10 Automator Hacks You Can Create & Use Today [mac]

automator hacksSince I started writing for MakeUseOf, I’ve made it a goal to write about Mac automation every chance I get. You see, I think skilled developers (whom we all owe so much gratitude to) shouldn’t be the only ones who can boss around their computers with automation hacks and programs. The rest of us deserve to get things done faster and more efficiently on our Macs, and Apple has made that possible with its smart folders, albums, and playlists, and a program called Automator.

We have posted several articles about Automator in the past because we know it’s a program that can be learned and used by any Mac user. This article is a bonus feature for my upcoming MUO Guide to Mac Automation. The last chapter of that guide explains how to use Automator. This article includes ten more little known Automator hacks, not included in the guide, that you can create in a few easy steps.

The following instructions assume you know how to use Automator. I have included screenshots of workflows, and you can do a search in Automator using the names of actions in the tutorials; they’re not hard to find. So fire up Automator and spend an hour or so creating new automations for your Mac.

Start Playing iTunes

This workflow enables you to play iTunes from within any application using an assigned F-key or any keyboard shortcut of your choosing.

  • Open Automator and select the Services template.

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  • Select “no input“ and “any application“ from the pop-up menus.


  • In the iTunes library, find the “Start iTunes Playing“ action and drag it into the workflow editor.


  • Save it as a Services menu action.


  • Open System Preferences > Keyboard > Services, locate the action you just saved and assign it a keyboard shortcut.

This is the basic process for all the rest of the following workflows. Remember, you can create workflows and save them as applications, folder actions, iCal alarms or even printer plug-ins. Refer to my Mac Automation Guide or other MUO articles about Automator for more details.

Pause iTunes


You can do the exact same workflow as above to pause iTunes with a keyboard shortcut.

Remove Empty Playlists


Do you have several empty playlists in your iTunes player? Create this single action workflow, run it from within Automator and it will remove all your empty playlists. Save it as an application if you ever need to run it again.

Download Pictures To A Specified Folder


You might not always want to import your photos to iPhoto, use this single action workflow to import photos to any designated folder. Save it as an application and run it when you connect your camera to your Mac.

Single Click Outgoing Email

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Do you email someone on a regular basis with an update of a project or some other similar notice? Create a New Mail Message in Automator, fill in all the default information, save it as an application or Services menu item, and run it when needed. If you think you will need to include additional information before the email is sent, click the “Show this action when the workflow runs.” Otherwise, you can leave it unchecked and have the workflow automatically send the default message.

Change Image Type


Do you regularly need to convert images from one type of image format to another? Save this workflow as an application, drop a set of files on it and it will automatically convert images to the designated format.

Use “Show this action when the workflow runs“ if you need to choose a different format before the action executes.

iTunes Media Library


Create this single action workflow which will enable you to open a mini iTunes browser from within any application. Save it as an application or Services menu item.

Video Converter

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This two-action workflow will convert or re-format a video file to play on the iPhone, iPod, Apple TV or QuickTime. Save it as an application.

Create To-do Items

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With this single action workflow, you can save it as an application or Services menu and create an iCal To Do item from within any application. A similar action can be created for new iCal date reminders.

Quit Apps Every Night

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Do you have a set of applications that you would like to have automatically quit every day, or designated days at a specific time?

Create an iCal alarm workflow and it will quit the designated applications you include in the workflow. You will need an individual “Quit Application“ action for each application.

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Automatically Duplicate Files

Create a Folder action that automatically duplicates all new files saved or moved to a designated action folder.

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For example, you could actually use this folder action workflow to automatically duplicate any file saved to your desktop; it would be like an instant backup for the work you’re doing.

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Another idea is to have files automatically copied to your Dropbox account. See Matt’s recently published guide about Dropbox if you”˜re not familiar with this must-have cloud and file sharing service.

If you run into problems with any of your saved folder actions, you can find them in your Home Library > Workflows > Applications > Folder Actions.

More Workflows

I hope you found at least one or two of the above Automator hacks useful. Any time you play around in Automator, you will discover additional actions and workflows for your own particular needs. Let us know what actions you came up with.

And be sure to download the MUO Guide to Mac Automation when it comes out, so you can start saving time on your computer by automating tasks and tedious steps.

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