When it comes to opening and closing applications on our computer, there are Mac automation tools that can either automatically launch or quit applications for you, or provide other ways of doing so beyond clicking icons in the Dock, opening the Applications folder, or using Apple’s Launchpad.

Normally we have several applications, such as Safari, Mail, and maybe a music player like iTunes, running continuously on our Mac. We know it’s not prudent to keep applications running in the background that were not using, because they can take up precious memory.  That’s why it’s useful to  know and use several different methods to open, close, and hide applications as you work at your Mac.

The following are a few suggested ways to automate or trigger applications beyond using the Dock or an application launcher, which I have previously written about.

Automate Login Items

If you’re fairly new to the Mac, you might not know that you can designate applications, as well as files and URLs, to automatically launch after starting or logging into your Mac.

You can easily designate an application to launch by right-clicking on its icon in the Dock, and selecting “Open at Login”.

Open and login

To see the applications that you have designated to open at login, launch System Preferences and select Users  & Groups. Next, click on Login Items, and then click the padlock icon on the bottom-left, which in turn will require your  admin password to unlock. From there, you can see which applications open at login, and you can both add and remove items.

Login items

And don’t forget, you can add actual files or URLs as login items. However, I suggest only automating login items that you constantly have running and need while working at your Mac —especially applications parked in your Mac’s menu bar, such as the utility app, PopClip, the text expansion app, TextExpander, and the finger gesture app, BetterTouchTool.

Applications that you don’t use on a regular basis should be launched and closed by other methods.

Application Launchers

Instead of always opening the Applications folder, or using Launchpad –especially if you have lots of applications—use Apple’s Spotlight application instead.

To trigger Spotlight, click both the Space bar and the Option key at the same time. When the Spotlight window pops up, type the name of the application you want to launch.  In most cases you don’t have to type the full name of the application. With a just a few typed letters, Spotlight will typically figure out which application you’re looking for and present it for launching.


Spotlight is also super fast for locating files and applications, and even doing web searches.

Quicker Access to Spotlight

For quicker access to Spotlight, I have the keyboard shortcut for Spotlight mapped to a Keyboard Maestro macro, so that instead of lifting my hands off the keys to press the shortcut, I simply type my assigned string of letters, “spt” to trigger the shortcut. From there, I type what I’m searching for.

Keyboard Maestro_Spotlight

Similarly, I have the Spotlight shortcut mapped to a Dragon Dictate voice command, so all I need to say is, “Spotlight”, and the search window will pop-up.

Dragon Dictate_spotlight

Two third-party application launchers, Alfred, which is what I use, and Launchbar do the same thing as Spotlight, but with many other powerful features. Download both of them and give them a try.


Timed Launches

Another way I launch, and quit, applications is to use timed launches triggered by Keyboard Maestro macros. So for example, every Monday and Thursday, KM automatically launches the Mint application at  10:45 AM so that I can review my recent debit card transactions.

timed trigger

Read more about timed launches in my post about automating your daily and weekly tasks using Keyboard Maestro.

String  Triggers

Keyboard Maestro also makes it easy to launch applications, files, and folders using assigned hotkeys or what is called string triggers. I prefer string triggers because it means I don’t have to lift my hand off the keyboard to press a shortcut. Instead, I can type “appstore”, for example to quickly launch the application.

App store macro

See my article about Keyboard Maestro string triggers for making using of that powerful tool.

Voice Commands

Above all, the fastest method I use for launching applications is issuing Dragon Dictate voice commands.  Though Dragon Dictate is a fairly expensive application, I can’t recommend it enough for those work at their Mac throughout the day.

Dragon Dictate will launch any application stored in your Mac when you simply say, “Activate [name the application]”. That’s it.

If you want to test out the power of voice commands, give Apple’s built-in voice dictation and commands a try. It’s not as powerful as Dragon Dictate, but it is free. Once you start speaking commands, you might very well decide to invest in Dragon Dictate.


When your hand is already on the trackpad or Magic Mouse, you can use BetterTouchTool to launch specified applications with an assigned finger gesture.


Hiding and Quitting

Too many opened applications on your Mac can eat up lots of memory and CPU. That’s why I use SuperTab for automatically hiding and/or quitting applications running in the background for a specified period of time.


A similar menu bar application called Hocus Focus can also hide specified applications after a specified period of time.

Hocus Focus_2

What’s Your Favorite Method?  

Keyboard Maestro has several other actions for triggering applications which I will cover in a future blog post. But I hope you find the above suggestions useful and will give them a try.

Also, let me and my readers know which of the above methods you use for launching and quitting applications. And please pass along any other tips and applications that you use in this area.

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