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Apple includes a tool with Lion called Automator and as its name suggests it's a toolkit for automating tasks on your Mac. So let's take a look. When you first launch Automator you will be offered the opportunity to create one of a variety of workflows. For our purposes we're going to start by choosing Workflow and click on Choose. Workflow is simply a series of actions that can be run within Automator. The interface, you see first of all under Library categories of actions.
So for example here are the actions that you can undertake with Calendar. Contacts, Documents, Files & Folders, Fonts, so on and so forth. The main part of the window is for assembling your workflow and to do that all you have to do is grab an action and you drag it into the workflow and it will add that action to your workflow. So let's create a few workflows. I am going to move the Automator window. First thing I am going to do is create a couple of folders on the desktop. I am going to call this one Original and the second one is going to be called Copy.
Now this is what I am going to do. I am going to create a workflow that will take any items within this original folder and it will copy them to the copy folder. First thing I will do is go to Files & Folders. This is the category. I will Get Specified Finder Items, I will then Get Folder Contents, and then I will choose Copy Finder Items.
So in the first action I will take my Original folder and drag it in to add it. Then I take my Copy folder and I move that to the pop-up menu as the destination. Now I go to my Documents folder. I will take this About Stacks item. I will Option+Drag it to the Original folder. I open that folder and we see here's About Stacks.
I open the Copy folder and there's nothing in it yet. Let's fire off this workflow. Resize it so you can see what's happening. So Original, Copy, Workflow, Run. So what's happened? The file that was in the Original folder has now been copied to the Copy folder. Now let's run through the Workflow to see why that happened.
The first action says, Get Specified Finder Items. So I am defining that the original file is the source for this workflow to take place. It's then getting anything that's inside this folder and it is copying those items to my Copy folder. Pretty simple! Now let's create a folder action. The reason we want to do this is because this workflow as it stands isn't terribly helpful, because you have to have Automator opened, you have to run it, and then you accomplish your workflow.
However, how cool would this be if instead of having to run it through Automator I could simply take a file, drop it on the Original folder, and then it's automatically copied to the Copy folder? And that's what we're going to do now. First thing we'll do is we're going to remove the first action and now I will go to the File menu, choose Duplicate To, and here we see the Workflow sheet again. Now this time, I am going to choose Folder Action rather than Workflow and click on Choose.
I need a Source folder for my action. So I choose Original and drag it up to the top of the window. Now I can save. I will call it Copy items and click Save. Now I right-click or Control+Click on the Original folder and choose Folder Actions Setup. Here's my Copy items workflow. I click Attach and I close the window.
Now let's take a look. Here's Copy. Documents. Let's take this PDF file here and drag it to the Original folder. When I do that, because of the folder action, anything I have dragged to the Original folder is now automatically copied to the Copy folder. Now, of course, this isn't doing me a whole lot of good in that it's on the desktop and I don't really need to copy one file from one folder to another folder that's on the same desktop, but suppose that you have two drives.
You could have the original folder on your startup drive and you could have the other folder on your secondary drive. So this is one way to easily make a backup copy of any file that you drag into the Original folder. Now let's go back to Automator and now let's create a new workflow and this will be an application that you could drag files to. So, New, this time I choose Application and click on Choose.
We'll move to the Photos entry and we select Change Type of Images and drag it to the Workflow area. Because this is going to change the file type, Automator jumps in and says, "You know, this is going to change the file. Do you want to create a copy so that you will have the original as well as this copy?" We'll go ahead and choose Add so that we do have that copy in place, if we needed. We're going to choose Mail, scoot down, and New Mail Message, and finally also within Mail, Add Attachment to Front Message.
In the subject line of the mail message we will say something like "Look at this picture." We will have it sent from the default account and we won't address it at this point. We can put in the message body. Let's explain what's going on. When I drag in the image on top of this application, it's going to covert that image to a TIFF file. It will then take that TIFF file, it will open Mail, and it will add that TIFF file to my mail message as an attachment. The subject heading will automatically be "Look at this picture" and the message body will read, "Isn't this a great picture! Love, Chris." And here's the part about adding the attachment to the front message.
So now we'll save this. Let's put it on the desktop and we'll save it. Go to the desktop and here is our application. Let me open my Documents folder. Let's find a JPEG image, make a copy, and put it here on the desktop. I take my image and I drag it on top of the Automator application I created and here it is. And it happened that fast.
So what's happened on the desktop? Let's take another look. Notice on the desktop is my original image. It's there because that Copy action made a copy and then converted the original. The original has been converted to this TIFF file. It then took that TIFF file, it opened a new mail message, attached that TIFF file, and now here is my subject heading and here is the message body that I added. All I have to do at this point to mail it is to type in the recipient and send it and I am good to go. I won't save that and we will quit.
Workflows, folder actions, and apps are a great way to use on Automator. Here's another and that's called Services. You can create a workflow that you can place in the Services menu and better yet, you can trigger it with a keyboard shortcut. So we are back to Automator. Let's close some of these windows and I will create a new Automator action. This time I am going to choose Service and click on Choose. This time I am going to go to Calendar and choose New To Do Item.
From the first pop-up menu I am going to select no input in any application. From Options I will select Show this action when the workflow runs and you'll see why I am doing this in a second. Now I will save this and we will call it Make To Do and click Save. Go back to the Finder. Now in the Services menu we see a new service called Make To Do. I select it and here's my new to do item.
I am going to add that to my existing calendar. Priority, well, the trash can is pretty stinky. So we will do that. And let's make that Due today. I don't need to set an alarm for it. And I click on Continue. So did I really do that? Well, let's find out. Here's iCal and here is my To Do right here, Take out the trash. So this is cool. Whenever I am in any application, I can now choose Services, and make a to do. We can make it even cooler.
System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcut > Services, go down to the bottom and here is our Make To Do. Click to the right and I am going to add a keyboard command. Let's make that Command+6. Now when I do that, I have to make sure that I reenable that service. I have done that and I will close the window. I go back to the Finder and I press Command+6 and there's my new To Do.
I initiated that just by Command+6. Again, I can enter a Title, Calendar I want to add it to, Priority, so on and so forth. So just using Automator now I have a system-wide method for creating a new to do. One last kind of workflow and this is an iCal alarm workflow. Back to Automator, New, iCal Alarm, Choose.
I am going to recreate that Copy workflow that I had before. So again I go to Files & Folders, Get Specified Finder Items, Get Folder Contents, and Copy Finder Items. Go to the top. This is my source file. My copy file will go to the Copy Finder Items action. Now I click Save and I add the Copy folder to Copy Finder Items.
Now I Command+S to save. I will call this Backup and click Save. When I do this, iCal opens and today, here is the Automator action I just created. So at 4:55 the contents of the Original folder will be copied to the Copy folder. Let's change the time. So let's make that 9 p.m.
So today at 9 p.m. anything that's in the Original folder is going to be copied to the Copy folder. Now let's have it repeat. I want to have this happen every single day. When I do that, you notice that the Backup item appears on every single day. Now imagine the power of this. At the end of the day, I've taken all my work and I throw it into the Original folder. At 9 o'clock, automatically, anything that's in that folder is then copied to the Copy folder. Again, if that Copy folder is on another drive, I have an automatic backup that I've just created with Automator.
I think that is really cool and it's not hard to do. And we'll quit Automator. This is another one of those times when I have to say, "and it does so much more." You've got the idea of how to create an Automator workflow and save it in several varieties of helpful ways. If this interests you, I urge you to spend more time exploring Automator on your own. To learn more, check out www.macosxautomation.com, which is the best site on the web for Automator information.
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