Stage Manager for the unimpressed: 2 Workflow strategies

In the first of these articles about starting to use Stage Manager in Ventura, I introduced the basic techniques, and took a close look at how to use items in its Cast, the area on the left where Stage Manager puts apps and windows that aren’t currently on Stage in the middle. In this article, I’ll explain how I set up and use Stage Manager for routine and special purposes.

Stage Manager does have its own rules, which aren’t always obvious, and sometimes appear unpredictable. What it provides you with is a set of tools you can use however you want. Just because I do something one way doesn’t mean that’s the best, or only way. As you get more used to Stage Manager and discover what works for you, you should develop your own strategies and actions to aid you work and workflows.

Standard Cast

Each day, when I start using my production Mac, I open the apps that form my standard Cast. Two groups provide my basic communications, one my main working app, and the fourth provides Finder windows as and when I need them.


From the top, I have a regular pair of apps to cover Twitter and browsing, in Tweetbot and Safari. These are laid out in a standard way that I have used for many years now. Because they’re left together, Stage Manager automatically puts them together, windows in the correct places, whenever I open them.

Sometimes I do break them apart, and can also create a new Safari window and drag that to another app group when necessary. Stage Manager supports your habits, however bad they might be, but it doesn’t limit you to them. If one day you decide you want to split two apps apart, all you have to do is drag one back to the Cast on its own, and carry on using them separately.

Below them, in its own group, is Postbox, my mail client. When reading and writing messages, I prefer not to have other clutter around, and this gives me room to open several messages at once.

The third group, again another app on its own, is my main working app, the wonderful MarsEdit, with which I write and maintain this blog and its nearly 7,700 articles. I seldom use MarsEdit on its own, though. As I’m writing this article, for example, I’ve got a Finder window open above the text so I can preview the images I’m going to insert.

This gets more complex when I’m pulling together research from the internet, with a Safari window open, maybe a Numbers spreadsheet, and my draft article. I use several tricks here, including the fact that QuickLook preview windows float conveniently so I can study them in detail while I’m writing the text to accompany them.

Another app I’m likely to pull in to MarsEdit is BBEdit. Although I don’t normally leave that open in the Cast, it’s my preferred text editor, and where I prepare lists of captions to accompany paintings. At times I work with BBEdit and a single Finder window, or BBEdit and MarsEdit together to transfer information from captions into articles.

The last item in the Cast is a pair of Finder windows. Again, this is an old habit of mine, but I like two carefully tiled in the middle of the display to copy and move files between. When they’re in the Cast, it’s easy to drag the top Finder window out to add to whatever is on the Stage.

Windows opening in the wrong group

Because Stage Manager remembers where you group windows from apps, it can sometimes open windows in a group you don’t want them in. This happens to me when I drag a single window from MarsEdit into another group, such as Tweetbot+Safari. If I close that window when it’s still part of that group, the next time that I open a window in MarsEdit, Stage Manager may open it back in the Tweetbot+Safari group. Sometimes this appears weird, as it’s not the first additional window, but the second or third.

Resist the temptation to close the window, go back to the app, and try again, as Stage Manager is likely to stick with its error. Instead, when it opens a window in a group you don’t want it in, drag the window back to the Cast and drop it on the original app. Bring that app back on Stage, and then when you open a new window it should stay put and not fly off elsewhere. If that doesn’t work, click on the main app in the Cast and drag its remaining windows from the Cast back onto Stage to join it.

When Stage Manager won’t let you perform an action between Cast and Stage, try reversing its direction by putting what’s in the Cast on Stage and dragging in the opposite direction.

Special workflows

This is the time of the year for UK tax returns. Updating my accounts and completing the returns in PDF forms is one of the special workflows that I set up only when I need them, and a good example of how you can use Stage Manager flexibly. I dread doing this, not just because it’s tedious and non-productive, but because in the past I end up with a pile of 10-12 windows that are hard to navigate. This year has been the easiest I can recall, and I didn’t lose a single window.


I started by double-clicking last year’s tax return in a Finder window, so I can refer to it and copy personal details. That opens in my own PDF viewer Podofyllin, so I stretched its window to a comfortable size, and put that at the upper right.

Accompanying that I need a small text document with all my reference numbers, open in TextEdit. I double-clicked that document in a Finder window and tucked it down on the right, below last year’s tax return. Next comes the Numbers spreadsheet containing all the summary figures from my accounts, pushed up on the left. The finishing touch is Adobe Acrobat Reader (the PDF form works with no other app), which fills centre-stage.

I built this app group in just a few seconds: open the next document, click on the group in the Cast, drag the last document window into place, and on with the next document. This is made easier by the fact that Stage Manager swaps items to and from the same location in the Cast. Each of the four documents is visible, and, despite their overlaps, I can see what I need on every one of them. Because this is so tedious, I like to take short breaks from completing the forms. It’s often a relief to see Tweetbot scroll with a batch of new tweets, and to use that excuse to switch to my Twitter and browser group in the Cast.

There’s nothing here that you can’t already do minimising windows into the Dock, in Spaces, or using other features of macOS and the Finder. However, I can switch so easily between tax returns and Twitter, or look for another document to check figures to enter into the return. Once the returns have gone, and I don’t need this app group again, all I have to do is quit the apps, and it has gone from the Cast.

I hope these have given you ideas of strategies and actions you can use to make Stage Manager a valuable toolbox.