Productivity on the Mac: Saving Files

If there’s one thing that annoys me, its trawling through a Save As dialog box in order to save the file to an appropriate location.

Save time with three simple but rarely mentioned strategies which can take the pain out of filing your documents.

Save it to a temporary location

Of course the desktop is the obvious choice here, particularly because you can hit Cmd-D to use the system-wide shortcut for selecting the Desktop as the save location.

Then you can do a cleanup at the end of the session, or use the tips below to tidy-up as you go.

This make saving a two step process, but doesn’t require you to navigate throught the awkward Save As dialog.  The Save As dialog will remember the last place you saved a document, so if you always save to an accessible temporary location, the whole caper is a lot simpler.

I prefer to keep the Desktop really clean, so I keep my unprocessed files in my Temp folder, which I’ve created in Documents, and lodged in Finder’s sidebar (see below!).

Create a Sidebar Alias in Finder

This is a great method to implement anytime you’re going to be working on a project for more than half an hour!   Because the chances are you’ve already got a Finder window open showing your project’s files. You can drag any folder into the Finder sidebar and it will show up in all dialog boxes system-wide.

  • Simply navigate to the desired folder, and drag its icon over the sidebar
  • Watch for the Insertion bar to show, then drop the folder.  Presto!
  • To remove the icon from the sidebar, simply drag it out; it will disappear with a ‘puff’.

This process creates an alias, or shortcut of the folder, meaning that the actual location of the folder remains unchanged, and removing the alias from the sidebar won’t delete any files!

Just make sure that you drop the folder when you see the insertion bar; if you drop it when you’re hovering over another folder in the sidebar, you’ll end up moving the folder.  If this happens, don’t worry, Edit > Undo (Cmd-Z) is your friend.

Update: Finder Sidebar behaviour changed in 10.6.7: now you need to hold COmmand whilst dragging an item out: read more.

Drag the document directly from the application

Here are some nice ninja tricks which don’t require you to do any setup..

Little known fact for you: applications’ title bars are often clickable!  You can Cmd Click on a filename to see where it is located in the folder hierachy on your drive.  You can also drag the icon next to the filename in order to move (or copy, or create an alias/shortcut) the file.  This is true of Finder, Word and Office apps, Preview and many others, but may not be relevant for apps like Photoshop, which may change the default mac interface, and Thunderbird which are not dealing with actual files.

To make use of this gem, simply

  • click and drag the icon, but don’t release the mouse button, or
  • switch to a Finder window and drop the file directly into place.

There are a raft of options here: you could:

  • Open a Finder window to the correct location in advance, ready to receive the file using
    • Exposé hit F9 (you may need to hold the Fn key depending on your keyboard) and drag the file onto the Finder window
    • Hit Cmd-Tab to switch to Finder.
      This is my usual tactic (my greatest peeve is that Finder does not permit you to switch between its various windows using Cmd~)
  • Use the ‘spring-loaded’ functionality of Finder to navigate through your file system.)
    • Hover over the each waypoint briefly and wait for that location to open, then hover over the next step.
    • Whilst dragging you can hit the spacebar to immediately open a folder.
      Sounds complicated, but in practice it can be really quick!

Mix and Match!

Well, that just touches on some component skills which you can combine to shape your own workflow.  I find that file management becomes like driving: it’s second nature in your own car, but driving someone elses system can feel like navigating a tractor!

If you’ve got a tip to add to the lost, drop me a line in the comments!  If there’s enough interest, I’ll have an excuse to do a screen cast of these techniques :)