I'm having an interesting week with my computer. Knock wood, so far it's only the good kind of interesting. This weekend I was working on a Word document and I needed to refer to something in a window behind it. I clicked the window I was working in and moved it to the side. All of a sudden, I was in this new desktop! It was just me and my active Word document, and nothing else. No browser with 100 tabs open. No Mail. No iCal.
After I freaked out for a second, I realized that I could just drag the window back towards the edge and return to my original desktop. Upon my "return," the desktop seemed so busy compared to the serenity I had just experienced. I still had no idea what had really happened, so I went to Google and typed in the most ridiculous search term: "second screen feature mac?" Most of the results were actually about using a second monitor with your Apple computer, but this article clarified that what I had stumbled onto was the "multiple desktop" feature within the "Mission Control," which is what Apple calls the window rearrangement function of their operating system. Mission Control is also what enables "corners," which is a feature that allows you to see all the windows open in an application (or on the desktop) just by navigating the mouse arrow to the corner of the screen. Corners is one of the most useful tools in my workflow, because I often move between documents like chronologies or indexes or notes and the document in which I am actively writing.
There are two ways to access Mission Control. The easiest way is to press F3, but I hate taking my hand off the trackpad so I prefer to swipe three fingers upward. All of your open windows are displayed, and you can move them to the desktop you would like to view them in. For example, over the past few days I dedicated a new desktop to grant materials, but all other Word documents opened in desktop 1 (except for my chronology document, which opened in desktop 3 along with my database). When I was finished with writing and editing, I moved the Word documents back to desktop 1 to turn them into PDFs and email them off.
Here are some clear benefits to the "multiple desktop" feature that I've seen so far:
1) Escape the web browser. I often have multiple tabs open in my browser when I'm doing research, and they can distract me from writing. I have now set Safari to only open in my "original" desktop (desktop 1) so that when I'm writing in desktop 2 or reading documents in desktop 3, I do not en up checking my email every time I catch a glimpse at my Gmail account. If I do need to look something up on the web, I can easily swipe three fingers left or right to move between the desktops quickly and easily.
2) Isolate projects or tasks. If I need to focus on one thing, It's nice to have it all together in one place without additional clutter.
3) Novelty. Starting new desktops is fun and keeps life feeling fresh.
There are some drawbacks, of course. When you use corners with multiple desktops you are still shown ALL of the open windows in that application, regardless of which desktop it will open in. If you accidentally click on a window that's active in a different desktop, you get dragged over immediately. So it's not completely isolating or zen. Plus, the icons at the bottom do not disappear when you're not using an app in desktop 2 (or 3, or 4, etc.)--so you are still tempted to click on the Safari compass icon and end up back in the original desktop.
Also, I really think the best thing I could do to minimize distraction would be to shut down all but the bare minimum of windows and focus on what's necessary to get any particular job done. I usually lack the self control to implement that advice, so this multiple desktop feature gets me a few extra minutes of focus without feeling like I'm denying myself the pleasures of the internet and apps.
Has anyone else used this feature? Are there other ways to use it to improve a research workflow? I'd love to know!