In this episode, you’ll discover how Shortcuts automation can help you reduce repetitive typing on your Mac when text replacements and templates are of no use.
Link to automation example mentioned in this episode:
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Shortcuts is a tool available on Mac devices that allows users to automate tasks by stacking different actions together.
It offers various actions that can interact with applications, input data, manipulate data, provide logic, and repeat operations.
Shortcuts can be used to simplify repetitive typing tasks and reduce the number of clicks required for certain actions.
The tool can be accessed through the Shortcuts app on Mac and offers options to pin automations in the menu bar, assign keyboard shortcuts, or save automations as applications.
These automations can be synchronized across devices via iCloud and can be launched using Spotlight or hardware devices like Stream Deck.
- Text replacement is not always suitable for entering information in application windows with multiple fields.
- Templates can be helpful for repetitive tasks, but variations may require automation.
- Shortcuts allow users to stack different actions together, similar to Lego bricks.
- Shortcuts offer various actions for interacting with applications, inputting data, manipulating data, providing logic, and repeating operations.
- Automations created with Shortcuts can be synchronized across devices via iCloud.
- Shortcuts can be launched from the menu bar, assigned keyboard shortcuts, or saved as applications.
- Automations can be launched using Spotlight or hardware devices like Stream Deck.
- Shortcuts can simplify repetitive typing tasks and reduce unnecessary clicks.
How often do you find yourself entering the same thing in your most used Mac applications?
What if I told you that there was a way to completely automate this process without needing to remember Text Expansion Snippets.
I will unpack all of this after the intro.
If this is the first episode that you’re listening to, welcome to the Macpreneur tribe.
Before diving into today’s topic, I want to quickly mention that this episode is part of a short series focusing on the three killers of Mac productivity, namely unnecessary clicks, repetitive typing, and file clutter.
I introduced the three killers in episode 58, then I provided built-in and third-party solutions to reduce unnecessary clicks in episode 59 and 60 respectively.
In episodes 61 and 62, I started tackling repetitive typing using text replacement and templates.
In this episode, I will cover another powerful strategy using Shortcuts automation.
So, as discussed in episode 61, text replacement is great, but it requires us to remember a bunch of snippets, and it is not super suited for entering information in application windows that present multiple fields.
This is the case, for instance, when creating a calendar event, when you need to enter the topic, an agenda, and in some cases, you may even have to add participants that you want to invite.
If you have embarked into time tracking, there are also various fields that you need to fill: like the task, the project, and the tags.
In all cases, templates can help, for sure, but only when you want to have time entries that are always the same.
When there are some slight variations from time to time, then you need something else.
And this is where automation can help you.
And in case you didn’t know that, your Mac ships with a dedicated tool called Shortcuts.
Shortcuts automation intro
Put simply, Shortcuts allow you to stack different actions on top of each other like you would with Lego bricks.
So the same way that there are different brick shapes and brick sizes, you will find different kinds of actions in Shortcuts.
Some can interact with applications installed on your Mac, for instance. to fetch your next appointment or to create a reminder or to append some text to a note.
Some will allow you to input data either through a text field or by providing you a list of options to select from.
Some actions will allow you to manipulate data either through calculations, in case of number and dates, or also by processing Text by splitting text, for example.
And some actions provide the automation with some logic. So if a condition is met, do this thing, otherwise do that other thing. And if you need to, there are also actions that allow you to repeat different operations. You can also make the automation wait for you.
And so, the same way that most Lego bricks can be stacked together, the Shortcuts actions can also do the same.
Some actions will be interconnected, but others can be independent from each other.
The same way that if you take an example of a Lego set with a house and next to it you have a swimming pool, in Shortcuts it’s the same.
Now, if you remember the good old Lego manuals, well, with Shortcuts, you will do the same, except that once you have built this step 1, step 2, step 3, step 4 process, automation, you just need to click a button and it will run the whole sequence again. You don’t need to do each step manually. one at a time after all.
Now you may still think “Oh geez Damien, it sounds complicated!” but in fact it’s quite simple and it’s quite easy to pick up.
The most important is to start with a small but recurring repetitive typing annoyance that you can’t solve using text replacements or templates.
And if you don’t know where to start, I recommend to open the Shortcuts app on your Mac and you visit the Gallery section. There you will find pre-built automations that are made by Apple. And even though most of them won’t necessarily reduce repetitive typing, they can certainly start making your life easier.
Shortcuts automation example
Now, to give you a more concrete idea, I will share with you an Automation that I have created to help me customize time tracking entries related to the Macpreneur Podcast that would otherwise require repetitive typing.
And the best part is that I can use that automation on both my Macs, my iMac, and my MacBook Pro, but also on my iPhone and my iPad, simply because
1) I have Timery on all my devices.
2) The automation is synchronized automatically via iCloud,
3) and more importantly, the steps that I’ve used in that automation are universal across all platforms.
Now, here is the overall flow of the automation.
Step one, it shows me a list of activities related to the podcast: so “brainstorm topics”, “prepare episode”, “record episode”, “edit episode”, and so on, so the whole process if you want. I just need to click and select the one that I want.
Now, if it’s a brainstorming activity, it will go to step three. But if it’s a different activity, then I want to be able to put the episode number.
So it will ask me, what is the episode number? I will type that number.
That’s it. That’s the only thing I type.
Then after that, it will ask me the last question, which is “When do you want that time entry to start?
And I have three options, “now”, “five minutes ago”, or “at the last stop time”.
Now, if you don’t know Timery, I’ve covered it quite extensively in episode 55.
Basically, this is one of the parameters that Timery gives when creating a time entry. So I just use that feature in the Shortcuts automation.
And so once I’ve entered the information, selected what I wanted, the Shortcuts Automation will automatically start a Timery timer. And the only thing I needed to type was the episode number.
And also because I’m able to pre configure in the automation, the project and the tags, it also helps me reduce the number of clicks.
So it’s a double whammy if you want.
Now, if you already use Timery and you would like to see what this automation looks like, I will put a link in the show notes available at macpreneur.com/episode63.
You’ll then be able to import that Shortcut automation and you will be able to also start tweaking it right away if you’d like to.
How to run Shortcuts automation on Mac
The next question that you might have at this point is: “okay, I have a shortcut automation. How do I run it on my Mac?”
There are three main options.
In the Shortcuts app on your Mac, there is a configuration button. If you click on that one, there is a details section, and there you will have just an option to tick “Pin in menu bar.”
So in the menu bar, in the top right corner, next to the clock and so on, you will see a Shortcuts icon.
You can click on that icon, and you will see the list of pinned automations.
So that’s one way.
Another way to launch Shortcuts automation, same place, so “configuration button”, “details”. You have also the ability to add a keyboard shortcut.
Now, even though it seems tempting, I would only do that for those kind of automations that you do multiple times a day.
If you do this automation from time to time, once a week or something like that, be careful because you need to make sure that this keyboard shortcut does not conflict with other keyboard Shortcuts, but it’s an option.
And then last option is to save the Shortcuts automation as an application where you will see an icon in your dock.
And so afterwards, it’s just a matter of clicking. on the icon on the dock.
So to do that, you open Shortcuts, you locate the desired automation, you will right click on that automation, and there you will see an option that says “Add to Dock”.
Now, what happens in the background is that the Shortcuts app will create an application, so the name of your Shortcuts dot app.
It will be saved in an applications folder, but within your “Home” folder.
It’s not the main applications folder that you see usually on the left sidebar in the favorite section.
You need to go to your Home folder, where you have documents, images, videos, and so on, you will see also an “Applications” folder.
The advantage of saving a shortcut as an application, is that it can be launched then via Spotlight, so you do COMMAND (⌘) SPACE, you start typing the first letter of your automation, and you will be able to launch it like that.
But because it’s an app, you can also then launch it via a hardware device like a Stream Deck.
For instance, you can assign that application to a button. And that’s what I’ve done with that Macpreneur time tracking automation. I’ve assigned it to a button on my Stream Deck.
So I just press a button, it loads the automation. I select a few things enter the episode number, and here I go.
So, just while talking, I realized, so, we are stacking now productivity techniques together, right?
So, we not only reduce repetitive typing, but by using Spotlight or keyboard shortcuts, we are also reducing unnecessary clicks.
So to recap, the goal of this episode was to explore automation as a way to minimize repetitive typing on your Mac.
It’s a slightly more advanced technique that is super useful when neither text replacement nor templates can help you and it also has a side benefit that it can reduce unnecessary clicks at the same time.
I’ve started by introducing Shortcuts, then I provided a specific automation example when it comes to time tracking with Timery.
I finished by exploring the different ways that one can launch Shortcuts automation on a Mac easily and quickly.
In the next episode, episode 64, I will start diving deeper into strategies and techniques to reduce file clutter.
So that’s it for today.
If you’d like to receive personalized tips on how to tame the three killers of Mac productivity, I have prepared a free quiz available at macpreneur.com/score.
So visit macpreneur.com/score for personalized tips on how to boost your Mac productivity today.
And until next time, I’m Damien Schreurs, wishing you a great day.