December 31, 2010, 8:52 AM — It's easy to never go beyond the basics of Open and Save dialog boxes, despite their being perhaps the most-used feature of the Mac interface. Instead of simply working with the basics, make these dialog boxes work for you. (The last two tips here are Snow Leopard-only.)
1. Use Spotlight to search for missing files
You go to open that Quarterly Report you just copied over from a thumb drive, but you've totally forgotten where you put it. Let Spotlight come to the rescue, right in the Open dialog box. You don't even have to reach for your mouse: Activate the Spotlight field by pressing Command-F, and then type in the search term for a file or a folder that you've misplaced. (There's a Spotlight field in the Save dialog box, too.)
Using Spotlight keywords makes searching from within these dialog boxes even more efficient. These special terms limit your searches so that you don't get as many unwanted results. For example, instead of typing quarterly in the search field when you're looking for that report, type name:quarterly so you won't find documents that simply contain the word quarterly. (When you use keywords, make sure there's no space between the keyword and the colon that follows it; you can leave a space after the colon.)
The two keywords I use most are name and kind. Use name to limit a search to only file names (instead of also looking through a document's contents). Use kind to specify the file type. When I'm looking specifically for a folder, I type kind:folder FolderName or FolderName kind:folder to avoid scrolling through a long list that includes files with similar names.
2. Customize your sidebar on-the-fly
The Finder's sidebar gives you one-click access to items you use frequently: Click on a sidebar folder, and the folder opens. You'll find the same click-and-you're-there convenience in every Open and Save dialog box. But it's there I often notice a sidebar organizational problem. ("I need this new folder in the sidebar"; "This folder should be at the top now because I'm using it so much"; "I haven't used that folder for weeks, it's in my way.")
Fortunately, the sidebar in an Open/Save dialog box is not merely a static reflection of the one you set up in Finder windows. Redesign the sidebar's Places category from within a dialog box just as you would in the Finder. Add a folder by dragging it from the window's list to a spot in the sidebar. Reorder items by dragging them up or down to new positions. Remove an item by dragging it out of the sidebar and letting go.
3. Save time by opening multiple items at once