Arguably one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated pieces of software on Mac computers, Automator can do much more than expected. Even with its small learning curve, mastering Automator can help you be vastly more efficient with your day-to-day computing needs. Who would object to saving more time each day? That’s the whole purpose of Automator. The good news is you don’t need to know how to code. You just need to open the software.
Opening the Automator app is just like opening any other application on macOS. You can do so in one of two ways:
1. Open Spotlight, type in Automator and then click on the appropriate search result.
2. Open Launchpad and begin typing Automator until the app icon appears. Once the icon is visible, click on it.
Regardless of which method you use, your next step is to click on “New Document” at the lower-left corner. That will bring you into the Automator menu/option screen, providing you with a multitude of next steps to choose from.
Choosing a Workflow
You have a variety of different workflows you can put together. Each has its own specialty, and you are free to mix and match to meet your needs. As it is a common theme with Automator, there are no hard rules for what you can and cannot do. Are there limitations? Sure. For the most part, the sky is the limit.
- Workflow: any workflow that can be run within the Automator app itself is the easiest way to use Automator.
- Application: this workflow is standalone and only runs when you open it or drop files or folders on it. This may be used to process data or start an action.
- Quick Action: this workflow is best used with Finder Windows, the Touch Bar or the Services menu. The Services menu is often found at the bottom of the right-click menu where available.
- Print Plugin: this workflow is enabled within the Print dialog wherever printing can occur. This will take a PDF document from the print menu and perform whatever action you have established.
- Calendar Alarm: this workflow will be set to run whenever a preset Calendar event occurs that has been set up in the native Calendar application.
- Image Capture Plugin: this workflow is used in combination with the built-in Image Capture application on the Mac. An action will generally be performed as images are being imported from a camera, iPhone, iPad, etc.
- Dictation Command: this workflow runs whenever a specified dictation is used. By using Accessibility’s enhanced dictation option, voice-driven workflows can be established. Note that dictation is not the same as a voice command through Siri.
As there are too many examples to show you all of what Automator can do, let’s take a look at a few basic examples.
Open Specific Web Pages
Far too many of us start every day with the same set of websites. Whether it’s the news, Reddit, maketecheasier.com (of course!) or another site, it’s the same each and every day. Automator can do this automatically.
1. Start by creating a new document in Automater and selecting “Application” as the document type.
2. Find the “Internet” option underneath “Library” on the far-left side of the Automator screen.
3. Once you have selected Internet, locate “Get Specified URLs” and drag it into the workflow space. You can now write in the URLs you would like to automatically open with Automator.
4. Locate “Display Webpages” and drag it below the “Get Specified URLs” box.
5. You should now save the workflow so you can easily access it. Think of a name you will remember, like “morning reading” or something along those lines. Head to “File -> Save” to accomplish this step.
6. To open the workflow, go to Finder and type in the name you gave it upon saving. Locate the name and click on it. Note that the websites will open in your default browser, not just Safari.
Fast Switching Between Light/Dark Mode
It doesn’t matter if you are Team Light or Team Dark, as dark mode has long been a request from Apple’s Mac user base. Now that it’s here, you can easily skip going into Preferences and switching between either mode thanks to Automator.
1. Create a new document in Automator and select “Application” as the type.
2. Under “Library,” click on “Utilities.”
3. Locate “Change System Appearance,” and drag it into the main workflow window.
4. There are no changes that need to be made within this workflow, so just click “File -> Save.” Make sure you save the file as an application and not as a workflow.
5. Go to the location where your file is saved, drag it to the dock or your desktop, then double-click on it.
There are so many Automator tricks that are useful. There is unquestionably something for everyone. This underappreciated software is a hidden gem, and Apple should be screaming about it from the rooftops. Until then, make sure you check out some of the other great tricks you can do with Automator, like downloading all images in a web page and quickly resizing images. What’s your favorite Automator trick?