How to use Mission Control to optimize macOS operation

Mission Control can significantly improve your daily efficiency. Here's how to ensure you're making the most of the time-saving macOS feature.

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Image: GetUp_Studio, Getty Images/iStockphoto

My dad once told me there are features you can live without, that is, until you use them, at which point there's no going back. He was referring to the rear window defroster on a 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix, but the same proves true for using macOS' Mission Control

When mated to a keyboard, hot-corner, or mouse-button shortcut, Mission Control becomes an incredibly potent feature that enables near-instant access to hidden windows (Figure A). In a hectic, frenetic professional environment in which I often find myself working four to five problems at a time, Mission Control has become a required time-saving function that I cannot live without.

Figure A

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macOS' Mission Control instantly collects numerous windows into a single view that permits immediately accessing a lost app.

Erik Eckel

We've all been there. Maybe you're researching and collecting data for a report while also updating an expense spreadsheet, for which you need to log into a credit card portal online first to confirm a date or access a receipt. Before you can log in to the credit card portal, you see a headline that arrests your attention, and maybe you're in the process of reading the story when you receive an instant message in Microsoft Teams requesting information from a specific service ticket. While logging in to the service ticket platform, you receive a phone call asking you to confirm someone's phone number, which is in Microsoft Outlook, which is itself now buried by multiple other open windows.

This is no exaggerated scenario--I often find myself with 10 or more open windows, and my macOS memory usage hovering around 80%. From conversations with and observations of other professionals, I know the problem is common and shared.

SEE: 10 essential apps and utilities for your Mac (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Were you caught in such an episode, your Mac Desktop may, in fact, be so cluttered you can't even see a portion of the active Microsoft Outlook window to click upon to draw the app forward, thereby enabling you to access the contact information needed. This is where Mission Control shines. Just hit the F3 key on a compatible Mac keyboard, direct the mouse to a hot corner you've programmed to launch Mission Control, or, if you're using a programmable mouse such as Logitech's MX Master 2S, just click the base left button, configured as shown in Figure B, and, voila, macOS instantly pulls all open windows into view. You can also place the Mission Control app in the macOS Dock.

Figure B

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A programmable mouse makes easy work of returning to a lost window, thanks to the ability to program Mission Control access as an option.

Erik Eckel

If you're not using a programmable mouse, and you don't want to have to clutter the Dock with an additional placeholder for Mission Control, you may program a hot corner. Using a hot corner preset, all you need to do is place the mouse in the pre-specified corner, and the macOS Mission Control feature will activate.

To set a hot corner, open System Preferences by clicking its Dock icon or double-clicking the app within Finders within the Applications folder. Click Mission Control, and then click the Hot Corners button in the lower left corner of the window. Specify which corner should launch Mission Control, such as the lower right corner (Figure C).

Figure C

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macOS users can program a hot corner, should they wish, permitting custom Mission Control access.

Erik Eckel

I'm not as much a fan of these other methods of accessing Mission Control, though, as I am in favor of leveraging the programmable mouse button. Having to move the mouse all the way to a corner or even to the Dock is wasted ergonomic motion. The ability to simply press a mouse button and instantly draw all windows into view is a little victory I repeat some eight to 10 times a day. And while those are only little victories, the volume with which the action is repeated throughout the day, day after day, week after week, makes Mission Control one of the most effective shortcuts and time-saving features I know.

Give Mission Control a try. I believe you'll find it can save you time and energy, over and over, too.

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