How To Use Tags To Organize Your Files

Instead of placing every file in a specific folder, you can tag your files for greater flexibility. Files can have more than one tag, so you can include a file with more than one project, task or collection. You can rename and assign colors to tags. You can easily view all of the files that have a tag, search for files by tag, or even create smart folders for a single tag or set of tags.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: How To Use Tags To Organize Your Files.

So let's say you have a ton of files on your Mac and you want to get organized. Here's an example with only seven files. Let's say I decide I want to organize these and I'm going to do that by creating folders. So I'm going to do File, New Folder and I'm going to create Project A. Then File, New Folder and Project B. I could organize them by saying these three go into Project A and these three go into Project B and this one, oh no, this one is actually a file that both Project A and Project B. So what do I do here? Create a new folder for both or put it in one and hope I remember that it's there or maybe create an alias. You know, it can get confusing. It's hard, sometimes, to organize things by putting them in a specific place and only that one place.

So let's look at a better way to do it using Tags. Instead of putting these files in individual folders I'm going to assign tags to them. I'm going to select these three. These are part of Project A but I'm going to assign a tag to them by hitting this little tag button at the top. I'm going to click red. I'm going to assign these all the tag red. Hit Return and you can see they all have a red dot next to them. These are part of Project B. I'm going to assign those to green. Great. So now I've got this file. This file is for both Project A and Project B. So I'm actually going to assign red and green to it. Now you can see I've got both dots there. So this is great. But all my files are still in this huge pile here. Imagine if there were hundreds of them instead of just these seven.

But I don't have to worry about that because I don't need to look at them in a huge pile. I can actually, in the Finder sidebar here, look for Tags. Make sure I show it and I can click on red to just see the red ones. There's the three red ones and the one that tagged both red and green. I can click green to see the ones tagged green including the one tagged red or green. So I can go and look at the huge folder full of files or I can just look at them based on the tags that they have.

But I don't want these to be red and green. I want them to be Project A and Project B. I can go to Finder, Preferences and under Tags I can see the red and green and other ones that are there by default. I can actually select them, click again, and I'm editing. So now green can be Project B and red can be Project A. Now I see them here listed as Project A and Project B. Those files are still there and still using red and green as colors but they're using those names. If I want to use the colors for something special I can actually click the color here and change to a different color as well.

So these are both project files. I can say, well, all my projects I'm going to just use the color red. So now they're all red as you can see but I do see them as Project A and Project B. I can select it and click Tags and see which one it is. This one I click and can see they're both there. I can also click on one and do Command I and see the tags up at the top there. There are a lot of different ways to access the tags.

I can Control click and I can see the tags here. You can see as I roll over them Tag A, B. You remove the one if it's already there and it's circled. You can see. So this one if I select this here and I Control click you can see these two are both circled. Project A, Project B. I can add another one to it. Lots of different ways to add and remove tags that can help you organize things.

So tags are very versatile. You can set them up any way you want. You can have hundreds of tags or just a few. I want to show you one other thing here. You can search using tags. So in Search up here I can search for Project A and it will come up and say Tags, Project A and I can find it there. But I can also use Search criteria here. I can press the Plus button and I can say Name Matches and instead of Name I can change that to Other and search for Tags and say Tags Matches or Is project A and then I can say, also Tags Is project B and it's only go and show me the intersection of those. So that one file that has both.

But if instead I hold the Option key down and press what becomes three dots here I can say If Any of the Following are True, and I can do the same thing here, Is project A, Tags Is project B and then I'll get rid of these two here at the top. So now I've got it set where any of the following are true, Tags is either project A or project B, and I get all of those.

So imagine if I have a hundred tags for a hundred different projects I can say, well I want to see everything that's project A and B but not all the other projects. So it will combine them. Once I've done the Search I can hit Save and I can save this as a Smart folder so that I can get to it anytime I want. So I'll Save it that work folder here. I'll call it Projects A and B, and now when I look here I've got everything here and I've got this Smart folder here. I go into that and that's where I can always see them.

That will update automatically every time I add something new to either Project A or Project B or both it will appear in this Smart folder. So yet another way that you can use Tags to organize things and have them appear in more than one place at a time. It's a much more advanced way of organizing than simply putting everything into a single folder where it belongs.

Comments: 11 Responses to “How To Use Tags To Organize Your Files”

    9 months ago

    Nice! So many people need to do this! But the hard part is getting into the habit of tagging.

    9 months ago

    Great tip. How do you similarly best Tag ‘Emails’?
    Are there simpler ways other than applications like “Mail Tags” or “Leap”

    9 months ago

    Grand: It really depends on your email server. Gmail really only does tags, called labels. But email clients, like Mac Mail, work with folders, so the labels are translated into folders. I don’t use Mail Tags or Leap, but I guess they are good solutions. I just dump all of my email to my Archive folder. No tags, no folders. I find it is very easy to search email by person, subject or body text and quickly find what I need without messing with tags or folders.

    9 months ago

    Thank you! I continue to be amazed at how dedicated & service-oriented you have been and are over the years. I’m grateful for the answer, and for the inspiration.

    9 months ago

    Thanks for doing this one! The practical demonstration helps.

    Brenda Brooks
    9 months ago

    Can I increase the number of tags?

    9 months ago

    Brenda: You can add as many as you like. Just keep adding them.

    9 months ago

    Can you add some different colors?

    9 months ago

    Marcia: No, only the colors shown. I guess the idea is that it gets hard to tell colors apart when there are too many anyway. Use the colors on some main ones and leave the rest colorless, or use colors for grouping them.

    Doug Lee
    6 months ago

    Hi Gary,
    I just started to use tags on my files. As a secondary back up strategy I drag and drop all my document files onto an external drive once a week. When I do a search in Finder for a specific tag it brings up all the files that match that criteria in my Documents and also files on my external drive. Is there a way I can ignore the external drive when searching by tags? Many thanks for your help.

    6 months ago

    Doug: When you search, you can specify at the top where you want to search. So just restrict that to the Documents folder or your hard drive.

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