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Automating complex tasks

From: Mac OS X Lion Essential Training

Video: Automating complex tasks

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.

Automating complex tasks

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.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Mac OS X Lion Essential Training
Mac OS X Lion Essential Training

72 video lessons · 31031 viewers

Christopher Breen

Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 1m 26s
    1. Welcome
    2. Using the exercise files
  2. 4m 42s
    1. Installing Lion
      4m 42s
  3. 44m 44s
    1. Touring the Finder
      10m 19s
    2. Launching and working with apps
      4m 22s
    3. Sorting and starting apps with Launchpad
      3m 13s
    4. Organizing workspaces with Mission Control
      4m 35s
    5. Using trackpad gestures
      8m 22s
    6. Using mouse gestures
      2m 22s
    7. Understanding file saving in Lion
      4m 35s
    8. Using Text to Speech
      3m 9s
    9. Installing software
      3m 47s
  4. 26m 51s
    1. Personalizing the interface
      7m 31s
    2. Staying current with Software Update
      4m 13s
    3. Configuring Mail, Address Book, and iCal
      5m 2s
    4. Setting up printers
      3m 39s
    5. Backing up with Time Machine
      6m 26s
  5. 10m 49s
    1. Finding files with Spotlight
      5m 16s
    2. Digging deeper with Finder searches
      5m 33s
  6. 39m 6s
    1. Configuring basic personal preferences
      11m 14s
    2. Optimizing Mission Control preferences
      3m 42s
    3. Configuring basic Audio and Video preferences
      4m 34s
    4. Adjusting Input Device preferences
      7m 45s
    5. Configuring Bluetooth input devices
      2m 36s
    6. Modifying Date & Time Preferences
      2m 38s
    7. Getting on the internet
      3m 56s
    8. Using an alternate startup disk
      2m 41s
  7. 3m 22s
    1. Understanding Dashboard widgets
      3m 22s
  8. 23m 20s
    1. Navigating the interface
      6m 30s
    2. Filtering junk mail and sorting messages with rules
      4m 22s
    3. Scheduling appointments with iCal
      6m 38s
    4. Organizing contacts with Address Book
      5m 50s
  9. 37m 5s
    1. Basic word processing in TextEdit
      7m 56s
    2. Using Dictionary
      2m 51s
    3. Preview: Working with images
      6m 20s
    4. Preview: Working with PDFs
      6m 13s
    5. Installing and managing fonts
      5m 37s
    6. Creating quick notes using Stickies
      3m 24s
    7. Using Calculator
      4m 44s
  10. 34m 27s
    1. Navigating the web
      4m 49s
    2. Working with bookmarks
      7m 15s
    3. Adding and reading RSS feeds
      2m 38s
    4. Using Reading List
      3m 7s
    5. Saving web pages and creating web clips
      1m 15s
    6. Using Safari to search the web
      3m 13s
    7. Opening local files in Safari
      2m 33s
    8. Working with Safari's preferences
      4m 33s
    9. Configuring privacy settings
      5m 4s
  11. 13m 45s
    1. Playing media
      9m 3s
    2. Recording
      4m 42s
  12. 18m 26s
    1. Video chatting in FaceTime
      5m 26s
    2. Text and video messaging in iChat
      9m 6s
    3. Shooting videos and pictures in Photo Booth
      3m 54s
  13. 12m 46s
    1. Automating complex tasks
      12m 46s
  14. 13m 55s
    1. Monitoring system performance
      3m 20s
    2. Setting up a Windows installation in Boot Camp
      3m 49s
    3. Formatting, partitioning, and repairing storage devices
      6m 46s
  15. 15m 55s
    1. Understanding sharing
      4m 59s
    2. Sharing files on a network
      3m 23s
    3. Screen sharing with a remote computer
      4m 7s
    4. Sending files with AirDrop
      3m 26s
  16. 38m 47s
    1. Modifying Language & Text settings
      6m 38s
    2. Optimizing Security & Privacy settings
      6m 24s
    3. Configuring access for for the disabled
      7m 23s
    4. Using Energy Saver
      4m 42s
    5. Adding and changing users
      6m 19s
    6. Configuring Parental Controls
      7m 21s
  17. 18m 33s
    1. Preventive measures: Creating a Lion boot drive
      7m 40s
    2. Understanding and configuring permissions
      3m 6s
    3. Troubleshooting techniques
      7m 47s
  18. 6m 11s
    1. Techniques for using the Mac efficiently
      5m 22s
    2. Next steps

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