Tech Tip

Can’t locate that file you were working in a few days ago and can’t remember what you called it? Here are some places to look.

J. D. Biersdorfer
  • Aug. 1, 2018

Q. Windows 10 has that Timeline thing, but on a Mac, how can I find a file I know I worked on recently? Especially if I don’t remember what I called it or where I stored it?

A. One place to look is in the Mac’s running list of Recent Items, which keeps track of the apps, files and servers you have used during your past few sessions on the computer. To look for the file and reopen it, go to the Apple Menu in the upper-left corner, select Recent Items and browse the list of files.

If you find what you need, select it from the list to open it. You can see where the file is stored by right-clicking (or holding down the Mac’s Command key while clicking) the open file’s name in the title bar.

By default, the Recent Items list only shows you the past 10 items in each of those three categories, but you can make the Mac keep a longer list. To do that, go to the Apple Menu, select System Preferences and choose General. At the bottom of the General box, click the pop-up menu next to Recent Items to select a list of 15, 20, 30 or 50 files, apps and servers instead; you can also show as few as five items, or none at all.

Many programs have their own list of recently used files. Check under the File menu of Microsoft Word, Adobe Acrobat and other applications if you remember which program you were using for the document you can’t find.

The Recents icon in the Finder sidebar window shows a list of files you have used in past sessions on the Mac.CreditThe New York Times

If you still don’t see the file you need, open a Finder window by double-clicking on a desktop folder or the hard-drive icon. In the sidebar in the left pane of the window, click Recents to see a collection of files you have used. At the top of the window click the Date Last Opened column to sort the list chronologically. Before macOS High Sierra, the Recents icon on the Sidebar was called All My Files and was a bit more comprehensive.

Personal Tech invites questions about computer-based technology to This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually.

J.D. Biersdorfer has been answering technology questions — in print, on the web, in audio and in video — since 1998. She also writes the Sunday Book Review’s “Applied Reading” column on ebooks and literary apps, among other things. @jdbiersdorfer


Orignially published in NYT.

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