You might think I’m nuts talking about Finder Windows as though there’s anything special or interesting to teach you about them. Strange as it may sound, there are little unsung heroes of productivity waiting for you in your Finder windows.
Standard Finder Sidebar
When you open the Finder on a new user account, you’ll see four sections down the left-hand sidebar of the window: Favorites, Devices, Shared and Tags. We’re going to focus on the Favorites Section today. In this default condition, Favorites includes Air Drop, All My Files, iCloud Drive, Applications, Desktop, Documents and Downloads. Having these things in the sidebar is wonderful because you can always jump right into those folders from any Finder window.
Because Apple has a unified Finder interface, you also have access to those folders from within the Save As dialog box.
Modify Finder Preferences
You may like to see these options but maybe some of them will never be interesting to you. For example, I find that All My Files isn’t very useful because, well, it’s ALL my files. You can modify what’s shown in the sidebar by going to Finder Preferences and selecting the Sidebar tab. From this screen you can uncheck any or all of the defaults I just described and they’ll instantly disappear from the Finder sidebar. In addition to the defaults we’ve already seen, from Finder Preferences you can also add Movies Music, Pictures or your home folder. I find it very useful to turn on my home folder if nothing else.
I know I said we were going to focus on Favorites, but it’s from this same preference tab that you can choose whether to view shared devices on your network. If you have a network attached storage device, or would like to be able to see other computers on your network, you make them visible with these check boxes. Note that you also have to enable sharing within each device but that’s a lesson for another day.
From this preference you can decide whether to view hardware devices attached directly to your Mac. You can decide whether to see your entire computer, internal and external disks as well as CDs, DVDs and connected devices such as iPods.
Finally there’s an option to turn off Recent Tags. I think this is mislabeled because if you uncheck the box, the entire option to see any tags is removed from the Finder sidebar.
It’s good to know where these options are because often it seems a mystery why one computer will show the internal disk and one will not. Now you know why and how to fix it.
Let’s Take it Up a Notch
Finder preferences are cool, but you can do so much more to customize your Finder sidebar. You’re not restricted to just those things Apple shows you. You can have any file, folder or application in the Finder sidebar and have instant access to it. But before we get into how to do it, what problem would we solve by doing this? Let’s walk through a couple of examples to help you see the value.
Many, if not all, of us are using cloud services like Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive, along with our built-in iCloud Drive. If you could have those locations in your sidebar you’d have instant access to save files into them and get files back out.
When I get a receipt in email for an order I’ve made online, I like to immediately print that receipt to PDF and save it to my Receipts folder. If I have to do a lot of hunting around to find that folder, I may not have the discipline to do it. I put my Receipts folder in the sidebar of my Finder window to eliminate any friction to me doing what I need to do.
Sometimes I keep folders in the sidebar for temporary needs. For example, while I’m writing an article for ScreenCasts Online Magazine, I keep the folder for that month’s article in my sidebar. I can drop in images, text, and all of the other associated media that goes into the production of the article. When the article has been posted to ScreenCasts Online, I can remove that folder from my sidebar.
If you have a file you’re constantly updating, having it right in your Finder sidebar would be very efficient. Maybe you keep a spreadsheet up to date of your finances, or you keep a journal that you update daily, anything you like to get to often is a great candidate for the Finder sidebar.
The Dock is designed for quick Application launching but with the big monitors we have these days, that can be a long way to go with your cursor. What if you kept your top five applications you use all the time right in your Finder sidebar for quick access?
I’ve probably sold you enough on the idea by now so I should give you the big reveal on how to put things in your left sidebar, and more importantly how to get them back out.
How to Modify the Finder Sidebar
If you want to move something into the sidebar, simply navigate till you can see the item in a Finder window. Then hold down the command key and drag the item into Favorites. As you’re dragging, you should see a blue bar with a circle on the left indicating where it’s going to insert the selected item.
Keep an eye on that bar designating the insertion point. If you have any folders already in your sidebar, it’s easy to accidentally drop items onto folders and the item will actually move to that folder. A very quick command-z will put your item back so you can try again.
You can rearrange items in the Favorites section by simply clicking and dragging them up and down. You could organize them in simple alphabetical order, or maybe you want to organize all of your cloud services together, then your files, then folders, then applications.
You might be hesitant to put things into the Finder sidebar for fear of cluttering it up. The good news is that it’s just as easy to get things out of the sidebar as it is to get them in. Simply click and drag the item out of the sidebar until you see a grey circle with an X in it indicating it’s about to be removed. Don’t be alarmed by the X; this isn’t deleting your item, it’s just removing it from the sidebar.
One More Thing
Many of us were annoyed when Apple deliberately hid the User Library from us. I know, they did it for our own good and don’t think we’re qualified to muck about in there, but some of us are qualified. There’s a secret way for you to get access to it, however. If you hold down the option (alt) key and then select Go from the Finder menu, you’ll see the Library magically appear (try it without the option key and it’s not there).
Once you have the Library open, you’ll see at the top of the Finder window a little folder icon with /Users/yourusername/Library. This icon at the top of any window is called a proxy icon. Simply drag the proxy icon down into the Finder sidebar and now you’ll have easy access to the Library in spite of Apple’s efforts to hide it from you!
I hope this set of tricks will make you more efficient and find working on your Mac just a little bit easier.