How to Automatically Sort and Sift Files with Hazel

Today we’re going to look at Hazel, an app that can help keep your Mac nice and tidy with everything in its place.

Below we’ll go over exactly what Hazel is and how to install it. Then walk you through a handy little workflow that you can setup to cleanup your Mac a little right away.

What Is Hazel?

Hazel provides an easy way to automate tasks on the contents of any folder on your hard drive. By setting up rules you determine specific actions that are to be taken on files that meet a certain criteria.

For instance, say you want to apply a certain color label to .jpgs, move files older than a week, or automatically backup any newly inserted files to another folder, all of these actions are fairly simple with Hazel.

Download and Installation

To try it out, visit the Hazel website and download the 14 day trial. It’s not limited in any other way but time so you’ll get to play with all the features unhindered.


The Hazel Website

The file you download is actually not an application but a preference pane. To install a preference pane, all you have to do is double click (right click on the preference pane to remove it).

You should now see a Hazel icon in the lowest portion of your System Preferences window.


System Preferences

The Basics

The window below shows the primary Hazel interface. Basically what you do is add in a folder to watch (far left), then add rules that perform certain actions on the contents of that folder.


The Main Hazel Interface

To add a folder, you simply click the little plus button on the left. To add a new rule, click the plus button on the right.

Below is the window that pops up when you add a rule. As you can see, the interface here is almost exactly like setting up Smart Folders in Apple Mail.

First, you choose a condition such as when the file was added, what color label is applied or what extension the file has. Then you choose the action to take on the files that meet that criteria. The actions available are shown below.


Adding a Rule

That’s it! Now Hazel will continually watch that folder and make the indicated changes when necessary.

A Practical Example

For me one of the most interesting ideas for how to use Hazel is to create droplets to process files. We all have lots of clutter in our downloads folder and/or scattered across our Macs and creating a droplet can be a great way to quickly archive specific files.

To set up this test, create a series of empty folders somewhere on your hard drive. Label one of them “PDFs,” another one “Archives,” and continue to add any for the specific file types you want to keep together.

Also create a folder that you can use as a droplet. Place this folder anywhere you like on your hard drive but be sure to drag it to either your dock or your Finder’s sidebar as seen below.


Add the Droplet Folder to Your Dock or Sidebar

Now go into Hazel and add this folder. Then create a series of rules that match the folders you just setup. For instance, create rule for PDF’s, a rule for archives, and a rule for Music (point this one at your iTunes folder).

For each rule, designate the desired type of file and the folder you want to move it to. Make sure to apply all of these rules to your Droplet folder and set the destination of the move to the folder where you want to send the files as seen in the screenshot below.


Setting Up a PDF Rule

When you’ve setup all the folders and rules you want, you’re ready to use the droplet. Any time you find a file in your hard drive that’s out of place, simply drag it to the droplet folder and Hazel will automatically determine what type of file it is and then move it to its proper location! This makes the mundane and meticulous task of file sorting a breeze.

Other ideas include automatically emptying out your Downloads folder once per week, putting files that you’ve never opened all in one place and adding color labels to certain types of files that you use often.

Why It’s Better Than Saved Searches and Folder Actions

OS X currently has a number of features for sorting through your files quickly built right in. One of the easiest and handiest is Saved Searches. Any Spotlight search can be saved as a quickly accessible Saved Search in your Finder’s sidebar.

For instance, you can run a search for files with the extension “pdf,” save the search and easily find all your PDFs by clicking on the shortcut in your sidebar.

However, unlike Hazel, this is not an organization solution. Saved Searches do not move your files or affect them in any way, they simply provide an easy access solution.

A more powerful option is Folder Actions. This allows you to setup specific scripts that watch folders and react automatically when files are added to that folder. This solution provides much of the same functionality you’ll find in Hazel at no charge to the user.

Unfortunately, Folder Actions are reserved for only those users already familiar with automation techniques such as AppleScript and Automator. AppleScript has a high learning curve but scripts are easy to attach to folder actions. Automator has a much lower learning curve but it’s a bit trickier to apply an Automator workflow to Folder Actions. I plan on doing an in-depth Folder Actions tutorial some time in the future so if you’re interested in this feature stay tuned.

Ultimately, there’s nothing in OS X that does what Hazel does as easy as Hazel does it. It’s an excellent app that can really save you tons of time if implemented properly.


Hazel is a great little app that can save any messy Mac user from the clutches of digital clutter. For the most part, the app ran just fine for me without a complaint. I did however encounter one or two glitches as I used it.

For instance, when I applied rules to my Mac’s default downloads folder, they all seemed to act weird and unpredictably (sometimes having the exact opposite effect that I intended). I fully understand how to use the app and implemented rules successfully on other folders, it just doesn’t like my downloads folder for reason (this is likely an isolated incident).

Otherwise Hazel is an awesome app and I recommend it to anyone in need of some automated organizational aid. Download the trial version, give it a shot and leave a comment telling us what you think. There are tons of potential uses for Hazel so also be sure to tell us any clever workflows you dream up!


Hazel makes it incredibly easy to assign automated actions to specific folders. This enables you to perform all types of organizational tasks that will keep your Mac nice and tidy.