I find Spaces to be a very useful way to allow me to focus on specific activities without getting distracted. It's hardly a perfect feature, and I struggle with the strange Spaces bugs, too. But I've been tweaking my setup for a while now and it really works for me.
First, let's talk about the configuration. My approach is similar to mankoff's. I have a total of 9 Spaces and that seems to be the right number for me. I also assign apps to specific Spaces based on the kinds of activities I do there.
Here's how I've set up my 9 Spaces:
- Space 1: GTD (OmniFocus, Livescribe)
- Space 2: Email + Calendar (Mail, iCal, Google Voice Fluid Window)
- Space 3: Photos (Aperture)
- Space 4: Reading (Safari, Chrome for my daily RSS catchup)
- Space 5: Music (iTunes)
- Space 6: Social Networking (Twitter, mostly, but I often do all of my social networking reviews in a quick 20-minute session and will open some browser windows here to do it)
- Space 7: Financial (Quicken Essentials, browser page for Xero.com, the online accounting service I use for my business)
- Space 8: Utilities (1Password, CrashPlan, SuperDuper, etc.)
- Space 9: Working (An empty space I leave for whatever I'm working on)
Some apps I set to be available across every space, such as Skype. Others, such as the Finder, Safari or Chrome, are not assigned at all, and can appear in whatever space is currently active.
To really make Spaces work for me, here are some of the things I do.
- Use HyperSpaces. Hyperspaces is a fantastic utility that adds some of the features to Spaces that Apple should have built into the OS. There's lots of things it can do, but I use three things in particular. First, I use it to make every Space look different. I'm not a fan of distracting wallpaper, so I have chosen a simple background and then use Hyperspaces' ability to color them to apply a hue to each one. At a glance, I can see which Space I'm in. Green for Utilities, Purple for GTD, etc. I also name each Space and display it in the lower right corner of the desktop. I use the name from the list above. It's another simple visual clue as to where I am. The latest version can also show it in the Menu Bar icon, which is good, too, and has the benefit of not possibly being obscured by a window. Finally, I set the animation between Spaces to be very quick. I still like to have it on so I know I've switched a space, but I don't need a lot of fanfare when it happens, so I drag that slider way to the left.
- Alfred. Alfred is an excellent app launcher that I've started using in the past year or so. Being able to quickly launch or switch to an app is what prevents you from having to search through your Spaces, and Alfred is key to that for me. There's nothing magical about Alfred here, though, so any launcher will do: QuickSilver, Launchbar, etc.
- QuickSilver Triggers. Even though I use Alfred, I also run QuickSilver for the one thing Alfred cannot do: assign keyboard shortcuts to launch apps. QuickSilver calls them Triggers and I've set up a bunch. Without hunting through my Spaces, I can jump between Mail (trigger: ⌘OptionShiftM), iTunes (trigger: ⌘OptionShiftU) and Safari (trigger: ⌘OptionShiftS) in seconds.
- Keyboard Shortcuts. ⌘1–9 switches between Spaces, and I use this all the time to move not only between Spaces, but since the frontmost app gets activated when the Space appears, it's often how I switch between apps, too.
- Moving Windows. Sometimes a window will open inside the current Space, but I want it somewhere else. Happens all the time with Safari windows, for example. The fix is easy, though: just click and hold on the title bar of the window, then press the ⌘1–9 for the Space you want to move it to and zip, off it goes. Great way to keep your Spaces clean and clutter-free.
As I say up front, Spaces isn't perfect, but with some effort, I've managed to make it work for me. I hope that some of you find this helpful.