How to Make “Recent Items” More Useful

Updated April 21st, 2020.

Second in a series of short blog posts explaining how I use my Mac– shortcuts, techniques, settings, etc. Each post is self-contained but I suggest you read them all.

Executive Summary: Apple menu, System Preferences, General, Change Recent Items to 50

There’s a semi-handy menu under the Apple menu called Recent Items. Choose an item from that menu and it opens right up– no need to hunt all over for it.

Recent Items (default configuration)
Click picture for a full-size image.

It’s only semi-handy because the Recent Items list is too short– you almost never find what you’re looking for in Recent Items because it only shows ten recent application, ten recent documents, and ten recent servers. (I have this feeling that the thing I want is usually #11.)

Solve this problem by increasing the number of items in the list. Just go to the Apple menu, then to System Preferences, then to General. You’ll see Recent Items: near the bottom of the General Preferences pane and it will probably show “10” Documents, Apps, and Servers. Here’s what General Controls looks like by default.

Click picture for a full-size image.
Click picture for a full-size image.

Change the “10” to something larger (mine’s set to 50) and your Mac’s Recent Items will look something like this:

Recent Items 50 Apps
Click picture for a full-size image.

and this:

Recent Items 50 documents
Click picture for a full-size image.

More things in the menu means more chances to find what you’re looking for. More is better.

Note: you won’t see improvement right away. At first, you’ll still see ten Apps, ten Documents, and ten Servers… but over time, as you use your Mac, the menu will grow to hold more and more items. It’s simple to change it back if for some reason “more” is not better for you. But I think you’ll like it this way.

Now you have to remember to LOOK in the Recent Items menu when looking for stuff. That’s on you. I can only do so much.

Bonus: sometimes you see something in the Recent Items menu and you wonder where it is on the hard disk. Hold the Command key down while showing the Recent Items menu and the menu items change to Show (name of thing) in Finder.

Show Recent Items in Finder command key
Click picture for a full-size image.

Choose one when it says “Show” and the item will be shown in the Finder. Try it once and you’ll be an expert.

Also in this series:
How to Bring Back the Mac’s Scroll Bars

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3 thoughts on “How to Make “Recent Items” More Useful

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  1. Thanks. My problem is different: Recent Items is showing recent applications but refuses to show recent documents (or recent servers, though I don’t need that). What bug is this?

    1. I don’t know for sure but I would try this: in System Preferences/General, change the number of items shown in Recent Items, then close System Preferences. Restart your Mac (or log out, then back in). Then go back and change the number of items back to what you want it to be. See what happens.

    2. If you don’t see things change when you change the settings, maybe the preference file is damaged. If you look in your Library folder, in Preferences, you should see There may be some letters and numbers after that. I would try moving those files to the trash, then logging out and logging in (or just restart). That will get you a fresh start.

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