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Beginner’s Guide: automate your life with Workflow

Apple’s superb free automation app will save you time and effort

Technology should work for you. It should free up rather than waste time. Workflow can help by automating tasks. Through pressing a button, you can trigger complex multi-action workflows that would otherwise have required you switch between multiple apps and services on your device.

First, tap here to download Workflow from the App Store. The app has been around for a while, but was recently acquired by Apple, who made it completely free to use. Let’s get started!

Create your first workflow

The best way to figure out how workflows work is to make one. We’ll start with a simple workflow that will shoot a photo and then set up a message to send to a specific contact.

Install and launch Workflow, tap Done to skip the intro, and tap the + button to create a new workflow.

Swipe from the left of the screen and you’ll see the suggested actions list. Scroll down until you see the Take Photo action.

Tap-hold the Take Photo action and the screen will scroll back to your as-yet-untitled workflow. Drop the action by letting go of the screen. You’ll need to grant access to the camera to see the action’s options. The defaults in this case are fine.

To minimize data usage, it’s best to not send someone massive photos, so add a Resize Image action. Finally, add a Send Message action, for which you’ll need to grant access to your contacts. Once you’ve done so, tap the + button and choose a contact.

Test and save your workflow

Test your workflow by tapping the play button. Your camera should load, so you can take a photo in the usual manner. Confirm it’s OK with Use Photo, and within a few seconds the resized image should be in Messages, ready for you to send to your chosen contact. Easy!

Cancel the message. Back in Workflow, let’s finish setting things up. Tap the cog button to load settings for the workflow. Give it a name and an icon. With the icon, select a color and glyph; if you’d instead like to use a photo on your Home screen, add that in the Home Screen tab.

Now you need to decide how the workflow will be accessed. Tap ‘Add to Home Screen’, tap the Share (up arrow) button, and then choose ‘Add to Home Screen’. Confirm the workflow’s name and tap Add. The workflow will appear on your Home screen like any other app.

Add a workflow to your Today view widgets

Another home for workflows is the Today view.

Define the workflow as a Today Widget type by tapping the relevant button under ‘What type of workflow is this?’

Next, you need to add the Workflow app’s widget to Today view. Drag down from the top of the screen and then scroll down until you see the Edit button. Tap Edit to see available widgets, and tap the + button next to Workflow to add it.

You can change the Workflow widget’s position in the Today view by tap-holding the horizontal bars and dragging vertically. Tap Done and Workflow will be visible in Today view, including any workflows you’ve stated are of Today Widget type.

Now, whenever you want to run the workflow, you can do so from the Today view. If you’ve already saved the Home screen version, that’s two options available to you. It’s also possible to save widgets to Apple Watch and as Action Extensions housed in the Share sheet, but those are beyond the scope of this quick guide (although do experiment with those options yourself).

Check out the Workflow gallery

The workflow you’ve made should provide an indication of potential time savings with this app. Instead of opening the Camera app, shooting a photo, opening Photos, editing its size, opening Messages, creating a new message, and finally loading the edited photo, you just tap three times.

Although you might not send photos to one particular person that often, think wider. Actions exist for file management and manipulation, calendar events, music, video, sharing, internet services, and more. A full list of categories can be found by tapping the Actions list at the top-left of the screen when making a new action. You should be able to think of loads of ways in which Workflow can save you time by performing mundane sets of actions on your behalf.

However, you can speed things up even further by using pre-existing workflows. On Workflow’s main screen, select the Gallery tab. Within, you’ll find a slew of ready made and fully editable workflows.

Download and sync workflows

The Essentials category houses some really useful workflows. Tap Essentials to list them. To download a workflow, tap it and then tap Get Workflow. In some cases, such as with Calculate Tip, the workflow will download immediately. Others require a little setting up.

For example, Home ETA is a workflow for sharing with someone how long it will take you to get home from your current location. In order for it to work, you need to input your home address, and also who you want to send the message to.

As noted, you can later edit a workflow. Select it inside the app and make your changes. If concerned you might break something, tap Edit in the My Workflows tab, select a workflow, and tap the duplicate button. You can then edit and perfect the copy, knowing the original is safe.

Finally, if you work with multiple devices, you don’t want to spend time setting up Workflow on all of them. In the app’s settings (accessed at the bottom of the My Workflows screen), create a sync account to keep your workflows current across iOS devices. This screen also houses the Today Widget menu, to manage workflows that appear in the widget.