How to Set Up Mission Control in Mac and Make It Work for You

Mac OS X Mission Control allows users to have multiple desktops for better workflow with one monitor.

Mac OS X’s Mission Control is an exceptionally useful feature that lends itself very well to a multi-tasking/multi-application workflow, all within the small footprint of a single monitor. In this article we will show the various ways to customize and master Mission Control so that it works well for you and improves your productivity.

Customizing Mission Control

1. In your Mac open “System Preferences -> Mission Control.”

Use Mac OS X's System Preferences to set the working environment for Mission Control.

2. Check “Group windows by application.” This will help you see what similar applications should be sent to their own desktop.

Setting Mission Control to group windows by application will help you organize your workflow better.

3. Also, select the “As Space” option for your Dashboard widgets (e.g. Weather, Calculator, Unit Converter, Movies, etc.).

Use Mac OS X Dashboard widgets for quick and useful tasks like Dictionary, Weather, and Movies.

4. Finally, if you’re using an older Mac desktop or laptop, you will want to assign the function keys “F5” and “F6” to the “Show Desktop” and “Show Dashboard” commands. This way “F3” brings up Mission Control (alternatively use the keyboard combo “Control + up arrow”), “F4” brings up Launch Pad (an iOS-like way of organizing your applications), “F5” brings up Desktop (sans the application windows which allows you to quickly see what files and folders you’re keeping there), and “F6” brings up your Dashboard for access to useful aforementioned widgets.

Customizing Your Desktops

Now that you have tweaked Mission Control’s preferences for optimal use, it’s time to make some desktops to create function-specific workspaces to improve your workflow.

A typical arrangement could look like the following:

  • Desktop #1 – Productivity Workspace (e.g. Adobe Photoshop or MS Word).
  • Desktop #2 – Communications Workspace (e.g. Mac Mail or GMail)
  • Desktop #3 – Social Media Workspace (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  • Desktop #4 – Entertainment Workspace (e.g. iTunes or Spotify)

1. Press “Control + Up arrow” or “F3.”

2. Click the “+” symbol on the upper-right side of the screen to add additional desktops.

3. Dashboard will have its own desktop as well as any current application that you’re working on at the moment when you invoke Mission Control.

4. Use “Control + right arrow” to go to Desktop #2. Right-click your mouse and select “Change Desktop Background.” Do this for all of your desktops so that visually you know which desktop (and their assigned applications) you’re on.

Assign Applications to Their Own Desktops

1. Go back to Desktop #1 by using “Control + Left arrow.”

2. Launch all of the applications that you want to use, e.g. Photoshop, Google Chrome, Mac Mail or a web-based email client, iTunes, Spotify.

3. Re-engage Mission Control via “Control + Up arrow” or “F3.”

4. Drag each application up to its own desktop. For example: Photoshop on Desktop #1, Facebook on Desktop #2, Mail on Desktop #3, and iTunes on Desktop #4. Then select any desktop that you want to use.

Mission Control takes all of your open applications and helps you organize them into individual desktops.

5. Use “Control + Right arrow” and “Control + Left arrow” to very quickly switch between desktops.

Use MC in Slow Motion

1. Hold down the “Shift” key when invoking function keys “F3,” “F4,” and “F5.” This will make your screens move in slow motion (including transitioning between Mission Control, Launch Pad, and Dashboard). This could be helpful if you have a lot of applications running, and you need to slow down and take a look at what you actually need.


You will find that when you start working this way – assigning applications to their own desktops, switching between desktops as you work from one application to another, using quick and helpful widgets like Unit Converter or Dictionary in Dashboard, or finding the application you need the most based on function in Launch Pad – all of this becomes second nature making your workflow incredibly efficient.

And there are additional benefits such as when your boss comes around the corner while you are idling away on Facebook located on Desktop #3. You can use an instantaneous “Control + Left arrow” (twice) and you are back on Photoshop editing that background image for the banner ad you’re supposed to be working on. And they’ll never be the wiser. Mission accomplished!

Nick Iandolo
Nick Iandolo

Nick Iandolo is a Boston-based professional corporate MarComm writer, journalist, and author. He writes articles about pop-culture events such as comic cons, movie reviews, local film and TV industry news, Boston and international travel, and technology blogs. He is currently working on a science-based children's adventure chapter book series.

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