Oliver Cragg / Android Authority
Spotlight is one of the best — and at the same time, one of the most overlooked — features of macOS. I ignored it for many years, but once I started paying attention to it, I was blown away by how effective it was and how it accelerated my productivity and output. What is Spotlight and how can it turn you into Speedy Gonzalez on Mac? Read on to get all the details.
Read more: How to Enable Notifications and Focus Modes on a Mac
Spotlight is a search feature on macOS that can quickly bring up apps, documents, emails, and other files on your computer. You can also use Spotlight to create online search results, search the App Store, and get current information like news, sports scores, weather, and stock prices.
ACCESS KEY SECTIONS
What is Spotlight on a Mac?
When you want to open a file or application, what do you normally do? You need to stop what you’re doing, go to Finder, find the file or app you want to open, and double-click it to open it. This involves more clicks than necessary, and if you’re in the middle of something, stepping away from it to root yourself in the Finder can completely break your momentum. Especially if you don’t know where you’re supposed to look in the first place.
Spotlight is a supercharged launcher that helps streamline this process. The beauty is that you can do anything with your keyboard without leaving whatever you’re currently doing. If your fingers are fast on the keyboard, you can open files and apps using Spotlight in two or three seconds.
Spotlight’s main competitor is Alfred, which offers both a free and a paid version. But arguably, you only get the full benefits by purchasing the paid version. Spotlight, on the other hand, is completely free.
How to use Spotlight
If you’ve never used Spotlight before, you can access it by clicking the magnifying glass next to the clock in the menu bar. But since we’re trying to keep our fingers on the keyboard and reduce clicks overall, we need to configure a keyboard shortcut to bring up the Spotlight search bar.
Go to System Settings > Keyboard and click Keyboard shortcuts.
Click on Projector in the left sidebar. On the right you will see two keyboard shortcuts – one for Spotlight search and one for a Finder search window. I designated my shortcut for the Spotlight search box as the Command key and spacebar. You can change it to whatever you want by double clicking on the shortcut and entering whatever you want to use.
Naturally, the keyboard shortcut cannot already be used by another application. Click on Do once you have finished.
Now go to Siri and projector section, and scroll down to Projector. Here you’ll see a list of all the things that Spotlight will continually index so you can find them in search results. But if you don’t want a certain app or feature to be indexed, you can disable it here. Sometimes limiting your indexing options speeds up your computer a bit because Spotlight has less to do.
Keep Sensitive Spotlight Results Private
At the bottom of this same window, you will find a Privacy button. If you click on it, you can specify whether there are folders, files, or apps in Finder that should be excluded from Spotlight search. Either to keep the results neater, or because you might have a nosy relative or roommate.
Just click the + button, navigate to the file location in Finder, and it will be added to the privacy list.
Using it for the first time
Now, either by clicking on the magnifying glass icon in the top menu bar or by using your new keyboard shortcut, you can now open the Spotlight search box. The box can be moved around the screen with your cursor, and it always takes on the color of your Mac’s wallpaper.
Things Spotlight can do for you
The best thing you can do, if you’re new to this feature, is to just start typing and see what happens. Play with it. You will soon have the hang of it. By entering the right keywords for what you’re looking for, you can find almost anything.
- Find any file, image, application, music file or video file stored on your computer in a fraction of a second. You can also drag them from the Spotlight bar to the desktop.
- Spotlight can read inside documents based on the keywords you specify.
- Look inside Zip files to find compressed files.
- View events and reminders.
- Bring items on your to-do list.
- View photos from your Photos app.
- Search your podcast app for specific episodes.
- Do searches on your favorite search engine. You’ll never have to go to the search page or the browser omnibar again. Also get variations of your search keyword.
- Make mathematical calculations and conversions. Never pick up the calculator again.
- Navigate to any part of your Mac’s Settings and access them instantly.
- Tap the name of a business to navigate to its location on Apple Maps.
- Type the name of an app to direct to its Mac App Store listing.
And much more!
The feature itself can’t be removed, but you can just tell it in system settings not to index anything, so it essentially becomes inactive.
It can do this in some situations, depending on the size of the files it’s trying to index, as well as what you’re trying to do at the same time. If you’re having speed issues on your Mac, try deselecting certain large file types in Spotlight’s settings. A system reboot wouldn’t hurt either.
In the system settings, you can prevent certain categories or file formats from appearing in searches. If it’s already indexed, deselecting those formats will instantly remove them from Spotlight’s index.
Usually this is just an indexing bottleneck and can be fixed with a simple system restart.