“Smart folders” are an under-utilized feature of Mac OS X. You define search criteria and make a smart folder that forever (sort of) after will display all the items that match those criteria (the items aren’t moved into the folder—the “folder” is just a list. But the apparent lack of enthusiasm for smart folders may just be from a lack of understanding the more powerful and flexible features of Spotlight: if you don’t construct complicated search criteria, there’s no need to store them. My recent tips article in Macworld (so recent that I won’t have a URL for it for a day or two – but I have to post this so I’ll have a URL to put in the article!) shows a search construct for recent Word documents, something that must take into account that a general search for Word documents by file type also grabs Word templates and (for Word 2011) settings files, as well as auto-recovery and “work” files. That’s four types of files that you don’t want in your search, two of which need to be excluded by their “Kind” and the other two by their names. Even if you don’t use Word, or need to find Word documents, take a look at all the components of this search setup because it’s infused with all sorts of valuable Finder search techniques.
Start with the Edit > New Smart Folder command. (If you start with the standard Find command, you can still save it as a smart folder.) Set the search to This Mac; it doesn’t matter if you leave Contents or File Name selected in the Search bar, because the criteria you’ll be entering will specify what you need.
Add a criteria bar by clicking on the Add button in the Search bar. Set the first menu to Kind, and choose Other from the second menu. In the text field, type word document. That’s the first trick. A file’s Kind is what you see in the Kind column in a Finder window. Word documents are variously Microsoft Word document (for Word 2008 and 2001) or Microsoft Word 97 – 2004 document. You don’t have to type all the words of a file’s Kind, nor do multiple words have to be contiguous (and caps don’t matter). Just word would grab both those file Kinds – but they’d also grab files whose kinds are Microsoft Word settings and Microsoft Word template. So, by specifying word document as the Kind, the search finds only the files that have both those words in their Kind descriptions.
The next thing I have in the picture below is a straightforward criteria for a time span, which you can add or not as you see fit. Add a criteria bar by clicking on the Add button in the current bar, choose Last Modified Date from the first menu, Within Last from the second menu, and Months (or whatever) from the third menu, entering the number of months (or whatever) you want to encompass.
Now comes the tricky part – not tricky as in difficult, but tricky as in… well, Tricky Dicky comes to mind, but that not only dates me but also has bad connotations. The problem with the construct so far is that it will find auto-recovery files (what Word saves in case of crashes so you won’t have to do quite so much reconstruction if you hadn’t saved recently) and Word Work files (temporary background files that don’t get erased on quitting if Word crashes instead of letting you quit). Their file types are the same as those for standard Word documents, but their names are easy to identify: AutoRecovery save of MyImportantDocument and Word Work File A_2878199, for instance.
So, you have to indicate that you don’t want any documents whose names include AutoRecovery or Word Work. Which brings us to my favorite Spotlight search technique: Boolean, or logical, operators. These are simply ways of indicating things like: I want this AND also this; I want this but NOT that; I want this OR this as long as it’s NOT also that OR that either. Spotlight translates the AND, OR, and NOT of logical operators into items that are put under headings of All (for AND), Any (for ALL), and None (for NOT). Wait! Don’t leave – really, it’s not difficult.
The first step for this part of the procedure is to access those headings, and you do it by pressing the Option key: you’ll see the Add button in the criteria bars change from a plus sign to an ellipsis (the three periods…). Click the altered button and you get a criteria bar with the Any, All, and None menu, as well as a new criteria bar indented beneath it.
Choose None from the menu; the bar now says None of the following are true. (See, it boils down to an English sentence that makes sense. Aren’t you glad you didn’t leave?)
In the criteria bar beneath this, set the first two menus to Name and begins with. Type autorecovery in the text field. (Since Spotlight performs the search as you define the criteria, you’ll likely have seen the total number of files found drop as soon as you put in this defintion.)
Now, another one: click the Add button for yet another criteria bar and set it to Name begins with word work. There! That makes the autorecovery and work files drop out of the list.
That’s it, except of course for saving your masterpiece of searchdom: click the Save button at the right of the Search bar and give the folder a name. By default, it will show up in the Finder sidebar, under Search For.
Check out my Macworld article for other (shorter!) tips about smart folders. (I’ll put the link in here as soon as I have a URL for it.)