6 Ways to Locate Recently Used Files on Your Mac

Efficiently navigate your recent work on your Mac with these 6 methods, including Apple menu, Dock, Finder Recents view, app-specific lists, Group By in Finder, and Mission Control.

By Abhishek Chandel
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6 Ways to Locate Recently Used Files on Your Mac

6 Ways to Locate Recently Used Files on Your Mac

Locating files and applications you were recently using is a common need for efficient workflows. macOS provides several handy features to quickly find your recent items. In this guide, we will cover 6 useful methods and settings to locate your recently accessed files, apps, folders, and documents on a Mac. Whether you need to reopen a file you swore you just opened or return to an app you were using minutes ago, these tips will save you time hunting down recent work.

Method 1: Use the Apple Menu's Recent Items

The Apple menu in the top left corner of the menu bar contains a useful "Recent Items" list. Click on the Apple logo and select "Recent Items" to view a dropdown menu of your recently accessed documents, apps, and servers.

This menu tracks your last 10 recent items, providing quick one-click access to files you had open recently. The list is updated dynamically as you continue working. Use it as your first go-to place to reopen a file you know you just had open.

Method 2: Check App-Specific Recent Files Lists

Many applications like Preview, TextEdit, and Safari maintain their own "Recent" document lists under the File menu. Go to File > Open Recent in the relevant app to see documents you've worked on lately in that app.

For example, to find a PDF you viewed recently, open Preview and look under File > Open Recent. This takes advantage of Preview's own recents tracking to quickly reopen the file.

Method 3: Use Finder's Group By Option

Finder provides a Group By option that auto-sorts files in a folder by criteria of date modified.

To group items in a Finder window, right-click (or control-click) in the empty space of the window, then choose "Use Groups". Now your files will be organized by recency, with the most recently opened files at the first.

Method 4: Check the Dock's Recent Apps Stacks

The Dock along the bottom of the Mac screen contains a useful recent apps section on the right side that provides quick access to apps you've recently opened. If you don't see this section, enable "Show suggested and recent apps in Dock" in Desktop & Dock settings. Then the Dock will display thumbnail stacks of your recent apps, allowing you to reopen them with just one click.

Method 5: Use Finder's Recents Folder View

Finder has a dedicated Recents view for your recently accessed files. Open a new Finder window and click "Recents" in the Finder sidebar. 

The Recents view shows your files sorted chronologically with newest at the top. Switch between Icon, List and Gallery view modes to scan your recent files efficiently.

Method 6: Check Mission Control's App Windows Previews

Mission Control gives an overview of everything currently running on your Mac. Swipe up on your trackpad using three fingers to enter Mission Control.

Here you'll see preview stacks of all your open app windows. Look through the window previews to jog your memory for a file or window you had open recently. Click a window to jump back into it.


With the built-in macOS options covered here, finding your recently used files, apps, and documents doesn't have to be a struggle. Keep the Apple menu, Dock, and Finder window Recents view in mind for quick access to recent items. Utilize app-specific Open Recent lists as well as Mission Control for a system-wide view. Group, search, or view recent items in whichever way suits your workflow. Use these tips to save time relocating recent work and maintain an efficient Mac experience.

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