Tags: do you have a system? how do you use them?

Tags: do you have a system? how do you use them?

The idea of tags has always appealed to me. But I’ve not yet found a way to make them particularly useful. So I’m curious what the folks here think of tags. Do you use them? For what? Do you have a system? Do you nest tags? why or why not? Where do you use them?
I’m particularly interested because Mojave and iOS 12 seem to be integrating tags more closely.
What are your thoughts on tags?

I’m barely using Finder tags. The only thing I use them for is Hazel auto-filing from my Inbox folder in iCloud Drive.

Here’s how that works:

  • I name a file in my Inbox folder appropriately
  • Then I add the appropriate tags (i.e. Business, Receipt, Household, etc.)
  • Hazel moves the files to my File Cabinet folder

I can easily find files in this folder by sorting or filtering by tag, as well as sorting filenames as all files are dated the same way. Makes it easy to find business or medical receipts by year for tax purposes.

I tried doing a bit of tagging after hearing Brett Terpstra discuss it at Macstock, but it was way too convoluted to maintain. Folders it is for me primarily :slight_smile:

I’m using just enough to fit me. I threw in a bunch of tags into OmniFocus and slowly discovered which ones were most commonly used, which ones were just duplicates (re-worded), and which ones sounded cool but have no real place in my life as it currently stands.

I haven’t had much use for “energy” tags (high, medium, low). But I’m thinking of using a tag called “focus” for times when I want/need to do deep work and requires a mind that’s not fuzzy and tired.

When OmniFocus 3 introduced tags, I eventually dipped my toes into the swamp of tags. I’m finding myself using three tags at most for any project or task. Perhaps I need to talk to my wife and show her something on my computer at the office. I’ll have the tags Wife, Office, and Mac. Heck I might just take out the Mac tag because I need the two other tags more. I dislike using more than three tags because it just complicates things for me.

I use Finder tags as temporary place holders for me until I finish processing a file. In-progress, important note, and a few others are some of my temporary Finder labels.

For my photos, I tag just the important parts that i want to remember. I tried a disastrous experiment where I tagged everything in a photo (beach, kids, family, water, ocean). I never searched for much of anything in my photo library. The only tags I really cared about where wife, kid 1, kid2, me, mom, dad, sister and a few other close friends of mine. I think AI has improved and will auto-identify objects or people in a photo. So that lessens the need for me to tag as much.

Overall, I try to keep my tags to a minimum. Find out what are the important tags to remember and start deleting every other tag. I sometimes forget to curate my tags and end up with a bunch of useless tags that I never used.

That’s the most important thing I’ve learned. Tags need either to be curated or have a stringent naming scheme so they’re easily findable/usable again. Otherwise it gets chaotic quickly.

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Justindrose: "I’m barely using Finder tags. The only thing I use them for is Hazel auto-filing from my Inbox folder in iCloud Drive.

Here’s how that works:

  • I name a file in my Inbox folder appropriately
  • Then I add the appropriate tags (i.e. Business, Receipt, Household, etc.)
  • Hazel moves the files to my File Cabinet folder"

That’s_almost_how I use Finder tags: I tag a file and then Hazel both renames it and files it (in folders indexed by DevonThink). I use a tag like a stamp to categorise a file so that Hazel knows which of its rules to use.

A frustration of using Finder tags for me currently is the scarcity of applications with ongoing development that can make the tagging process more efficient, and really utilise it. Apart from Hazel there are one or two others, but even some of those that were around or were launched when Apple first introduced Finder tags have been abandoned, and others, including the Finder itself, haven’t gone on to develop their tagging potential (in my opinion). Clearly there must be too little user interest. But for those people whose home-life or work leads them to collect quite large databases of files and who prefer not to simply rely on Search, filing them can be a tedious and time-consuming chore ripe for automation - which could include the use of tags.


The only thing I’ve seen with Finder tags is that I can create a Smart Folder that searches for a particular group of tags. Other than that, Finder has under-utilized tags.

I’m not yet sure about how I feel about using tags as an organizational replacement for folders. Perhaps I’m ancient and thinking in the past? I think Bear is trying to focus on tags as an organizational tool? I’m not a Bear user so I don’t subscribe to tags as the only method for organizing stuff (yet).

I read a little bit about how some folks wants to use tags as their only method of organization in OmniFocus and not wanting to use projects or folders to categorize stuff. I guess I’m still in the state of mind where I can use both as a form of organization.

Call me old-fashioned - and I probably am - but I still value the use of hierarchical folder structures on my computer. I know they’re in a sense artefacts of the various databases that I run, but I still like them - and I particularly like the fact that I can explore them using eye and hand. Maybe it’s a consequence of using and working in all those libraries in my student days, or mining cuttings folders when I was I was a young journalist. So I see Finder tags as a means to an end, and the end being curating my folder structures. (I do use Bear, and I see its use of nested tags as very similar to a hierarchical folder structure.)

As regards tags in OF3, I’m still getting used to using them. But I don’t think I’ll move away from a structure of Folder/Project/Task, with tags providing a “second dimension” when required.

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I wouldn’t necessarily call this old fashioned. Tagging gives no sense of space in a digital world. Folders do. You can think, “Oh, my work documents are in this folder.” and visually remember where they are in your mind. With tags, you fully rely on the computer for locating them. For visual people like myself, I can lose track pretty quickly unless the system is incredibly robust and I can trust it 100%.

I tried this for a couple of weeks. It didn’t work at scale for me. For smaller bunches of tasks, it’s more effective for sure.

I’m old fashioned too then. I’ve been looking into other systems (like tagging, using a program like DevonThink, or ???) and I keep coming back to Hazel and basic file folders and standardized naming conventions.

Right now the only place I use tags regularly is in DayOne, and even there there are only like two tags that I regularly look up later.

The OmniFocus tags really overwhelmed me because there were so many. There were so many because I created an insane number of contexts when I first started using OF, and never removed them even after I stopped using them. :slight_smile: I do like the forecast tag. I just have to remember to not go crazy labeling everything with it. No, you can’t complete 3000 tasks in one day… :rofl:

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I use Finder Tags to file away documents.
I try to keep a minimalist approach to the hierarchy I use so to control this I use Hazel to automatically file documents it recognises (ie Phone Bill) while others get processed by Hazel Rules using AppleScript to review the document then apply a Tag from a list then a sub Tag based on the initial Tag that was selected.
The file then gets moved to a folder that corresponds to the Tag>Sub Tag that was applied.
This approach ensures uniformity in how documents are stored which makes it easy to retrieve documents when required.


That sounds interesting Iain. What system do you use for your tags, specifically? I mean like do you tag based on type of document, who it’s from, location, time submitted or due, or what?
I use Hazel in a similar fashion you described, but I don’t (currently) use tags at all because I’ve been able to get everything filed correctly without them. :slight_smile:

I like to keep constant categories in my Document and Email systems, such as Finance, Education, Family, Work etc. I then have Sub Categories that are applicable to the main category such as Banks, Electricity, Insurance, Receipts etc.
Apart from applying the Category and Sub category Tags I also apply a Financial Year tag (default date is based on the files contents) which makes it easier to archive records, such as after the 2 year Taxation review period expires.
I am finding this system results in more accurate curation than what I found when using Devonthink and is overall quicker to process new documents.
The document management system works out so well I am now in the process of developing a similar system to manage photos and videos where I can automatically/semi automatically apply both EXIF metadata plus Finder Tags and Comments then file in a hierarchical folder structure via the combined use of Hazel rules, Applescript and Shell scripts.

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Recently I looked at my tags and found that they provided no extra value that searching didn’t offer. I feel tags had a real place in my system when the search wasn’t great, but now whether I’m on macOS, Windows, iOS, or a web app, a few words are good enough to find the note, task, or document for which I am looking.

For my notes, I had tagged everything with commonalities: Troubleshooting, Scripting (Subtags for AppleScript, Powershell, JavaScript, Shell Script, etc.), Application (Subtags: Drafts, OmniFocus, DEVONthink, DEVONagent, etc.), etc. Last weekend I had a look at my tags and found that in the body of the notes was enough information that searching would quickly bring up the note. For troubleshooting, I also include the error message or a couple of different ways to describe the problem, so that negated the reason for a troubleshooting tag, and so forth for others. For work notes, including the Project Name in my notes allows me to find the notes related to a project quickly, and I’m using more folders.

In OmniFocus, I had been using multiple different types of tags, such as location (Home, Work, Errands, Online), tool (Mac, iOS, Windows, Linux), and action (Watch, Read, Listen, Research). With all those tags I found I usually placed those actions in the Task Title, so I would tag an action titled ‘Watch Justin’s Perspective Video on PG’ with Watch, online, and iOS. But I found I knew I had to watch it, I knew I had to be online, and I know I watch videos on my iPad because it frees my Mac up to follow along.

I know tags are beneficial for tying information together between different projects, but in OmniFocus, I am usually either completing a hit list of quick actions to finish or delving into a project, and I already know the tools I need to use, so tags don’t help. I’ve never been one to use energy levels or times (morning, afternoon, evening) because I use defer dates as a way to tell myself this needs to get done ASAP to the deferred date. The hit list gets the small hanging items out of the way quickly, and then I move onto a project I’ve scheduled for a set timeframe.

Likewise, for reference information and notes I used to use tags in DEVONthink to tie different pieces of information to various projects, now in my project index note, I add a link to that file that is in a different group/project or even separate database. I’m much more liberal with Replicants in DEVONthink due to this change which allows the same document to appear in different areas, but it is just one document that looks like multiple, therefore when I make a change to one location, the change is shown everywhere.

Currently, the only place I am actively using tags is my DEVONthink Bookmarks database which is made up of bookmarks, web archives, HTML files, and OCRed PDFs of web pages. The tags are used to pull together common themes of the items, along with a “toread” tag which I use as a more comprehensive Unread/Read flag than DEVONthink offers.

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