5 Spotlight Tips Everyone Should Know (and Use)

Apple's Spotlight utility is amazingly powerful when you need to find something on your Mac. The way I like to describe it to Mac newbies is like this: Spotlight is to your Mac like Google is to the Internet. It's lightening fast (thanks to real-time file indexing) at searching your entire hard drive's contents for anything and everything... documents, emails, pictures, appointments, contacts, definitions... even real-time currency conversions!

There are two ways to activate and use Spotlight:

  1. click on the magnifying glass in the top right-hand corner of your screen
  2. press Command + Spacebar (this is my preference because it’s ultra-fast)

Regardless of the method, Spotlight will quickly spring to action, looking like this:

In addition to simply searching for files, Spotlight has a few other really cool tricks up its sleeve. Here are 5 other uses for Spotlight that everyone should know (and use).

Customizing Spotlight

By default, Spotlight searches your entire hard drive and returns all files in all folders that match that search criteria. Sometimes, though, you may want to exclude certain folders. You can also have Spotlight filter your search results to only show specific file types (for example: you only want it to show you Keynote files and pictures, and nothing else). To view your customization options, open System Preferences then click on Spotlight. You will want to spend time on both tabs ("Search Results" and "Privacy")

Quick Look Preview

When you perform a Spotlight search, it will return a list of items that matches that criteria (email, documents, pictures, etc). To preview any of those files (using the Quick Look engine baked in throughout OS X), simply use your mouse to hover over one of the items in the list. Here's an example of what it looks like with a calendar item (it will also show other events in the same time period):

Viewing Item Location

Sometimes, I use Spotlight just to find the location (path) of a file or folder. To do this, perform you Spotlight search and hover over the item you're looking for. When you see the Quick Look preview (as described above), press the Command key. This will display the path of that item just below the Quick Look preview.

Math Calculations

What is (17+23*4)/17, anyway? I couldn't tell you off the top of my head, but Spotlight can! It’s great at math.


Spotlight isn't just great at solving math problems, but also looking up word definitions (it will even offer to search Wikipedia for you), as shown here:

Posted on August 10, 2015 and filed under How To, Mac.