Quick guide to Shortcuts for macOS


The Shortcuts app is an automation utility tool that was previously available on iPhone and iPad but now it has been added to the Mac as well.

Shortcuts are nothing but automations that can help you run repetitive tasks to save you time.

The Shortcuts app essentially helps you write your own mini-apps using blocks of action.

In this blog post, we will first look at how to get started with this tool, and then we will explore some of the standard functions that you need to know to use this app.

Origins of the Shortcuts App

The app initially named "Workflow" was started as a project at the University of Michigan's MHacks.

It won the Apple Design Award in 2015 and was acquired by Apple in 2017 for an undisclosed amount.

In 2018, the name was changed to "Shortcuts," after which it was made a default app on iOS 12. It was only in July of 2021 that it was rolled out for macOS users.

The "Shortcuts" app is similar to the "Automator" app and will probably replace it someday.

The app helps you create personal shortcuts with multiple steps with many popular iOS apps, including Contacts, Calendar, Maps, Music, Photos, Camera, Reminders, Safari, etc.

It also has over 300 built-in actions for you to use right out of their library.

Get Started with the Shortcuts App

The easiest way to open the Shortcuts app is directly through Spotlight.

The app is one of the many default apps on macOS, and you don't need to download it from the App Store.


When you open the "Shortcuts" app, the first thing you'll see four sections: Gallery, All Shortcuts, Quick Actions, & Menu Bar.

If this is the first time you are using this app, all sections except for the Gallery will be empty.


However, if you have used shortcuts on your iOS devices, they will appear in your "All Shortcuts" section, and they will work as long the functions are available on your Mac.

Adding a shortcut: The quickest way to add a shortcut is to hover over the widget and click on the "+" button.

Now, you'll be able to see the shortcut widget added to your "All Shortcuts" section.


Previewing a shortcut: In the Gallery, click on the shortcut widget and hit the "..." icon to preview the shortcut.


Running a shortcut: To run a shortcut just hit the play button available over the particular shortcut widget.

Editing the shortcut: When you click on any of the items in blue, you'll be able to edit that item to your liking.

You can also edit using the "Settings" option on your right-hand side.


Pin the shortcut: Under the settings option, you've got the choice to pin the shortcut in the menu bar so that you can run it without launching the Shortcuts app first.

Similarly, you can also add the shortcut as part of your Quick Action menu in the Finder, Touch Bar, and Services Menu.

You'll also be able to add a keyboard shortcut directly from this section without going into system preferences.


Creating a shortcut from scratch: To create a shortcut, click on the "+" button or select File > Create Shortcut from the Menu bar.

You can then choose an app or category-based approach to build your shortcut.

Creating a simple shortcut

Now, let's put all we learned to use and create a shortcut to quit all apps except for Google Chrome.

Step 1: Click on the “+” icon.


Step 2: Search for the function on your search bar on the right.

In this case, we will search for the word “Quit” since we want to quit all apps except for Google Chrome.


Step 3: Select the scripting and drag it to the empty canvas.


Step 4: You’ll be able to choose whether you want to close one or all apps. In this case, let’s choose “All Apps”.


Step 5: You can now choose the exception. We will choose “Google Chrome”.


Step 6: Open settings and pin the shortcut to the “Menu bar”, Quick Action and services menu. I’ve also added a keyboard shortcut.


Step 7: Run it using the play button and watch it happen.

And Voila!

That was simple, wasn't it? Now it is your turn to try out some simple automations on the Shortcuts app.

We could use advanced features to create more complex shortcuts like converting videos into GIFs, sending out an emergency help message, reading out loud the body of a post based on just the link etc, but I think this short guide should get you started for now.

Remember, the best way to start building shortcuts on the app is by examining the available ones in Gallery.

Apple lets you explore the logic and functioning behind a shortcut, so pick the ones you might want to build on.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to share this with your professional network.