Jump to the How to part

I bought a 13″ MacBook Pro in 2009 with the expectation that I would save again and buy a 27″ Cinema Display so I could actually get work done. While I still covet the larger screen I’ve been able to manage just fine with the smaller built in one. How can I get anything accomplished on a 1280×800 screen you ask?


Spaces is a feature of OS X (since Leopard) that enables you to create and switch between multiple desktops. I use three, although you can create up to 16, and I use the different desktops as dedicated places for different types of apps. Safari stays on desktop 1. Coda 2 and Dash are on desktop 2. Photoshop/Illustrator/Acorn are on Desktop 3. All other apps are called up and closed as I need them, no matter what space I’m on.

It’s not a perfect scenario but I’ve found that it works for me and I have established muscle memory for switching between desktops quickly and performing tasks on the active windows with keyboard shortcuts. It’s now just the way I work.

Adding a new dual screen set up

When I started working for Webster I got a different set up. A 24″ iMac and a 23″ Cinema Display as a second monitor. Sweet, I thought, no more switching between desktops I have tons of space now. Turns out, more screen real estate just means more open windows and a huge unorganized mess. Out of habit I would use my keyboard shortcuts while doing web work to try and switch between Safari and Coda and get frustrated when I had to ⌘+ Tab 10 times to get back to the app I wanted instead.

I had tried Spaces with multiple displays before Mavericks and I was annoyed that when you switched desktops both screens would switch as one. I actually said to one of my current co-workers how much I wished that Spaces could be display independent.

I went to Mission Control in the System Preferences anyway and my heart actually leapt when I saw this screen:

Dual Screen setting in Spaces

I could now use two desktops on the newer, crisper iMac screen (for code, browser testing, Photoshop/Acorn etc) and keep the 23″ Cinema Display reserved for DayOne (time tracking), Reminders (tasks), nvAlt (text files) and any window I need as reference for the work I’m doing on the main screen. I’m really happy with this set up and I’m starting to save again for that 27″ display to use at home.

In my experience the multiple display support in Mavericks is a big step forward.

The How To Part

With two or more displays connected go to your machine’s System Preferences and click on Mission Control in the top line of icons. On that screen, ensure that “Displays have separate Spaces” is checked.

Dual Screen setting in Spaces

You can now activate Mission Control by using the keyboard shortcut specified in the lower portion of that same Mission Control settings screen (seen above). Alternatively, you can enable mouse and track pad gestures to call up Mission Control. Just visit the Mouse and Trackpad areas under your System Preferences.

Once you access Mission Control, adding new Desktops is as simple as moving your mouse towards to top right corner of the screen and clicking on the +

Mission Control

Customizing Further

The way I typically switch between my Spaces is by using a keyboard shortcut that moves me to a desktop either left or right of the one I’m currently on.

To do this:

–> go to Keyboard in your System Preferences window.

–> click on Shortcuts in the top menu.

–> Select Mission Control from the list on the left and look for “Mission Control” with an expander arrow on the right.

–> Inside that list you’ll find “Move left a space” and “Move right a space.”

–> Set up your own preferred keyboard shortcut by selecting an action from the list on the right and then clicking on the existing shortcut (it will say “none” if there isn’t a shortcut already set up.)

–> Hold down your preferred key combo and you’re in business – mine are alt + → and alt + ←