I'm trying to figure out a simple way one can work on multiple complex projects simultaneously and switch between them elegantly and quickly, without the need to close down applications from one project to work on another, or thoughtfully organise applications and windows beyond simply grouping them by project.

I assume a typical setup that this applies to has:

  • multiple displays (say, 3)
  • ~10 applications open per project (that is, they're real, complex projects)

What I am trying to achieve is a way to switch between projects seamlessly and keep windows and instances of applications grouped together.


Project 1: rails app

  • Display 1: browser windows
  • Display 2: Multiple instances of sublime text for code editing
  • Display 3: terminal (multiple instances)

Project 2: machine learning in R

  • Display 1: RStudio (4 instances)
  • Display 2: 3 x Browser (multiple tabs in each)
  • Display 3: terminal (multiple windows)

There could easily be one or more additional projects.

Partial Solutions

  • I have tried using different user logins to the MacBook. This works somewhat but is very clunky and slow to switch between environments
  • Using multiple desktops - this sounds like it would solve this problem but it requires management of desktops across each display. So, for example, just 2 projects on a setup with 3 displays would mean managing 6 separate desktops (and good luck if you have > 3 displays and > 2 projects to work on - very messy)

Desired result

Some way to easily switch between the collections of contents across all displays quickly and easily, preferably via a touchpad gesture, keyboard shortcut, or clicking somewhere convenient (but open to less ideal triggers). I have a preference for something build in to macOS (hacky or otherwise), but am open to other software too

  • You can handle Spaces in groups rather than per screen by unchecking 'Displays have separate Spaces' in Mission Control Prefs… but you're still going to hit a brick wall trying to get any single app mapped to more than one Space. Use two browsers & two different Terminal-type apps & you could do it fairly easily.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 16:46
  • @Tetsujin I think your suggestion may solve my problem as I do not want the same instance (if that's even the right word) mapped to multiple spaces, but in fact the oppose I strictly want each and every instance of an app to belong to (strictly) one workspace. I will try your suggestion and report back
    – stevec
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 16:49
  • See also - apple.stackexchange.com/questions/179376/… and superuser.com/questions/1187532/… The issue will remain that one app, no matter how many instances you force, will always want to belong to one Space, not many.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 16:50
  • @Tetsujin just unchecked 'Displays have separate Spaces' and logged out/in. There's some weirdness going on (sublime text suddenly has twice the number of windows open, with half of them completely black screens with no interface or menu), so I guess I'll test this configuration to a little time to understand it and how it works. Will report back
    – stevec
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 16:58
  • 2
    It's quite a paradigm shift, going from one to the other [I avoid it like tha plague as it really messes things up & makes you reset them all from scratch]. I'd quit everything, then reboot & start from scratch as much as possible. Once you've gone through the tedious process of setting Spaces for each app then dragging windows to which screen you want them… they should then stay. you'll find the occasional app that can't remember to use second & third screens [that's got worse since about High Sierra & no-one at Apple seems to care about fixing it]
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 17:04

2 Answers 2


If Apple’s native Mission Control doesn’t give you enough functionality, I can only suggest exploring professional apps.

Have a look at Workspaces. It groups your apps, folders, website links by project, is that close to what you’re looking for? Maybe you could use a combination of Workspaces (for grouping and easy access from Toolbar) and Mission Control (to separate into individual spaces)?

Workspaces is also also available to download through Setapp, which gives you access to multiple professional apps (it’s like Spotify of apps). I use it myself, sign up using my friends link and we both will get a free month! :)

On a personal note, I’m barely able to keep two apps open simultaneously (4GB CPU), so I’m slightly jealous of your situation ^^


There's an App, TotalSpaces that manages multiple desktops/spaces on multiple monitors. It will allow you to name your Spaces, assign apps to those spaces and even manage how you navigate and transition between them. It has multiple monitor support as well.


There are a couple caveats...it's a paid app ($12) but that's relatively inexpensive for this type of feature and it doesn't work on Mojave and Catalina without SIP being disabled.

Note: I am not affiliated with this developer or app in any way and I haven't used/supported this software in several years (Lion) so YMMV with respect to functionality on modern versions of macOS

  • Thanks @Allan, I'll check it out! Just researching and weighing up pros (increased productivity) vs cons (disabling SIP).
    – stevec
    Commented Aug 30, 2020 at 19:27

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