9 Tips For a Minimalist & More Efficient Mac Experience

Akshata Shanbhag 17-06-2016

Your Mac’s interface is clean and beautiful as it is, but by making a few visual and functional tweaks here and there, you can polish it up some more and speed things up all around.


The tweaks that we’re focusing on today will give you a minimalist Mac experience. We’re talking about customizing the OS using a “less is more” approach. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Declutter the Finder Sidebar

By default, the sidebar in Finder lists shortcuts to several locations that it thinks you might need. But do you? Only you know the answer to that, but there’s a good chance you probably don’t use all of them. To get rid of the shortcuts that you don’t need, first bring up Finder Preferences by hitting cmd+, or by right-clicking in an empty space in the Finder toolbar and selecting Customize Toolbar… from the menu that pops up.

Next, in the Sidebar tab in the preferences, uncheck the boxes next to the locations that you want to hide from the sidebar. Unchecking the box next to Hard disks hides the hard disk icons from your desktop as well.


I have chosen to hide all locations under Favorites except the ones that I use most often: iCloud Drive, Downloads, Documents, Screenshots, and AirDrop. I use Spotlight to bring up anything else I need, including the Applications folder. I have hidden the Devices section completely because I use a menu bar applet called Ejector for ejecting disks. If I have to navigate to the Home folder, this is how I do it:



If you want to add a location to the sidebar that isn’t listed, simply open it in Finder, click on the folder icon at the top of the window, and drag it into position.

Clean up the Dock

Do you use all the apps that reside in your Mac’s dock Everything You Need to Know about Your Mac's Dock It's the primary way many users interact with Mac OS X, but a lot of people still don't know some of the most basic and useful things the dock is capable of. Read More ? If yes, how often do you use most of them? Many of them sit there looking pretty “just in case you need them” — but you probably don’t need them all. We suggest getting rid of the icons for apps that you don’t use on a daily basis. To remove an app from the dock:

  • Click and drag the app icon out of the dock and let go of it once the Remove option appears, or
  • Right-click on the app icon and then click on Options > Remove from Dock



Once you get rid of unused or rarely used icons this way, you won’t have to scan several colorful icons to find those handful of apps that you use all the time. Get into the habit of using Spotlight to open apps 7 Good Habits Every Mac User Should Get Used To Today we're going to share our favourite good Mac habits, while desperately trying to forget the bad ones. Read More , not only can you lose the icon but it’s faster too.

Note: If an app is open, its icon will appear and can’t be removed.

Declutter the Menu Bar

Many apps clutter your menu bar with icons you probably never use. Before you know it the menu bar is overflowing with icons and you’re staring at it trying to recall which of those you need to click on. Sounds familiar? We have all been there.


Avoiding the many useful menu bar apps The Ultimate List of Mac Menu Bar Apps These tiny smart utilities don't get in our way like the dock apps do -- Mac menu bar apps sit in a corner and swing into action only when you need them! Read More is out of the question. The alternative is to customize and tidy the menu bar How To Customize & Tidy Your Mac Menu Bar Nothing makes OS X look cluttered faster than unwanted menubar icons. Read More  every once in a while. Hold down the command key and move system icons around in the menu bar or drag and drop them off the menu bar to make them disappear. To hide icons of third-party applets, you’ll need an app like Broomstick (free), Barsoom ($6.99), or Bartender 2 ($15).

Note: You can’t get rid of the Spotlight icon from the menu bar, even though you should be hitting cmd+spacebar to bring it up anyway.

Hide the Dock and Menu Bar

Now that you have cleaned up your dock and the menu bar, it’s time to ensure that they don’t get in your way all the time, but come up quickly when you need them. To do that, you’ll have to set them to hide automatically by going to System Preferences. You’ll find the Automatically hide and show the menu bar option under General and the Automatically hide and show the dock option under Dock.



You could ditch the dock entirely Ditch The Dock To Speed Up Your Mac Workflow While the dock can't be entirely eliminated, there are many powerful alternatives that can reduce your dependence on using the dock as an app launcher. Read More to speed up your Mac workflow. With powerful tools like Alfred and SuperTab at your service, not to mention Spotlight, you won’t miss the dock.

Remove Unused Apps

With so many interesting Mac apps available, it’s tough not to try them all but it’s important to uninstall any apps that are taking up valuable system space and providing little to no value. We recommend using AppCleaner to remove apps. It displays your apps in a neat alphabetical list, and when you remove any app, it even disposes all the relevant residual files hidden in the depths of your Mac.


With AppCleaner, you can also remove system apps like Chess, but removing too many stock apps can be risky and cause problems with your OS. We recommend leaving system apps alone.

Choose New Apps with Care

Before you jump right into installing anything on the web, see if your Mac already has a similar tool and how that stacks up. Some of the best Mac software comes pre-installed The Best Default Mac Apps That You Shouldn't Need to Replace Here are some of the best default, pre-installed, native Mac apps worth using. Don't ditch them before you try them! Read More , and it has the advantage of being designed to play well with the entire Apple ecosystem. You might surprised by all the functions that you don’t need apps for The Best Built-In Mac Tips You've Never Heard of, According to Reddit There's a surprising number of things your Mac can do out of the box, if you only know how. Read More , such as making quick edits to images, looking up words, and taking screenshots. OS X has tools for these functions built right in.

If you’re opting for a third-party app, go for one that makes your workflow simpler and leaves the bells and whistles out. You’ll find these Mac app recommendations Bought Your First Mac? Install These 15 Apps Right Away After you’re done admiring its sleek, shiny exterior, it’s time to get down to the business of installing applications on your brand new Mac. Read More useful.

Clear the Desktop

Instead of treating your desktop as a catch-all for every other file you save or folder you create, I suggest keeping your desktop blank. Leave only a beautiful wallpaper The Ultimate Mac Wallpaper Resource: Apps, Tricks & Tips Finding the right wallpaper can make staring at your Mac desktop when you should be working an incredibly worthwhile experience. Read More to rest your eyes on from time to time. As for keeping your most-used files and folders accessible, why not create a separate folder for them, complete with a sidebar shortcut in Finder for quick access? You have Finder open all the time anyway, so those documents are still easy to bring up anytime.

On a side note, you might want to use the keyboard shortcut cmd+option+h more often. It hides all apps but the current one — great for rescuing yourself from any app clutter you have going on.

Use Spotlight More Often

The more you use Spotlight for finding files, the less time you need to spend organizing them. You can dump them in a handful of folders and still find them pretty quickly just by searching. Get into the habit of using your Mac’s built-in search mechanism for everything. What can be simpler than hitting cmd+space and typing in a keyword or two to reach every corner of OS X?

When I first started using a Mac, I hardly ever used Spotlight except to open apps. I kept forgetting that the feature even existed. Once I made an effort to use it more often, I realized just how powerful Spotlight is Search More Efficiently In Mac OS X With Our Top Spotlight Tips Spotlight has been a killer Mac feature for years, with Cupertino regularly schooling Redmond in the art of desktop search. Here are a few tips to help you find more on your Mac. Read More , especially since improvements introduced with El Capitan. One big advantage of Spotlight is that it has allowed me to ditch elaborate folder structures in favor of a basic, minimal hierarchy.

Whether you want to stick with Spotlight or switch to one of its third-party alternatives like Quicksilver (our review Remember Quicksilver, The Free Open Source Mac Launcher? You've probably forgotten entirely about Quicksilver, and that's too bad. It's awesome. Read More ) or Alfred is up to you. The point is to let your Mac do the work for you.

Create Custom Keyboard Shortcuts

If you find yourself reaching for the mouse to click on a certain menu item too often during the day, it’s time you memorized its keyboard shortcut. If you have trouble remembering the shortcut, why not create a custom one that you’re sure to remember? You can do that from System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > App Shortcuts. After you navigate to this location, click on the + icon below the right panel as shown in the image below. This brings up a dialog box where you’ll have to:

  1. Choose an Application for which the shortcut will be applicable
  2. Add a Menu Title for the command that you want to use a shortcut for
  3. Add a Keyboard Shortcut of your choice to replace the menu command
  4. Click on the Add button to finalize the shortcut


Note: You’ll need to type the menu command exactly as it appears in the menu when you have the corresponding application open.

What Does Your Mac Look Like?

Cleaning your Mac desktop need not be a time-consuming, never-ending effort. You don’t need to fiddle with complex settings either. Even a few simple tweaks can make an impressive difference to your workflow. Go ahead and try a few now!

Is your Mac desktop clean or cluttered? Have you made any tweaks to clean it up and optimize it? Tell us all about your OS X setup, minimalist or otherwise.

Related topics: Minimalism, Productivity.

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  1. amin
    June 20, 2016 at 5:53 am

    I have a list of softwares and tweaks that i always install when setting up a new mac. a few of them are as follows:

    1. Alfred
    2. Bartender
    3. Hyperswtich
    4. Hyperdock
    5. BetterTouchTool (For keyboard shortcut window snapping)
    6. Vimium for Chrome
    7. LastPass for Chrome
    8. I hide the dock and the menubar.
    9. Clean background, no icons.
    10. No Sleep
    11. Little Snitch
    12. Private Internet Access
    13. Paragon NTFS
    14. Karabiner KeyRemap (to change right command to forward delete)

    These are CRITICAL

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      June 28, 2016 at 7:36 am

      Thank you for sharing your list, Amin. Looks good!

  2. Anonymous
    June 18, 2016 at 3:50 am

    Even when I use Windows or Ubuntu, I refuse to let anything sit on the desktop. Search function (either Windows menu or Ubuntu hub) makes it unnecessary to even have anything on the desktop, so I completely agree on that.

    Though one thing I miss from both Windows and Ubuntu is clicking on the date/time area, and a mini calendar popping up. Why doesn't Mac do this? Having to open up the calendar application just makes for more clutter.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      June 19, 2016 at 1:33 pm

      That would have been handy for sure. Since Mac doesn't have a mini calendar option by default, I'd say something like Itsycal is the next best thing.

  3. Shay Meinecke
    June 17, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Excellent article and great tips! Time to declutter my desktop from all of these misc apps!

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      June 19, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      Thank you, Shay!