In this episode, you’ll discover why file clutter is inevitable and the only two ways that we can deal with it.
Shortcuts automation to move selected files and folders to the destination of your choice (no signup required): https://easyte.ch/3RBNyIp
Want personalised tips on how to boost your efficiency when operating your Mac? Take a free quiz at https://macpreneur.com/score
This episode discusses why file clutter is inevitable and provides solutions for dealing with file clutter on your Mac.
I explain that file clutter is a natural result of the second law of thermodynamics, which states that systems tend to move towards a state of higher entropy.
To prevent file clutter on your desktop, I suggest using the Stacks feature, which automatically organizes files into stacks based on their type.
Additionally, changing the default destination for screenshots and creating subfolders for grouping files can help reduce clutter on your Mac desktop.
For the Downloads folder, I recommend configuring web browsers to prompt for a destination folder when initiating a download to prevent clutter.
The episode also covers manual methods for reducing clutter in the Downloads folder, such as grouping files by kind, application, date, size, or tags, and moving them to appropriate folders.
At the end of this episode, I briefly touch on the use of automation tools like Automator and Hazel for automating file organization and reducing clutter in the Downloads folder.
- File clutter is inevitable due to the second law of thermodynamics.
- Preventing file clutter on the desktop can be done using the Stacks feature.
- Changing the default destination for screenshots can help reduce clutter on the desktop.
- Creating subfolders for grouping files can also reduce clutter on the desktop.
- Configuring web browsers to prompt for a destination folder when downloading can prevent clutter in the Downloads folder.
- Manual methods for reducing clutter in the Downloads folder include grouping files by kind, application, date, size, or tags.
- Automation tools like Automator and Hazel can automate file organization and reduce clutter in the Downloads folder.
- The next episode will cover automation solutions for reducing file clutter in the Downloads folder and beyond.
In today’s episode, we’ll explore built in solutions to prevent and reduce file clutter on our Macs.
I’ll start by talking about why dealing with file clutter is inevitable, and then explore in more details the only two ways we can actually deal with it.
I’ll unpack all of this after the intro.
If this is the first episode that you’re listening to, welcome to the Macpreneur tribe.
Before diving into today’s topic, I want to quickly mention that this episode is part of a short series focusing on the three killers of Mac productivity, namely unnecessary clicks, repetitive typing and file clutter.
I introduced the three killers in episode 58, then provided built in and third party solutions to reduce unnecessary clicks. in episodes 59 and 60 respectively. In episodes 61, 62, 63, I tackled repetitive typing, and in the previous one, episode 64, I started diving into the topic of file clutter.
Why is file clutter inevitable?
So let’s start by talking about why file clutter is inevitable.
In case you didn’t know, I graduated as a physicist engineer back in 1997, and my specialization was in material physics.
And among the various topics that I was taught, there was the second law of thermodynamics, which states that energy tends to disperse, and that systems tend to move towards a state of higher entropy, which translated in simple term means things get messy naturally.
Applying this concept to file management on our Mac leads to the conclusion that file clutter is inevitable and thus needs to be dealt with.
Dealing with file clutter on our Mac
So the question is then, how can we deal with file clutter on our Mac?
Well, there are only two ways, preventing it and reducing it.
So let’s take the analogy of dirty dishes slowly piling up on the kitchen counter.
If we immediately put dirty dishes in the dishwasher that prevents the pile from building up on the kitchen counter.
Now and then there will be stuff that are either too fragile for the dishwasher or too dirty, so those will still pile up until we have some time to manually wash them, which means actively reducing the pile of dirty dishes.
And with file clutter, it’s exactly the same thing.
And so… Let’s talk now about built in solutions that can help us prevent and reduce file clutter on our Macs.
And, in fact, there are two locations that tend to be the most cluttered.
The Desktop folder and the Downloads folder.
Preventing Desktop folder clutter with Stacks
So let’s start with the Desktop folder.
And there is a solution to make your Mac desktop look tidy, even though it is full of files.
It’s called Stacks and it takes less than 2 seconds to activate.
So you right click on an empty area of your desktop, then you choose Use Stacks, that’s it.
What happens then is that files of the same type, say for instance, all your PDFs, all your images, they will be stacked together.
It doesn’t change the number of files that you have on your desktop, it just creates piles and you only see the top of the pile.
So, you see one icon per type of file.
Now to access a specific file, you click on the stack that it belongs to and then the entire content of the stack will show.
If, for some reason, you don’t like that and you would like to revert back to seeing everything at all times, you just right click on the desktop again and you deselect Use Stacks.
Preventing Desktop clutter by changing the default destination for screenshots
One of the reasons that the desktop gets cluttered is because it’s the default location for screenshots.
So, if you do a lot of those, one way to prevent the screenshots from being saved to the desktop is by selecting another destination folder.
Now, to do that, you just press Command 5, or if you have a French keyboard like me, you do shift command 5.
Then you click on the options menu that will appear.
There you can select one of the predefined options, for instance, the Documents folder.
But what I recommend is to click on Other location…, which will open a finder dialog box and allow you to choose any folder that you want.
If you’d still want the screenshots to be quickly accessible from the desktop, my suggestion would be to create a screenshots sub folder inside the desktop folder. And then you would choose that screenshots sub folder as the default destination.
And if you’d like your Mac screenshots to be available on all your devices.
Then, I recommend choosing a destination folder that would be located within your cloud storage of choice, so Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive or iCloud Drive.
Reducing Desktop clutter by grouping files into folders
If you don’t like stacks, and if your desktop is full of other files, other types than screenshots, then you could reduce file clutter by saving files that belong together within dedicated subfolders.
So to create a subfolder from an existing set of files with your mouse, you will move the file icon next to each other, those that you want to group together in a folder.
Then with the mouse, you click in an empty area. You keep it clicked and then you drag with your mouse and you will encircle all the files that you want to group together.
And then you have two options. You can right click and then select the first option, which is create folder with selection.
But there is a keyboard shortcut. It’s control command N. And after that, a new folder will be created and all the selected files will be moved automatically. in the new folder. The only thing you need to do after that is give that new folder a name, and that’s it.
Preventing Downloads folder clutter
Now let’s turn our attention to the downloads folder.
The main reason it gets cluttered is simple.
It’s also a default destination, but this time for Safari and all the third party web browsers that you may have installed on your Mac.
One way to prevent your downloads folder to be clogged up is by immediately saving what gets downloaded to the right destination rather than in the downloads folder by default.
So this is done by configuring your browser to prompt you for a destination folder every time that you initiate a download.
And so regardless from the browser, you activate that option via the settings pane of the browser, and to access that settings pane, whenever the application is active, you do command comma, that’s a default or standard keyboard shortcut for any application.
And so, for Safari, you just need to click on the General tab, and then you will click on Downloads, and you choose the option Ask for each download.
If you have Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, on the left sidebar of the browser settings, you will see a Downloads option.
You click on Downloads in the left sidebar. And then you will have a button that you can toggle and it’s a button that says something like ask me each time.
If you use Firefox, you need to scroll down the main settings page of Firefox and you will see at the bottom there will be a box to tick that says always ask.
Now there are pros and cons of this method.
Apart from preventing the downloads folder to be cluttered, you also have the opportunity to rename the downloaded file, which has some benefits.
First of all, you could make the name much more meaningful than what it would be by default.
But there is another benefit, which is you can remove special characters from the name.
Now, in macOS, the only character that is forbidden is the forward slash because it’s what separates a folder from a file in a path.
But if you use OneDrive or if you plan to share files with other people that use Microsoft Windows, for those, there are actually nine forbidden special characters that will prevent your files from getting synchronized.
So it’s the less than, greater than, the colon, the double quote, the forward slash, the backslash, a vertical bar, we call it also sometimes pipe, the question mark and the asterisk.
There are also other constraints on the name for OneDrive and Windows. You should not have a leading or a trailing space. Sometimes you have the name, space, dot, and then the suffix.
So, that will also allow you to catch those issues.
In other words, you can prevent synchronization issues down the line by taking care of the root cause immediately, and so making sure that the name of the file that you have downloaded doesn’t have forbidden characters.
Now, let’s talk about the big disadvantage, right?
The disadvantage of having to choose the destination folder every time, it’s going to slow you down initially, and quite a bit.
Now, having said that, your browser will remember the last download location.
And if you have added relevant shortcuts to the Finder sidebar, you can also minimize the lost time that way.
Reducing Downloads folder clutter manually
Now, whether you activate ask where to download option or not, you’ll still end up with a bunch of files in your downloads folder that will need to be dealt with eventually.
Now the first method is to do that manually by selectively grouping files, you can do group by kind or group by application, so by which application a file can be opened.
You can also use dates. You can say by date last opened or last modified or created or added.
But if you need to save space on your Mac, you can also group files by size, and so you can see the biggest files at the top, for instance, and it’s easy for you to either remove them or put them on an external drive.
And the last thing that you can group files by is tags.
Now, once a group of files has been selected, you can quickly put them in the trash using the COMMAND BACKSPACE shortcut.
Or, the same way that we dealt with desktop files, you can put them inside a folder via the CTRL CMD N keyboard shortcut: it will create a new folder with the selection.
So for stuff that need to be moved someplace else, in practice one way is opening two Finder windows, and so you activate Finder, you will have one Finder window, you do COMMAND N for a new second Finder window, and then you position them side by side.
And for instance, Downloads Folder on the left and the final destination folder on the right.
Another way could be just by opening the Downloads Folder and then using a Shortcuts Quick Action that I created.
So, in the Downloads Folder, you select multiple files or files and folders, those that need to be moved, you right click on one of them and then in the options you will see quick actions and you will select the shortcuts that is named move to folder of my choice.
You will be presented with a save dialog box. So you can select the destination folder and then automatically the files will be moved there.
When it’s done, the shortcuts automation will show you a pop up message that confirms that the move has been done and it will even tell you I’ve moved so many items in that folder.
If you’d like to reuse that quick action, here is the direct link to import it (no signup required): https://easyte.ch/3RBNyIp
Reducing Downloads folder clutter via automation
In any case, this is a tedious process that can be alleviated by leveraging automation instead.
And so, when it comes to reducing file clutter in the Downloads folder, there are both built in and third party automation solutions that can take care of the heavy lifting.
Now, in macOS, and for a long time now, there is a tool called Automator, that has a feature called Folder Actions.
And with that, you can then trigger an automation, for instance, whenever a file is added to that folder, the automation gets triggered.
But you can also make the automation get triggered on a daily basis for instance.
So that’s for the built in, but there is also a third party tool called Hazel, H A Z E L, that literally saves me a ton of time by automatically renaming files, moving files, saving me hours upon hours of time every month.
And so, to keep this episode short and sweet, I will cover this automation part in the next episode, in episode 66.
And if you haven’t subscribed yet to the Macpreneur podcast, make sure to do so, so that you will be able to get the next episode in your feed automatically.
And you can do that by following the podcast wherever you listen to or on YouTube if you prefer to watch the video version.
So to recap, I’ve briefly explained why file clutter is inevitable and that there are only two ways to deal with it: prevention and manual reduction.
Then I covered various techniques and strategies to prevent and reduce desktop clutter, whether via stacks, or by changing the default location for screenshots, or by creating folders.
After that, we turned our attention to the Downloads folder and I suggested to configure your browser so that it would ask you every time you initiate a download with the pros and the cons.
And for the remaining files, I shared a technique combining grouping files together, creating folders with the selection, and then using a Shortcuts Quick Action that I developed.
And finally, I briefly introduced two tools that can help you automate the cleanup of the Downloads folder, but actually, not only.
You can use those for other folders that you want to clean up very quickly, too.
So, in the next episode, episode 66, I will dive deeper on Automator and Hazel, these two tools that can help you automate the file cleaning process and save you a ton of time.
And so if we come back to the dirty dishes analogy from the top of the show, it’s a little bit like having humanoid robots taking care of filling the dishwasher for us and washing up anything that can’t go into it. Would it be nice, right?
So that’s it for today. If you’d like to receive personalized tips on how to tame the three killers of Mac productivity, I have prepared a free quiz available at macpreneur.com/score.
So visit macpreneur.com/score for personalized tips on how to boost your Mac productivity today.
Until next time, I’m Damien Schreurs, wishing you a great day.