Update: December 2015:
Some of this tutorial has been made obsolete from “improvements” to Spotlight that Apple has made. “Improvements” means that Apple removed some of the most useful functions I use everyday (like being able to open the enclosing folder of a file I’m looking for.) I’ve since bought Alfred and have been using it, alongside Spotlight. Neither quite hit the mark for me (though I have to admit to not spending enough time with Alfred to get the most out of it.)
Spotlight is an unobtrusive little utility that sits at the top right of your screen.
If you click the magnifying glass at the top of your screen, a blue bar with a cursor pops up.
This little blue bar is one of the most powerful ways of doing all sorts of stuff on your mac
like finding and opening just about anything on your computer quickly.
Search for documents, programs, pictures, emails, anything on your computer.
Instead of clicking through folder after folder, looking for something, just start typing the name of a file.
When you find what you’re looking for, just click Enter while it’s highlighted and it will open.
From searching for “guide to file management”, I found the .pdf I was looking for…
If you don’t remember anything about the file you’re looking for except a word or phrase that occurs somewhere in the file (if it’s a text file, pdf, Word file, etc.), just type the phrase you remember and Spotlight will probably find it…
You can also open programs just as easily as individual documents…
If I want to open Photoshop, all I have to do is start typing the word “Photoshop.”
I probably won’t even have to type the entire word if I’ve searched for it via Spotlight before…
Setting up your preferences in Spotlight…
You can tell Spotlight to index all sorts of files on your computer.
You can also tell it to not index certain kinds of files on your computer.
Open up System Preferences -> Spotlight
Check the boxes to tell it which kinds of files you want it to scan.
Uncheck the boxes you don’t want it to scan.
It’s that simple…
If there are specific folders on your hard drive you don’t want Spotlight to index (for whatever reason), you can tell Spotlight to not index them (doesn’t matter what kind of files are inside them.)
Go to the Privacy tab (in the Spotlight preferences)…
If you stop reading now and just start regularly using some of the above tricks, you will cut 50% of the time you spend looking for stuff during the day.
Which means you have more time than ever before. So get up from your desk and dance like a whirling dervish until you trip over yourself.
Come back and you’ll still be ahead of your pre-Spotlight self, even when you take time out to recover from imitating these guys:
(Here’s a video of some whirling dervishes)
The Spotlight Kid: tricks and hacks…
If you wanted to open up a folder that contains a certain file you’re looking for (maybe you’re looking for a folder full of images and all you know is the name of one of the images), hold down the Command key while clicking on the file and it will open up that folder.)
Search by filetype:
You can tell Spotlight to search for only files of a certain kind by typing “kind:” followed by the file extension you’re looking for.
This is the formula you need to remember:
“text you’re looking for” [space] kind:[filetype you’re looking for -no period before the filetype]
In this example, I’m looking for:
pdf’s with the words “this is” somewhere in them (either in the file name or in text that’s somewhere inside the files.)
Filetypes you can search for:
You can look for any kind of file on your computer. Image files (like jpeg, tiff, psd, png), Word docs (doc files), Powerpoint files (ppt), Text documents (txt, rtf), any other kind of file (Evernote notes, iCal events, anything…)
If you start looking for something using Spotlight, you’ll see that you’re not limited by the few filetypes that I’ve mentioned…
When I click on the file in Spotlight, if it’s something that Preview normally opens, it will open the file with the words I’m looking for already in the Find area.
If I just click the Enter key, Preview will go through and take you to each instance of “this is” in the document.
Copying, Pasting and moving files around via Spotlight
You can drag and drop right from Spotlight. Try it.
Drag a file from the Spotlight list onto your desktop. Congratulations!
After you find what you’re looking for in Spotlight, hover over it with your pointer and click Command + C.
Navigate to wherever you want to put the file (in the Finder) and click Command + V to copy/paste (creates a copy of the file in the new location)
or Command + Option + V to cut/paste it there (moves the file from one location to another.)
Known bugs with this method:
This method only seems to work once per Spotlight search. If you open Spotlight a second time (and the search term from last time is still in there) and try to copy/cut/paste a file, it won’t work.
You have to retype your search term and then copy/cut/paste.
I found this forum posting that helped me figure out what was going wrong:
Using Spotlight to search Wikipedia and other esoteric uses…
You can also use it to quickly search the web, the built-in mac dictionary or Wikipedia…
If you wanted to quickly find out where a certain file is, hold down Option + Command while you have the cursor over the Spotlight entry. At the bottom of the file preview, the location of the file will show up when you hold those keys down.
This is how to find files that were created on a certain date:
To only find files that were modified (not created) on a certain date, you can do that easily enough in Spotlight…
If you only want Spotlight to search for filenames (but not search inside the contents of the file), use this trick…
You can also combine search terms if you’re feeling really freaky and specific…
Use the Spotlight as a calculator
You could call up the Calculator or you can use Spotlight directly to do math…
You can even use Spotlight to search metadata in files. (Like if you know that a certain pdf has an author listing in the metadata…)
Another metadata example:
search for music by:”[name of artist]”
You can really drill down and use Spotlight to search specifically.
At some point, you may be better off just using Command + F in the Finder for really involved searches.
You can use Spotlight for 80% of the things you look for on your computer and save yourself a week’s worth of time each year from not having to click around with your mouse looking for stuff in folder after folder on your hard drive.
More Spotlight tricks:
Click Option + Command + Spacebar to open up Spotlight in the Finder (try it and you’ll see what I mean: hold down Option and Command at the same time, then click on the Spacebar)
Navigate your categories of stuff in Spotlight using only the keyboard: use the Arrow Up and Arrow Down keys (and try using Command + Arrow Up/Down keys to go directly to different categories of things.)