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10 Awesome Uses for Automator Explained

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This post aims to give you a quick look into the potential of Automator by creating some very simple and actually quite handy workflow applications of your own. Many of these applications will take a matter of seconds for you to create, but could save you much more time in the long run. Automator is certainly worth spending some time getting know. I hope creating these basic automations will give you a view at the potential for some much more complicated and incredible time saving automations that can be created.


1. Rename a Group of Photos

We're going to start off with a fairly simple task. I like to take photos, and I'm not always the best at organizing them. This becomes a bit of a problem after a while. A simple thing (that I often avoid, because I just don't want to deal with it) to help in the organization would be a simple file naming convention.

For this workflow I'm going to create a folder action. The action will initiate and act upon any files that are dropped into the folder. When you create a new Automator workflow you'll be asked what type you'd like to create. Choose Folder Action and proceed.

Photo Rename
Photo Rename - pick the Folder option

You'll be presented with an empty workflow navigator. What I'm looking to do is to give myself the option to change the name of the files and append the date created. I think that should help out with my photo organization.

First, you'll want to choose the proper folder where this action is assigned to. At the top of the workflow window you'll see the space to do this.

Every action we'll need for this one will be filed under Files & Folders. The first thing we need to do is to rename the files. To do this drag the Rename Finder Items over to the workflow window. It's going ask you whether you'd like to copy the original images or not (do what you'd like...I'm going to choose to copy). The Copy Finder Items action will be automatically added to the beginning of the workflow.

On the Rename Finder Items action select the Make Sequential option. Choose the option for a new name as well. Feel free to customize the other options as you wish.

Next, drag in another Rename Finder Items action. This time select the Add Date or Time option. Adjust the options as you'd like.

Photo Rename Workflow
Photo Rename Workflow

That's it. Drag a group of photos and drop them into the folder we've just assigned this workflow to. You'll be prompted for the name. That name, along with a number and the date created will now be the name for each photo.


2. Resize a Group of Photos

Following along in the photography vein, this one will quickly enable you to resize a group of photos. We'll create an application for this one. From the new menu select the Application option

Photo Resize - choose Application template
Photo Resize - choose Application template

We are looking to resize photos here, but let's think about the actual steps that are going to be involved and walk through our workflow. The first thing we will need to do is to be able to select the photos we want to resize.

Under the the Files & Folders section you'll see Ask for Finder Items at the top of the list. Drag that action to the workflow window. This will prompt for the files needed. Customize the start point if you'd like and make sure to check the option to Allow Multiple Selection.

I want to keep my original photos and just create copies to resize. To do this add in the Copy Finder Items action to the workflow.

So far we have our photos selected and copied. Next comes the actual guts of this application. Navigate to the Photos section and locate and drag in the Scale Images action. You may select a default size here. What I've done is to enable this action to prompt for the size as I would like the option to adjust this setting as needed.

Now the last thing we need to do is find a place to put these resized photos. From the Files & Folders action group, locate and drag in the New Folder action. I've also checked the option to prompt for a name here so I can customize this as I see fit.

Photo Resize Workflow
Photo Resize Workflow

One thing I'd like to point out that is very handy to consider when just getting started with Automator, is that you'll notice triangles connecting these actions together. What one action creates is applied to the next. Not all actions will have this link, but a lot do.

You'll want to save the application so that you can run it whenever you'd like. I'd suggest a folder within your Applications directory where you can save all your Automator applications. These applications will behave just like any other application. So, for example, you could drag them into your Dock if you'd like just as you could with any other application.


3. Open Multiple Webpages

My thought process here is that I end up often opening up the same group of web pages each morning to start out my day. Why not create an application to open up all those pages all at once. Not a huge time saver, but it'll save you a few clicks.

Create a new application and navigate to the Internet section of the Library. Drag over the Get Specified URLs into the workflow window. Here you'll be able to add in the web pages you'd like to load. Next, add in the Display Webpages action and you're all set. This is the action that actually launches your default browser with the specified URLs.

Starting Webpages Workflow
Starting Webpages Workflow

4. Extract Text from a PDF

This is a pretty straight-forward, yet very handy, use for Automator. It will allow you to pull the text out of a PDF document. We'll just jump right into building this application.

Open a new Application and navigate to the PDFs Library section. Drag the Extract PDF Text action into the workflow window. You'll see several options you can set.

Now, you can fully automate this process and make all the selections in advance, or you could check the option to show this action when the workflow runs. With that checked you'll be prompted with all of these options when you run the application.

Drop a PDF right on your new app to run the workflow. If you picked to be prompted, you'll see that window, otherwise it will just run.

Extract Text from PDF Workflow
Extract Text from PDF Workflow

5. Archive Files and Folders

This workflow will allow you to pick a file or folder (or both) and create an archive. This could be used to save some space on your hard drive, or maybe you need to zip up some items before attaching them to an email.

Open up a new Automator Application. First, we'll want the task to ask for what items we'd like archived. To do this we'll use the Ask for Finder Items under the Files & Folders Library section. Drag that task into the workflow window.

Next, add in the Create Archive from that same section. Notice the two tasks will link together. This indicates that the input from the first action will be acted upon by the second action.

Create Archive
Create Archive

One possible variation to this would be to enable the Create Archive action to prompt when it runs. This will allow you a bit more control in naming the archive file and also to specifiy where it will be saved.


6. Combine PDF Documents

Combining PDF documents isn't necessarily that difficult to accomplish, but we can create a small Automator application to make it even easier and quicker.

I'm going to create an application that I can run for this workflow. First, we'll grab the Ask for Finder Items action from the Files & Folders section. Drag that action into the workflow window. This will prompt the user to select the files that we want to combine. You can select the starting point if you'd like.

You'll want to make sure you select the option to to select Files and also check the box to allow for multiple files. If we're looking to combine files we'll need multiple files right? Otherwise, this thing wouldn't be too effective...

Next we'll add in the Combine PDF Pages action from the PDF section into the workflow window. This is the piece that actually does the work, and we have the option to either select to append pages or to shuffle them. In this case we're going to pick to append.

Lastly, add in the Open Finder Items action from the Files & Folders section and leave the default option to open the folder in the default application. This will open the new PDF using your default PDF reader.

Combine PDF Documents Workflow
Combine PDF Documents Workflow

7. Quit All Applications

Sometimes you may get to a point in your work when you realize your workspace is completely cluttered and you've lost track of what you have open and what you don't. It's time for a fresh start. Wouldn't it be nice to just quit everything with a click of the mouse? Let's make a short Automator application to take care of that for us.

This workflow only requires one action. Create a new application and add in the Quit All Applications action located under the Utilities section into the workflow. It is possible to add some applications that will be exceptions and stay open when the application runs. Maybe you want to keep your email client open. Add that application to the list and it will stay open.

Put this application in your Dock and run it whenever you need to refresh!

Quit All Applications Workflow
Quit All Applications Workflow

8. Automatic Backup

If you're not currently performing regular backups (or even if you are), here is another really simple method for automatically backing up some important items.

This applicaiton will use iCal to trigger the copying of a specified file. Create a new workflow, but this time use the iCal template as a starting point. By using iCal we're able to trigger this workflow to run based on a calendar entry.

Automatic Backup - Select iCal template
Automatic Backup - Select iCal template

All the actions will come from the Files & Folders section for this workflow. First, add in the Get Specified Items action. Add in the folder you'd like to backup to that action.

Next, add in the Get Folder Contents action. This will grab the files in the folder you've selected. The last action you'll need is the Copy Finder Items action. Select the folder you wish to use as the backup location. For this "backup" action choose a loction on another drive if possible.

Automatic Backup Workflow
Automatic Backup Workflow

When you save the workflow, you'll be asked to name it. Then iCal will open up and allow you to schedule the action to run automatically. The real power to this workflow is scheduling it as recurring event. I know this still isn't the most elegant backup solution, but it is automatic and costs nothing other than a few minutes of your time.


9. Create Clipboard to a Text File

When this application runs it will take whatever you have copied to your clipboard and create a new text file with that information in it.

We'll create a application for this workflow and begin by adding in the Get Contents of Clipboard action from the Utilities section to the workflow window. This will do just as it says, grab the contents of the clipboard.

Next add in the New Text File action. You'll notice a connection appear with the first action. This means that the information the first action holds will be applied to this action.

I chose to check the option to show the action when it runs. This will allow us to name the text file whatever we'd like and also pick a location to save. If you want to quicken things up a bit more just set these options and don't show the action when it runs.

Clipboard to Text Workflow
Clipboard to Text Workflow

10. Turn Text into an Audio File

There could be several instances where this may come in handy. This application will take text that has been copied to the clipboard and create an audio file. This will allow you to actually listen to a document, for example. This could be very beneficial for the visually impaired.

Create a new application and locate the Get Contents of Clipboard action under the Text section. Drag that action over into the workflow window. Next drag in the Text to Audio File from this same section.

You'll see some options for you to customize. You're able to select the voice that will be reading the text to you. I'm going to check the option to show the action when the workflow runs again so that I can have the ability to name and save each file as I see fit. Again, this is something that can be set, but as you've probably noticed I do like a bit of control over my automation!

Clipboard to Speech Workflow
Clipboard to Speech Workflow

Conclusion

I hope this post gave you some nice examples to not only better learn Automator, but also to help improve your current working process and maybe give you some ideas for your own workflows. Automator is a very powerful utility that we all have access to and really should take advantage of.

It is very beneficial to spend some time learning how it works. A bit of time learning the utility and building a handful of workflows could save you immense amounts of time in your day to day work!

I would like to mention that Josh Johnson wrote a more in depth Automatortutorial here on Mac.Appstorm a while back that will take you through all the ins and outs of the utility. It's an excellent place to start if you are completely new to Automator or just want a bit more information than is provided in this post.

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