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

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

    New Document in Automator
  3. Click Application.

    Application in Automator
  4. Click the Choose button.

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

    Files & Folders under Library
  6. Locate Get Specified Finder Items in the middle panel and drag it to the panel on the right-hand side of Automator.

    You can also double-click it in place of dragging it.

    Dragging command in Automator
  7. Click the Add... button to add an application or folder to the list of Finder items.

    Add button in Automator
  8. Navigate to the application or folder you want to open, select it, and then click Add.

    Add button
  9. Repeat these steps until you've added all of the items you want to open.

  10. From the Library pane, drag the Open Finder Items to the workflow pane, below the previous action.

    Open Finder Items
  11. 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 also use Automator to open URLs automatically. Use this feature to not only open Safari but 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.

    Internet under Library
  2. Drag the Get Specified URLs action to the workflow panel.

    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).

    Get Specified URLs command in Automator
  3. Click the Add button to attach a new item to the URL list.

    Add button
  4. Type the URL of the site you want to open and press Return.

  5. Repeat these steps for each additional URL you want to open automatically.

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

    Display Webpages

How to Test, Save, and Use the Workflow

When you've added the applications and URLs to your workflows, 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.

    Run button in Automator
  2. Automator will 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.

  3. Once you've confirmed that the workflow works as expected, you can save it as an application. To do so, select Save under the File menu.

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

    Save task in Automator
  5. Saving the workflow will create 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's 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.