Automate Opening Applications and Folders on Your Mac

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01
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Automate Opening Multiple Applications and Folders

Automator showing completed workflow for opening apps, folders, and URLs
Completed Automator workflow for opening apps, folders, and URLs. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

Automator is an often overlooked utility that you can use to build advance workflow assistants that can take repetitive taks and automate them for you. Of course you don;t have to use Automator only for complex or advance workflows, sometimes you just want to automate a simple task like opening fovorite apps and documents.

You probably have specific work or play environments you use with your Mac. For instance, if you’re a graphic designer, you may always open Photoshop and Illustrator, plus a couple of graphics utilities. You may also keep a couple of project folders open in the Finder. Likewise, if you're a photographer, you may always open Aperture and Photoshop, plus your favorite website for uploading images.

Of course, opening applications and folders is a simple process; a few clicks here, a few clicks there, and you're ready to work. But because these are tasks you repeat over and over, they're good candidates for a bit of workflow automation.

In this step-by-step guide, we're going to show you how to use Apple’s Automator to create an application that will open your favorite applications, as well as any folders you may use frequently, so you can get to work (or play) with just a single click.

What You Will Need

  • Automator: This app comes with the Mac OS. We will be giving instructions for the version of Automator supplied with the OS X El Capitan, but with a little bit of tweaking, they should work for all versions of OS X as well as the newer macOS.
  • Applications: You will need a list of the applications you want to open automatically when you launch the application you create with Automator.
  • Folders: If there are specific folders you work from on a regular basis, the application you create with Automator can open them in Finder windows.
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Creating the Workflow to Open Apps, Folders, and URLs

Automator with app and folder workflow finished.
Automator showing the script for opening apps and folders. Screen shot courtesy of Coyote Moon, Inc.

We will use Automator to build our workflow. The workflow we will create is the one I use when I'm writing articles for Lifewire, but you can easily adapt it to meet your specific needs, no matter what applications are involved.

My Workflow

My workflow launches Microsoft Word, Adobe Photoshop, and Apple's Preview application. The workflow also launches Safari and opens the Lifewire: Macs home page. It also opens a folder in the Finder.

Create the Workflow

  1. Launch Automator, located at /Applications.
  2. Click the New Document button if a "Open Document" window appears.
  3. Select 'Application' as the type of Automator template to use. Click the Choose button.
  4. In the Library list, select 'Files & Folders.'
  5. Drag the 'Get Specified Finder Items' action to the workflow panel on the right.
  6. Click the Add button to add an application or a folder to the list of Finder Items.
  7. Click the Add button to add other items to the list, until all the items you need for your workflow are present. Don't include your default browser (in my case, Safari) in the list of Finder items. We will choose another workflow step to launch the browser to a specific URL.
  8. From the Library pane, drag the 'Open Finder Items' to the workflow pane, below the previous action.

Working with URLs in Automator

This completes the part of the workflow that will open applications and folders. If you want your browser to open to a specific URL, do the following:

  1. In the Library pane, select Internet.
  2. Drag the 'Get Specified URLs' action to the workflow panel, below the previous action.
  3. When you add the 'Get Specified URLs' action, it includes Apple's home page as a URL to open. Select the Apple URL and click the Remove button.
  4. Click the Add button. A new item will be added to the URL list.
  5. Double-click in the Address field of the item you just added and change the URL to the one you wish to open.
  6. Repeat the above steps for each additional URL you wish to open automatically.
  7. From the Library pane, drag the 'Display Webpages' action to the workflow pane, below the previous action.

Testing the Workflow

Once you finish creating your workflow, you can test it to ensure it functions correctly by clicking the Run button in the top right corner.

Because we're creating an application, Automator will issue a warning that 'This application will not receive input when run inside Automator.' You can safely ignore this warning by clicking the OK button.

Automator will then run the workflow. Check to be sure that all of 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.

Save the Workflow

Once you've confirmed that the workflow works as expected, you can save it as an application by clicking Automator's File menu and selecting 'Save.' Enter a name and target location for your workflow application and click Save. Follow the above process to create additional workflows, if desired.

Using the Workflow

In the previous step, you created a workflow application; now it's time to use it. The application you created works the same as any other Mac application, so you need only double-click the application to run it.

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's sidebar or toolbar, for easy access.