Chances are when you use your Mac you have multiple windows open for multiple apps. You most likely find yourself dipping in and out of one app to check details, or cutting and pasting from one document to another. The Mac operating system has a couple of features to make this process feel less cluttered and help you focus and be more efficient.

You can choose to focus on just one app at a time, by viewing it in Full Screen mode.

Or you can have two apps or documents open in Split Screen mode, with each taking up half the screen. Split Screen mode is a Full Screen mode for two apps.

Using these modes lets you isolate applications or even windows from the same application. This way you can work in a less crowded, less distracting environment, which is especially beneficial if you have a small screen.

Of course, you can minimize or close any apps you don’t need at that moment in time, but minimising apps will crowd your Dock and closing apps means you will have to wait for them to open next time you need to use them.

Here are some of the benefits of using these modes:

  • You are less likely to be distracted by Facebook or your email.
  • You can focus all your attention on what you are doing at that time.
  • You benefit from being able to use the whole screen when editing photos or video.
  • Full Screen mode is perfect for viewing a movie or slideshow.

How to make an app Full Screen

Full Screen mode arrived with OS 10.7 Lion in 2011 and back then the Full Screen icon was top right of the screen, beside the Spotlight icon, but when Apple launched Yosemite in 2014 the ‘traffic light’ buttons at the top left of the menu bar of every Apple app changed to close (red), minimize (yellow) and full screen (green).

Here’s how to switch on Full Screen mode:

  1. Click the green Full Screen icon.
  2. The application window will expand to fill the whole screen. 
  3. Press escape to revert to the normal view.

Full Screen on Mac shortcut

There are a couple of keyboard shortcuts to trigger Full Screen mode:

  • On some Macs it is possible to press the fn (function) key as well as F11 to activate Full Screen mode.
  • Alternatively, press Control + Command + F to trigger Full Screen mode.

Note that some applications may have different key combinations to trigger Full Screen mode.

How to exit Full Screen mode

There are a few ways to exit Full Screen mode. You can do one of the following:

  • Hover your mouse pointer at the top of the screen so that you can see the traffic light buttons and click on the green one.
  • Press Escape.
  • Press Control + Command + F.

How to see two apps in Full Screen mode

When El Capitan arrived in 2015 a new Split Screen view joined the Full Screen view. With Split Screen mode triggered, you can have more than one app running in full screen on one desktop. This could be ideal if you are often working in more than one app or document at a time.

Here’s how to activate Split Screen view:

  1. Click and hold the green ‘traffic light’ button.
  2. When you do so the app will open on the left side of the screen, while the right side of your screen will show a Mission Control view of all your open apps.
  3. Now choose the other app you wish to view in Full Screen mode from the Mission Control layout visible on the right.
  4. You don’t have to assign exactly 50% of the screen to each app, you can move the divider between the two apps in the Split View.

You can then work using both apps.

Where has my full screen app gone?

If you happen to be using two screens at the same time, it can be handy to have one app in full screen mode on one screen, and the other apps in normal mode on the other screen.

There’s one little problem with working this way. Sometimes your Full Screen window can disappear!

What’s actually happened is that you have switched to working on a different app and that has taken precedence over the Full Screen app, which is still open in Full Screen mode, it’s just in a separate Space.

Spaces are another feature of the Mac operating system that can make you more efficient - or alternatively allow you to hide Facebook and the like from your line-manager. We talk about Spaces here.

Here are two ways to locate the Full Screen app:

  • Click on the app’s icon in the Dock.
  • Press the Mission Control key (F3) to see your different Spaces and Desktops and just click on the Space that houses your Full Screen app.

How to distinguish one Desktop from one other

Unfortunately it isn’t possible to name the different Desktops/Spaces to make it easy to find the one you are looking for, and if you have a lot of documents open on each of your desktops you will struggle to identify one from another.

What you can do is choose a unique desktop picture (wallpaper) for each Desktop, here’s how:

  1. Launch System Preferences in your first desktop, go to the Desktop & Screen Saver pane on your first desktop, and set the background image you'd like.
  2. Then enter Mission Control, drag the System Preferences window from its current workspace to another desktop (or create a second by dragging it to the top right until a ghosted desktop appears in the upper right corner of Mission Control.)
  3. Go to the Desktop & Screen Saver pane and choose another desktop picture. Whatever you choose will appear on that second desktop only. Your separate backgrounds will be saved if you restart.