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.
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.
I'm not always sure where my thought process starts with certain feelings I have. And generally speaking, I make my peace with that. This can be for many things: home, work, hobbies, etc. Things ruminate for a while, sometimes they go somewhere and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they completely consume me.
It's that last point that really has been on my mind lately: consumption. For better or worse, my consumption level has been indicative of my current mental state: the more stressed/depressed I've been, the more I consume. But in the past six months or so, I've been finding myself consuming the wrong type of content. I've been too focused on certain things, and ultimately have come to the conclusion that many often do – this isn't healthy.
Again, not sure where it started, but all of these thoughts came to a head when I had to write recently. Really, that's the words I felt at the time: "I have to do this". I felt that I owed someone somewhere what I had to say. But due to over consumption of other things, I was completely zapped creatively. It felt laborious. It felt like a chore. It felt like a job and no longer a hobby.
Since that time, I've been doing some other things in life that I've done in the past, but are things for which I have a renewed focus – woodworking, photography, and music. As my wife set off for a weekend of fun with her gal pals, I set off for a weekend of fun here at home. I found myself lost in creativity with the projects I was undertaking, though they were quite small. I combined the woodworking and photography by framing some shots of what I was doing and having a little fun. I realized that I could catalog my life a little more by only taking a few moments to set up a shot.
And that's really when it hit me: I've spent far too long consuming and not enough creating. The endless checking and scrolling has finally caught up with me, and like anything else that is done too much, it no longer makes me feel good. I feel better for the times I'm doing something meaningful rather than being online. So I'm going to fill my life with more of the things that excite me and fill my cup up rather than view things that bring me down or make me feel longing for something I don't or can't have.
I'm not leaving the internet. I'm not shutting anything down or stepping away for a bit only to come back. I'm just backing away slowly and letting my creativity point me in the direction that feels right to me. This whole new approach feels healthier and has reframed how I'm viewing my life in general. I've picked my head up from looking down, and I'm starting to notice a lot more of the things around me. For the last few years, life has been moving pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
Yeah, this includes food too. Not proud of it, but it's common and normal, and if you're reading this, you should know that as well. ↩︎
I was a late iPhone adopter. I held on tight to my BlackBerry for way too long. It wasn't until the iPhone 4S that I made my way over to the iPhone. And then a new opportunity really opened up for me – the App Store. There was a lot more development happening on iOS than any other platform, and there were new possibilities for me to explore. Of all the apps the App Store had to offer, one of the most transformative apps for me at the time was, you guessed it… Twitter.
Why Twitter? I suddenly had new acquaintances, and a different world opened up for me. I didn't just find some new social network, I found a new community of people. Around this time I started following more people in the Apple community – Merlin Mann, Rene Ritchie, Seth Clifford and others of the Apple space. I started learning more about personal productivity and apps to help me make my life better. And that's when I got introduced to the single app that has been the most impactful in my life: Drafts.
I bought Drafts in October of 2014. If memory serves, I was introduced to it via Merlin Mann on Back to Work. The concept was simple: Drafts is where your text starts. Capture everything, put it there, then figure out where it goes later. I spent a lot of time texting back and forth with Seth about how versatile the app could be. It was so simple: anything you are going to write down, it goes into Drafts. Have an email you want to write? Start it in Drafts. You have some random thoughts you need to get down? It goes in Drafts. Have a few tasks you need to get done? Yup, it goes there too. Over a short period of time, it started to be more central in my life, and made its way into the dock.
As apps like Launch Center Pro, Launcher, and Workflow – now Shortcuts – made their way onto the scene, I found more ways to integrate Drafts into my life. There were communities through Twitter, App.net, and even Reddit. All of the excitement drove me more into what I could do and how I could improve life not only for me but for others as well. Drafts was the reason I started writing, something I didn't know I wanted to do at the time. But it was the first thing that made me want to expand my creative interests. I finally hit my stride with all of it.
That's when I started imagining what Drafts could become. I wanted it to break free, to be more extensible and customizable, to have the next evolution and start of a brand new chapter in its history. And that's when Drafts 5 came to fruition. It gave me the opportunity to reach out to Federico Viticci on MacStories to write a major post on the site. I was incredibly proud of that piece, and it's something I look back on fondly. I wrote more posts as new versions were released with new features I felt might help others, then a few more posts on MacStories for some of the major updates. Even though I wrote for me, it didn't hurt that I gained visibility for my work based on what I had created and shared. I've shared countless workflows, how modular the app is, and even how to customize it using themes and syntaxes.
When I look back on my time learning Drafts, using it daily, and evangelizing it as much as I can, I've been so thankful for what it's done for me. It's forged new connections with people across the country, and I have some meaningful, deep friendships as a result. It's allowed me to create, produce, and be more effective than I ever thought possible. Every day, I feel like I’m making tiny improvements. It's as if I was sculpting something from a block of clay or stone, and shave off a little more each day. It starts to come into focus over time.
At 10 years in, it's an incredibly astonishing feat: still retaining the core of the app – capturing text – and building powerful features surrounding it. Even this far on, I'm still enamored with where Drafts started, how far it's come, and I'm even more excited for its future. Drafts is the single most important app in my life. There's no workflow I have that does not touch Drafts in some way, shape, or form on a daily basis. It's provided more opportunities than I ever thought possible and is the central hub for how I manage my life. As the app has evolved, I'm improving my workflows by adding new or improved functionality over time. As it continues to change over the next 10 years, it's going to be great to see what gets created.
I could find a replacement for many apps I use, but there's no replacement out there for me with the way I use Drafts. This is the only app I could not live without. Greg Pierce has created something truly incredible, and he should be very proud of what he's accomplished. Cheers to 10 years, Greg!
Ever since Reminders got the redesign in iOS 13, I've been back to using it for my personal tasks between the app and the other Reminders clients out there. With the new features added in iOS 14, I've been using the Reminders app exclusively. With the state of the API – something that I hope Apple fixes, and soon – most of what I do for my personal life needs to run through the Reminders to work.
But Reminders could be so much better. I'm hoping that there are improvements coming to Reminders in iOS 16 that make the app more usable and better for everyday users. There are some bigger things that I'll explain in a few moments, but there are some small improvements which could make today's app better. For example, take the medium and large widgets. These widgets have enough width that you could give users the option to show the due time off to the right within the widget settings. Additionally, overdue tasks should show up as red in the widget view. In the Today view, tasks with subtasks should have the ability to expand the list to show them, just like they do in a regular list; having to jump into the list or the information of the reminder is more cumbersome than it needs to be.1st
For the big changes, let's start with smart lists. Smart lists need to be, well, a whole lot smarter on iOS/iPadOS. I can create these very easily within GoodTasks, and it's baffling why some of the smart list options aren't also available in Reminders. A great example of this is having a Tomorrow widget: the only option I have right now is to create a relative date for a smart list, showing me all the tasks due within the next day. This doesn't show me what I want. Of course, I could use the Scheduled list, but that's not what a tomorrow list should be. There also should be more customizations to combine the search features of the smart lists. Not only should you be allowed to search better by dates, but also combine them by lists or tags or locations as well. It's a small-enough change in user interaction that would pay large dividends in user benefit.
One of the biggest features I want to see overall for iOS/iPadOS 16 on the home screen is interactive widgets. Reminders had this in the Today view, and it's functionality that should be there for any todo app that implements it. I don't want to have to go into the app just to check something off the list when I could just do this from the widget itself. I'd also like a larger XL widget in iPadOS 16, but I want it to be something more than just a single list. My vision for an XL widget would be to allow the selection of up to 3 different lists at any given time. This would be a perfect way to show a Today, Tomorrow, and Next 3 Days smart list setup. It provides a better look at my week for the real estate it takes up. I think Reminders would do well to steal inspiration here from other apps like GoodTasks and Things for how those apps have implemented the XL widget size.
Since Apple creates both the Reminders and Calendar apps, there could be an additional XL widget option which shows both Reminders and Calendar events in one single XL widget. Other apps like GoodTask and Fantastical show both reminders and events, but I think Apple could do a unique take on this: keep them separated and distinguished somehow in the XL widget, with Reminders on one side and Calendar on the other. If they would add both the three-list and list/calendar XL widgets, I'd have them stacked on my homescreen.
And if Apple really doesn't want to devote much time into making a more customizable app, then they absolutely should open up the API. Let third party apps create and access subtasks, create smart lists with parameters, add tags, urls, etc. It would even improve their own apps like Shortcuts. Open up the ecosystem to more possibilities, better interactions, and more useful tools.
All of this certainly seems possible to add when Apple announces the tent pole features of iOS/iPadOS 16. I know it's early to have some of these desires, but if nothing gets posted before WWDC, it might never happen. I guess we'll just have to wait and see what's in store this summer.