Mac Smart Folders Can Help Keep You Sane

By on April 13, 2015

The step by step tutorial to get you up and running and super productive with mac smart folders real fast.

The Problem

Maybe you have come across this issue before. You are building up notes or are creating articles for future blog posts and you want to categorise them.

For example you are writing an article about "marketing" but it is also relevant for "business strategy" and it may also be pertinent to blogging.

Maybe you are creating content as ideas come into you head, and you want to capture them now before your thoughts "evaporate", never to be remembered again!

These ideas may be the notes that will make up future blockbusting articles, if only you could find where you saved them on your hard disk.

So how can you save your documents in a manner that you can find them easily when you want information on a particular topic?

Maybe on your documents folder your have an "articles" sub folder, and under your "Articles" folder you have a "Marketing" sub folder.

Perhaps under your "Articles" folder you also have "Business Strategy" and "Blogging" sub folders.

This example structure would look something like this.

In this example you might save the document under "Marketing", but as I said earlier, it also has useful content relevant to "Business Strategy".

So six months later you decide to write an article about "Business Strategy", however you look in your "Business Strategy" folder and the document is not there.

In this case you have the option of duplicating the document into every folder that it is relevant to.

But duplicating your documents can get messy real fast.

And we have not even began to think about handling the possibilities of filing your documents by date created.

So all in all organising your documents by folder and sub folder is a kind of lame solution.

First you are wasting disk space, but more importantly what happens when you want to make a change to the document?

You have to find every instance of your document in the other folders and update it.

You can get into version control issues here real fast.

I’m talking pull your hair out, this is not working fooor mee pain!

But fear not, if you are a mac user, then help is at hand.

The Solution – Mac Smart Folders

You lucky mac user’s you. You can be super organised now.

So first of all let me say, it is best if you create a system or way of working that you use consistently.

Here is the system that I use…

I use the following naming convention for my documents, Date Tag-Keyword-Keyword-Keyword-etc.

So if in the above example I was saving a word document my file name would be as follows….

2015-05-25 Blogging-Business Strategy-Marketing MaximiseSalesWithTinyAdvertisingBudget.docx

The first tag is a date tag, I’m using the UK standard so I’m saying that this is a Word doc (.docx) created on the 25th May 2015.

It has the keywords "Blogging", "Business Strategy" and "Marketing" followed by the title of the document.

Now the beauty of "Smart Folders" is that they are "virtual folders" that can be saved on your finder within normal folders.

They are like database queries and enable you to slice and dice the searches for your files.

This means that you could save folders that automatically retrieve based on any of the following criteria (and many more criteria that you make up as you go along).

  • All Files I created in 2015-05 (that is May 2015)
  • All .docx word files created in 2015 with Keyword "Blogging" or Keyword "Marketing"
  • All .docx word files created in 2015 with Keyword "Blogging" or Keyword "Marketing" but must not contain "Strategy". You should get the picture, I think.

How To Create A Smart Folder On Your Mac

First launch your Finder window, then click "File" followed by "New Smart Folder"

Now we need to create our first criteria to search for.

As indicated in the image below click the + Plus button to start entering your search criteria.

You can build some quite complex criteria, first lets look at the content of each of the drop down boxes that you get after pressing the plus button above.

In the image below look at the left most drop down (displaying "kind" here, for kinds of files), follow the red arrows below and you can see all the options contained within that drop down.

In this instance the right most dropdown (blue text and arrows ) displays the options showing different kind’s of files.

The display is context sensitive, so your options to the right of the first drop down change dramatically depending on what you choose in the left drop down as illustrated in the image below.

As you can see from the above image you can get very funky with your critera selections and build some very powerful searches, I’m talking database query power selections and exceptions!

I began writing articles on "Open Office" development so for the purposes of this tutorial I will search for some specific information on that subject.

First lets prepare the query by setting up the smart folder. Study the graphic below carefully, It contains three before and after steps in sequence.

In detail, first I launch the smart folder, then I hold down the option (labeled "alt") key on my mac and the plus + key changes to an elipse … (see first and second sections of the picture below).

I then click on the elipse and two new lines are added to the finder box, (third section of the picture below, area highlighted in pale yellow).

Within the yellow highlighted area the at the top left is a drop down labeled "Any" this contains boolean logic and the options are "Any", "All" or "None".

The second line of the yellow area has an empty criteria waiting to be filled out, this can be any one of the multiple criteria types highlighted earlier and in addition you can have any number of criteria lines here.

Instances of "Any", "All" or "None" can be nested underneath each other so that you can build the exact search that you want.

So lets have a look at something I cooked up a little earlier…

mac smart folders complex criteria

The above query is saying

  • Give me Adobe pdf’s, Apple Pages Docs (.pages) and Open Office Text Documents (Their equivelent to Microsoft Word .odt).
  • Also give me any files that contain "Open Office" in the name of the file (i.e I am writing about "Open Office") or files that contain "database" in the name.
  • But restrict that found set (this is under the "none" drop down) by removing files that contain "-expl", "rs-gu", "ppc" or "purchasing" in the name. Here I was manually eliminating irrelevant files from the result set.

All of the above was achieved by nesting the three areas (In this case "None", "Any" and "Any") under an "All" boolean operator at the top level. See the first query line on the image above.

The bottom half of the smart folder filters your results as you type. When your filter is complete it is time to save it as a new "Smart Folder" on your Mac in the location of your choice.

Now click the "Save" button located at the top right of the finder winow (see above). You should see something like this.

Give the smart folder a name of you choosing, I’m naming mine "Open Office Info Test" as follows…

The folder now exist’s where ever you saved it, on my Mac it can be found under the "misc" folder under data. Smart folders have a different colour to ordinary folders and also have the file extension ".savedSearch".

When you click on your smart folder the computer executes a search and populates it with the results.

The beauty of this is that if you save new files to your mac in the future, the smart folder will be automatically updated with all relevent results that meet the criteria that you outlined in your saved folder.

Contents of this smart folder are below.

If at any time you need to review or change the criteria that drives this folder then all you need to do is click the "Action" Gear (highlighted) and then click "Show Search Criteria" (also highlighted).

This will redisplay the criteria like so…

You can now review and make changes to to your your search if you so wish.

Remember you can save loads of smart folders, each slicing and dicing your files via different views.

Combinations of date created, file name, file type, keyword within file name, it’s all down to your own organisational skills and creativity.

About Sean Johnson

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