Hazel is a game changer when it comes to automating file management on my Mac, and it has saved me thousands of hours over the past 10 years.
In this episode, you’ll discover what Hazel can do that Automator cannot, and real life examples of how I use Hazel to put file management almost on autopilot.
Here are the links mentioned in this episode:
- Hazel home page: https://www.noodlesoft.com
- Hazel’s forums: https://www.noodlesoft.com/forums/
- David Spark’s Hazel Field Guide: https://learn.macsparky.com/p/hazel
Want personalised tips on how to boost your efficiency when operating your Mac? Take a free quiz at https://macpreneur.com/score
In this episode, I explore Hazel, a file automation tool that provides a centralized interface to create, edit, and manage rules for automatically filtering and renaming files.
Hazel’s interface consists of three columns: folders, rules, and triggers/actions.
I provide examples of how I use Hazel to keep my desktop and downloads folder organized, as well as how I handle purchase orders.
Hazel offers advantages over Automator, such as the ability to extract information from files and synchronize rules between multiple Macs.
It also offers a wider range of triggers and actions, the ability to sort files into subfolders, and features for managing trash and uninstalling applications.
However, I find that Hazel can be overwhelming for beginners.
Thankfully, there is a supportive community and a helpful field guide is available to assist you along the way.
Hazel is priced at $42 for a single license and $65 for a family license, with a 14-day free trial available.
- Hazel is a file automation tool that allows for the creation of rules to filter and rename files automatically.
- Hazel provides a centralized interface for managing rules and offers a wider range of triggers and actions compared to Automator.
- Examples of how Hazel can be used include organizing the desktop and downloads folder, and handling purchase orders.
- Hazel allows for the extraction of information from files, synchronization of rules between multiple Macs, and sorting files into subfolders.
- Hazel offers features for managing trash and uninstalling applications, which can be useful for those with limited storage.
- Learning to use Hazel can be challenging, but there is a supportive community and a helpful field guide available.
- Hazel is priced at $42 for a single license and $65 for a family license, with a 14-day free trial available.
In today’s episode, we’ll explore how Hazel can help you prevent and reduce file clutter on your Mac.
You’ll discover what Hazel can do that Automator cannot.
And real life examples of how I use Hazel to put file management almost on autopilot.
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.
And if you’re a longtime Macpreneur listener, thank you for tuning back in.
As a fellow solopreneur, I appreciate that you dedicate these 15-ish minutes with me every week.
Before diving into today’s topic, I want to quickly mention that this episode is part of a not-so-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.
Episodes 61 through 63 cover repetitive typing.
And since episode 64, I’ve been diving into the topic of file clutter.
In the previous episode, I explained why automation is key to effortlessly manage file clutter, and I introduced Automator, a built-in tool that is great for basic stuff but falls short if we want to create elaborate rules to filter and rename files automatically.
So in this episode, I will explore Hazel, the file automation tool that I’ve been using now for more than 10 years.
At the beginning and up to version 4, Hazel was a menu bar app, configurable from within system preferences.
But since version 5, it’s a dedicated app installed in the Applications folder that still has a Menu Bar component.
Like Automator, the file management engine runs continuously in the background.
But unlike Automator, Hazel provides a centralized interface to create, edit, and manage all the rules that we create.
By default, Hazel’s interface is quite similar to what you see in Mail, for instance.
It has three columns.
The first one shows the folders for which you configured some rules.
The second one shows a list of rules for the folder that is selected on the left.
And then the third column shows the triggers and the actions for the selected rule.
At the top of the interface, there is a toolbar with a few buttons.
On the left of the toolbar, the first three buttons are related to the folder column.
There is a button to add a new folder that we want to watch and for which we would like to create rules.
The second button allows grouping folders together in whatever way we want so that we can keep this column neat and tidy.
And the third button provides a bunch of actions like import and export rules. Define default behavior for duplicate files and incomplete downloads inside a folder that is being watched.
And also something that does not exist with Automator, the ability to synchronize rules between multiple Macs.
For that, you will simply save the rules in the cloud storage of your choice, but careful. If you decide to use iCloud, then it’s better to turn off Optimize Mac Storage.
Because it’s the only way to guarantee that the file with the rules will be permanently stored on your Mac.
The next four toolbar buttons are related to the rules column.
The first one is used to create a new rule.
Another button allows checking the status of all the rules for the watched folder.
This is super useful to troubleshoot why a file doesn’t get processed, for instance.
There’s a button to pause all the rules for the selected folder in a single click.
If you remember with Automator, you needed to pause each rule one by one.
And the fourth button allows you to preview the currently selected rule on a file of your choice. Again, this approach is much more user-friendly than what we needed to do with Automator.
Hazel rules overview
And so, Hazel rules have only two components, triggers and actions.
In other words, if a series of conditions is met, from simple ones to more elaborate ones, then Hazel will do a bunch of things, like rename, tag, or move files, for instance.
In both cases, Hazel offers many more options than Automator, and rather than boring you going through the list of all those options, I will illustrate how I personally use Hazel with a few examples that you may find useful as well.
Hazel example n°1
So the first example helps me keep the desktop folder neat and tidy.
So there are two sets of conditions that need to be met for the rule to kick in.
The first set says if it’s after 11 p.m. or if a file gets the color label green,
and the second set of conditions states that it will work for everything except for folders and aliases.
So aliases are shortcuts to existing files and folders.
And so for any of the matched files, three actions will be performed.
The color label will be removed, if there was any.
The matched file will be moved to the downloads folder.
And then a tag named Hazel will get added to the file.
In other words, this rule automatically moves stuff from my desktop to the downloads folder, either when I manually add a green label to the file or every day at 11 p.m.
Hazel example n°2
The second example helps me keep the downloads folder neat and tidy.
There are six conditions that need to be met for the rule to kick in.
It can’t be a folder.
It must not have been created or added or modified in the last two weeks, the color label cannot be red, and it must not be tagged Keep.
And so whenever these six conditions are true, then one simple action is performed. The file is moved to an Archived subfolder that is located within the Downloads folder.
What it means is that if a file has been stale for two weeks and either I didn’t move it or another rule didn’t kick it to handle it in the meantime, I’ve decided to put that file away just in case.
In essence, it’s a little bit like sweeping old stuff under the rug, but in the virtual environment.
I could have chosen for the action to be move to trash, but I decided against that simply because the trash is not backed up by Time Machine, and I wanted a way to recover the content of that Archived folder if anything happened to my computer.
Hazel example n°3
The third example is the improved version of handling the purchase orders that I introduced in a previous episode.
If you remember with Automator, I was renaming the file using the date that I was processing it.
Now with Hazel, it’s actually possible to use a date that is written inside the PDF.
And so here are the three conditions that need to be met for that rule to kick in.
First, the name needs to start with EasyTech-AP.
It needs to be a PDF, and inside the PDF, there needs to be a date but formatted in a certain way.
And this last condition is really what makes Hazel far superior to Automator.
The syntax is “Contents contain match,” and then we specify a matching criteria.
In this example, I have chosen a custom date, but it could be a specific word or a specific number. It could even be a combination of letters and digits.
The possibilities here are really mind-boggling.
In the case of the purchase orders, the date has actually a specific format.
It is the day in one or two digits. So if it’s the 2nd of September, it will be the number two and not zero two. Then a space, then the full month in letters, for instance, September, then another space, and then the year with four digits.
And what is really great with Hazel is that creating this pattern is just a matter of drag and drop and then typing the spaces in between.
And what’s super powerful is that whenever such a date gets matched, it also gets saved within a token that can then be reused later on.
Which brings me to the actions that will be performed for these purchase orders landing in the downloads folder.
The first action consists of renaming the file by prepending the date that was found within the purchase order PDF file itself.
And so even if I download the purchase order two or three days after it landed in my email inbox, it doesn’t matter, the renamed file will get the correct issue date in the name.
And then the second action is to automatically move that file, that PDF file that has been renamed, to a Purchase Orders folder inside the client’s main folder somewhere on my Synology NAS.
And like with Automator, we can specify what to do whenever a file with the same name already exists in the destination folder.
So we can decide to rename, replace, or throw away the existing file.
But unlike Automator, we can also decide the opposite. We could say, keep the existing file intact and throw away the new one, which can be useful when we have sometimes duplicate files that are downloaded and we want to make sure that we keep the last one intact and archived.
Pros of Hazel
So now let’s go through the pros and cons of Hazel.
The killer feature of Hazel is really the ability to relatively easily extract almost anything from within files, including PDFs, and then reuse that information either for subsequent conditions but also within actions, like what we have done with renaming a file, for instance.
The second biggest advantage of Hazel is the centralized management of all the rules that we have created, followed by the ability to synchronize those rules between multiple Macs.
Now beware that this will only work or this will be useful if all the destination folders that are used for the move actions are accessible from all the computers.
Imagine a rule configured to move stuff to an external drive that is connected to an iMac. That rule will not work on the MacBook unless you plug the external drive into the MacBook as well.
Now, the good news is that whenever you sync rules for a given folder on a new computer, all the rules are turned off by default, which prevents any potential mishap on the new computer.
And the other good news is that it’s also possible to deactivate a rule on one computer, let’s say the MacBook Pro, while leaving it running on the other Mac, the iMac, without affecting the synchronization.
Another thing that makes Hazel a much better value proposition than Automator is the wider range of triggers and actions that it can perform.
For instance, you can trigger actions when a file gets renamed or when the number of files within a folder reaches a certain value.
And then on the actions side.
You can easily sort files into subfolders and name those subfolders following a pattern that you can customize.
So for instance, you could decide to archive stuff in subfolders, that would be the year dash the month. So that’s something that’s useful, for instance, for pictures.
Or you could also create subfolders automatically based on the kind of files.
So you would then have a folder for PDFs, one for images, one for videos, and so on. And it looks a lot like the Apple’s built-in Stacks features, but they would be folders.
And also, what is better than Stacks is that you can do that anywhere on your computer, not only on the desktop.
The last advantage of Hazel is a couple of features that Apple isn’t providing yet and that are especially useful for those who have laptops with 128 or 256 gigabytes of internal storage.
The first is the ability to automatically take care of the trash by specifying an amount of time after which files will get permanently removed and also by capping the trash size to whatever amount you want.
And the second is a feature called AppSweep, which can automatically remove hidden folders, which usually contain logs and cached files, that are left behind when you remove an app by putting it in the trash.
The thing is, few people realize that removing an app from the applications folder does not entirely remove everything.
It’s a little bit like breadcrumbs that would be left behind.
But sometimes, those breadcrumbs actually occupy a lot of space, up to several gigabytes.
And so, with Hazel, it’s possible to fully uninstall applications and remove those breadcrumbs along the way.
Cons of Hazel
Now, on the flip side, Hazel is so powerful that it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by what it can do.
And also, I’m going to be honest with you, the learning curve gets very steep as soon as you try to do something a little bit elaborate.
Now the good news is that the forum on the developer’s website is very active and the community members are extremely supportive.
And so whenever I felt stuck, a quick search inside the Hazel forum would usually provide a solution or guide me in the right direction.
And if that doesn’t help, David Sparks offers a field guide dedicated to Hazel that he updated back in 2021 to cover Hazel version 5.
I’ve purchased this field guide myself and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
I will put a link in the show notes for those who are interested, either to visit the forum or the David Sparks Hazel field guide.
So at the time of recording, you can purchase a single license of Hazel for 42 dollars and a family license for up to five members of your household for 65 dollars.
Upgrading from a previous version costs 20 bucks, and in preparation for this episode, I realized that I already did two upgrades.
So I went from version 3 to version 4, and recently I upgraded from version 4 to version 5.
All in all, I believe the value that Hazel provides is incredible, and the time that I save thanks to a handful of well-crafted rules more than compensates for the cost of this software.
And best of all, the developer offers a 14-day free trial. So you have ample time to try Hazel out and see for yourself how much time you can reclaim.
So that’s it for today.
I hope this episode has motivated you to download Hazel’s free trial and to invest a couple of hours automating file management on your Mac.
If you do, please send me a DM on social. I’m @MacpreneurFM on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.
I’d love to know what automation you have put in place and how much time you have reclaimed as a result.
This is the last episode in the series covering the three killers of Mac productivity.
Starting with the next episode, I’ll kick off season three of the podcast that will cover artificial intelligence and how solopreneurs can leverage this emerging technology to streamline their business.
I will start by defining what Artificial Intelligence is and what it isn’t, then highlight various applications of AI, and more importantly, what tools and techniques we can use on our Mac to be more efficient and productive so we can best serve our clients and enjoy more free time along the way.
So that’s it for today.
If you haven’t yet taken the free quiz that will give you personalized tips on how to tame the three killers of Mac productivity, head on to 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.