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How to Use Smart Folders in OS X

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One of my favorite features inside of OS X has to be Spotlight. I have honestly never seen so much utility packed into such an inconspicuous feature. You may already know that Spotlight is available in the Menu Bar as well as integrated right into Finder; but Spotlight is also used in an amazing and useful feature you may not be familiar with: Smart Folders.


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How to Use Smart Folders in OS X

Understanding Smart Folders

Smart Folders use Spotlight to dynamically update their aggregated content, based on search criteria that you specify. Think of Smart Folders as saved instances of a Spotlight search, because that is exactly what they are. This means that you can create a folder to show anything from all the music or Word documents on your Mac, to something very specific like showing you all the image files that you have downloaded to your Downloads folder and marked with a file label color, but only within the last week. And because Smart Folders aren't actually moving or copying any files on your Mac — they are dynamically showing the results of the search criteria you specify for them — they take up practically zero disk space.


Creating A New Smart Folder

There are a few ways to create a new Smart folder. From the Menu Bar, you can select File > New Smart Folder, or use the keyboard shortcut Command-Option-N. You'll notice that the only thing that shows up is a Finder window. Again, this is because Smart Folders are using Spotlight at there core. So a quick way to create a Smart Folder is to just start a Spotlight search in an open Finder window.

You Can Create A New Smart Folder From The Menu Bar By Going To File, New Smart Folder
You Can Create A New Smart Folder From The Menu Bar By Going To File > New Smart Folder

a quick way to create a Smart Folder is to just start a Spotlight search in an open Finder window.

Spotlight Is Built Right Into Finder, So you Can Also Create A Smart Folder From Any Open Finder Window
Spotlight Is Built Right Into Finder, So you Can Also Create A Smart Folder From Any Open Finder Window

Specifying Smart Folder Contents

You can decide what will be shown in a Smart Folder with a surprising amount of control. If you open up a new Finder window and begin a Spotlight search, you will see a list drop down that is giving you options, this is how you to build your Smart Folder.

Spotlight In Finder Will Prompt You for Specific Search Information, Which Can Then Be Saved As A Smart Folder
Spotlight In Finder Will Prompt You for Specific Search Information, Which Can Then Be Saved As A Smart Folder

A search bar will appear across the top of the Finder window allowing you to chose where to search. You will also see a “Save” button that you can click to save your search as a Smart Folder. A familiar save window will show up allowing you to name your Smart Folder and choose the location to save it in. Clicking the little “Add” button will add another search criteria menu which will allow you to further refine your Smart Folder contents. The most common options are in the list but you will see there is an “Other” option in both lists. Selecting Other will give you an extensive list of options to chose from, from here you can really go to town and make your Smart Folder show you exactly what you are wanting to see.

Clicking
Clicking "Other" Will Give You A List Of Options To Choose From To Further Refine Your Search
Click
Click "Save" To Save Your Spotlight Search As A Smart Folder

Smart Folders In Use

Here is a simple example of how I use Smart Folders. I have my hand in audio production, so I have my sound library here on its own hard drive. I have a huge collection of samples that I've gained over the years, and what I do is go though and mark the audio files that I really like and want to eventually use with a red file label. However, I don't want to have to remember where they were because my sound library is pretty huge. So I create a Smart Folder, then choose other > File Label. I then select to show the red File Labels, and there are all the samples that I've marked in one place. So now whenever I'm browsing and come across a sound I like, I can mark it and it will show up in my new Smart Folder.

This Smart Folder is Showing All Files In
This Smart Folder is Showing All Files In "Sound Bank HD" With a Red File Label

Conclusion

Smart Folders are a great way to stay organized with day to day work, and can also be used to streamline your workflow like with audio, video or graphic design. I'm sure you can think of a few ways to use Smart Folders in your daily routine that will help you get the most out of your time.

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