Tune up Spotlight on your Mac

Tune up Spotlight on your Mac
Mac Tip #478, 16 March 2011

Spotlight takes care of indexing and searching your Mac. It can be superbly helpful, but sometimes it can slow your machine down. Here’s how to tune up its workings.


Please subscribe to the MacTips channel. Or just visit this video on YouTube, leave comments and rate it, as that helps spread the word about the MacTips.

Overview and quick instructions for Spotlight

  1. Control Spotlight with the settings in the Spotlight pane of System Preferences.
  2. In the Search Results tab uncheck any items you don’t care about, and drag item types into your preferred priority order for search results.
  3. Add folders to the Privacy tab to prevent Spotlight from indexing them.
  4. To turn Spotlight off add your whole hard drive (and any other attached drives) to the Privacy tab.
Spotlight Preferences.

Spotlight Preferences. My keyboard shortcut for opening the Spotlight window conflicts with something else, so it shows a warning triangle.

Control Spotlight

Spotlight is really only visible as a magnifying glass icon at the right-hand end of the Menu Bar on your Mac. Click the icon and a blue search box appears. Type in something you want to find and as you type Spotlight displays the possibilities.

Take charge of Spotlight from System Preferences:

  1. Open System Preferences.
  2. Click on the Spotlight pane in the top row. The Spotlight Preferences open up with 2 tabs: Search Results and Privacy.
  3. At the bottom of that window check or uncheck the boxes for using keyboard shortcuts and select the shortcuts you want to use (if any).
Spotlight Search Results.

Spotlight Search Results.

Tune up the Search Results settings

When you do a Spotlight search the results come back in groups of items. If some items are never useful for you then remove them from the results.

In my first screenshot you can see that I’ve unchecked several items, such as Mail Messages. I don’t use Apple’s Mail.app so there’s no point in Spotlight spending any time on it.

As it happens, I also never look for Fonts, so I’ve unchecked that item too.

Look at the items and uncheck any that aren’t relevant to how you use your Mac.

Also, you may look for Applications all the time, but seldom look for Presentations. In my first screenshot I’ve dragged Applications to the top of the list and Presentations to the bottom to reflect that usage. The second screenshot shows that my Spotlight search found no Applications or System Preferences, but it did find Documents, Folders and Contacts (and other things) and has displayed them in my preferred order.

Drag items into an order that reflects your preferences for how Spotlight should display search results.

Set Spotlight to not index certain folders.

Set Spotlight to not index certain folders.

Set Spotlight to not index certain folders

Spotlight is able to quickly find things on your Mac because it constantly checks to see what’s changed and keeps an index of everything. When you look for an item it consults its index rather than live searching the computer.

It’s the indexing that can slow down your Mac, especially if you often plug in external drives.

There may be some folders you just don’t need to keep track of. For example, I have a folder named Demo that I use only when creating these MacTips. The folder contains only dummy files with content I never need to find.

To exclude folders or drives from Spotlight indexing drag them onto the Privacy window in the Spotlight Preferences, or click the + button below the window and choose the folder in the dialog box that comes up.

To remove a folder from the Privacy tab and allow Spotlight to index it, select the folder in the list and click the - button at the bottom of the window.

To prevent whole drives from being indexed just add the drive to the list.

Refresh the index

If you feel the whole index has become a problem somehow just add your entire hard drive to the Privacy tab and then remove it from the list again.

In a future Tip I’ll show another way to search your Mac, using the Spotlight window.

Share your favourite Spotlight tips in the Comments at the website.

Related posts

[wpzon keywords="pressure cooker" sindex="PCHardware" snode="1232597011" sort="salesrank" listing="8"]