Are you a master of multi-tasking? On a Mac it’s really easy to manage all your your open windows so you can see everything you are working on at a glance, here’s everything you need to know about using Mission Control and Expose to reveal all the open windows for all the applications you have open on your Mac.

Whether you want to know the shortcut to see all windows, would like to see all the open windows for a particular app, or want to know how to cycle through all the apps you have open, we have the answers.

For related (but subtly different) advice, read How to view all open apps on a Mac as well as our tutorial on using Full Screen mode

See all windows shortcut on a Mac

Perhaps you have a lot of Pages documents open on your Mac and you want to dip in and out of them? Maybe you are working on multiple spreadsheets? Or you might be working on something in one app but require information from another app. Things can get pretty cluttered when you have multiple windows open, and if you have a small screen then that clutter can leave you short of space.

Here’s how to activate Mission Control (Apple’s name for the gesture that reveals your open windows and provides shortcuts to different desktops you have set up) so you can see everything you are working on at a glance, without needing to move documents around the screen.

There are five different ways to reveal all your open windows at once:

  1. Swipe up three fingers on the trackpad or a Magic Trackpad.
  2. Double-tap the surface of a Magic Mouse with two fingers.
  3. Press the Mission Control (F3) key on a keyboard, the key may have three small squares on it.
  4. Click the Mission Control icon in the Dock - it has three small colourful squares in it. If it’s not in your Dock, Spotlight search for Mission Control and press enter. (We’ll explain how to add mission control to your Dock below).
  5. You can also set up hot corners so that when you move your mouse to the side of the screen Mission Control is triggered. Go to System Preferences > Mission Control (or Option–Mission Control button) to open Mission Control preferences and choose Hot Corners. For example, you can choose that sliding your curser to the top left will show you the Desktop clutter free.   

Speaking of being clutter free, here's how to hide windows so you can see the Desktop on a Mac.

How to set up keyboard shortcuts for Mission Control

Want to access Mission Control in your own way? You can set different swipe gestures for your Multi-Touch trackpad, a keyboard shortcut, mouse button in the Trackpad, Keyboard, or Mouse System Preferences pane.

For example, the right ctrl key could be used to trigger the Expose view, here’s how:

  1. Open Mission Control preferences
  2. Under Keyboard and Mouse shortcuts, choose Right Control from the drop down menus beside Mission Control to assign that key. You could use any key, just choose one that you don’t use currently.

Don’t want to see windows grouped by application?

If you are seeing windows grouped by application and would rather see the different windows separately, deselect Group windows by application in Mission Control preferences.

How to add Mission Control to the Dock

If you’d like a short cut to Mission Control in your Dock but you can’t find it there, here’s how to set it up.

  1. Open the Finder
  2. Click on Applications
  3. Locate Mission Control
  4. Rather than clicking on the app, which would activate Mission Control, drag and drop it to the Dock
    Now Mission Control will be available from your Dock

How to view all the open windows for a particular app

If you have a lot of different apps open and would like to focus attention on a particular app, seeing only the open windows for that app, you can do so.

  1. Open Mission Control Preferences (Alt/Option–Mission Control button)
  2. Under Keyboard and Mouse Shortcuts select the drop down box beside Application Window
  3. Choose how you would like to activate that feature (e.g. Right Option if you want to tap the right Option/Alt key
  4. Now when you want to see all the open windows for a particular application, select one window for that application and then press the key you chose, e.g. Right Option/Alt.

How to cycle through open windows for a particular app

If you want to switch through different windows for a particular app, the shortcut is Option/Alt and the ` key (the one beside the left shift key).

How to switch through different apps on a Mac

While you could switch apps by using the Expose shortcuts described above (revealing all the open window and then selecting the one you want to work in). There is another way to quickly switch applications.

Press Command-Tab to see all your open applications, or Command-Shift-Tab to cycle through the open applications on your Mac.

Bonus tip: If you want to move between different windows of a particular app press Shift-Command-Tilde (~).