Like most Mac users, you have probably never opened the Shortcuts app. If that’s the case, there’s a lot you’ve been missing out on. This tool makes it fairly easy for anyone to make their own mini-applications or set of automations. You can design these to do a wide range of actions, and you can even add rules and exceptions to make your everyday tasks simpler.
If you don’t know where to begin, here are 5 mini-applications to get you going. I use them regularly to block distractions, get my news, and even make memes. To get started open the Shortcuts app on your Mac—you can find it by searching with Spotlight or in the Applications folder. Then, start a new shortcut by hitting the plus sign to the left of the search bar.
Shortcut your way to some focus time
I use this particular shortcut all the time—it turns off all notifications and closes every app except the ones you need for work, so you can avoid all distractions. The result: no distracting popups, just me and my blank document to fill. Also, it’s really easy to make.
First, add the Quit app action. If you don’t find it in the Suggestions tab the app opens by default in the right sidebar, use the search bar to find it—double-click on it to select it. It’ll automatically go to the main screen of the app, where the rest of the actions you add will accumulate. In the action, click on App, and in the pop-up menu choose All apps. If you want to add exceptions, you can click on Choose and pick the apps you want to keep running from the dropdown menu. I included the programs that back up my files, play my music, and the tool I write in. Next, use the search bar to find the Set Focus action and set it to Do Not Disturb.
That’s it—you don’t need to hit Save or anything like that. You can choose a keyboard shortcut to launch it by clicking the Shortcut Details icon in the right panel: it looks like an “i” with a circle around it. You’ll find the keyboard shortcut option under Details—simply click on Add Keyboard Shortcut to choose the key combo that best suits your needs.
If this is good enough for you, you can keep it like this, but you can also keep building and adding more actions to make it more sophisticated. A timer, for example, can help remind you when to take a break.
We’ve talked about RSS apps that keep you in the know, but it can be hard to find RSS feeds to follow as sites don’t advertise them like they used to. That doesn’t mean the feeds don’t exist, as they’re usually hidden somewhere in the HTML code for a website. You can build a shortcut that can automatically search for the feed of a site and copy it to your clipboard. A caveat, though—Apple has optimized its shortcuts to work with its own browser, Safari, so you won’t be able to use it if you surf the web via Google Chrome, for example.
To get started, make a new shortcut and open the Shortcut Details tab. Under Details, check the Services menu box. This option will enable you to trigger the shortcut from the menu bar later and will add the Recieve action box. Click Any and on the pop-up menu choose URLs as your input. Then, click Continue to set Get Clipboard as the action the shortcut takes in case there’s no input:
Now, back at the actions menu (click the icon that looks like a series of boxes with sparks on top), use the search bar to find and select the Get RSS feeds from action. This will go and find the RSS feed on whatever URL you input. Typically it will find more than one, so you should add the Choose from action to prompt you to choose the RSS feed you want. Next, add the Copy Clipboard action.
You can now trigger your shortcut by highlighting and right-clicking any URL in Safari. You’ll see a Services option, which you should hover over to then select your shortcut. You will see a list of RSS feeds and if there are any you like, the shortcut will copy it to your clipboard so you can later add it to your feed reader of choice.
Build a shortcut to read the latest news
You can also build a shortcut to open the latest stories from your favorite website in different tabs on your browser. Just start with the Get items from RSS action—find it using the search bar. Next, choose how many articles you’d like to open by clicking on 10 items and using the arrows to increase or decrease the default 10. On the URL in the action box, you’ll be able to paste any RSS feed you like. Finally, search and add the Open URLs action.
As always, you can even add a keyboard shortcut to trigger this action and stay on top of the daily news.
Switch between dark and light mode
We’ve shown you how to enable dark mode on every app, but some people like switching between them depending on the context. With Shortcuts you can easily toggle between dark and light modes on your Mac using a keyboard shortcut. Just add the Set Appearance action to a new shortcut, then click on Turn and swap it for the Toggle option. Add a keyboard shortcut to trigger the action and you’re golden.
Overlay text on any image
If you regularly make memes or just put quotes over images, you might want to speed up the process. Shortcuts can help you do that in just a couple of clicks. Just create a shortcut and enable it in Services—this will add the shortcut to the Services menu, which shows up when you right-click an image in Safari.
In a new shortcut, click on the Shortcut details icon and check the box next to Services menu. Then, click Any to set it to Images only. By default, the menu will have all types of media selected, so click on Deselect all in the bottom right corner, and then manually select Images. Lastly, set the last line of the action to ask for files in case there’s no input. To do this, click Continue and swap it for Ask for—the Files option should appear automatically.
Back on the sidebar, use the search bar to find and select the Overlay text action. You can customize the location of the text by clicking on Center, and change the look of the text however you like by clicking on Show more. I chose a traditional meme format.
Finish by adding a Quick Look action so you can preview how your image looks before saving it. Assign a keyboard shortcut to this action and you can add any text to an image at any time.
Check the gallery to learn more
The above are just a few very simple shortcuts anyone can build to get familiar with the service. If you want to dive in deep, play around by adding more steps, or taking a look at a few of the built-in automations you can find in the Gallery, which you can find in the right panel of the Shortcuts app.
Here you’ll find much longer shortcuts doing everything from moving your windows around to downloading photos from NASA every day. I highly recommend checking out a few to get a better feel for how powerful the Shortcuts app can be.