Your OS X Menu Bar is Prime Real Estate

Dr. Mac’s Rants & Raves
Episode #117


I gave a presentation last week at the Chicago Apple User Group, and during the question and answer session someone asked about all the little icons in my menu bar. As I began to explain I had an epiphany: Many of my favorite apps and utilities include a menu bar “widget” to extend their functionality and convenience, or live exclusively in the menu bar. Yet many users have no idea that the menu bar is some of the most prime real estate on your Mac screen.

Then again, I know I’m not normal; I’ve currently got more than 25 menu bar apps in addition to the handful included with Yosemite. But I happen to like menu bar apps... a lot...  and I find all of the ones I have installed useful in some way. 

The first menu bar app I install on every Mac I use is iStat Menus ($16;, which gives me real-time feedback on memory and CPU usage; disk activity for all connected disks; network throughput; battery and sensor status; and a clock I like better than the one in Yosemite.

It’s brilliant and offers more information in its tiny bit of my menu bar than apps like as Activity Monitor provide in a big, screen-hogging window.

iStat Menus provides a lot of useful info but uses very little screen space.

What makes it even better is that I can click any item to get additional details if I need them.

iStat Menus is tiny but it provides extensive details when you click one of its menu items.

Moving right along, I have 16GB of RAM and don’t like to quit apps if I expect to use them again soon. That means I’ve usually got a dozen or more apps open at any time. Over the years I’ve developed a strategy for staying focused on one task by hiding all apps but the one I'm using with the keyboard shortcut Command+Option+H. But then I’ll need to check a fact with Safari, or copy an email address from Contacts. I end up un-hiding and re-hiding Safari, Contacts, and other apps all day long.

Then I discovered Hocus Focus (donationware;, a menu bar app that automatically hides applications after a specified period of inactivity. If I don’t use an app for 3 minutes, Hocus Focus hides it for me. I can disable it completely for apps I want visible all the time, and adjusting the inactivity interval for individual apps in its menu couldn’t be faster or easier.

Hocus Focus hides apps after a period of inactivity.

Display Menu (Free in the Mac App Store) lets me choose display resolutions for either of my monitors from its menu. I save a ton of time not having to launch System Preferences and then click Displays. That alone would be worth the price of admission, but it gets even better: Display Menu offers myriad resolutions in its menu in addition to the five choices available in the Displays System Preferences pane!

I can select screen resolutions for both displays right from the menu bar, just like the good old days. 

Finally, if you’re wondering how I fit 25 items in my menu bar, I don’t. I use a menu bar app called Bartender ($15;, which helps me manage my menu bar apps by providing a second, hidden menu bar for all the apps I don’t need to see all the time, but do need to use occasionally.

Bartender adds a second menu bar below the main one.  

And that’s all he wrote…