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

I have always wanted to use macOS Finder tags to better organise files and folders. They seem so powerful and easy to use. You add a tag to a file or folder (if you don’t know how to do that, you can read this guide, then use that tag in Spotlight or Finder searches, create a smart folder for this tag or even use 3rd party tools, like Alfred, to leverage them and get quick access to files. Sounds simple, right?

Coming up with a tag structure

Well, the file tagging concept is indeed great, but since I haven’t used tags consistently from my very first saved file, I will have to deal with some trade-offs. Unless I go back and tag all existing files, which I believe will not add enough value to justify the effort, I have to keep in mind that there might be files missing in some searches. In addition, the number of tag colors is limited to 7 (grey, green, blue, yellow, orange, red and purple) plus a colorless option which is not displayed in Finder’s tag column. Lastly, adding, removing or remembering tags is a tedious, manual process. After familiarising myself with those limitations, one question arises: How do I get started?

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

I started by renaming one default tag to “2018”, which I assigned to all files, I considered somehow relevant in 2018. Since then, I keep refining my tag structure. It’s still not what I want it to be, but I keep iterating until I eventually get there. Here are some of the lessons I learnt along the way defining my tag structure:

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.


Having finally started using Finder tags in 2018, I believe I can optimise my workflow and be more efficient when looking for particular files. Finder tags on macOS are a powerful tool to improve file searches, but also have some annoying limitations, which don’t make them as easy to use as one might think.

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.

Creating The Unimagined

Innovation design by Fox+Rabbit.

Dennis Schäfer

Written by

Maker of Taggy Tagger ( Founder | Managing Director @ Fox+Rabbit Innovation Design. Indie Developer.

Creating The Unimagined

Innovation design by Fox+Rabbit.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade