Automator: Repetitive Tasks on Your Mac

Performing a repetitive task on a computer is rather tedious. However, it’s not difficult to get your Mac to put in the legwork, and leave you free to do something more interesting. This requires a little effort.

Automator: How to Perform Repetitive Tasks on Your Mac

You can find Automator in Applications. This feature will let you program your Mac without any technical know-how. The idea is that you assemble a time-saving Workflow by combining various off-the-shelf Actions, which are individual tasks such as finding unread emails, converting file formats, importing files into applications, etc.

How to Create Workflows

Workflows can perform some pretty complicated things, such as publish podcasts or choose and store full-size images from an online gallery of thumbnails by adding them to your iPhone Library, and so on.

Automator comes with a large collection of Actions, arranged down the left side according to the application they relate to. To start a Workflow, you should drag an action into the right-hand pane, and tinker with its settings, if necessary. Then, you can add another action. Make sure this Action makes sense as a follow-up to the first, as if it doesn’t, you’ll see red text where the two Actions should link together.

After you’ve strung a few Actions together, hit the Run button to see if your Workflow functions as planned. It can fail on the first try, but in this case, you should rethink the Workflow from start to finish, make some tweaks, and try again. Once everything’s working correctly, hit Save As… in the File menu and save a Workflow file. Next, click File – Save As… and export your Workflow file as a standalone application. This way, you can run it without opening Automator. You can also give your newly created app its own icon and drag it onto the Dock.

Adding Actions to the Automator

Note that you’re not limited to the Actions that come with the Automator. You can find lots of extra Actions available to download and import. You can even design your own Action, though you’ll first need to learn more about AppleScript.

AppleScript

To a certain extent, Automator is a friendly interface for AppleScript, the Mac scripting language. AppleScript is essentially a series of commands that can be opened, edited, or exported as a mini-application.

Open AppleScript Utility from Applications – AppleScript, and check the box to activate the AppleScript menu to see the sample scripts that came with OS X. A new icon will appear up on your menu bar, near the clock. This icon will reveal scores of scripts when clicked. You can download thousands of other apps from the internet, as well.

How to Write AppleScripts

AppleScript Studio is part of Xcode, an OS X programming toolkit.

If you want to try your hand at programming, and create your own Automator Actions, learning AppleScripts is a good place to start. Compared to most programming languages, AppleScript is very user-friendly, with code that even the uninitiated can make some sense of. However, AppleScript is a powerful source, especially if you master AppleScript Studio, which is a development environment for building fancy graphical interfaces onto your scripts. To begin, download a basic tutorial and experiment with AppleScript Editor, which is located in Applications – Utilities.

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