I’ve started working with Finder tags a few months ago and I wouldn’t want to go back to the time before using them.
Back then, I was pretty much aware of their presence in Finder, knew what tags are used for in general and how to add or remove them in Finder on Mac. As I explained in one of my other articles Working with Finder tags on macOS, they intrigued me.
Except, I wasn’t sure about the benefits. Although Apple made it super easy to add or remove tags, tagging files is a manual, tedious task. When you start using them, you might want to add them immediately while saving a file. This most likely requires you to change your behavior, which is, as you guessed, not easy to do. I still keep forgetting to add them in the Save dialogue. That’s why I added a keyboard shortcut to add tags quickly from Finder after I saved the file.
Then, whenever you work with tags, e.g. adding them or searching for them, you have to decide which tags to use. This assumes you know all of your tags. In fact, coming up with a perfect list of tags is the hardest part. I still regularly refine the list of tags, deleting, renaming or merging some of the tags I once thought useful. In particular, tags that I rarely use, get deleted quickly to keep my list clean and short.
What are the benefits?
So, knowing there is some effort involved, what are the actual benefits of using tags and how did they help to better manage my files.
1. Finding files faster
It’s no surprise, that tags, which are simply file metadata, help to find files faster. If Recent Tags is enabled in Finder Preferences, you can find all files with a particular tag instantly by selecting the tag in Finder’s sidebar.
Additionally, you can leverage of your tags in Spotlight or Finder search. In Spotlight you can simply type “tag: Red” to search for all files having the tag named “Red”. Please note, that this does not work if you want to search for the color of tags, e.g. find files with red colored tags.
Pro tip: If you add a unique prefix to your tag name, e.g. ^, you can skip the “tag:” in the search field. For example, a search for “^Red” will return the same results as “tag: ^Red”.
A big advantage of using tags in your Finder search is to use tags as attributes for smart folders. This makes in particular sense, if additional criteria to tags is used in the search. For example, if you want to filter only PDF files from all files that have an “^Important” tag, you can create a smart folder for PDF files with the tag “^Important”. Smart folders can be added to Finder’s sidebar as well, so you can find those files with just one click.
2. No file duplicates, aliases or sub-folders needed
Once you have started using tags, you quickly realize that the detail level of your folder structure is not as important anymore. Instead of creating several, nested sub-folders, files can remain in the top folder and will be separated and distinguished by tags. Of course, if you look into the folder, it will look like a box with randomly jumbled sheets of paper, where you won’t find anything quickly. However, the idea is that you don’t have to navigate to the folder anymore, but use the methods described in 1. Finding files faster.
Additionally, I stopped having file duplicates because I don’t have to copy the file to multiple locations. For example, every month I have to upload documents to my accounting software which runs only on Windows. The way I did that before using tags, was to keep the original file in a sub-folder for the current month in my Accounting Docs folder. Then I created a copy, which I saved to the “To Upload” folder, so I remember which files to upload. When I was ready to upload them, I moved them to OneDrive to sync them with my Windows PC. Now, I basically only add the tags “To Upload” and “YYYY-MM” to the file and that’s it. I still have to do the copy-to-OneDrive part, but that’s something I have automated using tags as well (see point 5 below).
3. Keeping filenames short and simple
Probably not the most important problem that needs to be solved, however if you have ever used the Files app on your iPhone, you might have noticed that file names always seem to be too long and get truncated. By using tags, I am able to remove some information from the file name, thus reducing the length of it. For example, I have tags for the year and month, when a file was created. Another example is a tag for the kind of file, e.g. “invoice”, so I don’t have to name the file “invoice something something YYYY MM” but only “something something”. A good thing is, that the iPhone’s Files app supports listing files by tag similar to Finder’s sidebar.
4. Managing your workflow
Tags are also great to keep your workflow neat and efficient. While I generally use Asana to manage my projects and to-do lists, there are reasons where it is easier and better to use tags. For example, when I use my camera, I usually take a lot of pictures (in particular burst mode makes this super easy). Of course, approximately 80% of them go to trash, so I have to decide which ones I want to keep. Once I have decided on the remaining 20%, I want to edit them, so they look great. Sometimes I even print one or the other photo.
Before using tags, I was creating several folders to keep the photos separate. For example, there were folders named “To Keep”, “To Edit”, “To Print”, “Unsure”, etc. and I copied the files between the folders. Now, I have only one (album) folder with all photos in it and separate them using tags. This way, I don’t have to copy the files anymore, and always know what I wanted to do next with the photo. With a simple click in Finder’s sidebar, I will find all photos that I haven’t edited yet.
I can imagine the same could apply to working with documents, e.g. “To Review”, “To Update”, “Return To Author”, “To Publish” etc. I just don’t work a lot with documents of other people, so I’m only guessing here.
5. Automate tagging files
Despite all the benefits mentioned above, the biggest obstacle to overcome before using tags efficiently is the manual effort involved. Once you have found your sweet spot between number of distinct tags, file categories that need tagging and number of tags you can remember, tagging files becomes a monotone, repetitive task. So, the next natural step is to automate this task.
First, I played around with Automator but quickly realized that it is too limited for my requirements. Then I googled, but all the tools I found, were either too powerful (and thus too expensive), e.g. doing more than I needed them for, or just supported tags as a feature and didn’t have their main focus on them. There is also a third category, which is outdated software.
This all lead to the fact, that I decided to develop my own app. I plan to release it on the Mac App Store soon, but it is not ready yet. I will probably write a short intro article about it here. In the meantime, you can get an overview of the initial set of features and catch a glimpse at http://taggytagger.com. And if you are interested, you can even sign-up to become part of the beta test and get early access.
What are your reasons?
I can imagine there are more benefits of using Finder tags on Mac, so I’m curious about your experiences with tags. Do you find them useful or just cannot get into it? How do you use them? What do you think are some other benefits of using tags? Let me know in the comments.