Automating your GTD flow… If you’re on a Mac

I recently switched computers again and now any working environment is 100% Apple iPhone 6 and MacBook Air).

Also I was assigned a new Coca-Cola corporate e-mail that means working with Exchange so I’m tied to Outlook for Mac to make the most of it (like being able to share my availability and check the availability of others before setting up meetings). I love Office in general: nothing comes close to it if you need to be completely compatible with everyone else’s docs and honestly Excel and Word are both great products. Keynote vs PowerPoint could be more tied but then again ppt is widespread so converting back and forth will always eventually lead to trouble and PowerPoint is very good product on its own. All of them fairly powerful in their latest Mac incarnation too, except for Outlook. I miss folder rules and macros so my solution to automate workflows as much as I can has been to rely on Keyboard Maestro macros. KM is a great value for money on a Mac, and you can use it with other tools such as Automator and AppleScript to get real automation power. I have KM macros plus Outlook general account rules to earmark messages or make sure they are in the right folders / with the right tags.
Evernote for Mac is great and still my main note-taking and info warehouse solution. And  being on a Mac opens the temptation to switch to Things or Omnifocus as GTD apps. I’m sticking with Nirvana for now because of best pricing and because I hope the promised Mac desktop app will add offline working support and AppleScript. All this would counter the most obvious advantages than native Mac programs such as Things or Omnifocus offer. But if you are on a Mac, make no mistake, those two should be on your shortlist: a breeze to use, good design, solid features for your flow.
But for now I’m on Evernote plus Outlook plus Nirvana. And both the lack of macros for Outlook and the excess of to-dos in Evernote made me explore options for automation with AppleScript.
Enter AppleScript
If you don’t know what it is, AppleScript is a native OS scripting language. It’s main advantage is that it’s pretty simple to learn and read — it’s a pseudo-code-like language, think python… and it’s pretty powerful to automate pretty much everything on your Mac applications. This pretty much depends on the extent of Applescript support that each app wants to include, but many include at least a ‘good enough’ one so you can effectively control your programs through coding. Which is great in combination with other Mac programs such as Automator (free with OS) and the excellent Keyboard Maestro — a program that would automate most interface and menu selections in any program, and it can also run an Applescript as part of a flow, or through a hotkey combination or at a given time.
All in all, Applescript can give you extra firepower for automation of processes and avoiding manual work.
Problems I solved with Applescript (sometimes in combination with Keyboard Maestro and IFTTT):
  • I want to send all Evernote unchecked to-dos to my task manager as tasks.
  • I want to auto see my personal Google Calendar a part of my Outlook calendar, so at least anything added to my personal Google Calendar shows as a private appointment in my Outlook calendar.
  • I want to send all my Outlook e-mails that are actions to my task manager as tasks.
  • I want to share my calendar availability with 3rd parties without manually spotting “empty slots” and collecting them in an e-mail.

For real freaks out there I’ll cover some of that in next posts.

But to finish this post, let me recommend one last automation software for Mac that pays for itself: Text Expander. There are Windows alternatives (such as Phrase Express) so a text expansion software should be part of your life anyway. Transform basically most repetitive words and even sentences into short abbreviations and save time and keystrokes every day. Good for your productivity and for the health of your wrists. You’ll also notice you get work done faster whenever you need to type. One of the great things about Text Expander is that it coaches you: it will suggest you to add a new abbreviation when it detects you’re typing the same thing over and over again. And if you did create an abbreviation and are not using it, it will remind you of it so you make the most effective use of the tool.

So next steps if you find yourself on a Mac: get Keyboard Maestro and Text Expander… And get some time to learn the basis of AppleScript in pages such as this one. It will pay off.

Automating your GTD flow… If you’re on a Mac