I’ve written a lot about automation apps here at ThemeKeeper Tuts+. I’ve covered KeyboardMaestro, TextExpander and Hazel in multi-tutorial, deep dives and touched on other apps like Launchbar and BetterTouchTool.
How to Combine Automation Apps on a Mac
All these apps have different specialities. Some do one thing really well and are simple to use, others can do pretty much everything but are super intimidating to get started with.
One thing I’ve seen is that people get fixated on one app or tool. Sure, you might be able to use Keyboard Maestro as a text expansion app, but TextExpander does it better and is easier to use as well. Launchbar can open apps, but so can BetterTouchTool; they just do it differently. Even the built-in AppleScript and Automator have their uses.
Mixing and matching the different tools is the best way to really customise a Mac. It also means that you’re not limited to just one tool. All the different automation apps can be combined in different ways. They can complement each other.
In this tutorial I’ll outline different ways you can combine different automation apps. You should take these as a jumping off point, rather than something that’s set in stone. Feel free to sub in one app for another.
At this point, I’m assuming you’ve got a pretty complete knowledge of most of the Mac automation apps available. If not, check out my tutorial on How to Choose the Right Tools to Automate the Mac. It introduces most of the apps I’m going to cover and links out to a load of great tutorials where you can learn more.
Use BetterTouchTool to Trigger Keyboard Maestro
With a Mac’s multi-touch track-pad, there are far more than just one or two finger scrolls on offer. There are hundreds of possible combinations of fingers, modifier keys, taps and swipes. These sort of physical movements are very quick to perform and easy to remember.
Keyboard Maestro is the most powerful Mac automation app going. There is very little you can’t do with it. I’ve got Macros that do everything from automate image uploading and insert them at the correct spots in my articles to opening all the apps I use to work and closing down any that distract me.
The one area that KeyboardMaestro falls down in is triggers. Hot Keys are great, but you can only have so many keyboard shortcuts to remember and the Palettes set up is kind of ugly. By mixing in BetterTouchTool, however, you can overcome this.
I’ll create a BetterTouchTool gesture that triggers a Keyboard Maestro Macro. I’ll start in Keyboard Maestro. Below is a Macro that gets me ready to start working. It closes down distracting apps, launches Ulysses and Safari, and starts a Pomodoro timer.
Right now it doesn’t have a trigger and what I want to do is use a BetterTouchTool gesture. I’ll create a little workaround. I’m going to use really complex keyboard shortcut that I’ll never actually have to press: Command-Control-Option-Shift-=.
That will do nicely! I’ll open BetterTouchTool and create a new Global gesture. I’ve gone with a 4 Finger Swipe Up.
To make it so that this gesture triggers Keyboard Maestro, all I have to do is set it to trigger Command-Control-Option-Shift-=.
And just like that, a four finger swipe up on the track-pad causes a whole lot to happen.
Use TextExpander Snippets in Keyboard Maestro Macros
While there’s nothing you can do in TextExpander that you can’t do with Keyboard Maestro, TextExpander makes it a lot easier. If you want to spend a dozen hours fine tuning Macros, feel free. For me, when it comes to text expansion I’m going to stick with TextExpander.
What TextExpander doesn’t do well, however, is control applications. It can do some simple key presses but that’s about it.
See what happens if I combine the two.
Here’s a Snippet that fills in a form rejection letter, to the generic PR pitches I get, in TextExpander.
It’s great to have, but to send it, I have to actually hit reply to the email, enter the abbreviation, and then hit send.
Below is a Keyboard Maestro macro that takes care of all that for me.
When I press the keyboard shortcut Command-Shift-R in Airmail, my email app, it automatically creates a new reply, triggers the TextExpander Snippet and then sends the email.
Trigger Keyboard Maestro When a Hazel Rule Runs
Hazel is an amazing file management app. It can move and manipulate any files on a Mac. I use it to keep everything organised. It doesn’t, however, have any of the general uses that some of the other apps have. Here’s how to give it some.
Imagine you have a situation where you’ve got a shared Dropbox folder with a client. Whenever they add a new file to it, you want to get notified.
I’ll start with KeyboardMaestro. Below is a Macro that opensAirmail and sends me an email saying that there’s a new file. The pauses are to make sure the Macro doesn’t hang. You’ll also notice that my email address is filled by a TextExpander Snippet. The trigger is Command-Control-Option-Shift-N.
Jump into Hazel. I’ve set up a rule on the Client Folder so that some AppleScript is going to run whenever a new file is added.
Have a look at that AppleScript.
What this tells the system to do is trigger the keyboard shortcut Command-Control-Option-Shift-N… which sends me the email notification.
Again, this is only a simple example. Keyboard Maestro has the power to do a lot more than drop me an email. The only limit is your imagination.
By combining different automation apps you can really take total control of a Mac. What one app lacks in one area, another can make up.
I’ve relied heavily on Keyboard Maestro in these examples but only because it is the app I’m most familiar with. Use whichever apps you want.