Building a Workflow

Next, you add actions that process the items you added to the workflow. You find the actions that you need by either browsing through the application categories in Automator's action library, or by entering a keyword or category name in the library search field. When you search or browse actions, the list of actions you see is ranked by relevance. The relevance of the actions displayed is determined not only by the application category you've selected, or the search keyword you've typed, but also by the actions that are already in your workflow. That puts the actions you're most likely to need right at your fingertips.

Automator includes over 150 built-in actions to which you can add your own custom actions or actions from third-party developers. The actions use a standard way of referring to what they can do in order to make it easy to understand the role that each action plays.

Typical actions in Automator perform functions such as:

  • Get Selected [Application] items • returns the items currently selected in the application, for example any files or folders currently selected in the Finder.
  • Get Specified [Application] items • returns the items that you specify, either when you create the workflow or at the time you run the workflow. The Get Specified iTunes items action would return any songs or playlists that you choose and then send them to the next action in your workflow for processing.
  • Ask for [Application Items] • Asks the user for information at the time the workflow is run.
  • New [Application Item] • Creates a new item or collection of items in an application. The New iPod Note action will create a new note on the connected iPod using text passed from the previous action.
  • Set [Property of Item] • Sets or changes the properties of an item within an application.
  • Delete [Application Items] • Deletes an item.

Once you've located the action to use, simply drag it from the Action List to the end of the workflow to add it to the workflow.

Keyboard Navigation.

Power users can use Automator's advanced keyboard navigation features to quick find and select actions and create workflows without ever touching the mouse. Automator provides keyboard shortcuts for finding actions, adding them to workflows, and moving between the various settings options in actions.

Build on your past work.

One of the most powerful aspects of Automator is that workflows can be built out of not just actions, but other workflows. This makes it easy to re-use complex workflows in novel ways. It also means that you can avoid the repetition of having to create certain patterns of actions every time you create a new workflow. For example, if your workflows often include selecting and renaming files, a workflow that accomplishes those tasks can be incorporated into a more complex workflow.