Use Stacks and Search in macOS to get work done

Here's how to maintain desktop law and order — and find those frequently wanted items fast.

Apple, Mac, macOS, tips

Everyone who's ever worked on a project knows the feeling. You’ve tried hard to keep all your project data filed in the right place, but items often go missing — and there’s always at least one essential document that proves really hard to find.

Fortunately, the Mac has a couple of useful tools (and several others) to help you maintain desktop law and order.

Use stacks to keep order

I’m as guilty as anyone of saving documents to my Mac Desktop with the intention of filing them away properly eventually, and then failing to do so. As time goes by, the Desktop becomes over-populated, which ultimately means you’ll spend too much time finding that particular file you need.

Stacks is a macOS feature that tries to help you manage all the files, folders, documents, images, and other items as they crowd out your Desktop. To use it, control-click a blank part of your Desktop and then choose Use Stacks in the menu that appears. macOS will sort all the items on your Desktop into Stacks, logically assembled collections gathered according to criteria.

To set those criteria, control-click a blank part of your Desktop once again and select Group Stacks By and choose between the following options:

  • Kind: For example, documents or images.
  • Date Last Opened: Typically, date selections are curated into collections representing Yesterday, Last 7 Days, Last 30 Days.
  • Date Added.
  • Date Modified.
  • Date Created.
  • Tags: A really useful and sadly under-used Mac feature.

The beauty of this approach is that if you choose to set Stacks up by Date Added, you can more easily look for that item you added last week, while sorting items out by Kind is a really practical way for visual thinkers to find PDFs, images or any other item quickly.

And, of course, your Desktop no longer looks like a mess.

[Also read: 10+ WFH tips for Mac users]

The Mac search you’ll always have with you

Spotlight (Command-Space) is the go-too shortcut to search for items on your Mac. Designed to swiftly find and do things on your computer and to provide suggestions from online services and apps, it’s a reliable tool that does its job well, which is why most Mac users rely on it.

If you find you are searching for the same things frequently, \ you should save those searches in Smart Folders — intelligent folders that automatically update their contents with information gathered according to criteria you set. (Take a look at some advanced tips here).

To access Smart Folders:

  • Tap Command-Space and enter the frequently used search.
  • Scroll down the results and select Search in Finder.
  • A Finder window will open up with your term in the search bar at the top right of the window. (You can also run your search from within the Finder window, but I’ve become finger-automatic to use Spotlight.)
  • Once you enter your search, you’ll see the results in the Finder window. Look underneath your search term and you’ll see a Save button, along with a + button.
  • Tap Save, and you’ll be able to save your search as a Smart Folder. A dialog box will appear that lets you name your search, select a place in which to save it, and a tick box that empowers you to add that Smart Folder to your Finder’s Sidebar.
  • If you want to adjust your search — perhaps by setting parameters around dates, or document types or other relevant rules, you do so by using the Plus button.

In the future, you’ll find those items you need swiftly simply in the Smart Folder you just created in the Sidebar. Don’t forget, you can add any folder to your Sidebar to make it easy to find simply by selecting it and dragging it over to your Finder in the Favorite or iCloud section.

For even more Mac productivity tips, check out 30 keyboard shortcuts Mac users need to know.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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