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End the clutter: How to organize your Mac menu bar

Kirk McElhearn | Aug. 9, 2016
The Mac’s menu bar is a handy place for quick access to apps and system preferences. But it can easily be a crowded space.

Your Mac’s menu bar is a useful tool. It displays “menu bar extras,” little icons that give you status information about your Mac, or that offer quick-access menus to certain settings. For example, you can click the Wi-Fi icon to turn Wi-Fi on or off, or to select a Wi-Fi network. You can click the User icon to go to the login window, or to select a different user and switch to their account. Or you can click the keyboard icon to change input methods, if you work with different keyboard layouts.

It’s not just OS X that puts menu extras at the top of your display; third-party apps do as well. Some offer similar features, such as access to oft-used functions, and others can provide status information.

But all this comes at a price: clutter.

If you have a Mac with a large display, then you probably don’t worry about how many icons are in your menu bar, though they can give you sensory overload. But if you have a laptop, you may find that not all of your menu bar extras display when an application you run has a lot of menus of its own. App menus get priority, and if you’re working with an app with lots of menus, some of your menu bar extras simply disappear.

my menu bar
Here's the menu bar on my 27-inch iMac.

Here’s what’s in my menu bar, from left to right: Dropbox, Airfoil Satellite, TypeIt4Me, BusyCal, BitTorrent Sync, HazeOver, Moom, f.lux, Evernote, Plex, then a group of status menu bar extras from iStat Menus. Next come system menu bar extras: Messages, Wi-Fi, Eject, Time Machine, Volume, Bluetooth, Input, User, Spotlight, Notification Center.

That’s a lot of stuff.

Changing Positions

Menu bar extras are in two groups: third-party items at the left, system items at the right. You can change the position of any third-party menu bar extra by pressing the Command key, clicking it, and dragging it to a new location. (And you’ll be able to do this with third-party extras in macOS Sierra.)

Removing Menu Bar Extras

For system items, just press Command and drag a menu bar extra away from the menu bar to remove it. For third-party items, you’ll need to check the apps that added the menu bar extras. Many of them can be removed, usually from a check box in the preferences or settings. However, some apps don’t let you do this; there would be no other way of accessing settings or features. For example, while Dropbox offers access to settings from its app, there’s no way to pause or resume sync, or to see what’s syncing without the menu bar extra.

 

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