3 Tips To Organize Files On Your Mac

Andrew George
Jul 17, 2020 · 6 min read

Finder Tags — Use Them

Don’t Let Clutter Get in the Way of Productivity — Keep it Clean — Photo by Patrick Ward on Unsplash

We all have a “friend” that stores all their files on their desktop.

“I have a system — it works for me,” they say.

It doesn’t work for them.

These are the same people who probably have thousands of unread emails, and ask you to email Word docs back and forth to each other so you can each make changes. Yeah — they still exist.

If this is you, I’m sorry* for calling you out. You will benefit greatly from reading on if you’re a Mac user. In fact, if this is you, you can blow up your entire file management “system” and adopt the one I’m about to propose. It’s simple.

If you have a “friend” as described in the above, this article can help you too, especially when I go into detail on how I use this system with my cloud services synced to my Mac. This article is actually best for describing just that — how to manage your Word Docs, Google Docs, mind maps, Slides, pdfs, Keynote presentations, across all of the associated cloud services.

This article will make you a lean, mean, Mac OS productive machine. Or, at very least, organizing your files won’t get in the way of you being productive moving forward if you adopt the system.

And, to be completely honest and transparent, I wasn’t born a file management aficionado or with organizational skills in my blood. I spent a lot of hours inefficiently going through my documents, unable to locate what I’m looking for. I adopted the system below and implore you to listen so you spend more time bringing your ideas to life rather than being choked out by your scattered files and seemingly random jottings of wisdom.

Here are 3 quick tips that will make your life much easier in the long run. A further explanation will follow.

Tip #1 — Files on your Desktop are files that require your immediate attention. Don’t store anything else there.

Tip#2 — Exercise efficient folder creation grouped by file and media type.

Tip #3 — Use Tags to connect files and folders across file by:

  1. Project name
  2. Bigger concepts. For example, I have a Tag labelled “Filing Cabinet” that contains letters, resumes, scans of documents — items you’d typically find in a filing cabinet. Keep in mind that you can apply multiple Tags to a file or folder. And, if you don’t know how to use Tags, Apple has a little run down here.
On the right you see the current projects I’m working on, organized by Tag. A mind map, pdfs, and a Google Doc are located there. eventually, a Tag for HCI (human computer interaction) may get created if my currently small project blossoms into something bigger.


Let’s touch on Mac OS and Finder (the place you find all your files)

While pictures, music, and movie folders are already created for you, along with folders based on most apps, such as Pages, Garageband, and Keynote, there are going to be times where you need to group media/files that are mixed.

That’s where folders come into play for a lot of people — which isn’t necessarily a good idea if you’re using multiple cloud services. We all know about folders. We’ve all likely created plenty of them. Eventually, they start resembling Russian nesting dolls, a subfolder system that goes on and on, with the exception being that they’re not cute or pleasing. And here’s the thing, mixed media isn’t always good when it comes to folders. So what do we do with folders?

Always think about future use. Here’s my method.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

1 — Keep your files nested under the app folder until a common thread emerges. For example, Pages, Keynote, and most iCloud enabled apps routinely make a folder in the root directory of your iCloud drive after installation on any apps on your devices.

2 — Create folders by file type when the above doesn’t apply

3 — When a common thread emerges under the above two types of folders, create a folder with a specific name (that can be used for others as well) within the above folders.

4 — If projects emerge and they have mixed media, connect them using Tags.

5 — If you break the above rules and create folders with mixed media, ensure it’s a specific folder name. Think about what will best jog your memory. I tend to do this for the courses I take, which contain slideshows, pdf files, and word processing documents.

My mindset is largely not to make folders until I have to.

“But doesn’t this fly in the face of what you said above… about the messy desktop?” you ask.

No. Your desktop is meant for items that need attention sooner rather than later. Or, a short cut to an external drive to avoid having to click on Finder and then the drive in question.

If you can’t handle that, you should create a folder within your Documents folder (which is already made) for documents that don’t yet have a specific home. I call this folder “Misc.”

From WikiCommons

Now, I want to explain my reasoning for making folders nested under application-specific folders and/or by media type. Really, it’s a tip for those that have multiple cloud services (Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive, Dropbox, Adobe Cloud) synced to their Mac.

I use Google Docs as my word processor, Apple Pages for word documents that are graphic heavy or when I need to mix text and images in a pleasing manner. I do a lot of work with Google Slides but I also use Keynote. For my Google-based files, I organize in Google Drive (which could be explained in a whole other article) and use Google’s Backup and Sync to keep my Google Docs and Slides files handy on my desktop if need be. I also have an iCloud subscription and store the majority of my files that eat up space there (Google files do not). A lot of people do this.

However, mixing all of these files into one folder is problematic given that the cloud systems do not play nicely with each other and accessing them from another device (which you want to be able to do) can be a nightmare. For example, a Google Doc and an Apple Keynote can only be stored together on Google Drive, but a Google Doc can’ be stored anywhere but Google Drive. However, if you need to access these files from someone else’s computer, especially if it’s a Windows computer or Chromebook, you’re not opening that Keynote file up if it’s stored on Drive. You could if you left it in the Keynote application folder and accessed it from iCloud.

If that paragraph sounded complicated, it’s because it is. It’s much simpler to keep files in the application’s folder or in a sub-folder.

And that’s it. I tend to erase Tags of projects after I’m no longer working on them, or at least not use a coloured Tag on them (I don’t like to use the same colour on multiple Tags). I also have a few other Tags I use, such as a “Chopping Block” Tag for files I’m considering deleting, but if I explain my system any further I may be labelled neurotic.

The system works for me. It’s simple. It allows for quick retrieval, eliminates making copies of files, and actually makes it easier to scan what you have on hand. I find I can better make connections between previous projects with this system as it forces me to scan through different media file types as I start to build projects.

*“not sorry”

Efficient U

Pro tips on how to be more efficient and productive in life.

Andrew George

Written by

I write about tech and its impact on individuals and society, for the most part. I’m also a teacher. www.andrewjoegeorge.com

Efficient U

Pro tips on how to be more efficient and productive in life.

Andrew George

Written by

I write about tech and its impact on individuals and society, for the most part. I’m also a teacher. www.andrewjoegeorge.com

Efficient U

Pro tips on how to be more efficient and productive in life.

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