You probably know Spotlight as the handy search tool on your Mac, but it’s so much more than that. Mastering Spotlight is key to using your Mac in the most efficient way possible. Here are some tips to help you get a handle on macOS in record time.
Activate Spotlight with a keyboard shortcut
Spotlight sits in the top-right corner of the screen, but it’s infinitely more useful with a keyboard shortcut. Quickly activate it with Command+Spacebar at any time. Get used to using it, and you’ll be able to do things like open files, launch apps, and search the web, all without taking your fingers off the keyboard.
Once you’re happy with this keyboard shortcut, you can reclaim some menu bar space by removing Spotlight or other items.
Find and preview files
The most obvious use of Spotlight is to find local files on your Mac. Simply search for a file or folder name to reveal it, then you can use the arrow keys to select it and open it with Enter. Alternatively, highlight a file and use the space bar to preview the file with Quick Look instead.
If you prefer to open the folder in which a file resides, you can use the keyboard shortcut Command+Enter while highlighting it. Hold down the Command key in the output of a file to see its location (this works for local files and those in your iCloud Drive).
To quickly jump between different sections of Spotlight results, use the Command and up or down arrow keys.
Use operators to narrow your search
You can use Boolean operators with Spotlight, just as you can with any search engine. This allows you to use terms like AND, NOT, and OR to build detailed searches. For example, if you’re trying to find a list of PDF documents that don’t match the search term “invoice”, see
pdf NOT invoice to view a list of PDF results that exclude the search term “invoice”.
You can also use the operator “type:
slack kind:email will find emails matching the search term “slack”.
Use this with common descriptors like
messagefile types like
jpegor app-specific content like Calendar
events or tasks like
Quickly search the web
You can trigger web searches in your default browser using Spotlight, just make sure a browser search result is highlighted before hitting Enter. It can be cumbersome to scroll through the results, so why not use the Command+B shortcut to activate your current search query as a web search?
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If you only take one piece of advice from this page, take it with this one: Use Spotlight to launch apps instead of navigating to the Applications folder or using Launchpad. It’s much faster to press Command+Enter and then start typing the app name followed by Enter.
You don’t even need to type the full application name (most of the time). Since Spotlight learns from your behavior, the more you use this feature, the more it favors your frequently used apps (which means shorter queries to see the results you want).
Access to system settings
macOS 13 Ventura replaced the old System Preferences control panel with a new iOS-inspired System Settings menu. This can make it hard to remember where everything is (and even once you’ve tweaked, some items can be hard to find). Get around this by using Spotlight to go directly to the preferences pane you want to see.
You can access overviews like “General” or get details with queries like “Touchpad Gestures” or “Keyboard Sensitivity.”
Natural language searches
While the operators are useful, nothing beats using natural language to find exactly what you want. Fortunately, Spotlight has you covered, allowing you to run queries like “documents I created last month” or “November Numbers files” and it’s worth experimenting to see what you can find.
This works with apps like Mail (“unread emails” or “emails I sent today”), Notes (“November notes”), Maps (“grocery stores near me”), and web results (“cat photos” ) to name a few.
Your Mac has a calculator app (go ahead and launch it with Spotlight), but for quick additions like simple addition, division, or multiplication, you can use Spotlight to get your result in no time. Use plus “+” or minus “-” for addition and subtraction and “x” or “/” for multiplication and division. You can also use square brackets in your calculations.
Once you have an answer, you can press Command + C to copy the result directly to your clipboard.
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Unit and currency conversions
In addition to simple addition, you can also perform common unit conversions in Spotlight. Try converting feet to meters, miles to kilometers, or Fahrenheit to Celsius to get started.
Spotlight will also do currency conversions, though you’ll need online connectivity for the latest conversion rates. Use currency codes such as “USD” (US dollars), “GBP” (British pounds sterling), or “JPY” (Japanese yen).
Summary and weather forecast
Spotlight can give you the weather for your current location using the
weather near me query, or you can write “weather
Quickly look up word definitions
Need to look up the spelling or definition of a word in the dictionary on your Mac? You can also do it with Spotlight. Definitions appear as a separate category of result that you can quickly invoke using the keyboard shortcut Command+L once you’ve entered your query.
You’ll see a short definition in the search results, and you can press Enter to see a more detailed entry that includes usage examples, derived words, and origins.
Restrict Spotlight Results
Do you want Spotlight to stop showing you certain results? You can block it from indexing specific folders or drives using Spotlight’s privacy preferences in System Settings > Siri & Spotlight. Click the plus “+” button to add folders you want to exclude from the search results, or you can nominate the root folder of an external drive to exclude everything on that drive.
You can also use Siri and Spotlight preferences to remove any result types you don’t find useful (such as “Fonts” or “Slideshows”).
Try these tips on your iPhone or iPad too
Apple followed the same design principles when designing Spotlight on iOS and iPadOS. You can pull down the home screen to reveal a search box that works the same way for frequent tasks like launching apps, converting currency, quick calculations, or finding hidden preference menus. You can also customize the search on the iPhone.
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