How to Use Filters in Ulysses

6 min read
  • Filters in Ulysses are smart groups that contain sheets not because of manual filing, but because they satisfy certain conditions.
  • For each filter, you can define which criteria must be true for a sheet to appear under the corresponding filter.
  • Unfortunately, filters in Ulysses aren’t as powerful as they could be.

When writing on a computer, we often imitate the experience we know from writing with pen and paper or a typewriter. Even filing away documents or searching for phrases is something we can do with our hands and eyes and with no computer—it’s just much slower. But what if we began using the advantages digital devices hold? We could get started using filters in Ulysses and discover that there are tools paper can’t compete with.

But what are filters? Filters look like groups or folders, but they’re more than that. You don’t put sheets in them manually; they aggregate them based on the conditions you determine. For example, a filter could show you only those sheets that were created within the past 14 days. Or only those with images. Filters are not additional groups, filters are lenses through which you view groups and filter their contents.

How filters in Ulysses work

The first thing you need to know is that filters in Ulysses apply only to the groups they reside in. So, if you want to filter all sheets in your Library, put the filter on the level of your Inbox. However, if you only want to filter the sheets within a specific group, put the filter in that group—or duplicate it and put it in as many groups as you like.

To create a filter in Ulysses for Mac, right-click any group in the Library and choose New Filter.... An overlay will appear for you to set up your new filter.

At the top, you should at least provide a meaningful title for this filter. Try to describe what the filter does in as few words as possible. If you click the icon next to the title, you can choose a different icon along with its color.

The next section allows you to determine criteria for this filter. This is the interesting part. You can mix and match various conditions you want to apply. Ask yourself: What criteria need to be true for my sheets so I want them to appear when I click on this filter?

Selecting a filter area in Ulysses

First, choose a general area. This can be the text of a sheet, its keywords, its date, or something specific about the sheet. You can choose from any of the following areas:

  • Text contains
  • Text does not contain
  • Keywords match
  • Keywords do not match
  • Modification Date
  • Creation Date
  • Sheet
Adding multiple conditions to a filter in Ulysses

You can further specify each of these areas, but that depends on which one you chose. For example, Text contains lets you specify the text you’re looking for and where in the sheet you expect it to appear (anywhere, in the title, in a footnote?). Modification date doesn’t require a date, but a period of time. And under Sheet you can define what attribute needs to be true regarding the individual sheet (does it have to have a writing goal, does it need to be marked as a favorite?).

On the right, you can find a + button. If you click on it, another line will be added to allow for even more criteria. You can create as many as you want. And they don’t need to be in any order or belong to the same area.

The option Match all conditions does exactly one thing: It determines whether there’s an “and” or an “or” between all your criteria. If you want the filter to show only sheets for which all the criteria you set up are true, then enable Match all conditions. However, if it’s sufficient that at least one of the criteria is true, disable this option.

Where filters fall short

Filters exist in other apps, too. In Finder, you can further filter your search items by choosing from dozens of criteria. Apps like DEVONthink also let you filter your documents based on specific conditions. What most of them have in common, however, is that they allow for more fine-tuning.

You can group criteria together and decide for each group whether all, any, or none of the conditions should be true. Sadly, in Ulysses, you can only set this up for the entire filter. You have to decide: either all the conditions apply, or at least one of them. I assume this was done to keep it simple. And indeed, even discovering how to create filter groups in other apps is difficult (you need to hold the OPTION ⌥ key so the plus transforms into an ellipsis—try it in Finder). But simplifying filters to such a degree means those users who want to can’t create many of the filters they desire.

I hope the developers don’t consider filters to be done, but that they keep innovating. It’s a powerful feature for writers of all kinds, but it could be much more useful if we were given more options. Now, create your own filters, or take a look at a few example filters for inspiration.