Mac Brain: Managing Files with Hazel
This post is part of a series on setting up a Mac server and automation system to simplify computing and take greater advantage of iOS devices. You can read all of the posts from my Mac Brain project here.
One of the main goals of setting up an automated Mac was to relieve constraints in iOS and the iPad. One of those that has always been a challenge is managing files. A file system doesn’t really exist on the iOS (though you could argue that Dropbox has mostly filled that gap) and it’s relatively small drive isn’t ideal for long-term file storage. iCloud and Dropbox have stepped up to solve many of these issues for normal iPad users but for someone like myself, who wants to make the iPad my main device, there are concerns about putting my trust in the cloud.
There were two main categories of files I wanted to handle using my iPad: things I wanted constant and current access to and stuff I have to collect and wanted to archive. The stuff I wanted access to are things like my plain-text notes and photos and the things I needed to collect then archive are things like bank statements that would come in and be processed and working files that I no longer need immediate access to. I used to keep all of my documents in Dropbox but I recently realized that I didn’t need anytime-access to most of them on any device. What I lost by moving them out of Dropbox I gained by not having a lot of personal files in a more likely to be compromised system. Now things that don’t need to be in the cloud aren’t. They’re safely and obsessively organized on my Mac. This isn’t anything new, most of you have files archived on your machines, but the nice thing for me is that this isn’t a day-to-day used computer so I don’t notice files piling up in Finder. The beauty of this system is that I can set it up to organize my files the way that I want and then I never have to worry about it or even see the files.
Archive and Document Folder Structure
When I was first setting up this server, I spent some time in Finder
organizing what documents and random files I had around into two main
places: an Archive folder, and the standard
folder. Into Archive, I moved a bunch of files from my Dropbox into a
/YYYY/MM_Month/ folder structure based on the created date
of the file and made a couple Smart Folders to more easily find old
archived PDFs and images. Into
~/Documents go some more
current and specific files that don’t quite fit into a ‘junk drawer’
archive, but should be more cleanly organized. Right now, this is where
I put bank statements.
Both of these endpoints have the same in-point. It’s a folder on my
[DROP]. In this folder, I can drop a whole
range of files and based on Hazel rules I set up, my filing will happen
automatically. Archival into my
will happen whenever I drop files into a
folder in that drop folder. With this system, I can pass pretty much any
file type on the iPad to “Open in Dropbox” where I’ll be prompted to
choose a folder to put it in. Choosing
[DROP] will sync the
file over to my Mac brain and Hazel will do what I ask of it.
Let’s go through a couple of the Hazel rules as examples and so your imaginations can be piqued as to what kind of things you’ll be able to do to automate your system. This will be more of the methods and thought process of working with Hazel since setting up the tasks are pretty straightforward.
PDFs: From iPad to Archive
Bank statements were never really something that were too important
to me because I figured that I’d just always be able to get them from my
bank’s website. A few months ago, my Mom asked me for record or some
payment stuff from years ago for something legal or tax related. I went
to my bank and realized that they only kept my statements from within 18
months. At this point I figured it would be worth holding onto them on
my side but until I set up this machine, I didn’t really keep up with it
because of the nuisance of pulling down and organizing the files.1 With Hazel, I just need to get the
file into my
[DROP] folder and it’ll do the rest. To set
this up, I pulled down the PDFs from my banks site and looked to make
sure I could find a consistent pattern in the file name that I could
tell Hazel to look for. All four of my banking related service providers
named the PDF statements in a way that Hazel could uniquely recognize.
So with Hazel matching the filename containing ‘eStatement’ and
extension is ‘.pdf’ in my
[DROP] folder, it’ll rename the
PDF to something like
move it into the folder
~/Documents/Bank Name/Checking/YYYY/, again all based on
the rules I set up. I also have it importing those documents into
Evernote. Doing both isn’t necessary but I wasn’t totally sure which
system I wanted for this type of document archival, so I went with both
for now. In the last step of the Hazel task, I use this Applescript to
get the document into Evernote:
set m to do shell script "date +'%m'"
set y to do shell script "date +'%Y'"
tell application "Evernote" activate
create note title "Name of Bank Checking Statement for " & y & "-" & m notebook "Bank Statements" from file theFile
In the end, your task will look something like this.
Organizing Your Plain-text Notes
Another way I use Hazel is to keep my plain-text notes folder clean.
Some people just leave everything in this folder whether they’ll need it
again or not, but I want to keep it clean. I have both scratchpads
I create from my analytics tracker, Gaug.es, go into my Notes directory but I only
really need immediate access to these within the week they are created.
Once they get over a week old, Hazel moves them into a sub-folder in
/Notes so I still have access to them, but they aren’t
clogging up my main list. The Hazel rule for this is basic: if it
Scratchpad_YYYY-MM-DD file naming convention and
the Date Created is not This Week, then it gets dumped into a
/Scratchpad/YYYY/MM_Month/ folder. Now these files are
still easily accessible but they also aren’t in the way when I’m
searching through my notes on Notesy for iPad.
I want to be getting deeper into using Hazel to help organize my life. If you have some interesting Hazel jobs, I’d love to hear about them (I’m @nickwynja on Twitter). What I’ve got so far is pretty basic but has helped simplify and keep me organized while using iPad.
Watch for an upcoming post about Mail.app rules to see how I set up the automatic creation of OmniFocus tasks to tell me to review and archive my bank statements whenever my bank sends me an email to let me know the new document is up.↩︎