6 power-user tricks for Mac Spotlight

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Spotlight is good for much more than just finding files.
Spotlight is good for much more than just finding files.
Photo: Pixabay/Pexels CC

Spotlight for Mac. Isn’t it that little magnifying glass icon in the menubar, the one that you click when you’ve given up trying to find that document you swear is somewhere on your Mac? Well yes, it is. But if you know these Mac Spotlight tips, it can be so much more than that.

You can use it to find a document, even if you can only remember a snippet of text from inside that document. But you can also use it to do math, launch apps, open folders, and even check the weather. These Mac Spotlight tricks will let you get the most out of this underutilized feature.

Mac Spotlight tricks

Just like the Mac’s Terminal app, the built-in Spotlight tool gives you powerful options for controlling your computer. Once you start using Spotlight consistently, you’ll see just how useful it can be.

First, we want to activate Spotlight without having to mouse up to the top corner of the Mac’s screen every time. Seeing as you’re going to be typing your queries anyway, it makes sense to activate Spotlight using the keyboard. The default keyboard shortcut for Spotlight is ⌘-Space. You can customize this in the System Preferences.

Launch an app with Spotlight

Launch any app with Mac Spotlight.
Launch any app with Spotlight.
Screenshot: Cult of Mac

To launch an app with Spotlight, just hit ⌘-Space and start typing the name of the app. If it shows up as the top result, just hit return, and the app will launch. If the app is already running, you will switch to it.

And, if the app doesn’t show up as the top result, just keep typing its name until it rises to the top, or use the arrow keys to go up and down the list and select it.

Reveal a folder in the Finder

Open up a folder using this Spotlight tip.
Open up a folder using Spotlight.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Looking for a folder? How about a subfolder? Let’s say you want to open a folder contained inside the Music folder, so you can see it in the Finder.

Step 1 is to invoke Spotlight (⌘-Space). Then type Music. You may have to use the arrow keys to move down the list. Once the Music folder is highlighted, just hit return to open it.

However, there’s a further trick. When the Music folder is highlighted, tap the Tab key. Now, the focus switches to the list of subfolders, in the lower right panel of the Spotlight bezel. Now you can go up and down that sublist using the arrow keys, and hit return to open a subfolder.

Extra extra bonus tip: Hold down the Command key at any time to see the path of the selected file, folder, app, etc. The path shows up at the bottom of the left section.

Do math in Spotlight

Pi or π.
Pi or π.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Spotlight isn’t limited to searching for items on your Mac. Spotlight has some of its own tricks. For instance, if you type a math problem into the search field, Spotlight will give you the answer. It’s smart about interpreting your input, too. You can use x or * for multiplication, you can put sub-equations in brackets, and you can type out “pi” or use the π symbol.

You can use the Mac Spotlight to convert pretty much anything, including currency.
Convert pretty much anything, including currency.
Photo: Cult of Mac

You can also do unit conversions, currency conversions, and more. Try it out.

Search the web using Mac Spotlight

Search results show up right inside the Spotlight window.
Search results show up right inside the Spotlight window.
Photo: Cult of Mac

To search the web, just type a search term into the Spotlight box. You’ll get a list of websites, videos and more, depending on the query. Once you get used to using Spotlight instead of opening Safari right a way, this is a much nicer way to search the web. It even brings in your Safari history, if appropriate.

Look up a word

Access the Mac's dictionary using this Spotlight search tip.
Access the Mac’s dictionary.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Type a word into Spotlight, then use the arrow keys to navigate to the word, and you’ll see a dictionary definition. You may also see suggestions for movies, for Wikipedia, and more.

Check the weather with Spotlight

Check the weather, anywhere, using Mac's Spotlight tool.
Check the weather, anywhere.

Type weather into Spotlight and your Mac will show you the weather at your current location. Handy. Type something like weather in New York, and it’ll show you the weather for the location you specify.

More Mac Spotlight tricks

As you can see, Spotlight is capable of more than just finding files on your Mac. One of the best Mac Spotlight tips is simply to use this powerful tool more frequently. Next time you want to find or know anything, start by hitting ⌘-Space on your Mac to invoke Spotlight. You’ll probably find what you want almost immediately.