25 Finder tips & tactics to speed up your workflow
A treasure trove of solid strategies and hidden gems to wrangle those windows and fly through folders
The Mac Finder is strangely named, as to actually find things Apple invented Spotlight, perhaps acknowledging that as a piece of software, it has its shortcomings (ironically, as too does Spotlight!).
However, there are some hidden gems which make it bearable, so read on and I’ll share this buried treasure with you.
Coming from Windows with its File Explorer, to Mac with its Finder, was especially galling; it took me years to accept Apple’s way of doing things and develop strategies to make managing files on the Mac not a bit of a shit show.
Here’s what works for me:
Keep a Finder window open
If you’re using the Finder all day, keep a window open and don’t close it (use
Tabto return to it quickly).
Add folders to the sidebar
You can add your must-access folders to the sidebar, by simply dragging them in. Note that if you rename the original folder, or the item in the sidebar, its counterpart will be renamed too.
Make use of tabs
Without Window’s excellent window management, Mac OS’s tabs are the next best thing. Hit
Tto open a new tab, and use one per project / task / domain rather than going forward and back within the same tab. See the tips below on managing windows if you end up with too many tabs in multiple windows!
Set List view as the default
The Finder’s “List” view is the closest thing the Mac has to Windows Explorer, so it’s easiest to set it as the default view. To do this:
- Go View > List (or
- Go View > Show View Options (or
- Click Use as Defaults
- Go View > List (or
Split Finder left / Terminal right
As a developer, the Terminal is the yang to the Finder’s yin. I like to have both open side by side (on a separate desktop) so I can grab paths from the Finder and use them in Terminal (see below for specific Developer tips).
Use window management software
Although Mac OS has gained some tiling tools of late, it uses the somewhat clumsy full screen mode. Instead, use an app like Spectacle (opens new window) or Moom (opens new window) so you can put those windows in their place.
A couple of the items below you will find by trawling the Finder menus, but most you will not. I discovered most through trial and error, or from watching seasoned Mac users over the years. You may know some, but I’m guessing there’s at least a few you won’t!
Use the keyboard
Note: these tips also work in Open / Save dialogs!
In List view:
Downto move through the visible folders
Rightto open closed / close open folders
In all views:
Downto move up / down a folder level
Downon a file to choose / open it
View / navigate to ancestor folders
Right Clickthe title of the folder in the toolbar to reveal parent folders, then
Clickany folder to navigate to it.
View / navigate to previous folders
Two ways to do this:
]to go back / forward in history
Long pressthe “Back” or “Forward” buttons to reveal the history of folders, then
Clickany folder to navigate to it
Use spring-loaded folders
Dragfiles or folders onto other folders (or tabs!) and pause for a split second to reveal their content, then:
Dropthe item to move (hold
Dragthe folder outside of the Finder window to return to the original folder
- Repeat the process for nested folders
Move (vs copy) files
Use the normal
Cto copy, then either
Vto move. Alternatively, use the
Right Clickmenu, hold
Optand choose “Move Item Here”.
View additional menu options
Wherever a file or context menu is shown, hold
Shiftto display additional / alternate options.
Batch rename files
You can batch rename files by replacing text, adding text, or using a custom format:
- Select multiple files
Right Clickand choose "Rename…"
- In the popup that appears, choose your options then click "Rename"
These commands should work in most applications:
Cycle through windows
`to cycle to the next / previous application window.
Merge all windows
From the Window menu choose “Merge All Windows” to replace all open windows with a single window of tabs.
Show all tabs
Right Clickany tab and choose “Show All Tabs” to preview all tabs as windows.
Clicka thumbnail to choose it.
Change the dialog’s location
With a dialog open,
draga folder or file from the Finder and drop it on the dialog window. The dialog will update its location to that of the dropped item, selecting the item (and taking its name if saving).
Reveal the dialog’s location
With a dialog open, hit
Rto “reveal” the containing folder in a new Finder window.
Interact with files
Mac dialogs don’t let you interact with the files directly… but you can
Right Clickto rename, duplicate, delete or show in Finder.
Toggle hidden files
.to toggle display of hidden files (works in windows and dialogs).
Grab the path of any folder
There are two ways to do this:
Cto copy a file or folder, then
Vto paste the path into a text-based app
Right Clickany file or folder, hold
Optand choose "Copy [name of the file] as Pathname"
Grab the path of the current window / tab
If you hover over the title of the folder in the Finder window’s toolbar, it will reveal an icon.
Dragthe icon wherever you need it (for example a terminal window) to drop the full path.
You may already know some of these:
Resize a column automatically
Double Clicka column border to automatically resize it to fit the content.
Resize a window from the center
Draga window edge to resize it from the center.
Preview file content
Spaceto pop up a window with the file’s content
Spaceto start a slideshow
Rightto cycle through files
Use the Inspector as live "Get info"
Right Clickany item, hold
Optand choose “Show Inspector” to get live info on files, selections, folder sizes, etc.
Paste files to other applications
Depending on the target application, copying and pasting a file to another application can do different things:
- in text editors, it will paste the path
- in Keynote or Word, it will paste the file’s content directly into the document
- in Photoshop, it will paste a high resolution image of the icon
- in WebStorm:
- in the project tree, it will copy the file
- in a Markdown document, it will copy a PNG file of the icon and insert the path
In other apps, who knows!? It’s not as consistent as Windows, so experiment to find out.