Too Many Windows? Use OSX’s Spaces

Do you ever find yourself doing the same small task over and over again, wishing you could find a way to make the process more efficient?

Over time, as I have done more and more editing, I keep noticing those little things that add up when they are done over and over again, hour after hour, day after day.

In the next few posts, I’d like to spend some time describing some of those areas of “friction” and how I have attempted to solve them. I’d love to hear from you about the things that slow you down and the strategies you’ve found to overcome them—please leave a comment and join the conversation! (Note that while I use a Mac, I’ve also included Windows alternatives for most of my solutions.)

Too Many Windows!

As you open applications and organize your computer desktop at the beginning of the project, do you find the screen covered with windows, making it difficult to find what you need? While command-tab will switch applications and command-tilde will switch windows, sometimes that is not enough to stay organized. Of course, editing on a twenty-seven-inch monitor might solve the problem, but what if you want to work at a coffeeshop? Here’s where Spaces comes in.

Using OSX’s Spaces

I edit on a thirteen-inch Macbook. I like the white unibody Macbook because it is fast enough for my everyday use but is now more than four years old, making it less of a target for thieves when I am out and about.

The thirteen-inch screen is fine for a single editing window, but it becomes crowded when I have an array of editing resources open at the same time. I usually have the following windows open at the same time when I am in the midst of a copyediting project. (In later posts I’ll describe how and why I use these apps, but for now I’d like to focus on the window setup.)

  1. The file I am editing (in Word 2011) Here’s an Amazon affiliate link in case you are interested: Office Mac Home and Student 2011 – 1PC/1User [Download]
  2. The style sheet (in Word 2011)
  3. the bibliography or reference list (if I am editing an academic text)
  4. OfficeTime (an excellent program that keeps track of the time I spend on any particular project)
  5. Merriam-Webster’s Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (as a standalone app)
  6. The Chicago Manual of Style (as tab in Firefox or in a Fluid window)
  7. Amazon (as a tab in Firefox)
  8. WorldCat (as a tab in Firefox)
  9. Mailplane (an email app for gmail; running in the background)
  10. The Chicago Manual of Style hyphenation table (as pdf)
  11. House style (in Preview, depending on the publisher for whom I’m working)
  12. Vitamin-R running in the menubar (Vitamin-R is an app to help focus your attention. I use it to support my use of the Pomodoro technique; there are free apps that do something similar, including Focus Booster, which I used to use)

So many windows! If all of those windows were open at the same time on a thirteen-inch screen, I’d be overwhelmed. But with Spaces, which is built into OSX, the whole thing works seamlessly.

Here is how I have my Spaces set up:

Space 1

MS Word 2011
– main editing file in center of screen
– style sheet in upper right quadrant
– bibliography in center left

– project window in lower right corner

You can see from the screenshot what this looks like “in action.”

Space 1 screenshot

Space 2

Mailplane in left three-quarters of screen

Firefox overlapping with Mailplane, but in right three-quarters of screen
– Chicago Manual of Style tab open
– WorldCat tab open
– Amazon tab open

Again, from the screenshot you can see what this Space looks like when it is set up.

Space 2 screenshot

Space 3

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary

Chicago Manual of Style hyphenation table

This Space is a bit less crowded and I can use it for other things if I need to open another app while I’m working.

Space 3 screenshot

Using the Spaces

I have keyboard shortcuts set to switch from one Space to another (control–1, control–2, and control–3), so it takes only a fraction of a second to switch, all while keeping my fingers on the keyboard. Vitamin-R runs in the menu bar of all three Spaces, providing a countdown timer to help focus my attention (a la the Pomodoro system, which I’ll discuss in a later post).

If you are working on a PC, there’s a program called Dexpot that emulates OSX’s Spaces. I have tried it (though not tested it extensively), and it seems to do the job.

I find my system works so well for me that I have never been tempted to move to a larger monitor or a multimonitor setup. In fact, I have a twenty-inch monitor on my desk and have tried it a number of times, always returning to the thirteen-inch screen.

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