Windowing/workspace strategies: where do you put what and why?

This thread isn’t exactly about what tools to use or how to use them. There’ve been many discussions on the MPU forum about window management apps, and David’s posted a great screencast explaining how to use Keyboard Maestro to set up workspaces. However, only two discussions have focused on general strategies, and they were both display-specific (a laptop and a 27" iMac). So, what I want to know is…

How do you approach windowing and workspaces?

I.e., where do you put what, and why?

I am delighted with my workflow for less than five windows. Keyboard shortcuts with Keyboard Maestro quickly snap windows to three different sections of the screen at different sizes, so my working materials will go in the middle while references and research will go to either side. I use Contexts to alt+tab between windows (a holdover from my MS Windows days). I have a single rather large display (32") and keep the resolution high, so I’ve found it important to keep the main window centered—else I spend too much time with my neck tweaked left or right.

Edit: Oh! And I have a dedicated Mission Control button on my mouse, so that’s often getting invoked to select which windows to display when they’re overlapping. I also use UnDistracted to fade background windows if I’m trying to do “deep work”.

I used to use two, three, even four displays (with an iPad open), but I think I like this setup better. When I used those extra displays I often forgot to look at them or use them. (My desk is a flat table with the monitor on a shelf, so setting up additional screens next to this giant one was awkward anyway.)

Sometimes I wonder if I fiddle with this too much, though, and it falls apart when I have many apps and windows open. I was writing a paper today and had dozens of windows open across multiple macOS spaces. It was so frustrating! Windows for searching my files, Safari windows with Google Scholar searches, papers open as PDF files (sometimes duplicates, to focus on different parts at the same time), random note documents, and, of course, the paper draft itself.

I saw @Topre mention Divvy in another thread and I’m planning on checking that out.

So: what are your workspaces or workflows for working with multiple windows/spaces/screens? Do you delegate certain apps/tasks to other screens or devices? Do you, as David demonstrated in that blog post, have specific workspaces attached to specific kinds of work?

Or do you just embrace the chaos?

Heartily! :laughing:

If I worked on more than the laptop screen I would be more precise about this, but I don’t. So I’ve played with Spaces in the distant past and found it more distracting than helpful.

Generally, I have 6 applications open at one time most workdays: Finder, Mail, DEVONthink, Tinderbox, Fantastical, and Parallels. (In Parallels I have Outlook and sometimes one other app open in Windows).

If I need to work a document, then the relevant editor is opened, used, then quit.

When I want to work heads down on something, I use Freedom to shut up Safari and other distractions.

I never use any social media, and my life has been extended in many ways by ignoring Facebook and Twitter as long as they have existed.

1 Like

Embrace the chaos. That’s me. I have a 27" 2010 Apple Cinema Display; I’ve promised myself to buy a nice panorama display when I get my home office cleaned out. Until then, I’m toughing it out with last decade’s tech.

I usually have whatever I’m working on open in a maximally sized window in front of me, edge-to-edge. I don’t know what you call that – it’s not fullscreen, which hides the toolbar and the Dock, and which I’ve never been able to get used to.

Sometimes I’ll have one window on the left and another on the right, when I’m switching rapidly between the two. Usually that’s when I’m writing – document in the right window, source material on the left.

I usually have 20 or more apps open at any time. I Cmd-Tab between them.


I have Moom set up for window management, with some lovely preset configurations I’ve made. Then I forget to use it. When I am in flow that’s that.

1 Like

Moom calls it “fill screen”, as opposed to “full screen” – I suppose because the non-menubar-non-dock portion of the screen is filled.

1 Like

This is me with most of these interface tools too. When I’m playing around, they all seem great. When I’m rushing towards a deadline it all goes out the window(s).

1 Like

A) Main monitor space 1:

  • Safari on 2/3 of the screen

  • Drafts on 1/3

    (Safari is open to my firm’s case management system and document management system. Drafts is where I take notes during the day, often transferring them into the case management system)

B) Main monitor space 2:

  • Mail on 2/3 of the screen

  • Things on 1/3

    (They’re a nice pairing because I frequently link to Mail items in Things)

Secondary monitor space 1:

  • DEVONthink 3 in Moom “fill screen.”

    (This is nice because I can easily drag items from Mail or other apps on the first monitor directly into DEVONthink on the second)

Secondary monitor space 2

  • BusyCal in Moom “fill screen.” This was formerly Fantastical.

That is my work setup. So, in sum, I keep 2 apps per space in 2 different spaces on my main monitor, and one Moom “fill screen” app per space in two spaces on my second monitor. Those apps never change, so getting to where I need to go is muscle memory, and I’ve set up keyboard shortcuts, too.

One-off apps are either opened in one of the above-mentioned spaces, or in a third space on my main monitor.

1 Like

Not to be confused with “Phil screen.” Or “Dr. Phil screen.”


I have no fewer than 12 Spaces spread across( when I’m docked at work or at home) three displays (including the laptop display). Open apps typically include various development tools (text editors and/or IDEs), a few VMs, half a dozen Terminal windows, a dozen browser (Safari, Chrome, Firefox) windows each with 10+ tabs, Transmit, Slack, various other apps as needed. All of this is navigated almost subconsciously with multi finger gestures on external trackpads (1 at work, 1 at home). Yeah, I’m going with the chaos option :slight_smile:

1 Like

Spaces were introduced to Mac OS X in late 2006, but it took me around nine years to finally get on board. Now I can’t live without them.

I have seven spaces (although I typically only use four), each with a different desktop picture for at-a-glance recognization of location. Some of my most-used apps are restricted to specific spaces, others (those whose data interact with multiple apps float freely between spaces.

I would buy TotalSpaces in a hot second if Apple hadn’t walled off macOS so that it now only works with SIP turned off. I’m not going to turn off SIP to run a utility. Still, a very cool implementation.

1 Like

Interesting – will give Spaces another try (after 10 years disuse). Your recommendations are generally spot-on.

1 Like

6 Monitors, 3 in my primary field of vision, 3 a bit further to the side

The one primary monitor is for “production” or apps where I am creating new documents, i.e. Word or Excel or databases where I regularly edit data. Those apps are spread among several spaces in the primary monitor.

The two additional monitors in my primary field of vision are for reference materials (documents or web based) which I regularly refer to while working.

The other 3 monitors are to “park” items used less often but which I refer to during the day.

That said, the more in the primary field of vision the better. In the box to be installed shortly are two wide monitors and a stand so I can stack those directly in front of me

1 Like

It can be very convenient. I use a handful of apps in full-screen mode, and they live in their own spaces. And I switch from space to space with a 4-finger left/right swipe on the trackpad, or 4-finger swipe up to choose further away spaces.

And I do certain types of writing with two different text processors, which I have live side-by-side in one space. LEts me manage my work much better when I have a half-dozen or more apps open, as I do right now.


I was introduced to virtual desktops on Sun and SGI workstations in the early/mid 90s and was instantly hooked. Apple introducing Spaces was one of the three things that got me to move to the Mac (the other two being that they adopted/developed a modern OS and that they moved to Intel CPUs).

Apple’s current incarnation of this concept, especially when paired with a really good trackpad, is so superior to anything else out there that it keeps me on the Mac all on its own.

1 Like

I did not expect to see so much variety–and intentionality (even in the people who embrace the chaos)!

It’s clear to me that my main problem is frenetic switching when I’m doing a lot at once. I lose a lot of time (and thoughts!) when trying to pick out the window I needed.

I should be a bit more intentional. Maybe I’ll go the David Sparks route and create some dedicated app/window combos that I can trigger with a single shortcut…

I think one of the great features of “Mac power computing” is how individualized it can be. I think we all think/organize ourselves differently - and it’s amazing that there are so many ways to express/achieve that individuality.

1 Like

do you have a photo of how you physically have your monitors set up?

1 Like

I do not have a photo of the home office - I will try to put one up after the new monitors are installed.

This is mobile version of my multi-monitor setup for work while traveling. Main apps go on bottom monitors; reference materials are parked on upper monitors.

1 Like

OK, so your traveling office is where? Galley of the Rocinante?


In an RV