How to Use Automator on a Mac

Take the tedium out of common tasks by creating scripts

Automator is an often overlooked utility that lets you build workflow assistants that can take repetitive tasks and automate them for you. Of course, you don't have to use Automator only for complex or advanced workflows—sometimes you just want to automate a simple task like opening your favorite apps and documents.

Here's how to use Apple’s Automator application to built a program that opens your favorite programs—as well as any folders and web pages you frequently use—with just a single click.

These instructions apply to devices running Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and later.

How to Use Automator to Open Applications and Folders

It only takes a few clicks to get Automator working for you. Here's how to use it to open applications and folders in your Finder.

  1. Open Automator from your Applications folder.

    Automator selected in Finder
  2. Select New Document in the window that pops up when you first open Automator.

    Automator with New Document highlighted

    Older versions of Mac OS X don't have the New Document step. You can click on Application first.

  3. Select Application and click Choose.

    Automator with Application selected and Choose highlighted


  4. In the Library list on the left side of Automator, select Files & Folders.

    Files & Folders selected in Automator
  5. Locate Get Specified Finder Items in the middle panel and drag it to the panel on the right side of Automator.

    You can also double-click Get Specified Finder Items in place of dragging it.

    Get Specified Finder Items highlighted in Automator
  6. Click the Add button to add an application or folder to the list of Finder items.

    Automator with Add highlighted under Get Specified Finder Items
  7. Navigate to the application or folder you want to open, select it, and then click Add. Repeat this step until you've added all the items you want to open.

    Automator with Photoshop chosen and the Add button highlighted
  8. Drag the Open Specified Finder Items to the workflow pane beneath the previous action.

    Open Finder Items
  9. This completes the part of the workflow that opens applications and folders. To have your browser open a specific URL when you run your program, continue on with the next step.

How to Work With URLs in Automator

You can use Automator to open URLs automatically. Use this feature to not only open Safari but to get to the pages you need to use without entering the addresses or clicking bookmarks manually. Here's how to set it up.

You can include both applications and URLs in the same workflow.

  1. In the Library pane, select Internet.

    The Automator Library pane with Internet selected
  2. Drag the Get Specified URLs action to the workflow panel.

    The Get Specified URLs action highlighted in Automator

    This action will include Apple's home page as a URL to open—select the Apple URL and click the Remove button (unless, of course, you want that URL to open in your program).

  3. Click the Add button to attach a new item to the URL list.

    Get Specified URLs action in Automator workspace with Add highlighted
  4. Type the URL of the site you want to open and press Return. Repeat this step for each additional URL you want to open automatically.

  5. When you're done adding URLs, drag Display Webpages to the workflow pane, just below the previous action.

    The Display Webpages action highlighted in Automator

How to Test, Save, and Use the Workflow

When you've added the applications and URLs to your workflow, here's how to test and save it.

  1. Test your workflow to make sure it functions correctly by clicking the Run button at the top-right corner of Automator.

    The Run button highlighted in Automator
  2. Automator runs the workflow. Check to be sure that all the applications opened, as well as any folders you may have included. If you wanted to open your browser to a specific page, make sure the correct page loaded.

  3. After you confirm that the workflow works as expected, save it as an application. To do so, select Save under the File menu.

    The Automator File menu with Save selected
  4. Enter a name and location for your workflow application and click Save.

    Automator naming field with Save highlighted
  5. Saving the workflow creates an application on your computer. Double-click it to run the actions you specified. Because it works just like any other Mac application, you can also click and drag the workflow application to the Dock or to a Finder window sidebar or toolbar.

Other Tasks You Can Do with Automator

These instructions are just two of the things Automator can do. It contains a variety of commands for several different applications, including Mail, Music, and System Preferences.

You can also create workflows in the iOS Workflow app for your iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch.