Save Tons of Time Using Automator for Mac – Video Tutorial

How to Make Automator Workflow Applications

OVERVIEW: Learn how to create sophisticated workflows using the Macintosh Automator tool in this step-by-step video tutorial.

Apple automator tutorial

The Right Tool for the Job

The Automator tool, which is built into the Mac operating system is one of those underused, under-appreciated gems that can save you time and hassle. You can click and drag a series of handy actions into a workflow that allows you to create your own mini-programs to handle tons of tedious tasks.

Every time I sync my digital camera to my computer, it creates a new folder and loads it full of my recent, unsynced pictures. This is a handy way to get the images off my camera, but scatters leaves a huge mess of subfolders full of a few images all over the place.


Finder folders

I decided to use Automator to create a little script to help me get this mess under control. The script needs to get all of the files out of the “daily” subfolders and move them up to the parent folder.

I opened up Automator and selected a New Workflow.

Automator new menu

When you start creating your workflow, you will see the following screen:

Automator menu options

There are a series of actions on the left side of the screen that you can add to your workflow on the right. If you click on Library you will see all of the actions arranged alphabetically. You can also see them grouped by logical categories below.

I needed to perform the following steps:

  1. Accept a parent folder that I dragged onto the workflow
  2. Save the location of the parent folder for later use
  3. Get all of the files out of the subfolders
  4. Move them to the parent folder

I used the following items to build this workflow:

  • Get Specified Finder Items (step 1)
  • Set Value of Variable (step 2)
  • Get Folder Contents (step 3)
  • Get Value of Variable (created in step 2)
  • Filter Finder Items (Get only files, but not folders from step 3)
  • Move Finder Items  (created in step 4)

This is what the workflow looked like when I finished.

Automator move files

This works great. It found all of the files and moved them up to the parent folder in about 2 seconds.

A Little Bit of Cleanup

So far – so good, right? Well there are a few other issues that I want to address. I would like to rename the files to something that makes sense to me. I just like to name them after the month, with a sequence of numbers after. I also want to automatically get rid of those old empty files to keep things nice and clean.

This just involves throwing a few extra steps into the workflow.

After the Move Finder Items task executes, I need to:

  1. Rename the moved files
  2. Re-identify the folder where the files are
  3. Get the contents of the folder
  4. Filter so that only the Folders are selected
  5. Delete the Folders

I used the following items to build this workflow:

  • Rename Finder Items (step 1)
  • Get Value of Variable (step 2)
  • Get Folder Contents (step 3)
  • Filter Finder Items (step 4)
  • Move Folders to Trash (step 5)

This is what the workflow looked like when I finished.

Automator rename and delete

Now I can just drop a parent folder (month) onto the workflow and run it. This will clean up the folder in a few seconds.

The last step is to save the workflow to someplace on your computer. I saved this one into my “Pictures” folder, because I’ll always remember that it’s there.

Automator Workflow Video Tutorial

If you would like to see the entire process in action, watch the video tutorial below.

What’s Your Best Automator Tip?

If you have any really useful tips on using Automator, PLEASE let me know in the Comments below.

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