Lion Really Has Made Me More Productive: Here’s How

Apple released their large overhaul to their Mac operating system with Mac OS X Snow Leopard in June of 2009. This update seemed fairly basic to the naked eye as there weren’t many end-user feature updates, but under the hood the OS took strides in performance, efficiency and memory consumption. It was essentially laying the groundwork for the future. While I think Mac OS X users were happy with this update, I can say from personal experience that there was certainly some anticipation for what was next.

Mac OS X Lion launched barely two months ago and I was quick to give this new operating system a try. Developers had been working with versions of the operating system for some time prior and were talking about some of the features that were being played with by the Apple team. It appeared that this would be that major update that we’d been waiting for, bringing along with it many new end-user features.

I’m the type of person that is always looking for ways to be more efficient with my work. This is essentially a never ending journey, but the quest always continues on nonetheless. I grabbed a copy of Lion soon after it was released, anxious to see how the new features I had read about could possibly improve my productivity and efficiency.

I’ve been using the operating system now for about three months and decided to make a conscious effort from the beginning to try to utilize the new features of Lion. There are some substantial changes and new features that I was anxious try to work into my workflow.

Lion Mission Control & Launchpad

Lion Mission Control & Launchpad

Mission Control

The introduction of Mission Control in OS X Lion was quite substantial. While the features of Mission Control have more or less been available in one way or another through multiple applications for a while, this re-thinking of the problem that utilities like Exposé and Spaces had been trying to solve has proven to be extremely useful for me.

While I did grow quite attached to Exposé, there were times when its usefulness was questionable. If my workspace got to the point of having many application windows open it was still very difficult to keep everything straight and I’d end up with, quite literally, a pile of windows in no particular order. You could argue that I should have been using Spaces to group my applications or job functions, but I just could never get myself used to Spaces. It always seemed more cumbersome than helpful to deal with multiple Spaces.

Lion Mission Control on a Macbook Air

Lion Mission Control on a Macbook Air

In a sense, Mission Control both combines the functionality of Exposé and Spaces yet also completely rethinks the problem those applications were trying to solve. Being able to easily see groups of application windows, intelligently grouped based on the application, helps greatly in staying organized making it much easier to find that one stray window you’re looking for.

Desktops would be the closest equivalent to Spaces and I would argue makes the concept much more usable. Adding a new Desktop is insanely simple and managing applications on multiple Desktops is very simple as well.

I’ve set a few applications that I use regularly to only open on certain Desktops. So for example, I have dedicated a Desktop to iTunes and other music applications. While I use these applications everyday, they can be a little distracting. Having those applications segmented off on their own has limited my wandering time in those apps greatly. A trackpad gesture (we’ll talk a bit more about this soon) allows me to quickly switch between Desktops should I need deal with my music.

I do a fair amount of writing and also some coding. Both of these functions typically require a little bit of browser viewing as well. When I’m working on website code I’ll have my code editor open on one Desktop and Safari in the next. It’s not as nice as having multiple monitors to work from by it does present that feeling, at least partially, making you more efficient while using just one display. On my 13” Macbook this is a killer feature and one I’ve become completely dependent upon.


When the glass trackpad was introduced ,along with it came the possibility for gesture functionality. While some gestures have been available in the past Lion, has expanded their function and I personally have made more of an effort with Lion to better utilize them.

Lion gestures

Lion default gestures

First of all, these gestures can all be customized to your specific needs. That alone is a huge feature. I’ve actually become quite used to the default gestures and there are a few that feel second nature already.

With my adoption of using multiple Desktops, the ability to quickly switch between them could potentially be a deal breaking. By default a three finger swipe in either direction will allow Desktop flipping. I can’t tell you how much I use this gesture and in conjunction with using multiple Desktops, it has made my Macbook mobile work environment much more useful. A three finger up swipe will display Mission Control. I mostly use this for a quick re-organize of applications or to find a particular application window. It’s easy to move an application from one desktop to another if you feel the need to bring that window into your current workflow.

I’ll make a quick note on the natural scrolling, which by the way I refused to turn off and go “back to normal” as was suggested by some people. This is a major rethinking and one that after a little bit of use has become second nature to me as well. In fact, it seems strange to back to that “normal” direction.

Full Screen Mode

I’m a 13 inch Macbook user and I don’t feel as limited by the available screen real estate like I used to. A big part of this is utilizing multiple desktops as I just discussed but also the ability to use an application in full screen mode I’ve found quite nice.

I was a bit skeptical that this would provide me any benefit, but after working with some applications in full screen mode I have to say I completely love it. You wouldn’t think you would gain that much real estate, but the additional application space is noticeable.


The new features I’ve talked about have individually made me more efficient on my 13” Macbook. But the real and most substantial value comes when they are used in conjunction with each other. As I was thinking about this article that quickly became evident. I use these three features a lot and leaving one or there other out just wouldn’t yield the same results.

This is a perfect example of why I love Apple and have become so attached to what they produce. Mac OS X Lion is a substantial revision on an already wonderful operating system that was essentially picked apart to make better. Some of the changes seem subtle, but their effects when combined, can have a big impact on how you use your Mac.

With Lion, I’m able to accomplish tasks more quickly and with less effort. Apple products always have that feeling of being more of something you work with rather that work on. Lion has taken a big step towards becoming more of a human extension and less of a tool.


Add Yours
  • function OSFullscreenDesktopManager($os, $dualmonitor){
    if($os==’Lion’ && $dualmonitor==’true’){
    return ‘Epic Fail’;

    • Exactley.

    • Yep

  • How can I go fullscreen on my laptop?

    • Top right of the window theres two little arrows pointing away from each other those make it fullscreen. To go out of fullscreen you just put your mouse towards the top and the menubar comes down then you click on the blue icon in the top right.

  • As mentioned by Jasha…dual-monitor-mode sucks a lot in lion…
    The old spaces where much more useful here.

    Additionaly (don’t hit me) the window management in windows 7 is quite good and in direct compare more productive today…(snapping edges, preview while hover over the app…)
    i know that is all doable on mac by adding some apps but the basic system is more improved today…i hope osx will regain the superior position in usability.

    Mission control looks really nice, but in opinion switching apps by using an organised dock is much faster if you know your apps and keep them structured…

    • Agreed, Lion is nice but it took a lot of features that already worked great and busted them. Spaces was one of them, so was a full expose (not the crappy “application expose”).

      Window management in windows is nice, but Mac has some great third party apps that help. Cinch is one. I use is actually built into Better Touch Tool (which also happens to help fix Apple’s severe limitations on gesture choices). Plus, it’s free!

    • Also, when you have hundreds of apps, Launchpad is a joke.

    • Completely agreed. Replacing the previous spaces with Mission Control essentially broke multiple monitor displays. You can’t even drag something from mission control across from one monitor to the next. Seriously busted. This might be great for single monitor users, but it fudged the rest of us.

  • Most “improvements” in Lion are all about “one more click”. Want to look for a contact in another group in Address Book? Click red ribbon. Want to manage calendars in iCal? Click appropriate button. Want to drag windows between desktops? Select the desktop you’d like to drag from first. Want to drag a file to your message in fullscreen Mail? Switch to window mode first.

    That’s quite annoying. Bertrand Serlet, why did you leave us?

    The only reason I won’t switch back to SL is that some apps (eg Safari) are working faster in Lion. To my surprise.

  • Almost forgot…

    It takes a bit longer to concentrate and select the proper folder from identical grey list in Finders sidebar. I’ve added several folders to the sidebar and all of them have identical look, despite they have custom icons.

    And where have all the artworks gone? In Finder, I mean…

  • LaunchPad does not improve on Overflow, which gave better functionality on Snow Leopard.

    For a fast and intelligent launch app try Alfred …it’s awesome and is getting better all the time.

    I don’t get why Apple thinks it’s a good idea to blur the concept of ‘running’ apps, as with iOS. It just isn’t sensible for even novice users to ignore what apps are open and consuming system resources. Power users need to know.

    I must admit that I’ve never liked the dock, particularly as a launcher, so I find that emptying it completely makes for an elegant solution: it’s not cluttered, it’s not tiny due to the volume of apps installed and only running apps are visible ….important too, as using Espionage to encrypt application data means you simply don’t want the application open in the background, vulnerable but forgotten.

  • The article was a good run down of a few of the functional navigation features available in Lion. It’s more clear than some of the awful hype doled out with promotional information I’ve stumbled across. Good succinct article, but that being said…

    There are indeed apps that can be add to Snow Leopard… and even Leopard… that will accomplish many of these same things – the important ones. As to gestures in general, they are very nice for on the go with only the laptop, but with a pointing device of any kind, I’ve already proven to several users that one hand on a mouse and one on a keyboard is up to three times faster for navigating between multiple apps and even getting things done inside any one of them

    The one thing that has always lagged on OSX vs other OS’s is a legitimate taskbar. I’ve been using Fantasktik since I switched over from a Windows based machine (though I still run Win7 and XP for classes of apps still superior to anything in the Mac world). With a pop up task bar, I already have windows grouped by apps, with pop up previews, and I don’t need to cover my whole desktop to see them.

    As to the “tablet” style icons all over the desktop, again if one is on the go, maybe that might be nice. But even with a touch pad, I can just as easily (and more quickly) navigate a standardize menu (dock folder for Apps, menubar App access through PathFinder, or a fully configurable Jump menu addon, etc.) far faster than anything in Lion… or Snow Leopard.

    The objective of Lion is to push on us a one size fits all devices interface approach that is easily accessible to users of all skill levels. Or just a standardization to remove the need for custom interfaces developed for different OS/Device combinations. That is commendable for accessibility, but not at the expense of adaptability to individual needs, or for the fact that one does not use all devices in the same way or for the same needs. That’s about more than just customizing gestures, should one think they are somehow faster (and the aren’t) aside from a touchpad being half as fast and accurate compared to a more precise pointing device when it comes to working inside any app that needs a lot more the key work.

    This is probably one of the better of your concise articles, Matt. It provides some succinct clarity on a selection of points and features. So keep it up, regardless that I don’t agree with you on this one.

    • Popup taskbar: Have you ever tried to right click on a dock icon? It shows the opened windows for that app. The dock acts as a taskbar for your opened apps, and a launcher for your most used apps, as you may already know. That concept is very simple and powerful, so powerful that Windows 7 copied it. The difference is Windows 7 has inconvenient popup previews when Aero is on, but the key concepts are mostly the same.

      Trackpads: Mac trackpads are the best ones I ever used. They are precise for most kinds of work, once you get used to them. Maybe that’s not your case, but everytime I see someone using a Mac laptop along with a mouse I think “this guy comes from the PC world, where most trackpads suck. He didn’t try working on the Mac trackpad, because he presumes he can’t be productive with it”. That’s a culture question, where one refuses to try anything he’s not used to. One can be as fast with the trackpad as with any mouse, like I am today. Some exceptions are graphical works, where 100% precision for drawing lines is required; sometimes I use the mouse with my laptop, but along with an external keyboard and a second monitor, with the laptop lifted up for a landscape view of my screens.

      Windows previews: This is one of the things Mission Control and app exposè are for. You can even inspect and zoom individual windows. Your desktop icons go away for a moment, but who cares? Just exit Mission Control and your desktop is back. You can easily see which windows are opened in an app by using the app switcher (command + tab) then firing “1” on the selected app to enable window exposé. Or you can point your trackpad to the icon in the dock and do a three/four finger swipe down to do same thing. I think that kind of window preview is much more useful than the preview functionality in the Windows 7. I don’t like previews popping up when I don’t want them to.

      Third party apps that do the same thing: Many people laughed at Lion with features such as “Full Screen”, thinking they already had it in their apps. What Lion really accomplished is an integrated feature, a concept. Full screen apps are not the same without gestures and Mission Control, the powerful “swipe to navigate” concept. Besides, full screen mode may layout apps in a way that makes sense to the user experience. I always say that the best features are the native ones. Many apps or plugins are just half-baked and don’t deliver the whole experience, because they really can’t. It’s up to the app or OS to implement and support the feature.

      I think Launchpad is nice, ’cause it standardizes itself as the system app launcher, so you don’t have to fiddle with Finder or drag your app folder to the dock, for having that feature. If a novice user drags away the app folder from the dock accidentally, how will he recover that? With Launchpad it doesn’t happen. What I think is bad about Launchpad is the obvious: it lacks simple and powerful customizability. What you can do with it is simple, but very limited.

      The author’s message on this article is: open you mind. I saw many people complaining of Lion with things like “I don’t have a spaces grid anymore”. I’m sure they didn’t understand the concept behind the new features, and how that concept can make you more productive. If you want a spaces grid, get back to Snow Leopard. Just a quick tip for spaces-grid widows: configure mission control shortcuts in “System Preferences – Keyboard”. You will get to your spaces as quick as with the grid, where you previously used the keyboard (ctrl – up or down), defeating the point of having a grid. The spaces are numbered in Mission Control, “Desktop 1”, “Desktop 2”, etc, so it’s easy to remember in which desktop you want to land.

      • Well, you yourself don’t seem to understand. With snow leopard (and with Lion), I have the hot corners assigned to spaces/mission control and I use 12 spaces/desktops with each assigned to a certain app. So with SL it was simple to slide the cursor to any corner, see the grid of spaces and pick the one I want to work in by clicking on it. You could also slide windows between desktops. With Lion, you have that line of small windows along the top and it’s definitely not as easy to recall which of the 12 is, say, Excel or Powerpoint. With SL, it was geometrically arranged so you knew exactly which desktop to click on. With Lion the desktop icons are so small you can’t see what’s in them and cant slide windows between them while in Mission Control mode. I like using the touchpad and swiping the cursor to pick my desktop. Very quick. Sure I can map keystrokes to select desktops, but I like the visual approach, which is much more mac-like and quicker for me.
        I dont see a good reason for them not to bring back the grid layout in a future release.

  • I’m really impressed that you’ve made a full article out of these three, self-explaining by the name features. Good work (!)

  • There’s a lot of stupid things I don’t like about Lion, that make me less productive.

    I can’t access the Library folder easily anymore without less obvious work arounds or hacks.

    A client sends me a dozen images via the web and I have to open each image individually in Photoshop and dismiss each “downloaded from the web” separately.

    I start typing in a Numbers doc, only to find that it’s been locked. Then I have to unlock and begin retyping again.

    I can no longer eject the Lacie drive that I use for Time Machine. I have to force eject it every time, which brings up three extra dialogues.

    Numerous basic shortcut combinations in a number of apps, like Firefox, Pages and Numbers, now only work some of the time.

    When I launch Pages, it automatically opens the last save document, even if that was a document that’s been trashed and deleted. Then I have to close and go through the don’t save dialogue. The stupid thing is, it even does this when you launch Pages by clicking on a specific Pages Document. In this case it should realize that, you’re explicitly opening the doc that you want to view.

    I could go on but out of time :)

    • option while in Go (in the menubar) gives you the option to go right to the library with no hacks.

  • The things I hate about Lion are all “little things” that I didn’t even appreciate until Lion took them away.

  • Mac Lion Sucks Dog-ASs!!!

  • Lion is just like new iOS5: a desperate reaction to nothing. They changed just bullshits, and it is still a low-productive OS. Windows makes Mac eat dust when we talk about productivity. Finder is still a fail, window management too. That’s sad about such a beautiful OS :P

  • I have personally found myself more productive with Mission Control and the new gestures.

    However I do agree that it sucks in a dual screen environment. That being said, 3 finger swiping between spaces, and expose/mission control view I really do find myself using A LOT.

    I actually use a Logictech MX mouse but also have a magic track pad and have trained myself to use the track pad left handed for speed.