using spaces as blinders

July 29, 2008 | 4 Comments

This is part of an ongoing series called Blinders where I explore some of the ways I streamline my computer workflows to minimize distractions.

I’m often surprised by how many Mac users I see that aren’t using Spaces. It does require a new way of thinking about the desktop, but once you have put it to work for you, you too will ache when you use a machine without it.

I use Spaces as a means of removing distractions. I am able to focus in on what I am working on, while still having other programs available for quick access if I need them. For example, I am writing this blog entry right now in Ecto, which is the only program visible on my screen. However, I have Leap, Yojimbo, Firefox, Mail, NetNewsWire, iChat, iTunes and OmniFocus all running close by, tucked away in other spaces.

I have found it works best to assign a general purpose to each space. I use the default set up of four spaces of two rows and two columns (pictured to the left). This allows me to switch between any two spaces with a single keystroke. Here’s how I put each space to use:

  • Production (Space 1) – I reserve this space as a main workspace. If I am doing any work in Scrivener, Pages, the Adobe suite, etc., it goes here. If I have more than one app open in this space (which is more often than I would like to admit to), then that tells me I’m not very focused and I need to hone in on a single project.
  • Reference (Space 2) – Space 2 is used for general reference of items I want to have close at hand, such as my notes, tasks or calendar. Yojimbo, OmniFocus, iCal, and iTunes are all assigned to open in this space.
  • Tinkering (Space 3) – This space kind of serves as an overflow space. Similar to the tinkering context, it is a space for things which don’t require as much focus as the Production space. This is where my web browser usually is found, and often Leap or Finder are open in this space as well. There are no apps assigned to this space, but I often drag an app down to it from Space 1 if I need to clear some things away.
  • Communications (Space 4) – Other than Firefox, just about any program that ties me in with others is contained in Space 4. Mail, iChat, NetNewsWire and Twitterific all have been assigned a home here. These are some of my most critical apps, but also some of the most distracting. It helps to cluster them all together.

A few weeks after I set up Spaces, I recognized that it would be more useful if I was intentional with it. That’s when I put this plan in place, expecting I might need to tweak it. For the most part, it’s been working. This system might not work for you, but it can give you an idea of how you can organize spaces for your own creative workflow.

  • Pat

    John, this is good stuff. I absolutely LOVE Spaces, although I find that it’s hard for me sometimes since I switch between being at a desk (and dual-monitor, with the primary monitor being the non-laptop one), and mobile with one monitor.

    When I’m dual-monitor, somtimes I want the browsers on the primary menu always, and sometimes I want them in a space.

    But other than this flexiblity in my workspace causing problems with how I use Spaces, I love ’em.

  • John

    Pat,
    I hear you. I actually find that I don’t plug in my second monitor as much at my desk because of Spaces. (It doesn’t help that the LED display on my MacBook Pro makes my monitor look like Atari 2600 on a tube TV.)

    The main thing I’ve probably used the external for in recent months is to watch a movie on the second display while I’m working. 🙂

  • you’ve inspired me to try this again… though i have the second monitor issue too but i am not in my office nearly as much as i am in some starbucks or coffee shop…

  • Charlie

    I’ve used Spaces for a few months now, and while I don’t really see a HUGE jump in productivity, it still is one of those cool techie features that are so much fun to play around with :p

    Anyway, here are my spaces:
    1-Itunes: Self-explanatory. I might add Twitterific to this soon.
    2-Research: This includes Safari/Firefox , and IPhoto (so I can quickly upload photos from the interwebz). Dictionary used to be part of this, but it’s Wikipedia function has been acting strangely on my IMac lately.
    3-PDA: In other words, my Mail, ICal, and Address Book space.
    4-Work: This is where Textedit (I’m too poor to upgrade to Pages), Iweb, and Openoffice lie.
    5-Homeschooling/Games: I know this sounds weird to put together, but that’s how I do it (I rarely run any games nowadays, anyway). Macsword (an open-source Bible app) is here so I can study my verses, and I always am using my DVD Player to watch lectures.
    6-“Finding”: This includes Finder, Quicksilver (so I can quickly assign triggers) and a bunch of other utilities (HP Server, for example).

    Whatcha think of this, John?