Function by a Thousand 'Cuts

I recently shared my home screen setup in the Club MacStories newsletter. As is tradition with me, I changed it about 3 days after publication. And then again. And again. But rather than just mixing it up, I sat down and totally re-thought the functionality of my home screen, from what I'm using to the placement of the icons & widgets. Whereas I started and ended with a single home screen, the functionality I've gained in this new setup is far greater than I had hoped.

The use of shortcuts has greatly improved the use of my phone, simply because I have more at my fingertips. It's even better on any iPhone – and maybe even a future iPad – with the Dynamic Island, simply because it takes no real estate to show it running. It just fades away into the background. This whole idea for me really was borne from my Action Health shortcut I made because the Ultra has the Action Button. This gave way to ActionCut, which has now morphed into something better. These launcher-style shortcuts have been around for a long time, so this isn't a completely unique idea. But with the improvements to the hardware and software, the time to take advantage of this is now.

Where I started vs where I am now.

Let's first talk about the layout: what I had originally submitted to Club MacStories was a layout of a large widget at the top, a small widget at the bottom left, a group of four icons at the bottom right, and 3 apps in the dock – like a gentleman. This gave me a lot of information and usability, but I found myself wanting a bit more. I've had hidden home screens for a while to retain different iterations of widgets and widget stacks, so I turned them all on to take a look at what I had. What I started to realize is that some of the information I was looking for – like weather – really would be better for me in a small widget stack rather than taking the large widget, while others like Reminders still needed to have more usable space while remaining somewhat small.

Now my layout is bifurcated by a medium-size widget stack in the middle with a small widget stack on the left and four icons on the right at either the top and the bottom. I'm right-handed, so having the icons on the right rather than the left makes more sense. Having the more productivity-focused bottom left widget stack puts it in the right place for one-handed use. After all, this is meant to be functional for my daily use.

Let's talk widgets for just a brief moment. Since they've been introduced, stacked widgets are what I have been using. Most of the time, I don't allow for suggestions nor do I set it to auto rotate. I think of stacks as multiple layers: I want that top layer to be what I really want to see all the time, but if I need something more, I'll just move to the next layer to see just a bit more. I always start with what I want to do with the stack, then move to which widgets belong there.

My center medium-size widget stack is Reminders, followed by Calendar, Carrot Weather, and then Lumy. I wanted to have Reminders not take up the entirety of the large widget size, but also have it be readable across. The small widget is just too small for most of the lists. And I even found that with the large widget, you had to tap all the way at the top of the widget to enter into Reminders; I would often tap the middle of the widget instinctively like I had done before widgets became interactive in iOS 17, and would accidentally mark tasks as complete. That's the main purpose of that center widget, but it's nice to flick to my Calendar, the weather, or the golden hour times in Lumy.

My upper small-size widget stack is all Carrot Weather. Why do I have it in 2 places? That has to do with reachability, honestly. First off, the small widget stack auto rotates. So while the default is the current conditions with other information, sometimes it will show me the next several hours during the day; generally at night, it might show me the next few days as it thinks I want to peer into the future. But I also have Carrot Weather in the center stack because I sometimes want to get there quickly and my thumb can easily reach there.

The bottom small-size widget stack is more about my productivity with Drafts and Shortcuts. Any of the actions and shortcuts in these widgets are more about launching to the right spot for me to get things done. Do I need to start something new? I can do that quickly. Do I need to look at my meal plan or grocery list? I can do that too. What about my comprehensive Dashboard note and personal wiki? I can jump into that as well. Access to everything at my fingertips.

Going all the way back to the original ActionCut, I had started this idea that everything was a [name]Cut. It made it easier to compartmentalize things in my brain. When I realize that bringing ActionCut to the iPhone would help me do more, I had it on my home screen while keeping SocialCut in the dock for all of my social apps. But this started to really not make sense once I entered my sleep focus. I wouldn't have access to important things like entering a note or something to my task manager when I needed to do so quickly, so something needed to change. ActionCut needed to move to my dock. So I moved that there first. Then I morphed what was in ActionCut: this no longer had individual actions, but rather launched all of the other 'Cuts that I had made in addition to the quick capture note or reminder actions.

One of the more difficult parts of all this was having an aesthetic that worked well with the widgets and choosing the right icon for each 'Cut. I've used icons from the echoes icon pack before, but I really appreciate the design of these and feel that I can make them work better than having regular app icons or other icon sets. Some of these have been heavily modified by using Pixelmator to change colors and tweak backgrounds. This adds to the customization for me and makes this even more unique. And I did have unique colors for a bit, but I like the overall feel of the monochromatic theme here. Keeps me focused.

Submenus give me more at my fingertips, but for less-used shortcuts.

Most of my 'Cuts are a launcher of launchers, meaning the actions within are a menu of single-action shortcuts. I do it this way because I find the visual menu aspect of shortcuts to be better for my brain. You could just make a menu with actions inside, and use emoji to differentiate. There's not really a wrong way to do this. One thing to note is that structuring the shortcuts in the manner in which I have does mean you have to order the shortcuts within the Shortcuts app to have them show up in the order you want. There is a workaround for this that I have discovered, however: if you get shortcuts, apply a filter, and save it in the order you want it from top to bottom in a variable, then it will show up exactly how you want it to when presented with a list. As I have developed more of these, I realize having everything in one list was too big in some cases, and I created additional shortcuts like SecondCut, PlayMore, and updates as a submenus to hide some of the less-used 'Cuts. Using the workaround method I just described, I am able to add the main shortcut back into the submenu so that I can jump back and forth if needed.[1]

Using this method, I can custom sort the order of my menus.

So let's talk about the 'Cuts I have. There are a few of the main shortcuts that have extra bits in them for different functions, so I'll just list out everything below, from top to bottom on my home screen.

HealthCut takes different aspects of my ActionHealth shortcut, namely Start a Workout, Log Weight, Log Caffeine, and Log Water; I added actions for opening the Health app and FoodNoms for food tracking. HomeCut is all about things that happen at the home front: Home, Parcel, Ring, and MyQ (for the garage door) are here along with two scenes for nighttime settings for various switches around the house. ReadCut focuses around anything read or spoken, save podcasts; Mail, Books, Audible, Notes, Reeder, and News are all here. UtilityCut is really about settings, files, and updates for the devices; I can quickly open passwords either in iCloud Passwords or 1Password, open the App Store, open to Updates (OS-level, AppStore, TestFlight), open Files or Shortcuts, or open the Settings or Watch apps.

Lots of 'cuts, lots of options.

PlayCut is all about entertainment: YouTube, Apple TV, Broadcasts, Podcasts, Music, and Sonos are where I do most of my entertainment; I also have a quick action to connect my AirPods Pro to my devices, as that is faster and more reliable than swiping down from control center and tapping through to get them connected. A new addition is the PlayMore shortcut, which is effectively a second menu of choices for less-frequently used entertainment apps. SocialCut just gives me access to the apps that I use to communicate – which is changing as of late because certain aspects of social media are really infuriating and not worth my time or attention. PhotoCut is a mix of camera apps, photo/video editing apps, and some additional photo extensions from shortcuts that I use with frequency. And BabyCut is all about my daughter and tracking things like diaper changes, feedings, and sleep.

My current lock screen along with LockCut.

This brings me back to ActionCut: I've completely changed the original concept of what it was. It's actually the icon that I tap on the most because it's in the right spot for me. And having the ability to put whatever I need to by calling any action or any launcher is hyper convenient for me. It's my iPhone 14 Pro's version of an action button. I've even made one for my lock screen that calls different items I might need from there too. Again, most of these are a launcher of actions. But with the notification running at the top and out of my way, this feels more fluid on the iPhone. I can make my home screen more aesthetically pleasing and functional for my everyday use. If I add an app to my repertoire, I can simply add it to a Shortcut without having to change my home screen. I can have access to a thousand different actions if I want, and have this be the most functional, single home screen for me ever. Time to just enjoy this for a while…


I wanted to say a special thanks to Keir for his support in creating the Frameless Screenshot actions, especially for the iPad Pros. He does great work. You can find him over on Threads @keir, Mastodon.Design/@keir, or his website. Thanks again Keir!!!


  1. This is not unlike a personal wiki in many apps, like Drafts for example. ↩︎


Travel Charging Setup

I'm always in search of the best possible charging solution for all my travel needs. I have some very simple requirements: it needs to be minimal and be capable of charging all my devices while on the go. It's evolved over time, and with some improvements to AirPods and MagSafe accessories, I've finally landed on what I think is the best possible solution for me. I say for me because your needs might be slightly different, but this is what works for me.

Let's start with what devices I have so we can talk about how I charge them. For my personal devices, I'm still rocking the iPhone 14 Pro, the Apple Watch Ultra, the non-USB-C 2nd Gen AirPods Pro with MagSafe Case (this is important for later), and the M1 iPad Pro 12.9".

With those devices in mind, I've settled on a scalable solution for how I work. At the center of this setup is the Anker Prime 67W charger. This has 2 USB-C ports and one USB-A. It has more than enough power to fast charge everything I have. To provide the most flexibility, I have two of these multi-end cables that are USB-A/USB-C on one end, and USB-C/Lightning on the other. Each are 6' long so that they can reach most anywhere I am in relation to a power outlet, and I still have the ability to charge via Lightning for any of those devices that are still around.

Now I could just stop there, and plug each device into a cable. But sometimes when I travel, I don't have power available and I need an external battery to charge my devices. This is where an external battery pack is a great accessory to carry. For a while, I had a separate 10k mAh battery pack, but then I looked into the OtterBox 2-in-1 Power Bank with MagSafe – and it's a game changer for me. This device is not only a battery pack, but can act as a travel MagSafe charging stand for my phone, watch, and AirPods Pro; it even does pass-through charging, so I can leave it plugged in overnight and still use StandBy like I do at home. And like I mentioned before, the AirPods Pro with MagSafe charging case makes this setup even better: I can use either magnetic charging targets on the Power Bank, or even use my second cable with Lightning to charge. I think that's a big advantage with the AirPods Pro that most people miss: the versatility of charging options.[1]

There are some other bits that I might charge from time to time, like my Apurture light or my tactical flashlight, but everything in my charging setup can be used to charge those also. If I'm on a trip where I'm carrying a lot of peripherals or I need to bring my work laptop, I might bring bring an additional charger and USB-C cable for the added power, a black braided USB-C to Lightning cable (that came with the Magic Trackpad), and an Anker MagSafe Battery. It just depends on the bag/carry I'm using at the time.

This entire solution – starting with the charging brick, cables, and batteries – is a very scalable travel MagSafe solution for me. It's extremely versatile for my devices, especially given that the AirPods Pro are able to charge via a MagSafe, Watch, or Lightning/USB-C (depending on which case you might have). I've finally arrived at my ideal travel charging solution, and really couldn't be happier.


  1. It's also changed my home setup, but I'll save that for another time. ↩︎


App Defaults 2023

Inspired by the collection of posts gathered by Robb Knight, here are my app defaults for 2023. I'll keep this as an additional page) that I keep updated should things change.

  • 📨 Mail Client:
    • Mail.app
  • 📮 Mail Server:
    • Hover
    • Gmail
  • 📝 Notes:
    • Drafts for everything
    • Notes.app - for items which need attachments or sharing
  • ✅ Task Management:
    • Reminders.app
    • Drafts for personal wiki
  • 📷 iPhone Photo Shooting:
  • 🌅 Photo Editing / Management:
  • 🌤️ Weather: Carrot Weather
  • 📆 Calendar
    • Calendar.app
  • 📁 Cloud File Storage
    • iCloud
  • 📖 RSS
  • 🙍🏻‍♂️ Contacts:
    • Contacts.app
  • 🌐 Browser:
    • Safari
  • 💬 Chat:
  • 🔖 Bookmarks
    • Safari
  • 📑 Read It Later:
    • Safari Reading List
  • 📜 Word Processing:
  • 📈 Spreadsheets:
    • Numbers for personal
    • Excel for work
  • 📊 Presentations:
  • 🛒 Shopping Lists:
    • Reminders.app
  • 🍴 Meal Planning:
    • Notes.app
  • 📰 News:
    • Apple News
    • Google News (in Safari)
  • 🎵 Music:
    • Apple Music
  • 🎙️ Podcasts:
    • Apple Podcasts
  • 🔐 Password Management:
  • 📦 Package tracking:
  • 💁🏻‍♂️ Social:

ActionCut

A short while ago, I created a new shortcut called Action Health to use with the Action Button on the Apple Watch Ultra. I submitted it to MacStories as part of Automation April, purely to share what had been created and hoped that others might find it useful. To my surprise, I won the Best Health Shortcut this year, something I didn't expect at all.

Truth be told: I actually had forgotten that I had entered it into the contest, as I've been using a different shortcut after putting Action Health into practice. I was finding that I wanted to have access not only to start a workout or log something, but I also several other task-oriented and messaging options at my fingertips. So it made sense to fork the shortcut from the original.

Ultimately, I created ActionCut. This takes all the good from Action Health and adds the additional features that I find myself wanting to do quickly from my wrist: create a task in Reminders, create a note in Drafts, send a quick message to my wife, or add something to our grocery list. The idea here was that it needed to be a simple tap of the button and fast entry so that I can capture quickly and move on. I also took the logging actions from Action Health and moved it into a single menu item; I don't do these as often, so tucking them into a submenu was better. For the task and note entry, I made this shortcut to use the apps I prefer: Drafts and Reminders. But you could also modify this to include other task management and note taking apps too as long as it has Shortcuts support. For each added component, I've made it so that you have to enter text via the keyboard, but you can also then quickly tap the microphone to start dictation. You could modify this to be dictation only, but there are times where doing so is inconvenient.

Now, I know what you're thinking: why not just use complications for this? And the answer here is simple: I might not always have a complication available. Just like the iPhone dock or home screen, real estate on the Watch is a premium. Sometimes I need a travel watch face with other complications, or I need a fancy watch face for a special event. And the Action Button provides me with – much like the back tap on the iPhone – a way to quickly access these little programs to do more with my watch. And as I think of more options, I can add them to ActionCut going forward, so it's very expandable. I have found that by implementing ActionCut, I'm trying new watch faces just like I tried out new home screens on the iPhone when widgets came and I removed Drafts from my dock, all thanks to this shortcut freeing up space and being tied to a button. The addition of widgets was a huge foundational shift for me on the iPhone, and I'm starting to feel that with the Action Button on my Ultra when using ActionCut.


Action Health – A Shortcut for the Ultra

When the Apple Watch Ultra was released, I knew I wanted it. Bigger watch face, insane battery life, the titanium finish, and the Action Button. And it really delivered on three of those things. But the biggest disappointment was the robustness of the Action Button, specifically for me surrounding the single action capability.

The Action Button can do a few things, but only one at a time: start a workout, start a stopwatch, set a waypoint, set a backtrack marker, start a dive, turn on the flashlight, run a shortcut, or do nothing. Rather than have the Action Button be a single function, I wanted it to do multiple things for me.

Shortcuts to the rescue.

I've been tracking – maybe not always successfully – a few different things with shortcuts: my weight, water intake, and caffeine intake. But I also didn't want to lose the ability to quickly start a workout. With a simple shortcut, I can do all these things. It's a simple menu action, with sub-actions inside. Think of it as a menu choice of mini shortcuts. First, you can start a workout form a list of items: upon install, you will be prompted to remove the workouts you don't want to include. It's a tedious process, but you only have to do it once. I also didn't include every workout there, but rather included around 50 of them. The full list is in a comment, so you can quickly add one that is missing. You also can move the items around in the list to have your more frequent workouts near the top of the list.

Weight is an easy one to enter. You're simply prompted for your weight, and then it gets entered – just make sure you set the right units. Logging water and caffeine were influenced based on the existing shortcuts from the gallery. Simple entry based on common units for both ounces of water and milligrams of caffeine. Nothing too complicated, but something I can quickly run from just my watch.

I know it all seems simple. But it's a little improvement to be able to have more control at my wrist. I don't have to reach for my phone for this, which feels a bit more natural to me. I'm finding that with this simple change, I'm using it more. I'm trying to be better on my health journey, and this is one simple step to making it that much better.

The Action Health is available here, and has been submitted as part of Automation April over at MacStories. If you have an idea for a shortcut – no matter how trivial – it's always good to get in on the fun.