Save time with OS X's sidebar

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OS X’s Finder is your window onto the documents, spreadsheets, photos, and other files you’ve tucked away on your Mac and other connected computers and drives. One often overlooked Finder tool is the sidebar, the left-hand section of every Finder window where you see small icons and names for folders or other items. The sidebar is intended to give you one-click access to the items you use the most. To make sure it does, tweak the way the sidebar displays and what it contains.

See more or less

Choose what you want to see in the Finder sidebar by using this preferences window.

First, customize the Finder’s built-in guesses about what items matter to you. In the Finder, choose Finder > Preferences and click Sidebar. Here you’ll see a list that you can pick and choose from by checking or unchecking items. OS X Mavericks groups items in the sidebar under four headings: Favorites, Shared, Devices, and Tags. Favorites include AirDrop, Applications, and Downloads as well as your home folder and its sub-folders, such as the Desktop, Pictures and Movies. Shared items include connected servers as well as Back to My Mac, and any Bonjour computers. Devices include your own hard drive, as well as connected external disks, iPads, and more. The newest entry to the sidebar is Tags. Select this entry to make recently-used tags appear in the sidebar for easy access.

The more items you check, the longer the sidebar becomes, which means you may need to scroll down to see some of the items if there are too many. Better to be picky. Pay particular attention to items you never use. If you don’t use AirDrop, for example, uncheck it to save space. If you don’t care about seeing your Mac in Devices, uncheck that as well.

There are some default items that don’t appear in the Finder’s Sidebar preferences. For example, Remote Disc shows up in the sidebar’s Devices section. (What is that you might ask? It’s a way to access a CD or DVD on another Mac.) If you don’t use this, remove it manually by clicking on the item in the sidebar and then dragging it off the window until it disappears in a puff of smoke. You can also remove any specific disk or volume; note that the disk will not display again in the sidebar unless you add it back, even after restarting your Mac.

Add anything

You can add anything to the Finder sidebar: a file, folder or application. I don’t recommend adding applications; it makes more sense to put them in the Dock. But if you use a certain folder or file often, say, for a big project you’re working on, you can add it to the sidebar for one-click access. Since sidebar space is limited, only choose those items that you access frequently.

If you want to add a folder, drag it to the sidebar. Position it between any two items in the Favorites section. Dragging doesn’t work for other items. To add a file or application to the sidebar, you need to either use a menu item or keyboard shortcut. Select the item, then choose File > Add to Sidebar, or press Control-Command-T. The item will be placed at the bottom of the Favorites section.

Remove anything

When you’re done working on a project, it’s time to remove its folder or file from the sidebar to make way for new things. To do this, right-click (or control-click) on the item and choose Remove from Sidebar. You can do this for any item, even items that you checked in the Finder preferences I discussed above. If you remove an item that appears in the preferences, you can easily add it by accessing Sidebar preferences again.

How to remove an item from the sidebar
Remove any item from the Finder sidebar by right-clicking it and choosing 'Remove from Sidebar.'

Move items around

Once you’ve added items, it’s easy to rearrange them. Just select an item and drag it to a different position. Items must stay in their sections—favorites in the Favorites section, devices in the Devices section, and so on. But you can put them in the order that seems most logical to you.

If you use tags, you can change their order in the Tags section. They’re set up in a ROYGBIV, rainbow-style order by default, but you might want to put Green on top, Red next, then Yellow, because you use those tags most often.

Move sections

You can move any of the sidebar’s sections (Favorites, Devices and so on) to change the order in which they display. Just click on the section name and drag it to a new location. For example, if you often use shared volumes, drag Shared to the top. If you’re a heavy user of tags, drag that section to the top, or to a higher position than where it is by default.

See the sidebar more clearly

Once you’ve arranged the sidebar to perfectly fit your needs, you might realize you’re still squinting to see it. Since Apple removed color from the sidebar icons, they all look alike. Still, you can change the size of the icons and their text, though it’s not very easy to find the setting. It’s not in the Finder’s preferences, instead go to System Preferences and click on the General pane. Look for the Sidebar icon size menu, and choose from three sizes: Small (this is the default size), Medium or Large. Have a Finder window open when you make this change. The font size changes on the fly, so you can choose which size is best for you. The larger you choose, the larger you might want your Finder windows to be to display enough sidebar items.

There's no need to squint. You can set the sidebar's text size to small (A), medium (B), or large (C).

Save time with the Sidebar

With the above tips, you can customize your Finder sidebar so it gives you quick access to the folders and other items you use most. Take the time to set up the sidebar and you’ll save time as you work.

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