Appearance: Automators Episode 73

In my second appearance on Automators (part of the Relay FM network),1 I’m back to talk with David Sparks and Rosemary Orchard once again about Drafts. We dive in on some of the new stuff from version 26 which introduced custom themes and syntaxes. We also touch on a few other updates from the first version to now as well. I hope you enjoy it.

There were a couple of things in the episode that I wanted to follow-up on here, including the homework assignment David gave me. I’m thrilled that the time spent with David and Rosemary gave me the idea, which made me reconsider some things with my personal journaling and changed how I’m doing it going forward.

Theme Switching with Workspaces

Ever since I’ve used workspaces + action groups to create what I called modules, I’ve used a script actions to switch between them. Originally, I set each workspace, action group, and keyboard row individually; once the action and keyboard group options were added to the workspace manager, I simplified the actions. I keep the single action in every one of my action groups which I use in the keyboard row to use on the iPhone for quick access to switch. Where I use this switching method a lot is on my iPad, using a hardware keyboard. All of my modules are brought up with keyboard shortcuts, assigned to ⌘2 - 9; both ⌘1 and ⌘9 are reserved by Drafts for the draft and action list show/hide, respectively.

With the addition of themes, I’ve now modified the modules I have to include themes that I want to use in those different contexts. I’m sure I’ll update this more over time. I primarily use dark mode, so that’s what I currently have in there. But you could also modify the scripts to include light themes as well. Here’s my Modules action group as it stands today for you to play with and make your own. You’ll need to change the theme names in each of the module actions, else you might get an error.

I haven’t quite yet cracked the switching of syntaxes based on themes. I have, however, leveraged Matt Gemmell’s previous Switch Syntax action and created my own which provides a list of all the installed syntaxes. It’s not automated, but it does the job when I need it. I’m sure Rosemary is working on something even more clever…

Automated Journaling

On the show, we talked about some of the automations I’ve used (in most cases, continued to use) frequently. One of my journal shortcuts saves the text of the journal as a PDF for future reading. That’s when David brought up a great suggestion: using a Shortcuts automation at a specific time to automatically save the journal at night so I don’t have to do it manually.

It took a few modifications to my original shortcut, but I have the automatic saving of journal entries figured out. The Journal • Save shortcut searches my Journal workspace for today’s journal entry, gets the content of the draft, creates an entry title (formatted Journal Entry yyyy-MM-dd), creates a nicely-formatted PDF, and saves the PDF version to /iCloud Drive/Shortcuts/Journal/.2 I manually move these once a week during my weekly review for now, until the Shortcuts team actually gives me that built in feature.3 This action can be used with Shortcuts automation; if you choose to run the automation without asking, it will run automatically in the background. I have mine set to run at 11:00 pm every day, and in my testing since we recorded, it’s been working fantastically.

This then lead me to change the way I’ve been journaling, so that I can just automate the creation of the journal entry and never miss a day. The old way of starting my journal is answering a couple of questions: did I wear my watch to sleep to get data out of AutoSleep – a feature that is broken due to an iOS 14.5 bug  – and how did I feel when I woke up. Here’s a secret: I’m not sure I sleep all that well generally, I never use the quantifiable data in any meaningful way, and I don’t know that I need a reminder of how shitty all that can be and make me feel. If I want a pretty chart or other meaningful insights, I’d be better off going into AutoSleep or the Health app to get it. Weighing the importance of sleep tracking vs daily journaling, having a journal entry for every day that is just automatically there just makes more sense. Using the Journal • Start shortcut in conjunction with another Shortcuts automation which runs at 6:00am, and automatically starts a journal entry for me without any interaction on my part.4

I’ve been running this for the week, and it’s been really great so far. Removing the friction of interacting every time I want to start and save a journal entry has made me want to journal more. Sometimes, it’s those little things that get you change your mind. I’m calling this a win.


Thanks again David and Rosemary for having me on, and for the idea to be a better Automator!


  1. You can find my first appearance here
  2. I am having a shortcuts bug where the file from Shortcuts gets created with a -2 suffix, which is hyper annoying. I have to manually fix them. I’m sure it’s something I could solve with a script, but I haven’t had the time. It’s a bug, and the Shortcuts team works it out. Additionally, I would like to have the ability in Shortcuts to save the entries to the Journal location I keep in iCloud Drive. Would make life a lot simpler. 
  3. I tried to use a script in Scriptable to move the files from the Shortcuts folder to my preferred journal location in iCloud Drive, but it often took a while to run. I can quickly move the files once a week, so I’m not too worried about it. Maybe a future update of my journal workflow will happen if features come to iOS 15. 
  4. if you want to use this exactly, you’ll also need the Journal • Forecast shortcut as well. 

First Time Tooter, Long Time Tweeter

Joe Steel, Writing on his self-titled blog:

In conversations I’ve had over the past week, it’s become clear that there’s nothing very self-explanatory about Mastodon as a social network, and that in many ways Twitter users are both prepared and unprepared for the experience.

With the state of things at Twitter the company and with Twitter the service, I’d be remiss if I didn’t think about moving to a new social network. The idea of going completely dark doesn’t seem like the right choice for me, but I’m not enjoying Twitter as much as I used to anymore. This was true before they #BrokeMyTwitter, but it’s even more so now that some of the features I enjoyed – like activity and certain notifications – are no longer part of the apps that I use. I loathe the Twitter app, so it’s just a horrible experience for me now.

Even though I have no idea what the hell Mastadon is all about, I did end up signing up for an account. I was able to get one on mastadon.social, under the same handle as my Twitter. I haven’t “tooted” a single thing yet,1 and I’m not sure when I’ll start. But I’m glad that Joe has taken the time to write an explainer. I have a much better understanding of what is going on with all of it than I did before, all parsed down to a single post.

The idea of leaving Twitter – one of the largest social networks on the planet – isn’t really the answer I’m looking for with all of this. I’m looking for Twitter to take a stand against wrong-doing. I’m looking for them to curtail abuse and the spread of misinformation. I’m looking for them to improve their app experience, while simultaneously not being a dick to the developer community that made them who they are today. They need to be better, and everyone who uses (not abuses) the service deserves that too. But unless there are some major changes ahead, it doesn’t hurt to have one foot in another door.


  1. I find this whole “toot” thing hilarious. There’s a lot of fart jokes to be made here. Yes, I’m a child. 

Lazy Markdown

No, this isn’t a new fork of Markdown. This is just a better way of doing things.

Jeff Mueller recently came up with a clever way to use Workflow to help pull in links after writing a post in Drafts. It’s seriously a fantastic idea that I wish I had thought of before.

After he sent it to me to check out, I thought of another use of Markdown links that I use: Blink affiliate links. After some quick changes to Jeff’s original workflow, I came up with a new one that allows you to select where the link is coming from: you can choose Search, Blink, or manual entry of the URL (note that this requires Workflow 1.5.1 to work).[1]

This is extremely helpful for writing. As Jeff said:

“I love these workflows because they let me focus on writing. The research can come later.”

And he’s 100% right. Little hooks like this allow me to focus on writing, rather than doing all of the little things. It’s the reason why Drafts is my main text editor, and I keep finding more and more reasons to keep using it.


  1. I am hopeful that the same functionality will come with a future update of Associate and that Workflow will implement this quickly so I can incorporate Amazon links too.  ↩

Alternative Methods

Seth Clifford posted a fantastic article titled “The Similarity of Differences” on his website the other day about how Apple and Google are approaching similar solutions to the complex problem of virtual assistants. He wrote:

It’s a very interesting and important time in personal technology. Data moves through our lives like air. We want to protect it (some of us, anyway), but we want the value that sharing it can provide us. We want the future we were promised in our childhoods, but the changes we find occurring around us can be discomforting. This kind of change is everywhere, and it continues to move like perpetual motion, unstoppable. It’s beautiful and frightening. But it is inevitable.

I couldn’t agree with him more. This change is coming whether we want it or not. Watching Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was a kid, I was fascinated with how the computer would pick up a command, even if Scotty’s accent was thick and it’s hard to understand.[1] I wanted that in my life then, and it’s taken years to get there. And we’re really at the start of where this is headed.

Having alternative methods of approach is a good thing, and is the way humans (and groups of humans) approach problem solving: you may have a solution in mind, while others might approach the problem in a completely different manner. You may use an app like Drafts 4, while others use Workflow or Pythonista to get the same thing done, and vice versa. The specific difficulty with machine learning is that people are complex, and can have entirely different ways of thinking.

I’m not looking at who’s going to win or lose this perceived battle: I think there’s going to be multiple ways of solving multiple problems, and the users will just have to find what’s right for them, just like we do with iPhone vs Android. No matter what, with respect to these new devices and AI-like interfaces: it’s a great time to be alive.[2]

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  1. not to mention Chekov’s “wariables”.  ↩
  2. Assuming that the impending doom of Skynet doesn’t kill us all…  ↩