Your Mac does a lot of background task without you having any input. Time Machine for example, backs up on its own and will continue to do so until the disk is full. This article is going to show you a variety of different methods and tools which you can use to automate the other parts of your life. For example, if you find yourself repeatedly doing the same task every Wednesday at 4:32pm, it may be worth automating this. This list comprises of the simple methods, which most people will employ to the more complicate which involve a little bit of time to set up. I have listed the top methods which I use, however there are many other ways. If you have a suggestion please leave a comment.
Automatically Start Up and Shut Down
Probably one of the simplest ways to automate your life when using your Mac is to automatically start up and shut down. If you start up your Mac every morning and shut it down every evening this can be done with a simple change.
Open System Preference and navigate to the Energy Saver preference pane. In the bottom right hand corner there will be an option called ‘Schedule’. Click on this button to open the scheduling options.
You can pick the day of the week in which you wake will start up, and the time. You can also limit this change to a weekend, week day or a specific day of the week. You can also set what time your Mac will shut down or go to sleep.
These are handy options, for example, if you want your Mac to start up Monday morning and shut down Friday evening. You can’t get more complex than that, unfortunately, but it is useful for most people needs. These options will allow you to wake your Mac if it is asleep. There is also an option to restart your Mac. If you want to restart your Mac every Sunday, you can do that with these options. Just make sure your Mac is powered to the wall, or in case of a laptop, has charge.
Log In Automatically
If you have set your Mac to start up automatically, you may also want it to log in automatically. Although I don’t recommend this for security reasons, it can easily be done. Within System Preferences, open the Users & Groups tab.
At the bottom of the users column, select Login Options. Within the options you can select which user will be automatically logged in. If you can’t access the settings click on the lock at the bottom. You will be asked to enter your password. Once complete, every time you boot up your Mac, it will log in the selected user.
Set Apps To Launch At Login
Once you have set your Mac to automatically start up each morning, log your in, the last option is to let it open your apps for your. I always have Mail, Safari, Calendar and other apps option each morning. Instead of wasting your time clicking on each one, you Mac can be set to open this upon logging in.
Within System Preferences, Users & Groups, select the login items tab for the required user. Use the plus symbol at the bottom of the list to add the applications you want.
You may notice in this list a couple of app that you may not recognise, most of this are daemons or background processes that need to be started in order for certain functionality to run. If you find an app on the list you don’t want, it can be removed with the minus symbol.
Now every time you log on, these apps will launch.
Set Automator Actions To Run On A Specific Date
The previous tips and tricks, are basic, built in features of you Mac. This next section is going to explain various methods, which you can customise at will, to perform various tasks automatically. The list shows some basic commands which the majority of people will find useful, however these can be as complex or as simple as you want. All you need is a little bit of imagination.
Each of these tasks use an Automator script which is executed at a particular time due to a calendar entry. By altering the calendar entry we can alter the time in which the script executes. Automator allows it to be used as a programming language to perform the task we want.
Every command follows the same basic step. First open Automator and select the Calendar Alarm option. This will automatically put the workflow into Calendar when complete. You can set this up manually if you have other workflows within Calendar, however this options takes out most of the hassle.
This next step is to built your workflow as normal. The next section will detail a variety of workflows which you can use.
When you have finished and tested the workflows. Hit save. You will be asked for a name. When you have done so it entry will appear within Calendar under the automator calendar heading. Here you can set the time, re-occurrence and other parameters associated with a calendar entry. The special thing about this entry is that it will automatically execute the workflow you have just created, performing the action.
These workflows are stored in
~/Library/Workflows/Applications/Calendar/ if you ever want to delete them.
Play A Wake Up Song
Following on from the previous section, we have started our Mac, logged on and opened all of the required applications. Lets now play our favourite tunes to get us going in the morning. Within automator select the workflow select the “Start iTunes Playing” automator action. This will automatically start playing your tunes.
If you want to play a specific iTunes playlist add the “Get Specified iTunes items” workflow (where you pick you playlist using the add button) and then select the ‘Play iTunes Playlist’ workflow. This will load your playlist and begin playing.
Open A Webpage
Do you always open Mac Tricks And Tips each morning, you can easily do this with a workflow. Add the ‘Get Specified URL’ workflow and add your URL you want to open. Then add the ‘Display Webpages’ workflow action.
When activated this will get the URL’s you have added and then open them. You can add more than one.
You have finished a hard days work and you want to archive your data. Even though you should be using something like Time Machine it can be worth creating a zip of your files.
Within Automator first add the ‘Ask For Finder Items’ workflow. This will bring up a dialog box which asks for the Finder items you want to archive. Then add the ‘Get Folder Contents’ workflow, followed by the ‘Create Archive’ option.
This will select the Finder items, and add them to an archive. If you want to extend this further you can email it to someone, this can be done with the ‘New Mail Message’ with the field filled out followed by the ‘Add Attachment To Front Message’ option. Credit goes to Stu.
If you have had enough for the day you can automatically quit every applications. Within Automator select the ‘Quit All Applications’ workflow. This will, when run, quit every applications open, although it will ask you to save files. You can add entries into the list for apps it wont close, such as Mail, or Safari.
Another handy automator trick which you can run it the ability to empty your trash. This may be useful to run at the end of the week or month. This command takes a little bit more effort in the form of an AppleScript. Add the ‘Run Applescript’ workflow option and add the following text:
tell application "Finder"
empty the trash
If you want to empty the trash securely you can use the following piece of Applescript.
tell application "Finder"
empty trash with security
When you run the workflow, the AppleScript will run allowing you to empty the trash.
Set Desktop Image
If you want the latest image from NASA’s picture of the day, you can. This workflow can be a little trick to setup, but only takes a moment. Test this workflow to ensure it works. The idea behind this is we pull the image we want from cyberspace, then set it as our image.
If the image you are pulling is part of an RSS use this workflow. If the image you want is from a URL use the second option.
To pull an image from an RSS feed or similar add the following workflows. “Get specified URL’s” adding the URL of the RSS feed. Add ‘Get Image URL’s from Articles” set the drop down option to either ‘in the articles’ or ‘linked from the articles’. This alters the way the script interacts with the RSS feed, test to see which one is applicable. The add the ‘Download URL’s’ option selecting a place to download the image, your image folder is suitable. The add the ‘Set Desktop Picture’.
If you are downloading the image from a webpage, and not an RSS feed, add the URL of the image to the first workflow. Instead of ‘Get Image URL’s from Articles’ add the ‘Get Image URL’s from Webpage’, this means it pulls the image from a webpage instead of an RSS feed. You just need to find an image which updated every day.
Previously we showed how to quit applications. What happens if you want to launch applications, but at a specific time, for example at lunch. This can easily be done within Automator. Simply add the ‘Launch Application’ workflow. Select the application you want to launch. If you want to launch more than one app, keep adding the workflow.
System Clean Up
As a final note, an application which allows you to run more complex clean up operations is Main Menu. Although you can’t set it to automatically run at a specific time, it gives you plenty of shortcuts to run more complex tasks such as cleaning caches or running disk checks.
There are many ways to automate your life on your Mac. These are just a couple of simple ones to help you understand what can be done. Like a teacher I have showed you the basic tools, all you need to do is build your own for you specific needs.
These tools are simple to build and can automate the most basic needs. Automate your life and allow yourself to do something more interesting.
If you have any tips, tricks or workflows please leave a comment.