How to Think About Automation Workflows

Screenshot1720Right after I post my last blog about creating a droplet using Keyboard Maestro, I discovered an article via Twitter posted on site called A Better Mess.

The writer, Micheal Schetcher, wrote a review of Keyboard Maestro and how he uses it. In that article he includes the idea behind workflows. He says:

Any geek, especially those who dabble in the productivity space, tend to think in workflows. We examine how we do the things that we do. This is usually a three-step process: (1) consider your work, (2) define the most efficient steps to accomplish it and (3) automate the hell out of it. Simply put, Keyboard Maestro removes friction and reduces the steps needed to really get things done. There are several ways to accomplish this.

Touché, Micheal. I was just thinking something similar about workflow, which is I also what I  use even in non-computer tasks like cooking or organizing my messy office. Micheal is so on point about automating the “hell out of” what we do repeatedly on the computer. Programs like Keyboard Maestro, Hazel, Automator, AppleScript, TextExpander, Typinator, and the like can save us so much damn time when it comes to performing redundant tasks.

I always observe what I’m doing and how often I do it. Then I try to automate as many parts of that task as possible. Each time I perform the task, I think about how I can refine the workflow to make it easier and more efficient.

Before I switched over to Keyboard Maestro, I created over two hundred macros in QuicKeys for nearly everything I do on my Mac. I didn’t of course use them all everyday, but when I needed to perform certain tasks, especially ones I hadn’t performed in a while, a macro I previously created for a task could be triggered and ran, saving me lots of clicking and even remembering keyboard shortcuts. Now I do the same using Keyboard Maestro.

I also use the Status Menu Trigger in Keyboard Maestro to bookmark files, website pages, and other apps related to an application I’m working in. So for example when I create a how-to video using ScreenFlow, I have a KM macro that launches my YouTube account for Mac automation videos. The macro is present in the Status Menu of Keyboard Maestro when I have ScreenFlow as the frontmost application. I don’t use my Mac automation YouTube account a lot, but bookmarking it in KM makes it easy to access, which is typically  when I’m working in ScreenFlow.

So yeah, thanks Micheal for your brief description of how to think about workflow—the best way to be more productive on your computer.

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QuicKeys Developer Explains Lack of Lion Support [News]

Screenshot1724Wow, just learned today why Startly, the company behind the Mac automation program, QuicKeys, has been relatively silent about the long overdue Lion update for their program.

Unfortunately many long users of QuicKeys, including myself, have jumped ship and started using Keyboard Maestro because there was not much coming from Startly about why they had not updated QuicKeys.

Essentially the programmer responsible for the update passed away, but Startly was not kept up to date about the programmer’s fatal illness. The company is now seeking a qualified programmer who can complete the job. You can read more about here.

This is good and bad news for QuicKeys users who have switched over to Keyboard Maestro. I still think both programs are very good for general Mac users who want to automate tasks on their computer, but it’s time consuming to develop macros in both applications, and it has taken too long for QuicKeys to be updated for Lion. I can barely open and use it Lion.

However, I think what I will try to continue to write articles and do how-to videos for both programs.

I will also try to write an article that explores the differences between the programs.

Creating an App Droplet in Keyboard Maestro

Screenshot1720Because the developers of QuicKeys have still not upgraded their application for OS X Lion, I have moved over to Keyboard Maestro. I’ve always thought both programs were nearly equally as good, but since I discovered and started using QuicKeys first, KM laid dormant in my Applications folder because it didn’t make since to run both Mac automation programs on my computers.

I’ll write more later about what I like about Keyboard Maestro, but I thought I’d do a quick little tutorial about how to make an application droplet in KM. I wrote the developer of KM and he wrote back and explained in a brief sentence how to create a droplet. But I thought I’d illustrate it here for newer users of Mac automation, Keyboard Maestro in particular.

What is a droplet? Well, it’s sort of acts like an application. While most of the automations you build in KM are triggered by either a keyboard shortcut, an application, typed string, or through the KM status menu, you can also create a droplet for any KM macro and launch it say from your Dock as you would an application or file. Here’s an example:

I use a macro that launches my most used applications. These applications could be of course automatically launched when I log into my account, but I don’t like that option because sometimes when I’m trouble shooting a problem on my computer, I don’t want all those apps launching when I’m experiencing problems.

I could also easily set a keyboard shortcut to trigger that macro, but I simply don’t use it enough to warrant a keyboard shortcut. Instead, I created a droplet that I can simply click in my Dock. Here’s how you do it.

1. Select the macro in KM that you want to create a droplet for.

2. Under the triggering section of the macro, select “Or by script,” and then select “Or by Apple Script.”

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3. Voila, KM makes an instant AppleScript script for your macro that you save as a droplet/application.

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4. Unfortunately you can’t turn a KM macro into app inside of KM, as you can in QuicKeys. But that’s not a real big deal, because you probably won’t be using droplets a lot to launch your macros.

5. So what you do is copy the AppleScript script. Launch AppleScript Editor (located in your Utilities folder, which is located in your Applications folder) and paste the copied script in the new file.

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6. You might want to click the Run button to test it out. Then save it as an Application. I would suggest putting your droplet/apps in one place, say a folder you create in your Applications folder so you can easily access them.

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7. Now drag that droplet to your Dock and you can launch it from there.

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Select All and Copy

One of my most useful little macros is a very simple select all text and automatically copy. I assigned an abbreviation shortcut to macro (“ajj”) so that when I type the abbreviation, QuicKeys immediately runs macro, saving me from having to do all the keyboard shortcuts—command+a and command+c.

I use this macro because too many times I written a comment say in a forum only to have that comment not post. And then I have to retype it. So when something I’ve written is very important to me, I simply run macro using the simply quick shortcut. The text is immediately saved to my clipboard manager.

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Swipe to Edit Using BetterTouchTool

One of the coolest things about BetterTouchTool is how you can apply trackpad gestures to specific applications. I posted a video tutorial about it here.

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I most like using this time saving feature in QuicKeys, especially for when I’m working on difficult macro which requires me to edit the macro several times until it works the way I need it to.

Well, instead of having to click Command+0 or double-click a macro to edit it, I now simply swipe three fingers to the right on my track pad, and up pops the selected macro for editing. The swipe is much faster than the double-click or the keyboard shortcut.

I’ll be adding a few more gestures to QuicKeys as I become more comfortable with the application.

Linking Web Pages to Applications

One of the best uses for QuicKeys Menu feature is a creating a short that links a file, folder, webpage, another application to a specified application.

For example, I want to remember a website that sells products for Apple’s Pages and Keynote applications. Bookmarking the website won’t be very useful to me, because I won’t remember its name when I need it, and it will most likely get buried in a Safari folder of bookmarks.

So what I do now is simply drag and drop a selected URL onto the QuicKeys icon in my dock. It will instantly create a web launch shortcut.

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After that is done, I scope the shortcut to the application I want to associate the URL with. I use the “quickeys menu” trigger so that the shortcut will appear in the QuicKeys menu bar.

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Now weeks or months after I can’t remember the name of the website, I can simply click on the QuicKeys icon in my menu bar and select the select the shortcut with the specified URL. When I run the shortcut, it will of course open the specified website. The application will need to be open as well in order for the shortcut to appear.

Tip:

If there is a particular trigger you use over and over in QuicKeys, you can set it as the default triggeer by opening QuicKeys Preferences > Trigger. My default QuicKeys trigger is “quickeys menu” because that’s what I’m using most of the time in shortcuts I create.

A Mail Rule for Reducing New Messages

Though email is a fast end efficient form of communication, most of the messages we receive simply do not require our immediate attention.

I became so tired of marking messages read or deleting them that I finally created, I think, a Mail rule for better managing emails.

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The rules marks incoming emails as read, except for the message sent by anyone who is listed in my Address Book or specific addresses I designate as not to be immediately marked as read.

I’ve been using this system for about three days now, so I’m sure I’ll be adding a handful more addresses. But 90% of the other messages I receive will simply be marked immediately as read.

I set up a “Today’s Mail” smart mailbox which I check a few times a day to see which emails were marked as read. So far, hardly any of these messages that appear in that box needed my immediate attention.

With this rule, I no longer have to waste valuable time clicking on new messages—either on my computer, iPhone, or iPad. Now that’s automation at its best.

My MUO Mac Automation Guide Published

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I’m happy to report that one of my favorite topics to write about has finally been published a book length guide titled the Awesome Guide to Mac Automation.

This guide is for Mac users who want to get more done on their Mac with less work. It includes step-by-instructions for using Apple’s smart automation technology, including smart folders, smart albums, smart playlists, and it’s free automation application, Automator.

Among other things you’ll learn how to:

  • Use smart folders to manage your files and folders
  • Using iTunes’ smart playlists to organize your music
  • Find the photo your looking for with iPhoto
  • Sort your email without any effort, using Mail.app’s smart filters and folders
  • Using Automator to script without any programming knowledge

The guide is free, and I’m in the process of writing a professional version of the guide that will introduce advanced automation programs, including Quickeys 4.0, Hazel, and AppleScript.

The guide can be downloaded for free from MakeUseOf.com.

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Using Hazel for File Size Detection

Nothing can be more frustrating than performing simple repetitive tasks on your computer, day in and day out. For example, as part of the writing I do for a website, the screenshots I use for articles can’t be larger than 580px and/or 120kb in size.

For a long while I would have to check the file size of screenshots to see if they were over 120kb. If so, I had to open them in Photoshop and resize them for web posting. And though the icon preview on my desktop would include the pixel size of screenshots, I still had to stop and resize them if they were over 580px.

But now thanks to Hazel, these repetitive tasks are done for me. Whenever a screenshot is saved to my desktop, a Hazel macro will automatically open that screenshot file in Photoshop if it’s over 120kb.

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