Many readers and subscribers of MacAutomationTips are Mac users that are already using Mac automation applications, and that’s super great. But I also want to reach out to Mac users who have not started using Mac automation in their daily workflow.
For those of you who are not using applications like Keyboard Maestro, BetterTouchTool, Hazel, TextExpander, Dragon Dictate, PopClip, smart folders, and iClip, this article is a list of recommendations for how to get started with Mac automation, and thus become more productive and save time while working at your Mac. Here’s also a 5 minute video of that quickly explains the applications and features I include in this article.
Note: this article doesn’t explain how to use the applications I reference. It merely explains what is possible with Mac automation. I include links to other articles that explain more about the referenced applications and how they are used. The goal for you is to go from being just a Mac user to a Mac automator.
1. Notice Redundant Tasks
To get into Mac automation, start noticing what tasks you repeatedly do on your Mac. Do you open and close the same applications and websites on a regular basis? Are there special words, names, and URLs that you regularly type? Are there steps you regularly take to complete a task, such writing and sending an email, managing files and folders, or using the cursor to click on menu items? Do you find yourself moving your hand back and forth between your keyboard and mouse or trackpad? Many of the redundant tasks, both small and large, you can be automated to reduce the number of steps you take to get something done. So start noticing which redundant tasks you perform. When you find yourself repeating something more than three times, it’s probably a good candidate for automating.
2. Faster and Better Typing
Most of what many of us do on our Mac is type emails, write documents, and produce other forms of written content. That’s why it’s important that you use applications like TextExpander that can help you automatically type words, phrases, names, URLs, form letters, etc., that you regularly use. Instead, you can create text expanders snippets to do the typing for you. The macOS also includes a default text expansion feature. It’s not as robust as TextExpander or similar third-party applications, but it’s useful for getting started with text expansion. Notice also, that as you type in applications like Mail, macOS will attempt to auto-complete some words for you. This article explains how to use the auto completion feature in the System Preferences. The voice-to-text application, Dragon Dictate is also useful for dictating text, and the macOS also allows for text dictation, though it’s not as powerful and user friendly as Dragon Dictate. See my article that compares Dragon Dictate and the Mac dictation feature.
3. File Management
When it comes to managing files such as keeping your desktop or Downloads folder clutter free, the classic application, Hazel, can do a lot of the manual work for you. Hazel allows you to set up rules for acting on files and folders. For example, you can have it move files on your desktop to a designated junk folder, or specified folders according to file type, name, date created, etc. Hazel should definitely be a program that all Mac power users use. See this article for example of what Hazel can do.
4. Copying and Pasting
Another task that many of us writers and bloggers do on a regular basis is copy and paste text. If you’re not already using a clipboard manager, you’re most definitely wasting a lot of precious time of possibly retyping text you’ve previously copied before but didn’t save. I suggest you check out applications like iClip (Apple Store link), ClipMenu, Copied (for both Mac and iOS), or Copy’em Paste. These applications can retain over a hundred of your clippings, and you can use one of them to paste texts you’ve previously copied. I also use ClipMenu for keeping and managing clippings that I want to quickly access as I’m typing. In the video below, I trigger the ClipMenu snippets window, and from there I can select and paste a stored snippet or choose from the list recently copied clippings. There are several other ways to copy and paste text, but choosing one of the programs I reference above can help you get started.
5. Launching Files, Apps and URLs
Launching applications, files, and downloading URLs are not arduous tasks, but they can become redundant tasks that can be automated or least done more quickly. For launching applications and files that are not in your Dock, you can use applications like Spotlight, Alfred (Mac Store link), SuperTab (see this article that compares SuperTab to macOS Dock), Keyboard Maestro, and BetterTouchTool. For example, you can trigger Alfred, which is similar to Spotlight, to type the name of any application you want to use, and launch it without having to open your Applications folder.
6. Using Finger Gestures
macOS includes a feature for performing tasks using finger gestures. For example, you can swipe with your fingers to delete emails or go back and forth between webpages in Safari. But there’s an even better application called BetterTouchTool that allows you to trigger application menu items, and over a hundred other actions using assigned finger gestures.
I highly recommend BetterTouchTool as the first advanced Mac automation program for those new to Mac automation. The program may seem difficult to use, but once you learn how to set up actions and assigned gestures, you’ll return to this application for nearly everything you want to do when your hand is on your trackpad or mouse. See my article that compares BetterTouchTool with Apple’s finger gesture feature.
7. Timed Tasks
There are many tasks, such as opening applications and launching URLs that you may do every week, at a set time. The automation Keyboard Maestro is one of few applications that can trigger designated tasks at a given day(s) and time(s). Keyboard Maestro can do hundreds of other tasks, but I recommend creating timed macros for getting started with the program. For more about Keyboard Maestro, see this introduction article.
8. Voice Commands
Another way to save time and redundancy is to use voice commands to trigger menu items and other Mac actions. macOS has a voice command feature, but unfortunately it’s not as good as Dragon Dictate. I use Dragon Dictate more for voice commands, such as downloading webpages, opening and quitting applications, navigating iTunes, pasting texts, and hundreds of other tasks. Dragon Dictate is certainly buggy at times, and it takes some time to learn, but if you work at your computer throughout the day, it’s well worth the investment for voice commands. Hopefully Apple will eventually create a voice command system that works better than Dragon Dictate.
Another useful macOS tool is the text-to-speech feature found in System Preferences that will read back selected text to you, either text you’ve written or text from an article. To use the speech feature, simply select some text, and then choose Speech > Start Speaking from the drop-down menu. You can also use a tool called PopClip which allows for adding a speech widget.
Lastly, I recommend using application called PopClip, which presents dozens Mac actions when you choose a one or more words of text. You can use it to quickly copy and paste text, format selected text, convert text to title case, do quick Google searches, and much more. See my article for more about PopClip.
Where to Next
Now that you have gotten an introduction to Mac automation, I invite you to subscribe to MacAutomationTips so that you can learn more about Mac automation tools and strategies. When you subscribe to this site, you will get access to my free Subscribers Only Resources Library that includes over a dozen PDF guides that you can download at your leisure. It does take time to learn and incorporate the applications I reference in this article, but I guarantee you, you’ll regain that time and a lot more when you start bringing Mac automation tools into your daily workflow.