Mission Control 101: How to Use Multiple Desktops on a Mac

A MacBook with a web browser open.

Activate Mission Control on a Mac using one of the following:

  • The Mission Control (F3) button.
  • A three-finger or four-finger upward gesture on the trackpad.
  • The Control+Up Arrow keyboard shortcut.
  • The Mission Control icon in the dock.

Do you open a lot of windows on your Mac? Do you have trouble keeping track of them all? You need to learn to use Mission Control, the secret to easy window management on macOS.

What Is Mission Control on a Mac?

Mission Control is a macOS feature that allows you to view all open windows on a single interface on your Mac. The feature is great if you’re bad at keeping your windows organized and find yourself losing things all of the time. Be aware that if you have minimized a window, then it won’t show up in Mission Control.

Mission Control overview on macOS Ventura

Mission Control also allows you to create and organize multiple desktops, or Spaces. You can move windows between desktops by clicking and dragging, create new desktops, delete ones you no longer want, and quickly switch between them.

How to Open Mission Control

Hit the F3 button on your keyboard to access mission control. You can also access it using a trackpad gesture, which depends on how you have set your Mac trackpad up. The gesture will either be a three-finger or four-finger upward swipe on the trackpad. You can change this under System Settings > Trackpad > More Gestures.

F3 Mission Control key on MacBook Air 2023

You can also use Control+Up Arrow on the keyboard, or click on the Mission Control icon in the dock (if you haven’t removed it already). Older MacBook Pro models with a Touch Bar don’t have a dedicated button on the Control Strip, but you can add a Mission Control button if you want.

Using Multiple Desktops in Mission Control

At the top of the screen while Mission Control is active you’ll see a list of desktops you have available to you. Hover over this area to get a better view of each desktop’s contents.

Mission Control Desktop labels

You can drag windows to these desktops to organize your workspace, and then click on the desktop to access it. You can also use a three-finger or four-finger horizontal swipe to move between desktops (depending on how you have your trackpad set up), or use the Control+Right Arrow and Control+Left Arrow keyboard shortcuts.

Mission Control full desktop space view

Rearrange desktops by clicking and dragging them. You can add new desktops using the plus “+” button in the top-right corner of the screen.

Add a new desktop space to Mission Control

You can also choose to keep an application on a certain desktop, or even on all desktops. Right-click (or Control+Click) on an application’s dock icon, then move to the Options submenu.

Assign application to specific desktop in macOS Ventura

From here, you can assign an application to a given desktop—or even have it show up on all desktops.

Full Screen Applications in Mission Control

You can also keep track of full-screen applications using Mission Control. Once you’ve clicked on the green “Full Screen” button at the top of a window, the application will appear in Mission Control as a separate desktop space.

Full screen window button in Finder

You can swipe between desktop spaces and full-screen apps using the three-finger or four-finger trackpad gesture, or Control+Left Arrow and Control+Right Arrow keyboard shortcuts. You can even click and drag full-screen app spaces around, just as you can standard desktop spaces.

Full screen app in Mission Control

It’s even possible to have more than one full-screen application at once as separate spaces. Simply head back to a standard desktop and click on the green full-screen icon again.

Multiple full screen apps in Mission Control

If you drag another window into a full-screen application space, you’ll enable Split View mode, which tiles two apps side-by-side. You can release the app to the left or the right of the full-screen application to define which side it should take up.

Activate Split View within Mission Control

This is perfect when you want as much space as possible to work with only two applications. You can drag the divider in the middle of the screen to reassign available space between apps.

Two windows side-by-side in Split View on a Mac

How to Configure Mission Control

Mission Control mostly works without any configuration, but you might want to change a few basic settings. Head to System Settings > Desktop & Dock and scroll to the bottom of the list. Here you’ll find the main options for Mission Control.

Desktop & Dock preferences in macOS System Settings

By default, Mission Control will organize your spaces automatically based on what it thinks you want. This can be very confusing, so turn off the “Automatically rearrange Spaces based on most recent use” option if you’re constantly losing track of windows.

When you use Command+Tab to switch applications, you probably also want to switch to an active window. The option “When switching to an application, switch to a Space with open windows for the application” ensures that will happen even if the window is on another desktop.

When checked, “Group windows by application” ensures that multiple windows from the same application appear side-by-side in Mission Control. “Displays have separate Spaces” applies to Macs with multiple monitors. By default switching desktops on one display will also switch the other, but with this option checked each display will have its own set of desktops.

Below you’ll also find a button for “Shortcuts” where you can change the default Mission Control keyboard shortcut, and Hot Corners which allows you to set up shortcuts for mouse pointer gestures (and turn off the pesky Quick Note shortcut).

Mac Mission Control Not Working?

Having trouble getting Mission Control working? The first thing to try is a full restart of your system. Head to Apple > Restart and test the feature again. Sometimes, parts of the operating system stop working and a restart is required to get them going again. You can also try running the killall Dock command in macOS Terminal.

If pressing F3 works but your trackpad gesture does not, head to System Settings > Trackpad > More Gestures and check what the current trackpad gesture is set to under the “Mission Control” area. Watch the video that appears in this window to make sure you’re doing things correctly.

You can also change the keyboard shortcut used to access Mission Control under System Settings > Desktop & Dock > Shortcuts (at the bottom of the list). By default, this is Control+Up Arrow.

Mission Control keyboard shortcuts

If you’re using a third-party keyboard, try holding the Function key (if you have one) and pressing F3. Some keyboards use standard function key inputs by default.

If you’ve deleted the Mission Control dock icon and want to get it back, head to the Applications folder in Finder and find the Mission Control application. Click and drag it into your dock then click on it to use it.

More Mac Features You Should Be Using

Mission Control can help keep your desktop organized, but Spotlight is the king of macOS productivity. You should also familiarize yourself with Finder’s best features and some of macOS’s more powerful features you might not already be using.

Original Article