Mac Automator – Basics

Mac Automator

Apples Automator is a built-in Mac feature that allows users to easily programtheir Macs to automatically execute certain repetitive tasks, thus saving time by removing the need to perform said tasks manually.

Automator was introduced to Mac with the MacOS Tiger (10.4) and has been a part of the default set of built-in Mac apps ever since. However, not many people seem to pay much (if any) attention to this, otherwise, highly useful and surprisingly potent feature. Here, we will walk you through the basics of Automator and will show you a couple of examples of how it could be used to make your life easier.

Mac Automator

How does Automator work?

The premise of this app is to allow users to quickly and easily execute certain tasks or even create whole task sequences (called workflows) that can be initiated with a single click. Depending on how complex the sequence is, the use of Automator could drastically decrease the time you spent performing repetitive and tedious tasks on your Mac.

The interface of Automator is its main selling point because you dont need to have any programming knowledge in order to effectively make use of this app. Its intuitive drag-and-drop design allows users to quickly get the hang of the way its supposed to be utilized. Of course, taking a few minutes of your time to look at some online guides on how to work with Automator would probably save you some time that youd otherwise spent figuring out the app by yourself. Therefore, further down this post, we will give you two examples of how you can use Automator.

Understanding the different workflows of Automator

One thing that confused me personally at first were the different types of workflows offered by the app. Each of them is focused on different types of tasks so knowing your way around them could help improve how effectively you are using this tool.
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  • Workflow – this is the base workflow format and it can be run in the Automator app itself.
  • Application – these workflows function as separate apps and can be executed by either opening them or dragging and dropping files (or folders) on them.
  • Quick Action – this is a workflow type that can be added to the Touch bar, the Services Menu, or to Finder windows and executed from there.
  • Print Plugin – this workflow format adds the workflow to the Printing dialog box and is best used for performing actions on documents from the print menu.
  • Folder Action – these workflows are attached to specific Finder folders. This workflow is triggered by adding files to the folder.
  • Calendar Alarm – this workflow will get triggered when a set calendar event occurs (for example, the workflow task will start on a particular date youve selected).
  • Image Capture – this is a workflow thats attached to the Image Capture application and is typically triggered during image import or export from/to external devices.
  • Dictation Command – this workflow can be started through voice commands. This workflow is separate from Siri.

As you can see, there is quite a big variety of options here so it may take a while until you can fully actualize the Automators potential.

How to use Automator

Starting Automator

There are two main ways to start the app:

The first one is to go to Spotlight, to type Automator in it, and to select the Automator icon and the second way is to do the same thing from Launchpad. After Automator starts, you will be asked to select a workflow. Using the information from above, pick the workflow that best suits your needs.

Here are two examples of how you can utilize this Mac feature:

Using Automator to open a specific set of sites:

You can use Automator to make your browser (any of your browsers) open a specified set of pages every time you use the workflow youve created for this task. Heres how you could do that:

  1. In Automator, choose Application workflow.
  2. In the left panel of the app, expand Library and choose the icon labeled Internet.
  3. Now, from the middle panel, locate the Get Specified URLs, select it, and drag it to the right panel (the space for your workflow).
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  4. Next, under addresses in the workflow space, fill in the URLs youd like to automatically open every time you use this workflow.
  5. After this, in the middle panel, locate the Display Webpages option and drag it to the right panel, below Get Specified URLs.
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  6. Finally, save the workflow under a name that would quickly remind you about the purpose of this workflow (it might not seem important now, but once you create many workflows, you could quickly lose track of them if you havent named them properly). Also, if you dont want to have too many items on your Desktop, you can change the saving location to something else.
  7. Now, to use this workflow, open Finder and type in its name. Once the workflow shows up in your search, simply click on it and your main browser (doesnt have to be Safari) will start with the sites youve previously picked. Alternatively, you can simply double-click on the workflow app that will be located in the directory where youve chosen to save the workflow.

Using Automator to toggle Dark Mode on or off:

Another tedious task that Automator could make much easier is to go through the settings of your Mac in order to perform a simple switch between Light and Dark Mode. Heres how to allow yourself to switch quickly between the two using Automator:

  1. Open the app and, once again, choose Application as the type of workflow youd like to create.
  2. This time, under Library, click on Utilities and then locate Change System Appearance from the middle panel.
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  3. Drag the Change System Appearance feature to the workflow section to the left.
  4. All thats left to do is to save the workflow, once again giving it an appropriate name and choosing a location where you want to save it.
  5. Now, every time you launch this workflow, your Mac will switch from Light to Dark mode and vice versa, without need to search into your Macs display settings to perform this action.

About the author


Brandon Skies

Brandon is a researcher and content creator in the fields of cyber-security and virtual privacy. Years of experience enable him to provide readers with important information and adequate solutions for the latest software and malware problems.

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