Switch Between Desktop Spaces Faster in Mac OS X with Control Keys

Sep 6, 2011 - 30 Comments

Switch between Desktops faster in Mac OS X Lion

Switching between active Desktops/Spaces in OS X with the three fingered sideways swipe is very quick, but an even faster method is by using the Control keys.

The first option is to use the Control + Arrow keys, which is enabled by default. As you might expect, Control + Left Arrow switches to the desktop Space to the left, Control + Right Arrow goes to the right.

The fastest method utilizes Control + Number keys, and needs to be enabled separately:

  • Open “System Preferences” from the  menu
  • Click on “Keyboard” and then select “Keyboard Shortcuts”
  • From the list on the left, choose “Mission Control”
  • Check the boxes next to “Switch to Desktop 1” and “Switch to Desktop 2” – this will be Desktop 3, 4, 5, etc, if you use many Desktop Spaces
  • Close out System Preferences

Now you can hit Control+1 to enter Desktop 1, Control+2 to switch to Desktop 2, and so on. This is by far the fastest method to switch Desktops in OS X Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks, and whatever they call the next one.

Fast switching between desktops in Mac OS X 10.7 with Control keys

The reason for the speed increase relates to the animation for switching windows, which is accelerated when using the Control+Arrow keys, and made even faster with the Control+Number shortcut. Alternatively, the swipe gesture generally follows your finger movements and the inertia of the swipe, which is significantly slower.

If you assigned apps to Desktops than clicking on the app will also use the faster method similar to the Control+Number keyboard shortcut.

Finally, if you want switching between active desktops to be even faster, either don’t store any icons on your Desktop or hide all icons from the Mac desktop (if you don’t want to use the Terminal command, you can also use the free DesktopUtility tool to do this from your menubar). Hiding desktop icons shows the biggest speed boost on older Macs running new versions of OS X, since it prevents the need to redraw icons when switching desktops.


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. SFG says:

    Thank you man!

  2. guillermo says:


  3. Emre says:

    Thank you!

  4. August says:

    THIS was exactly what I was looking for.

    It seems that Ctrl+1, etc. work in the remote window but not the main computer and Ctrl+L/R-Arrow work in the main computer but not the remote. That takes a little getting used to.

    But at least I don’t have to open up Mission Control in the remote window every time I want to flip spaces.


  5. ChrisK says:

    This was particularly useful, because I work a lot on a remote machine via screen sharing. If I use my usual ctrl-arrow, it gets intercepted by the machine that I’m physically on, which the ctrl-number keys do not. So now I can switch between desktops on either my local machine or the remote one.

  6. vikas027 says:

    great tip, this saves me few clicks.

  7. jerred says:

    i answered my own question. the displays each have their own spaces, and the desktops from all spaces are organized into one collection. example, say monitor (space) 1 has 4 desktops, and monitor 2 has 2 desktops. settings the control+numpad keys 1 through 6 will allow access to all these desktops. 1 to 4 for space 1, and 5 and 6 for space 2.

  8. jerred says:

    dual-monitor setup question: since mavericks, the “switch to desktop …” keyboard shortcuts only seem to affect the primary display. does anyone know how to select an alternate set of keys to switch the desktop of the secondary display?

    i know you can disable “show displays as separate spaces” in the mission control settings, but i like the fact that displays have their owns spaces and would like to take full advantage of it.

  9. Don says:

    “Spaces”, imo, was one of the best inventions in OS X. It’s a mystery to be why Apple decided to abandon it. Thankfully, it is available again in the form of the “TotalSpaces” app. I couldn’t use OS X without it as I have 9 desktops in a 3×3 grid that I switch between 100s of times a day.

    One of the best things about TotalSpaces, is that you can eliminate the switching animations completely. This makes for a much faster and calmer work environment.

    Now to my question. I use the ctrl+number keys all the time to switch between desktops. So obviously I have enabled this under Mission Control in System Preferences. However, it only works with the number keys above the letter keys and not with the number keys on the numeric keypad. Anyone knows why? It used to work before, but somewhere along the way I lost this ability. I’m now on 10.10.1.

  10. KB says:

    I love you. I guess I had done this on my own laptop at some point but not my work machine and I was going crazy because I could not find where to set this.

    Thanks a lot.

  11. […] Desktop switching keyboard shortcuts set, you can instantly move windows between different desktops without going through Mission Control at […]

  12. […] Screen apps in Mac OS X are managed by Mission Control, this means that if switch beween or gesture swipe from one full screen app to a desktop or another app, it follows the order of […]

  13. Peter82 says:

    “I can’t work this way. What was Apple thinking?!”

    Lion feels like Windows Vista with 10Million Betatesters.
    The SnoLeopard Spaces was perfect. Why have they changed it? I understand, that they have to add new Features to sell theit stuff. But why can’t i download old Spaces in Lion?

    I hate Lion. Its slow and i cannot work on in productive way…

  14. Keith Wiley says:

    Mission Control is a disaster relative to Spaces, but even worse, Mission Control combined with multiple monitors is practically nonfunctional. Heck, when you go into Mission Control, it doesn’t even show the thumbnail desktops paired by monitor arrangement, but rather shows each monitor’s thumbnails on its own monitor. Thus it is virtually impossible to cognitively associate the thumbnails for one monitor with those for another. The monitors are not distinct; they are a functioning set that comprise an overall “workspace”. That cohesiveness needs to be preserved (as it was in Spaces).

    Furthermore, it is impossible to drag windows between desktops across the multi-monitor Mission Control UI. Even worse, the UI ACTS LIKE IT WILL WORK, but then at the last second fails!

    I can’t work this way. What was Apple thinking?!

    • Josh says:

      I couldn’t agree more!! I’m actually considering wiping my machine and downgrading back to 10.6…something I’ve never considered doing with any previous releases of OSX. This is very, very sad.

  15. Skye says:

    PLEASE bring back the old Spaces!!
    I’m a developer and the new system sucks.

    And for some reason the Control left/right keyboard shortcuts play a very slow slide animation that hides all the desktop icons until the animation is complete. There’s no way that I’ve found to increase or eliminate the keyboard-activated animation to be at least as fast as the Control-1,2,3 direct switch that uses the “old” 10.6 fast slide

    If anyone knows a way to fix the left/right slow animation please post it!!

  16. […] Desktop 3 before Desktop 2 will change their orientation accordingly when you’re switching between desktops as well. Desktops will also automatically rename themselves based on their placement within Mission […]

  17. […] this method and Mission Control to switch spaces is the fastest method, but you can also do this through System […]

  18. Cesar says:

    Great tip, but FYI the “Switch to Desktop X (other than 1) won’t appear unless you have other Desktops already created in Mission Control… i.e. If you only have 1 Desktop created, then you’ll only see ‘Switch to Desktop 1”.. Add more Desktops, and the lines for them will automagically appear, and then you can check them.

    • Sarah says:

      how do you add more desktops?

      • Dave says:

        To add another desktop in Mission Control, move your cursor anywhere to the right of the desktop thumbnail. A pop-up with a + symbol will appear in the upper right corner of the screen. Click on it, and a new desktop will appear.

  19. Mike says:

    I really want my spaces back as it gave me a much better overview than those little little box on top of the new desktop overview…and you can’t even name the desktops to something meaningful. Apple you can do this better!

    • Håkan says:

      I second on that. Want Spaces back! I used to have 16 spaces and switched up down left right between them very fast with control and arrow keys. Now I can only go left or right. It is less productive for me. I want a square grid back. That made it easier to navigate.

  20. haymoose says:

    Hi Paul,

    How can I assign separate wallpapers for each desktop without the use of a third-party App? In your snapshot it appears there is a different wallpaper on your previous desktop.


  21. Alex says:

    I like the swipe it feels very natural, but it would be nice to set the speed. Nobody found a defaults write for it yet I guess??

  22. Nelmit says:

    For those still using Snow Leopard, try this:


    Unfortunately this doesn’t disable the slide in Lion

  23. Brown says:

    I miss the old Spaces :\

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