Cultivating Digital Simplicity

Patrick Rhone’s new blog focused on minimalism and how to achieve it on the Mac platform has gotten me thinking on this subject once again. I love this concept, but I prefer to think of it in this way—simplicity. Use only what you need.

With all the great software released every day, this can be a hard ideal to live up to. Especially for someone like me, who loves to tinker. But I think I’ve made some progress in this area over the past couple of years. Once you recognize and admit to you habits, you can start to address them.

Back to Patrick’s blog: I recently submitted some thoughts of my own which he kindly posted. I thought I would share here as well1.

There are two tools which I use regularly to keep my screen clean and clutter free. They are Hazel and Witch—I’ve talked about them before, but not in the sense of simplicity. How do I use them? Hazel allows me to keep my desktop free of clutter and Witch keeps my screen clean with minimal windows in view.

Hazel

If you read through the posts on MinimalMac, especially the user submissions, you’ll find that a lot of people want to keep their desktop free of icons, files or other types of digital detritus. I’m the same. Hazel enables me to keep everything off the desktop and have peace of mind that nothing will get forgotten.

This application basically lets you create rules for files or folders that automate certain actions to take place if the criteria you set are met. Here’s how the developer describes the tool:

Automated Organization for your Mac.

Simply put. And it’s a fairly simple tool. I use it to monitor three folders: the default Downloads folder that’s a part of each user account in OS X, as well as two folders in my Dropbox that I named Pending and Working. Each folder has certain rules set to notify me when things are getting stale. You can see this from the rule shown here.

Hazel - Downloads Rule

I created a rule to manage the Downloads folder.

An example of my usage is when I’m working on a post. I take a good number of screenshots, which are saved to the desktop. Then I use Quicksilver to move those files to the Working folder. I’m often not ready to complete the post at this time, but I can move on. My desktop is clean and if those files sit in the Working folder for more than a week, Hazel sends a Growl notification and adds a colored label to each file.

Witch

This gem of a tool gives you better control of your application windows. OS X’s default CMD + Tab gives you a nice way to move between open applications, but it simply does not manage your application windows. Witch does. The Witch website answers the question as to why you would want to use this app:

Have you ever wanted to switch back and forth between windows that don’t belong to the same application? If so, Witch is for you.

Again, on the MinimalMac blog, there has been some content regarding keeping your screen free of open windows. I also have this habit. I manage using Witch. The nice thing about this tool is that it gives you the ability to switch to a window that is currently hidden. See in the screen below how there are no open windows, yet Witch gives me four windows to choose from.

Witch

Witch extends the OS X windows management.

My habit is to hide any window that I do not want to currently work in, but that I do not want to go away. Propane is a good example: if I was to close the window, I would then exit from the Campfire chat room. I don’t want to leave the room, but I don’t want the Propane window on the screen all the time either.

Therefore I hide my windows and then use my Alt + Tab shortcut to activate Witch and choose the window I want to move to. Another plus here — my hands never leave the keyboard.


There are so many ways to smooth and de-clutter your workflow, especially on OS X. These are two ways that I do it and I’m confident that I’m more productive for it.

  1. Seeing as I haven’t posted in sooo long []