Working with Finder tags on macOS

Dennis Schäfer
Nov 12, 2018 · 4 min read
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

I am a freelance innovation consultant and software engineer who constantly tries to find ways to work smarter. This time, I tasked myself to become more efficient in working with files in macOS.

Due to the project-based nature of my work, I have lots and lots of files stored in nested folder hierarchies which for example look like [client] — [year] — [project] — […]. On top of that, there are heaps of files about running a company as well as managing my personal life (not including multimedia). Finding relevant files quickly is essential to my workflow. I’m depending on Finder to organise and manage my work and personal files. I like Finder and it does a great job. I’m generally good in remembering file locations and have bookmarked my most frequently used folders. However, I try to keep the number of bookmarks small and they usually point only to the top level node of a particular folder hierarchy. Thus, I end up manually navigating through those hierarchies until I get to the desired file. Besides, I sometimes use Spotlight to find a particular file, which also works, if I happen to know the name. Overall, it works, but there must be a better way.

Finder tags to the rescue

Coming up with a tag structure

Before I blindly started creating my own tags, I decided to google to see how other people have put tags for them to work. Despite the amount of articles covering this topic, it wasn’t really enlightening as nothing seemed to fit my work style and way of managing files. The conclusion: There is no silverbullet. So, I decided to dive in.

Lessons learnt

Decide on one main file category (work files, personal files, photos, multimedia files,…) to add tags to at the very beginning and stick to it. By using more than one category, I ended up with a huge amount of tags all mixed up in a single, unordered list which was not very helpful finding files quicker.

Don’t create too many tags. It is very hard to remember and maintain tags the more there are. Regularly searching by tags one by one helps identifying tags that are not or hardly used. Right now, my tag structure is more like an extended bookmarks list for frequently used files which are spread across the file system.

– I use a prefix (&) for all my tags. This speeds up the search using Spotlight as I don’t have to type “tag: 2018” but can simply type “&2018”.

– Having different tags with the same color is confusing. If I need to differentiate files in more detail, e.g. customer invoice and vendor invoice, I create a colored tag for invoice and make customer and vendor each a colorless tag. Generally, the tag colors appeared to be less relevant than I initially thought.

Don’t give up too quickly. Believe me, I trashed my tags several times and started from scratch again until I even knew what I wanted. The good thing is, tags are metadata. Deleting them won’t break anything.


Taggy Tagger — a Finder tag manager for macOS. —

If you find the article useful, give it a clap. I’m planning of publishing a few more articles covering Finder tags in the coming weeks. I’m also curious about your experiences with Finder tags on macOS. Do you find them useful or just cannot get into it? Let me know in the comments.

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