<firstimage=”//static.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Automator.png” />Most of us don’t have the skills or the time to create our own custom Mac apps or plug-ins, but when Apple produced Automator, a program installed in the latest versions of Mac OS X, it enabled users to create little time saving applications and Mac Automator workflows that can be customized for personal user needs.
Mac Automator workflows need not be complicated. They can simply be 1-3 step workflows that can save you some time on your computer.
We have published a few longer Automator how-tos here on MUO. This article, though, is going to introduce you to ten practical workflows that you can create in under five minutes. Once you create a few of these, I guarantee that you’ll want to see what other type of workflows you can create.
How Do Automator Applications Work?
Automator applications work pretty much like any another application. When you click on an Automator application, it opens up and you tell it what to do. You can also configure applications to simply perform a task without opening up. Just click on the application and it will execute the commands.
How To Create An Application
Okay, first off I will explain how to create an Automator application, and then I will briefly describe nine other similar applications that you might want to create.
Step 1: Launch Automator, found in your application’s folder. I’m using the Snow Leopard version of Automator for these examples. When the template window drops down, select Application, and then select Choose.
Step 2: This step introduces you to different parts of Automator and it also shows you to create your first application.
1. In the far left column, select Mail in the list of actions. These actions are a part of the Automator library.
2. In the next column select New Mail Message.
3. Drag the New Mail Message action into the workflow pane.
4. Notice that when you select an action, Automator provides a brief description of what it does. If that description does not show up, click on the little triangle at the bottom left of Automator.
5. Finally, once you get your workflow set up, you can select the Run button to see if the workflow works. This run test will not always work, depending on the workflow you’re trying to create, but for most of the applications we’re creating in this tutorial, you can run the workflow and test it before saving it.
Send Mail Message Application
So what is the purpose of this workflow? Why use it when you can just simply create a new mail message in Mail? Well, if you have a person that you regularly send email to, and typically that email contains a similar message, you can use this workflow to set up an email that will be automatically addressed to a specified person or persons, with any preset message and subject line.
So basically feel out the New Mail Message with the addresse(s) of the recipient(s), the subject line, and the content if it’s going to be similar each time.
Now click on the Options button at the button of the action. There is a box that says, “Show this action when the workflow runs.” This means that the new mail message will pop up and provide you with the opportunity to add any additional content to the message before you click send. If you don’t click this button, Automator will send the message automatically when you launch the application. So click that button.
Now click Run and see what happens. If it doesn’t work for you, write me a comment below.
Save As Application
After doing the test run, simply save the workflow. In the drop-down save box, click on the File Format button and choose Application. You probably should save this application in your Applications folder. If you plan to create more applications like this, you might want to create a special folder for your Automator applications.
All the Automator apps will be saved with this icon. Yeah, it’s a little ugly, but you can customize it like you do any other icon. See this MUO tutorial.
You can treat these Automator apps like other applications. They can be dragged to your dock or even put into your Finder toolbar.
Alright, now that you have completed this first really simple workflow, let’s explore others that you can do quickly.
To find each of the actions below, simply type in the name of the action in the search field at the top of the second column of Automator.
This action, when saved as an application, will automatically print any document that you drop onto it. After creating it using the steps described above, put it in your dock or Finder toolbar. Now grab a document file and place it on top of the saved app. That will cause Automator to run the action and print your document using your default printer. Note, you can also select the “Show this action when the workflow runs,” if you want to make some changes to the printing configurations before the action is executed.
This app action plays a selected playlist from your iTunes library. It requires two actions. First open iTunes, select your favorite playlist and slide it into the Automator workflow pane. Next, locate Play iTunes Playlist in the Automator library and slide it also in the workflow pane under the playlist action. Now save it as an app. When you click on that app it will play the specified playlist.
Copy Items Of A Folder
This app will copy any files moved onto it, to a designated folder. Again, you might want to put this one in your dock or Finder toolbar. When you need to use it, simply drag files onto the app and it will run.
Hide Apps & Launch An App
This little workflow app simply hides all your running apps and opens a specified application so you can get focused and begin working.
If you need to quickly archive a bunch of files, this workflow is the easiest way to do it. Park it on your dock, put the selected files on top of it, and it will create a Zip archive of those files.
Copy Clipboard to Text Document
Okay, say you frequently copy text and paste it in a text editor document. Well, this workflow app will save you a few clicks. Copy the text as usual to the clipboard, click this app and it will automatically paste the copied text into a TextEdit document.
New Dated Folder
If you regularly create folders that need to be named with a date, simply click this workflow app and save yourself a few steps.
Set Desktop Image
If you have a favorite desktop image that you like to switch to from time to time, use this workflow app to set the desktop image, saving the steps of opening System Preferences. In this workflow, drag your selected image into the workflow pane, and right under it, drag the Set Desktop Picture action.
This workflow app will launch specified webpages. You can park it your dock and click it when needed. This saves you the trouble of digging through your web browser bookmarks. Grab the two actions and replace the http://www.apple.com URL with your selected web page(s)
That’s it. Let me know what other time saving Automator actions you come up with. If you run into any problems with these actions, let me know by dropping a line in the comment box below.