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Most modern computer users might find it difficult to imagine living in the time when the size of computer hard disks was within the range of a few megabytes. But users from the early days of computers knew the storage space limitation so well that they learned to be very selective in choosing which files to keep and which files to throw away.

Thanks to the luxury of virtually unlimited storage space that we have today, computer users have developed the “save everything now, think about them later” attitude. The problem is, for some “too many things to do” people – like me (and maybe most of you) – “later” might never come.

Then one day, the hundredth time you find yourself rummaging your hard drive(s) for that one specific file that you really need without a clue about the file identity, you’ll wish you’d done something earlier in the file-organizing department.

The Grouping & The Searching

The most common solution to file organization problems is to group the similar files into folders. For examples: all the files related to Project X would go into folder “Project X”, while all the MP3 files will go into the “Music” folder.

Problems arise when you have to decide where to put files from Project X that are also a MP3. And most of the time, it is far more complicated than that.

To help you increase the effectiveness of using folders as a means of organizing files, you can try Smart Folder.

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  • Go to Finder then to File → New Smart Folder menu (or Command + Option + N)

You can also create a smart folder by doing a search in the Finder window.

  • Set the rules of the folder by choosing the options available there.
  • Click the plus button (+) to add more rules.
  • Click the minus button (-) to delete a rule.

A few things that you can set for example: the location of the file, the kind of file, last opened date, last modified date, name, etc.

Don’t forget to hit the “Save” button after all the rules have been customized and tick the “Add To Sidebar” box to put the smart folder to the sidebar so that you can access them easily.

This way, you can set the contents of the smart folder to be PDF files which were created within a week and have the word “billing” in the name. Once a PDF file is more than one week old, it will automatically be out of the smart folder.

If you no longer need the smart folder, just right click and choose “Remove from Sidebar” from the pop-up menu.

The Tagging

Mac users can improve the usability of Smart Folder and Spotlight searching by adding tags to the files. You can assign multiple tags to a file or folder and go beyond the grouping files inside folders.

The traditional way of doing tagging is by adding Spotlight comments from the file info window. You can access the file info windows by right clicking on the item and choose “Get Info” from the pop-up menu, or select the item and press Command + I.

But doing the tagging one file or folder at a time is a tedious and time-consuming activity. Not to mention boring. The simpler way is by using TagIt.

It is a small application that will help you to tag multiple files easily. TagIt also makes the process of searching files based on their tags easier. And as a bonus, you can also assign ratings to the file(s) or folder(s).

You can search tags directly from Spotlight by using the search string “tag:the_name_of_the_tag” sans quote.

Few possible scenarios of using tags to files and folders are:

  • Assign “Ongoing” tag to something that you are currently working on and change the tag to “Done” after finishing the project.
  • Assign the client’s names as tags to the file.
  • Use the ratings as the “Importance” level.
  • Add the team member’s names.
  • Add the revision number.

And by adding tags to the Smart Folder’s rules, you can organize your files and folders so much better.

What about you? What method do you use to organise files? Share using the comment section below.

  1. SuperDrill
    November 26, 2009 at 10:35 pm
  2. Caitlin
    August 29, 2009 at 4:16 am

    I was really hoping that Snow Leopard would have a better integrated tagging mechanism. From what I have read, this does not seem to be the case. Has anyone who has tried Snow Leopard yet been able to determine if it has better file tagging support? Thanks!

  3. Al Maloney
    May 6, 2009 at 7:33 am
  4. Miguel
    April 23, 2009 at 8:32 am

    All good tips. If you don't mind spending a little money you may want to check out Hazel from Noodlesoft only $21.95 for a single license or $39.95 for a family pack. It includes the missing 'is not' rule and runs in the background. There are some very good tutorials on their website.

  5. RajSmith
    April 15, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Great tip on using Smart Folders -- but it seems that you can't have a Smart Folder with a rule that includes "is not" which is a problem for many.

    I want to create a list of recently looked-at documents, but haven't figured out a way to not include recent pictures, movies and songs. It would be a lot easer and more effective if you could include a simple rule like "[kind] is not [movies]" and "[kind] is not [music]" etc.

    Any hints?

    • Alex
      April 15, 2009 at 1:30 pm

      How about kind IS DOCUMENTS? I mean, if you just wanna get rid of everything else and only show docs that would be the way. But I do agree... there should be an "is not" rule.

      • RajSmith
        April 15, 2009 at 2:41 pm

        I tried that. It seems to include a lot of mp3's, avi's and jpg's -- that's not really a good enough limitation of "documents" to make that rule useful.

    • Jeffry Thurana
      April 15, 2009 at 9:05 pm

      While I have no luck in finding how to set "is not" rule, maybe it will help to point out that Smart Folder can be set to filter in specific type of file only (Kind --> Other --> type in the file type, eq: Word, text, etc.). And you can add as many filters as you need.

      • RajSmith
        April 15, 2009 at 9:12 pm

        Thanks, Jeffry -- I hadn't thought to try that.

        Still hoping for an "is not" boolean solution. Maybe with Snow Leopard...?

        Anyways, thanks again.

    • Al Maloney
      May 6, 2009 at 7:36 am

      RajSmith

      Hold down the Option key when clicking the + to add criteria.

      This gives "Any/All/None of the following are true" which might help.

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