The Zen of a 3-Icon Dock
Or how to be completely in control of your mac with a hidden and minimal dock.
I remember back in 2008, when my family bought our first mac (a base model iMac), how having the dock full of icons was a must. I remember showcasing the entire Adobe Suite (even though I could barely use only a couple of their apps) together with any imaginable browser, the full iWork suite and so on. I wish I had a screengrab of my desktop at the time.
Fast forward 12 years, I have grown out of my 16-year old self and I am rocking a 2015 MacBook Pro. The difference between these two machines? Well, specs aside, I have completely reworked the way I use my mac and, as you can see from the featured imagine, I have an empty (and hidden) dock containing only the Finder icon, the Downloads folder and the Trashcan. How is this setup more efficient than my previous one? As most things, a combination of different tweaks makes this setup extremely fast. So, let’s start from the beginning.
Launch at Start-up
This might seem obvious to many of you, but it all starts here. Setting up properly the number of apps that automatically launch at start-up is a huge timesaver and something we should all spend some time tweaking. My start-up sequence is pretty simple, I try to always have an updated list of apps that I will always need open, no matter the task I am about to perform.
- Things — Stunning task manager that recently replaced TickTick in my daily workflow. Well designed, stable, reliable… a must have! I use this for any task whether work related or not, so I need it to be always ready to be summoned.
- Fantastical 2 — Calendar replacement app. Not a big fan due to the current shift to a subscription-based model, but my previous app purchase grants me a subscription-free licence with limited features. Again, essential tool in my every-day routine.
- Backup and sync from Google & OneDrive — Two sides of the same coin. In order to handle both my personal cloud space and my university storage, I need to run both these apps. They are quite light, and don’t bother me that much, but they always need to be running in order to provide seamless sync.
- f.lux — Alternative to macOS’s native Night Shift. It’s free, it’s more featured, and I’ve been using it for at least the past 5 years. A must.
- Amphetamine — Useful menu bar app that prevents the mac from going to sleep in one click.
- Paste — Clipboard manager that makes your life so much easier. In order to be useful, it needs to be always running in the background. Manage previously copied elements, sequence pasting and organise your clips in pinboards. Again, the app recently switched to a subscription-based model but my previous purchase grants me a subscription-free use of the app until 2022. We’ll see how things pan out.
- Magnet — Window organiser that goes hand-in-hand with macOS’s native window tiling. Once you learn a few essential shortcuts you’ll be multitasking like a pro.
- Hazel — The icon says it all: a duster! Hazel is an automated organization tool that makes it easy to automate tasks. I use it to have an automatic deep app sweep when uninstalling an app, auto converting HEIC images to JPG when airdropping them from my phone, and much more.
- Backblaze — seamless cloud backup service.
- Bartender 3 — And finally, last but not least, a menu bar icon organiser. I kept this one for last because it ties neatly with the next section. Most apps that I launch at start-up have a neat little menu bar icon that serves as an app controller / setting tweaker. Bartender is essential to hide all the unnecessary icons, show them only when they are updating, and keep the overall look of your mac as clean as possible.
Having the mac auto launch these 11 apps / utilities at start-up makes my workflow much smoother. At start-up, everything that needs to be synced will start syncing, and all of the background tasks that I’m used to working with are ready to be summoned.
However, launching apps at start-up is not the only trick up my sleeve. As I just spoiled in my Bartender description, the second tool to a smooth macOS workflow lies at the top of our screens. Enter the menu bar.
Using and Optimising the Menu Bar
- Your app will be always one click away no matter what you have on screen. No need to focus on the app’s window or move away from what you’re doing.
- The app you have available in the menu bar is a distilled essential version of the app. All of the main functionality will be easily available, whilst the deep setting will always be stored in the settings menu.
Even though the advantages of the menu bar are obvious, it can also get quite crowded quite easily. I suggest you use Bartender or any valid alternative to hide icons that are not being used. In this way you will have all the functionality of the menu bar without having to live with too many icons clogging your top bar.
Spotlight — the secret weapon
All that has been said above wouldn’t be enough to improve drastically one’s workflow on a mac and wouldn’t justify an empty dock. Enter spotlight.
Spotlight is macOS’ powerful search feature that lets one summon any kind of file or application through a simple text search. Spotlight can be accessed from its magnifying glass icon on the top right of the screen, but most importantly it can be summoned through a really quick and easy shortcut.
cmd + space
This shortcut is what this article is mostly about. Thanks to Spotlight I am able to launch any app installed on my mac by simply typing its name or, most of the times, the first few letters of the name and hitting enter. Any time I need to launch an app, I simply press “cmd + space” to summon the Spotlight bar and start typing the name of the app itself. As soon as I see the app icon appear, I press the return key and the app will launch. Even though this seems like a pretty lengthy process, with time you’ll get extremely fast and you’ll be able to launch apps in a fraction of a second.
The benefits of this workflow is an overall cleaner look (essential for my eye) and a tidier dock. If you end up having to unhide the dock to select an app for any reason, you’ll only see the open apps, and this will make the hunt much quicker.
I hope these three tips will make your macOS workflow smoother, and please let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions on how to improve the workflow even more.