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Use Tags to Organize and Find Files

What are File Tags?

File tags are keywords you assign to files. They allow you to organize and find files.

Example of tagged file: a paid invoice
Example of tagged file: a paid invoice

Organize Files: Folders or Tags?

File tags allow you to organize files when a simple folder structure won’t do. Better yet: file tags can improve your existing filing strategy and make files easier to find.

Well Thought Out Folder Structures

Let’s imagine you want to file invoices from utility companies. You may want to create a folder for each company. Thus when looking for electricity bills, you can find all those bills in one place. Since there are quite a few files, you add subfolders to group invoices by year. Last year’s electricity bills can now be found in the Electricity/2018 folder, while water bills are in Water/2018. Nice and clean.

Invoices organized by type

But what if you want to find all expenses for 2018? You will have to dig into Electricity, Water, Phone, TV, etc. folders and check the various 2018 subfolders.

Now, that you recognized the need to find files by year, you may be tempted to re-organize your files: Reverse your folder structure to organize files by year first and use subfolders for each utility company. With the new folder structure, it is now harder to find all invoices from a given company.

Screenshot: folder structure
Invoices organized by year

You will run into similar problems whenever you try to organize files.

Should a small company set up a folder for each client where letters, offers, and invoices are saved? Or does it make more sense to have a single folder for invoices from all clients?

With a folder structure, you cannot have it both ways. Once you settle for one way of organizing files you have to accept the drawbacks it brings.

Tags to The Rescue

Tags allow you to organize files in a way that is much like having the ability to file an item to more than one folder. Tag an invoice with “Electricity”, “2018”, “Home”, “Utilities”, and “Bill”. You will be able to find it by searching for “Bill” + “Electricity”. You can find it just as easily when searching for “Electricity” + “2018”. Find all utility bills by searching for tags “Bill” + “Utilities”.

Screenshot: HoudahSpot search
HoudahSpot search for electricity bills from 2018

File tagging works best when combined with a simple folder structure. Don’t just throw files willy-nilly into your Documents folder. For the files in our example, you could create a Documents/Home Expenses folder. You may even want to create subfolders for each year. This makes browsing easier. You can still run searches on the Home Expenses folder.

Screenshot: tagged utility bills
Search for utility bills from July 2017

Smart Folders: Best of Both Worlds

Wouldn’t it be great if you could still browse your utility bills by type? With smart folders, you can do just that!

Use the Finder to search your Home Expenses folder for files tagged “Electricity”. Save the search to your Home Expenses folder. This creates a smart folder that you just need to double-click to get to your list of electricity bills.

Screenshot: create a smart folder
Create a smart folder with your electricity bills

Repeat the process for the various types of utility bills. Now you truly have the best of both worlds: browse your utility bills by year or by type.

Screenshot: Folders and smart folders
Folders and smart folders: utility bills organized by year and type