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Mac Productivity: Quick Scripts and Workflows - Creating Quick Notes

By  May 7, 2012

Topics: Apple, Operating Systems, Productivity

It's 9AM and your boss is on the phone.  She's rattling off important info you need for your 9:30AM conference call.  Quick!  You need somewhere to take notes.  Sure, you could use your email client - Mail and Outlbook both include note features.  Or, you could use on of the 50,000 note taking apps you've downloaded.  Better yet, why not use that handy Automator Service workflow you created?  You know, the one that automatically creates RTF notes into a Quick Notes folder, names them with the current date and time, and opens them in TextEdit so you can quickly begin typing?  You recall how easy it was to create.  Here's how you did it...

1. Create a Quick Notes folder in your Documents folder

2. Launch Automator (in /Applications)

3. When prompted to choose a type of workflow, select Service and click Choose


Creating an Automator Service workflow

4. Set the popup menus at the top of the workflow area to receive no input in any application


Setting the Service to be available in any application

5. Search for the New Text File action, and drag it to the workflow area.


Adding the New Text File action to the workflow

6. Set the New Text File action’s File Format popup menu to Rich text.  The action’s name changes to New RTF File in the title bar. From the Where popup button, choose Other..., and select the Quick Notes folder you created in your Documents folder. 

7. Click the Variables button at the top of the action library (left side of window), and select Date & Time in the list of categories.


Automator’s Date & Time variable category

8. Drag the Today’s date and Current time variables to the Save as field in the New RTF File action. Type a dash between the two variables, and a suffix of -Notes.


The fully configured New RTF File action

When variables are dragged into a workflow, a variables area appears, providing quick access to any variable used throughout the workflow.


Automator’s variables area

9. Slashes and colons aren’t ideal for file and folder names, so we’ll reformat the date and time.  In the variables area, double-click on the Today’s date variable.  A Variable Options window appears.  From the Format popup menu, choose Custom format...


Customizing the format of the Today’s date variable

10. Drag the bubbles representing date parts into the field beneath the Format menu in the following order - Year, Month, Day of Month.  Type dashes between them.  Then, click on each one, and a popup menu appears, allowing you to customize the format of each individual date part.  Set the year to 1999 (aka a 4-digit year), the month to 01 (aka a 2-digit month), and 05 (aka a 2-digit day).  Putting the year first will help with sorting in the Finder.  Click Done.


Formatting the Today’s date variable as YYYY-MM-DD 

11. Double-click on the Current time variable.  The Variable Options window appears again.  From the Format popup menu, choose Custom format.


Customizing the format of the Current time variable

12. Drag the bubbles representing time parts into the field beneath the Format menu in the following order - Hour, Minute, Seconds.  Type dashes between them.  Then, click on the hour part, and set it to 00-23 (aka a 2-digit hour).  The hour part changes to 19.  The minute and second parts should already be set to 2-digits each, so you don’t need to change them.  Appending the time to the date will ensure that every note’s file name is unique, and doesn’t overwrite a previous note on the same day.  Click Done.


Formatting the Current time variable as HH-MM-SS 

13. Search for the Open Finder Items action, and drag it to the workflow area. When you do this, you see that the action "links up" with the New RTF File action.  This tells you that the action receives input.  When the workflow runs, the newly created RTF file is passed to this action as input. Set the action's Open with popup button to TextEdit.


The complete workflow

14. Save the workflow, and name it Quick Note


Saving the Automator workflow as a Service

You can now trigger the workflow in any application.  To do so, simply select Quick Note  from the application's Services menu.


Triggering the workflow from an application's Services menu

The workflow runs, a text file is created in the Documents > Quick Notes folder, and is opened in TextEdit.  Begin typing away!


A new quick note

For more on AppleScript and Automator, check out my book  Automator for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide, as well as my video podcast series Mac Automation Made Simple.