Quest For A More Mindful Mac


creating peaceGive me a community that agrees on everything and you might as well give me a fluffy pillow too cause it won’t be very long before boredom creeps in and I’m sawing a log. Disagreement, debate and non-violent conflict are healthy, entertaining and growth fostering. Without them communities often become stale and flat. The Mac community has plenty of disagreement and debate to go around. I’m not sure about violent conflict. Though if you’ve got a story or, even better, a video I’d probably pay for it.

There is one thing I think the Mac community can all agree on, more than one actually, but for the sake of this article one thing in particular. One thing Mac users can all agree on is Macs are easy to use. Buy one, fire it up and in under ten minutes you’ll be connecting your camera and uploading funny faces into iPhoto. Simple, easy, unfettered, no problems. Well, maybe one problem. There’s one problem this ease of use has caused me.

My happy, user-centric Mac has thrown me a dialectical dilemma. It’s too damn easy. It’s a cake walk to add layers upon layers of software, productivity tools, movies, games and pictures. You name it and I’ll toss it into my notebook. I do so because I know it all becomes seamlessly integrated into the whole. My notebook becomes this mini-Borg. It assimilates everything. I’m waiting for the day it downloads me. What I’m left with after the meteorite shower of “stuff” is a scarred landscape of debris. My desktop looks like it’s been carpet bombed with files and bizarre extensions. For the longest time I lived with my chaotic desktop. That is until two months ago when I embarked on a quest to de-clutter my life and eventually my Mac. My wife called it a Zen chic phase. I call it being feed up with layers.

My life had layers upon layers of stuff: books, movies, clothes, furniture, gizmos, gadgets, needs, wants, demands. It was all weighing me down. So I began shaking a lot of it off like a pooch who climbs out of the river. I tossed piles of “stuff,” rearranged our home and my work space to be more minimalistic and started meditating regularly, all in an attempt to live a more integrated lifestyle. Everything seemed to be going fairly well, I wasn’t bumping into a snow capped mountains of books anymore and I shrunk my wants from the sixty-foot Plasma range to the I’ll sit here and stare area, but one thing kept nagging me.

One of the environments I frequently visited, my Mac notebook, was a war zone. It didn’t reflect the quiet minimalism I was attempting to create elsewhere. So I set out to bring a little mindfulness to my Mac and in particular my desktop. What follows are the steps, software and tools I used to create a more mindful Mac. Of course this isn’t the only way to go about it. There’s thousands of ways to whip the Mac into a mindful machine. This just happens to be the method I cobbled together.

Let me first offer a quick list of my method. If you’re a multi-tasking maniac this will save you the five minutes it’ll take to wade through my explanations and penchant for rambling. You can forgive me the one it took you to get to this point.

For A Mindful Mac:

1) Pick a soothing desktop picture
2) Download Quicksilver. Use it.
3) Empty and hide Dock
4) Download ClearDock. Use it.
5) Download Menufela. Use it.
6) Download DesktopSweeper. Use it.
7) Use Apple-Option-H till your fingers bleed.

Okay, now for my more laborious explanations.

Step One: Picking the Desktop Picture (free, typically)

Suppose this goes without saying but the desktop picture sets the mood for your Mac. Picking your picture and most suitable mood is entirely a subjective task. I go for soothing as it’s the frame of mind I need while working but loud, obnoxious and angry are just as appropriate. It’s your call. I will say that Macs come bundled with some fairly decent Abstract desktop pictures, among a batch of other choices, or you can always head to deviantART or Pixelgirl Presents to see what they got on tap. Some may scoff at using a “common” picture. Everyone wants to be original and unique right? Nothing wrong with that. Applications like PhotoDesktop (free) DeskShade ($13)and PhotoStickies ($12) will let you get creative with your desktop or you could simply “steal” a favorite picture or photo via a Google image search and use it as your backdrop. It’s what I did. I use The Giant by N.C. Wyeth as my desktop picture.

Step Two: Download Quicksilver (free)

I’d imagine many people are familiar with and use Quicksilver. When people say it changes the way they use their Mac they’re being literal. It’ll instantly make your computer life simpler and faster. Quicksilver is a powerful application and it’s easy to become lost in its functionality, writing emails with it, controlling iTunes, creating to do lists, baking bread, solving cancer, and ending world hunger. If those tasks seem overwhelming, ending world hunger isn’t exactly a Sunday afternoon drive, you can use Quicksilver as a basic application launcher. Either way it lets you accomplish the third step in creating a mindful Mac.

Step Three: Beating Back the Dock (free)

A) The Dock can become a gluttonous monster if you let it, gobbling every application and folder it can get its pudgy hands on. However, Quicksilver allows you to starve the beast. After downloading Quicksilver I dragged, kicking and screaming, every application out of the Dock. It’s fun. You’ll get the visceral kick of them “Poofing” into space, though it’d be even more enjoyable if the evicted apps made a sound like someone screaming bloody death as they fell down a dank, bottomless pit. Get your kicks whatever way you can I suppose. After killing off all the applications the Dock becomes home to only the applications that are currently being used, though I kept three folders I frequent in there. Whatever works for you, but we now have a simple, mindful Dock. However, it’s still got that extraneous border around it.

B) Does anyone really need that superfluous transparent white border around the Dock? It doesn’t serve a purpose as far as I’m concerned so I ditched it. ClearDock will remove the border and let your Dock icons breath freely as they hoover in space, unconstrained and buoyant. Perfect.

C) Finally, hide the Dock, which you can do from the Apple Menu. Some people prefer to have the Dock showing but I’m lookin’ for an empty aesthetic so the Dock hides. Although I will admit once I completed my mindful Mac makeover having the Dock open looked kinda cool but if you own a Mac you’re hip already right? I figure there’s no need to beat the world over the head with how damn cool one is. Opinions may differ here.

Step Three: Nix the Menu Bar (free)

No reason for the menu bar to be the omnipresent force it is. Menufela, by the beautifully named NinjaKitten, will hide your menu bar and give you a few extra pixels of space. Space facilitates mindfulness. When you want the menu back then go back. Hovering over where the menu should be brings it back with the respective drop downs to whatever application you’re in at the moment. You could also try MenuShade (free) here. I haven’t, but it appears to dim the menu bar. I’m gunning for the void look so I passed it by.

Step Four: Buddha Bust the Desktop (free)

My damn desktop is a friggin’ mess. It’s my own fault for not being organized. So one answer to the madness is personal discipline but why face up to your faults when you can just download some software instead. DesktopSweeper hides the ugly sores on your desktop. Hitting Cmd-Return (it can be changed) turns your screen into blissful, serene emptiness. Hit it again and you’ll be reverted back to your urban jungle. Think of DesktopSweeper as your Holy Rod of Power. One quick flick and it smites into oblivion everything before it. If only they made one for the Mall and that herd of cell phone talking sorority girls that passes by my porch once a day.

Step Five: Banish the Window Madness (free)

We’ve all become lost in that dense wood of windows. You have seven applications open, five text documents and a few photos you’re hacking to death. Expose helps beat back the undergrowth to some extent. At least it lets you see what you have open, but it’s always felt clumsy to me. Typically I know what’s out there. I only want it all to go away so I can focus on one thing, not a billion. I use Expose but it’s more fun as a showpiece for family and friends who still live in the Dark Ages. “Oh, wow that’s cool,” they’ll say and then I’ll tell them, “Yeah I did that see” like I’m somehow controlling the computer with my mind. Kids fall for it but adults get bored after a few go arounds and invariably ask, “What else can it do.”

There’s applications out there, like Spirited Away, that’ll fade or hide your windows. This helps but I’ve come to use the Apple-Option-H method. Hitting this key combination hides all the windows lurking beneath the surface. It’s quick. It’s easy and if I want a different window I just drop down to the Dock which houses all my open apps. It might not be the speediest or most efficient method but it’s clean which is what I’m aiming for.

And that’s it folks.

Five Steps or seven, depending on the list, to a more mindful Mac. You could always round out the whole mindfulness affair with Dejial’s Time Out!. It’ll give you a visual or ITunes enabled audio reminder to stop banging the damn keys and savor the world around and inside you for a moment. That or say hello to your wife who you’ve been communicating to with grotesque grunts and nods of your head for three days cause, you know, some people do that.

Here’s a look at my desktop once the renovations were completed. I used one of Apple’s Abstract Wallpapers for a more ethereal mood.

a mindful mac

As I said in the beginning of this post there’s a thousand ways to go about creating a more mindful, serene Mac. This method is simply one way. If you’ve got tricks, tips or software you use to make your Mac a more peaceful environment speak up and share. The beauty of it all is you can’t do it wrong and no way is the right way. Well, suppose if you blow your computer into small fragments and dust you may have missed the boat somewhere, but the compass in matters such as these is usually what works best for you.




Menufela, where are you?

Does this app work in Leopard?

Where can I find it? The link seems to be broken!

Could somebody please e-mail it to me?

Thank you


Not much on my mind. I don’t care. I’ve just been letting everything happen without me , but shrug. Whatever. I feel like a void.


I’m a Quicksilver kind of guy, using the Menu interface – it pops down nicely and takes up as much space as the Menu Bar, rather than covering a good chunk of screen in the middle. Also, I use the Preference Pane Dashprefs to disable the uber-distraction that is the Dashboard. I can’t forget Witch, either – it allows you to Alt-Tab but between individual windows instead of just the big application logos.


To each, his own Mac :)
OS X is customizable enough that it can be used with multiple “styles” of work without a problem. It’s full of tools that can be used in a myriad of ways. It’s fun!

james dear

Sure, the desktop is for dropping stuff; but I do prefer the Desktop as a Finder Window rather than as Desktop-&-Background image (as Finder Window, it’s more practical, even for drag & drop, displays a lot more information, offers easier access to different folders in the sidebar …).

I’m all for a PathFinder-like Finder replacement, where the Desktop-with-Background image simply has gone.

It’s surely nice to have a nice background image, but I want my mac to be 100% productive, so I can have time to find mindfulness away from it – so to speak.

Moreover, I wouldn’t want to go through 5 to 7 steps to reduce Desktop clutter, only to fill it with clutter again. Not good for my nerves.

Things are either filed in a temp folder, or copied into iClip, or filed properly at once.

I rarely see a desktop picture these days – and I really wonder why I’d have to, that’s all.

C. Wess Daniels

I am going to do as you suggested with my 12inch ibook as soon as i get home. This was a great article and it made me feel like I was reading a spiritual reflection, which I personally enjoy. Thanks.


I0One is correct also; any items on your desktop should have a half-life of no longer than one day. If I start having more than one column of icons on my desktop I get to a-filin’.


…just remember to move anything on the Desktop to its own, proper place after you finish with it :)

Amos Moses Griffin

Myles- I’ll have to read that rant. I like rants. I’m with you I think there’s a ton of ways to customize the Mac.

James – you make a good point. to some degree it’s an aesthetic feel i’m gunning for. the minimal look does make my writing easer and more enjoyable. does it make me more productive? i’d like to say so but it could be the illusion of productivity. i’m to close to it to tell. l0ne makes a great point about the desktop so…

l0ne – thank you for saying it so much better than i could have. indeed, if i had even thought of saying it.


The desktop is The Universal Drop Target. Need to drop anything anywhere? To keep a note? To make an alias to a site or folder you don’t quite want in your favorites? Simply drag it to the big backdrop image below. (Encouraging desktop use is one of the reasons Mac windows are so many and small — the desktop always manages to “shine through” this way, at the sides of the Dock if nowhere else. And if you truly need all the space you c an get, 10.3 gave use the only thing the Mac lacked when compared to a Win98 PC: an equivalent of Win D, “Show Desktop”. And it works better than the PC’s too, being bindable to a screen corner and thus perfect for drag & drop.)

james dear

That sure is a beautiful desktop, and an interesting read – which actually makes me wonder: what other functions, apart from the mindfulness-inducing emptiness, does the desktop have?

I have an uncluttered desktop (I read it helps to speed up your Mac a bit), but I must admit I hardly ever see it in daily life. And I feel no need to: its limited functionality compared to what you can do with Finder Windows, Smart Folders, Quicksilver, Witch and Spotlight makes it, apart from eye candy, actually rather useless to me.

I wondered whether your quest for a mindful desktop wasn’t provoked by pretty much the same idea: apart from looking good, what pro use could one do with the desktop?


I’m all for quicksilver/launchbar/whatever but I gotta say I am a HUGE fan of the dock. I find it useful, good looking and it stays out of my way enough at it’s tiniest size on my 20″ cinema.

I must be the only one.


Gene Steinberg went on a rant today about Mac users’ “relative inability to customize their computers, except in a limited fashion”. I countered that the way to customize a Mac is to customize Mac OS X.

Thanks for providing an excellent example of a customized Mac.

Amos Moses Griffin

Thanks to Chris, l0ne, Casey and Tina for the application Tips. I’ll give them all a try.

@Dan- You’re totally right I should have mentioned Alt-Tab. I use it as much as the Dock. Slipped my mind but nice call. And I can see how the magnifying Dock would be distracting but I like it. It feels like a little roller coaster. I’m stuck on it.

@Nick- I just started using Virtue Desktops. I’m still getting a hang of it. Easy enough to switch windows but it’s a new workflow to me and then binding apps and all that. I like it so far but we’ll see if it sticks. It’s so easy to slip back to what you feel comfortable with.

@Tina- I’ll be a slave to the genius that creates a DesktopSweeper or DeskShade for house cleaning.

@Richard – bummer but I appreciate the heads up. It would have been a bit jarring without your notice.

@l0ne- I agree. A little bit of discipline goes a long way and is probably the place to begin when decluttering. I always shoot myself in the foot though. I get exponentially messier the closer I get to my computer. I’ll check out Afloat for sure.

josue- many thanks.

Casey- you know it’s a good point. sometimes you need to let go of the need to be organized. it’s easy to let organization become an obession which defeates the emotional purpose a bit. disorder and chaos can be fun no?

Casey Koons

A Question of Modes.

I agree with everything in the above post. But I have found that there are times when I use my computer that I not only don’t mind the distracting menu-dock-expose-million windows usage, but I like it (or at the very least I have to use it, when file juggling.)

I started using megaZOOMER a few weeks ago and I’m hooked. When I want focus it’s CMD-Enter and the Dock and Menu disapper, the window becomes the Screen itself. When I want back into the busy cluttered mode, I just switch back.

It works flawlessly with all Cocoa apps.


I prefer — a lot — discipline to parlor tricks such as DesktopSweeper. Organizing things can be a pain, but in the end makes everything much better. And it leaves the desktop mostly free.

Huh, may I also suggest Afloat? Disclaimer: I’m the developer.

Richard Neal

Sorry to break your gratis streak, but Menufela isn’t free. I was using it for a week, and enjoying the serenity it bestows upon my Mac, when it jarringly alerted me to pay $5. Nothing could be done to salvage it without paying.

Tina Huggins

Nice article! I hate cluttery desktops, and am always looking for ways to keep junk off of it. (Unfortunately, my house is a another matter. Tackling the clutter in my closet is much more intimidating: you’re my hero.) Note that DeskShade also has the option of hiding all of your icons. I was using almost exclusively for this purpose for a while.

Nick Santilli

Good thoughts.

It’s probably just me – and because I am Quicksilver’s slave… – but everytime there’s some article about how to use your mac more efficiently/cleanly/what-have-you, Quicksilver is smack dab in the middle. Can’t live without it.

The only thing I generally do differently from your post, is rather than hiding the apps, I use Virtual Desktops and put my work in different desktops to keep it separate. works well for me – but to each his own.


Get rid of that dock Grow behavior…that’s waay distracting too…


Use the application switcher Alt Tab instead of the dock; you’re using Quicksilver already to eliminate mouse strokes; go all the way and switch apps with the keyboard too!

Within the switcher if you hold down Command and press H or Q you can command your apps to quit, hide, etc.

Chris Caldwell

Knockoutdock is an application that will hide the dock under the menubar, gaining back some valuable screen real-estate (especially for those on 12″ screens). I like the placement as I am less likely to activate the dock accidently (vs. hiding it off the bottom or side of the screen).

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