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The goal of Mac automation is to assist you in getting things done with less clicking, punching keyboard shortcuts, and performing redundant tasks—in other words, to help you be more productive.
When it comes to Mac productivity tools, features, and hacks, many beginning and intermediate Mac users may not realize the various smart automation features available in Mac OS X and third-party programs.
Once you get in the habit of using the following automated features, the more you'll want to learn about what else you can do to increase your productivity. The following are eight of my most used and recommended automation hacks for those who have little or no experience with Mac automation.
1. Smart Folders
First off be sure you're using smart Finder folders to filter and access files. For example, if you download a lot of PDFs, create a smart folder to capture the folders you've used this week.
Select Finder > File > New Smart Folder. When the Search window opens, select “This Mac” or your user account. Select “Kind” in the first drop-down rule, and then select “PDF”. Next, click the + button on the right side.
In the second set of rules select “User dates” in the first drop-down “Name” button. If “User dates” is not in the list, select “Other…” and select rule from the list. In the second rule, select “this week” or any time period you would like.
Click the Save button and save the folder in your Documents folder. Give the smart folder a name. And then click the “Add To Sidebar” if it's not already selected. Note: you might to want save all your smart folders in a folder titled Saved Searches.
Check out the other rules for more types of smart folders you can create. You might create a folder for recently opened applications, and another folder for recently opened documents.
2. Smart Mailboxes
The number one reason to stick with Apple Mail in my humble opinion is for the smart mailbox and smart rules features. If you're not using these features already, stop everything you're doing, and follow this tutorial.
Similar to smart folders in the Finder, smart mailboxes are powerfully useful for filtering emails. For example, you can create a smart mailbox that collects all the email from a specified sender. Let's say that sender is moi, “firstname.lastname@example.org”. Here's how to set up a rule to capture emails from my subscription list.
In the Mail menu bar, select Mailbox > New Smart Mailbox. In the drop-down window, set up the rule as shown below.
This setup will put a smart mailbox in the sidebar of Mail where you can access all the emails from your specified sender. After you create this smart mailbox, check out the other possibilities.
3. Location Reminders
In the digital age, keeping a to-do list on paper is seriously a waste of time. If you're not using a task manager, Apple offers Reminders, which is available on Mac and iOS devices.
Adding a list of reminders is pretty straightforward, but there is one nifty feature called, Location Reminders that you might find useful. Location Reminders give you reminders based when you leave and arrive at a specified location. So for example, you might set a reminder for when you go to the grocery store, or when you arrive back home.
To create a Location Reminder on the Mac, create a new to-do, and then click the “i” button. From there, click “At a Location.” You will need to enter an address.
Faster way: A faster way to set a location reminders is to have Siri do it for you. On your iOS device (Siri will be coming to OS X Sierra soon), issue the command, “Siri, remind me to….when I arrive back home.” Or you can say, “Siri, remind me to…when I leave home.”, or “Siri, remind me to…when I arrive at the grocery store,” or “Hey Siri remind me to buy cereal when I go to [name the location].” Note, Siri will give you a list of locations to choose from.
Pro Tip: You can add a “Nick Name” for contacts in your Contacts to identify what a contact is. So for example, I have the local Raley's Store identified as “Grocery Store,” so when I issue the location command to Siri, it automatically selects Raley's as the location.
4. Recurring Tasks
Speaking of reminders, the best reason I like using a digital task manager over a paper one is for setting recurring tasks. Sadly, Apple's Reminders doesn't include a recurring tasks feature. But more advanced programs like Things, Informant, OmniFocus, and Todoist include a recurring tasks feature.
I’ve set weekly, monthly, and annual recurring tasks, for reminders such as paid subscriptions, blog maintenance tasks, and home related tasks, such as washing the pillows every six months. Recurring tasks are most useful for tasks that you don't do on a daily basis, but you could definitely use reminders.
5. Take a Break
It's important to take a break from your computer when you're working throughout the day. If you're not using the Stand Reminders feature on the Apple Watch, check out the Mac application, Time Out, which has been around for years.
Based on the reminders you set, Time Out will put a shade over your desktop screen to encourage you get up and take a stretch. You have the option to snooze reminders or skip them all together. Time Out includes several customizable features for setting reminders that work best for you. Time Out can also run Automator workflows and AppleScript scripts to occur during your time outs. You can set it to pause or play iTunes during your break.
For us heavy iOS device users, there's a new time monitoring app called Moment. Moment monitors in the background how much time you're spending on your iOS device. The paid version will send you reminders if you've been using your device for a specified period of time.
6. Monitor Your Time
In order to be more productive, you might need to review just how you are spending your time on your computer throughout the day.
One of the best applications for monitoring computer usage is Timing (affiliate link.) It automatically works in the background, and it will monitor the time you spend in every application you use, including individual webpages.
You can set up and filter recordings based on projects or areas of work. For example, I set up a folder to monitor how much time it takes to write and produce an article for my blog.
7. Learn Finger Gestures
When working at your Mac, you should definitely be familiar with the finger gesture features found in System Preferences. Select the device you use with your Mac, Trackpad or Mouse, and then check out the handy actions you can perform using finger gestures. For example, you can zoom in and out of a browser window, perform a Secondary click, and swipe between webpages using your fingers, instead of using keyboard shortcuts or clicking menu items.
After you learn what's possible with finger gesture features in OS X, read my article about how the third-party application, BetterTouchTool goes way beyond what Apple's built-in features can do.
8. Keep Your Desktop Clean
You can download a trial copy of Hazel to check it out. After this setting up this rule, you'll be curious about other automated folder rules you can create. Hazel works totally in the background, but you can easily access it in your menu bar to disable it when you don't want rules to run.
To set up the desktop cleaning rule, open Hazel, which is found in System Preferences. Next, click on the + button on the bottom left side, and add your Desktop folder. Under where it says, Rules, click the + button to add a new rule. Follow the steps above in the screenshot. You can customize the rules I’ve used any way you like, in terms of time and kinds of files you don't removed from the desktop after a certain period of time.
9. Use SnappyApp
Another third-party tool I highly recommend for to beginning and intermediate Mac users is the screenshot application, SnappyApp.
Think about how often you see something on a website or in application that you need to review as you work. You might end up jumping back and forth the page or application you need to review. You could take a screenshot of the item that you want to review, but the built-in Mac screenshot utility automatically saves screenshots to your desktop or other designated location.
Snappy also takes screenshots, but, bam, it automatically opens screenshots on your desktop, and those shots float above your other application windows.
You can select to save the Snappy screenshots as an image file, or simply close or hide them. And unless you delete the Snappy screenshots, they are automatically saved to your Snappy Library.
10. Alfred Searches
If you do lots of internet searches on your Mac, you owe it to yourself to use the launcher app, Alfred.
With Alfred, which is similar to Spotlight, you can simply hit the hotkey to trigger the Alfred search window, type in “ly” , which initiates a Google “Lucky Search” which in turn often links to the top webpage for that search.
So for example, if you do a lucky search for “Apple Watch”, it will take you to the Apple page for that product.
Alfred also allows for doing searches within sites, such as Amazon, eBay, Linkedin, and YouTube. You can even create custom searches for sites like this one.
To create a custom search for this site, open Alfred preferences, click the Web Search category under features, and then click “Add Custom Search.” In the drop-down window add the information presented in the screenshot above. If you want, you can change the keyword, “mat”, to trigger the search whatever you like.
That's it for this round of productivity tips. If you have other tips to share, please let us know about them in the comment section below.
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