James Hogan
James Hogan
James Hogan is a senior staff writer at Bollyinside, where he has been covering various topics, including laptops, gaming gear, keyboards, storage, and more. During that period, they evaluated hundreds of laptops and thousands of accessories and built a collection of entirely too many mechanical keyboards for their own use.

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