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How to Use the Mac OS X Task Manager

Before I started using a Macbook, I was always a Windows user. Making the change wasn’t easy, as a lot of things are different on the macOS X system than any Windows I’ve seen before. If you’re in the same shoes as I was, don’t be afraid. Everything you know and love from Windows can be found on a Mac, just under a different name.

How to us Macos X Task manager

One frequent thing new Mac users seem to look for is the Task Manager. It’s a useful tool on Windows that allows you to see a plethora of information at once. With the Task Manager, you can force quit apps (known as the “End Task” option on Windows) and see various consumption details.

Coming from Windows, I know that the Task Manager is an essential tool to identify issues or force quit apps. It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction to open it as soon as you suspect that something is wrong. However, the classic “Ctrl-Alt-Del” shortcut doesn’t work on a Mac. Trust me, I tried.

On macOS X, this tool is called the Activity Monitor. It delivers on the same premise but operates in a slightly different way. If you’re lost and want to know where to find this tool and how to use it on Mac, this article is here to help.

How to open the Task Manager on your Mac

Most Windows users know that you can quickly fire up the Task Manager by right-clicking on the taskbar. This feature is missing from Mac, as right-clicking on the Dock only brings up some settings.

So, how exactly do you open the Activity Monitor — the Mac equivalent of the Task Manager — if there’s no shortcut or Dock option? There are two ways to do it:

  1. Go to your Launchpad (the rocket icon in your Dock) and type Activity Monitor into the search field.
    luanchpad activity monitor
  2. Use the Spotlight utility (⌘-Spacebar) to quickly locate and launch the Activity Monitor.
    spotlight utility

What is the Control-Alt-Delete shortcut for Mac

Sadly, there’s no direct shortcut to open the Task Manager on a Mac. However, you can use a shortcut to force quit applications, which is one of the things the Task Manager in Windows is capable of.

force quit application

Press the ⌘-Option-Esc shortcut on your Mac to bring up the Force Quit utility. Here, simply select the app you want to close and click on the blue button in the corner. If an application is frozen and not responding, its name will be highlighted in red.

How to see what programs are running on your Mac

When you open the Activity Monitor, you’ll be able to see all of the applications currently running on your Mac. The apps and processes show up even if they’re running in the background, making it easy to spot unusual activity.

running process on Mac

By default, the Activity Monitor opens on the CPU tab. This means that you can see what’s consuming the most of your Mac's CPU power. It also shows you the exact percentages of power they are consuming, and how long each app has been running for.

cpu tab

Switching to the Memory tab, you can see the exact amount of RAM each process is consuming. Similarly to Windows, you need to pay attention to have enough RAM for your computer to properly function. If too much of your memory is taken up, you’ll notice that your system is slow and a pain to operate. Make sure to close out apps with high RAM consumption to avoid this.


The Energy tab helps you reduce battery usage by monitoring what applications are consuming your battery. Use this tab when your MacBook is unplugged to extend your battery life until you can plug back in.

energy tab

While the Disk tab is not as useful on a daily basis as the others, it’s still a crucial part of the Activity Monitor. Here’s where you can find all processes interacting with your hard drive and rewriting data. If you get a malware infection, you’ll be able to spot and quit the harmful processes here.

disk tab

The last tab in the Activity Monitor is the Network tab. It displays all the data sent and received by the apps you’re currently using. I personally use this tab to spot any outliers sending large amounts of data when I’m using my Mac to browse or work online.

 network tab

How to see your system status in the Dock with the Activity Monitor

You might think that it’s a hassle to constantly have to keep searching for the Activity Monitor to see the status of your Mac. I thought the same too, which is how I found out that there’s a much easier way.

Keep an eye on your system status right from your Dock by utilizing the live update feature of the Activity Monitor. Simply open the Activity Monitor and expand the View tab in the top-bar of your Mac. Here, hover over the Dock icon and select the desired update you want to see.

system status monitor

After choosing the option you wish to be displayed, you’ll see the Activity Monitor change to a live update right away.

Hopefully, this article has given you the answers to your questions regarding the Task Manager in Mac. If you have anything else you want to know about the macOS system, make sure to visit our Help Center section to find further articles and guides.


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