Work More Efficiently By Using Spaces and Login Items

by Matt

No matter how long you’ve owned your Mac, you’ve probably faced the dreaded decision at least once in your workday: to restart or not to restart? Sadly, for many of us, the answer must be to restart. Software installations (especially Apple’s software updates) often require you to restart. If you have an older Mac running the latest version of Mac OS X and/or with little RAM, you’ve probably noticed that your machine slows down after several hours or days of use, even if you quit the applications. Heck, for daily use, there’s no bigger drain on your processor or RAM than your web browser, with all those Flash animations running, and yet, how can you function without Safari or Firefox, right?

Thus, we often find ourselves in the position of needing to restart our computers, and even though that only takes a minute or two, we often feel the poss of productivity is too great. By the time you need to shut down, you probably have half a dozen critical applications open, each with an open document or two, and you wince at the thought of the time it will take you to open each application and document to get back to where you were before the restart.

In this short tutorial, I will try to help you become more efficient with a restart. It won’t solve everything, and it’s not GTD compliant, but I hope it will allow you to feel better about having to do a restart. For those of you interested in becoming GTDers or increasing productivity, I highly recommend checking out Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders and his original post on Getting Things Done.

There are two things we will do in this tutorial first, we will set up applications in different Spaces. If you hate Spaces, feel free to skip to the next section. Second, we will add applications and documents to our login items so that our frequently used “stuff” will be opened upon restart. That way, when you have finished the tutorial, you can confidently restart your machine, knowing your most treasured applications and documents will open to their respective Spaces upon a dreaded reboot.

Setting Up Spaces

While I am not going to explain every detail of Spaces, I am going to show you how to set them up. Basically, Spaces are virtual desktops. You’re looking at this web page in a web browser right now, and your browser window is sitting somewhere on your monitor’s visual space. Of course, that space is limited. There’s only so many windows (in so many sizes) you can see at once on your screen.

If you’re like me, you might hide applications often so that you don’t see the edges of 20 other windows, but the reality is that unless you work with only one application at a time, you probably wish you had several more monitors. Spaces lets you pretend you have more monitors by creating virtual desktops. You can put certain applications or windows in a virtual desktop, and when you switch to another desktop, those other windows stay put.

This means that you can group windows into appropriate spaces based on whatever workflow you prefer. Let’s take a look at the Spaces System Preference:

Spaces System Preference

This is the window you get when you open System Preferences, click on the Expose & Spaces preference, then click on the Spaces tab. By default, you get four virtual desktops, but you can add more by adjusting the row and column size.

You’re going to want some way to switch between the desktops, of course, and that’s why I’ve drawn the arrow. You can put a Spaces icon in the menu bar and/or you can switch using a key combination. On my machine, I hold down the Control key, then click an arrow (up, down, left, right) to switch among the desktops.

Lastly, and most importantly, we need to start putting applications in the Applications Assignments. You do this with the plus and minus buttons. As you can see from my window, I’ve added four applications I reguarly use: Firefox for web browsing, Mail for email, OmniFocus for task management, and Pages for writing.

Each of those applications is going to open in a different space. While I can manage those four applications in one space, I’d rather not. In my email space, I can have open several emails with project instructions. In Pages, I can have open multiple documents I’m working on. In my internet tab, I’ll have Firefox open with several tabs (and possibly iChat, Cyberduck, and others). I like to have OmniFocus available to be viewed at all times, since I run most projects out of it. Here’s a top-down view of my four spaces:

Spaces

Figure out what kind of work flow you need to have and set up your spaces accordingly. You can have as many applications per space as you like; I’ve simply put one in each to show you the layout. Once you’ve done this, let’s move onto the last step.

Add Frequently Used Applications and Documents to Your Login Items

Going back to the moment before you restarted your computer, you probably had a bunch of applications and documents open, most of which you use frequently. For me, it’s not just the applications but also a few reference PDFs I need to have open, a spreadsheet, and some XML documents. I can add some or all of these to my login items so that they automatically open when my computer restarts. Here’s how:

Open System Preferences and click on Accounts. From there, click on your account name and then the Login Items. From here, we can add applications and documents by using the plus and minus buttons.

Login Items

One other check box you’ll notice is the Hide box. If you check this, your application will open when you start the computer, but all of its windows will be hidden until you click on it. After you’ve added your items, you can simply quit System Preferences, restart, and enjoy the fact your computer has set up your applications and spaces for enhanced productivity!

A few notes: If you’ve set up your applications in Spaces, your login items will respect these, so when you restart, the applications will open in the correct spaces. If you’ve added documents to the login items, each document will open with its default application, which basically means if you were to double click the document from the Finder, whichever application opens to use that document will be the same one that opens when your computer starts up.

Did this tutorial help improve your productivity? Make it worse? Do you have other suggestions for people in a similar boat? Discuss in the comments.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 David Kieras April 3, 2009 at 7:07 am

A good intro to how to assign apps to spaces and automatically start them. But I haven’t been able to figure out something that would make spaces and login items a lot handier. How do I get my Finder folder windows to be in their former spaces when I log back in? I almost always open certain Finder folder windows in space 1 to work with my email, others in space 3 with Xcode, etc. Then if I logout, and then log back on, I see that all the previously open FInder windows are now in space 1 and have to be manually repositioned to their proper spaces to resume work.

Is there some way to do this automatically?

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