Ultimate Guide | Apps, Online Tools, Shortcuts, and Extensions That Will Make Your Workday a Whole Lot Easier
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Let’s face it, work can be really mundane. Even if you love your job, there are going to be certain tasks and aspects that are just tedious. Most of us use MacBooks, iPhones, or iPads as part of our weekly work routines – these devices make great tools for completing our tasks and they can even be used to help automate certain tasks and make your job a little easier!
There are a number of automation tools available—IFTTT, Shortcuts, and Automator are just a few examples—but, are you using them to their full capability? Or, at all?
Some of us have simple tasks that even the smallest bit of automation could help with; that’s where IFTTT comes in.
IFTTT stands for “IF This Then That,” it’s a play on coding signifying a trigger and a reaction. In other words, you configure a set of parameters that if/when met trigger an action.
IFTTT uses configurable “applets” that can make some tasks a lot easier. Applets can automate numerous things – that might include adding events and data automatically to a spreadsheet, creating simple reminders, or sending a text message when you reach a specific location. Although, you might want to start with Shortcuts instead…
As great and as versatile as IFTTT is, it doesn’t always play nice with iPhones due to some restrictions in iOS. Luckily, Apple has its own automation system called Shortcuts that’s built-in to both iOS/iPadOS and macOS.
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Shortcuts integrates directly with the OS and can also work with many third-party apps, allowing you to access system apps that aren’t available to tools like IFTTT.
Shortcuts can also let you customize your iOS app icons, run systemwide functions like turning on or off Wi-Fi, and more.
Shortcuts is an excellent app by itself, and when paired with tools like IFTTT and others, it becomes even more useful.
Shortcuts isn’t Apple’s only automation app, even if it is the only one available on their mobile platform. On macOS, you’ll find another app: Automator.
Automator is like Shortcuts turned up to 11. It’s virtually limitless in what it can do too since it can tap into things like scripts.
When you open Automator and create a new document, you’ll be presented with multiple “document types” to choose from. These include Workflows, Automator Applications, Quick Actions, various plugins and actions, and more. Before Siri was available on Mac, Automator made it easy to create voice commands as well—something that can still be done, but is easier accomplished with Siri.
Automator is great for creating a number of automations. Here are a few ideas of what you can accomplish with Automator:
- Rename files in bulk.
- Convert image file types in bulk.
- Crop images in bulk.
- Quit all open applications.
- Shortcuts for tasks such as printing documents.
- Merge PDFs into a single document.
- Create a quick email template.
- One-click functionality for launching a Website or Music Playlist using an application icon.
- Easy file migration between folders or servers.
- Clipboard management.
- Create various advanced screenshot and screen recording functions.
- Change system settings (such as volume) when using a specific app.
- And so much more.
Automator has virtually no limits other than your abilities. It can take some time to master, and certain tasks may require knowledge of coding. But with a little trial and error and some Googling, you should be able to automate just about anything!
Both macOS and iOS support extensions (plugins) in Safari. Many of these, can help you work smarter. For example, Grammarly can check your grammar while you type an email or document, 1Password can autofill passwords for you, and there are a number of popup-blockers that will help you get things done without distraction.
You can find extensions on the App Store. On a Mac, you can open Safari and choose Safari > Safari Extensions… from the menu bar to be quickly taken to the extensions section of the Mac App Store. Installed extensions can be found under the “Extensions” tab in Safari’s preferences.
On iOS, you can find and manage Safari extensions in the Settings app under Safari > Extensions. Simply select “More Extensions” to find extensions on the App Store.
Here are a few extensions worth checking out:
- SmartPlay – Show more information and controls for your favorite online media players (i.e. Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, etcetera).
- Grammarly – Check your spelling and grammar in real-time.
- Hush – Automatically accept and block pop-up cookie banners.
- URL to QR – Quickly generate a QR code for any website.
- 1Password – Autofill username and password fields.
- Noir – Add dark mode to websites.
- Vinegar – Limit and remove YouTube ads and ad picture-in-picture (PIP) to videos.
- PiPifier (iOS only) – Add picture-in-picture to nearly any Web video.
In today’s digital world, collaboration doesn’t always happen face-to-face. Meetings and projects now often take place in a digital space. Many tools like Zoom, Webex, Google Docs, and DropBox, help facilitate the remote office. These are all great and available on Mac. But, for those brave enough to try something new, Apple offers its own tools for collaboration, and they work across Macs, iPads, iPhones, PCs, and Android devices. Here are a few:
Pages, Numbers, and Keynote (iWork)
Apple’s productivity suite, known as iWork, consists of three main productivity apps:
- Pages – A text editor/processor.
- Numbers – A spreadsheet tool.
- Keynote – A presentation tool.
All three of these apps have native iOS, iPadOS, and macOS apps; as well as Web versions hosted in iCloud that can be accessed from most Web browsers on Windows PCs and Android devices.
These powerful document editing tools are easy to use and work seamlessly with Macs, iPhones, and iPads. Keynote, is an especially useful app for creating beautiful presentations with effects that are far more immersive than what I’ve seen in Microsoft’s PowerPoint.
Pages is a beautiful text editor that is capable of reading and writing Word files or exporting PDFs to maximize compatibility. In fact, all three apps in the iWork suite are capable of reading and writing most major file types.
Finally, Numbers is a different approach to spreadsheets. I’ve found it to be my favorite spreadsheet manager; but, it sometimes depends on what I’m trying to accomplish. Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets are a little more traditional and can improve compatibility when working with large teams. This traditional approach is also a lot better at handling complex formulas. While Numbers can handle formulas, where it really shines is presentation. Each sheet can be edited to contain multiple tables and media, allowing users to create a visually stunning representation of data.
FaceTime and SharePlay
FaceTime is still the gold standard in video calls on iPhones and Macs. But, it isn’t really known for business calls or calls across non-Apple devices. This is probably because FaceTime apps aren’t available on Android and Windows devices, and many business collaboration tools already have their own communication functionality built-in.
That all being said, FaceTime calls can support large groups, work via a Web browser using a link, and allow users to easily share their screen and media content with participants.
Pro Tip: To start a FaceTime call with Android or Windows users, simply open the FaceTime app and select “Create Link” at the top of the display. Anyone with the link will be able to join your call.
While on a call, you can use all of the normal features of FaceTime, including stickers, Memoji, background blur, SharePlay, and more.
So Many Possibilities
Between what’s available on the App Store, online, and by default, there are many ways you can ease your workload while remaining productive. What are your favorite tools and tips for making your workday easier? Let us know in the comments and on social media. Thanks so much for reading!