*Backs Away Slowly*

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.[1] 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.

  1. 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. ↩︎

A Decade of Drafts

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.[1] 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.

With updates, I started to stretch the capability with URL schemes and JavaScript. At the time, MacStories really started showing off the power that came with Drafts, even though it was still in its infancy in regards to automation. But to my recollection, it was really the first automation anything that I can remember actively wanting to use in my daily life. I wanted to find more uses for it. I started using it for all sorts of things: note taking, list making, task/event capture. It quickly became the central point in my digital life.

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.[2] 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!

  1. Thanks, Merlin. ↩︎

  2. It even got a mention on Connected #189: Nah, Hummus!, which was quite enjoyable. ↩︎

Simple Reminders Improvements Which Should Be in iOS/iPadOS 16

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

The current widget could be so much better, even if it isn't interactive.

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.

Reminders could offer a lot more with an XL-sized widget.

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.

A combination Reminders and Calendar widget could have multiple options.

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.

Close Your Rings Differently

Listening to Upgrade recently, I was reminded about a feature that I really want to see incorporated into the Apple Watch fitness tracking: rest days. I'm not a fitness expert by an means, and I have a long journey ahead of me to start living a healthier lifestyle in 2022. But I've done a lot of training in the past, and I can adamantly say that rest days are vital whether you're starting a new routine, are years-deep into one, or even if you're a pro-level athlete. There are many situations where resting for a day is actually more beneficial than continuing to push through an injury or illness. And Apple would do well to make a feature available to users to implement days of rest. I think there are a couple of different ways to handle this: one is a simple change that could be done now, the other would take a bit more to implement but I think would ultimately be the better of the two solutions.

At the time of me writing this, I'm on an over 1,700-day move and stand streak with zero intention of stopping; I don't close my exercise ring every day, however. On the surface, the current strategy is fine: I am up and moving, but it doesn't mean that I have to work hard to close my rings. But for others, this method penalizes them if they have a routine with rest days in between. I'd personally be very pissed if I lost my move streak because I had a pulled muscle. The only possible way to allow for a rest, sick, or injury day right now is to lower your move goal for that day, however, you do have to remember to go in and manually modify your goal then remember to increase it the next day. Of course, neither option I'm suggesting addresses the sick and injury days that might occur as well. I'd love to see an option to add these; again, these don't count towards the daily or weekly goals, but they also don't count against you.

The easiest way to handle all of this is to allow a single day of rest in between two completed days to keep a streak going. If you miss a day, it just doesn't count. But it does mean that you have to work that much harder to make sure you close your rings the next day. This is just a change in the logic they use for calculating streaks, and would be fairly simple to implement. For someone who is starting on their fitness journey, that means they could generate a streak as they build their endurance and confidence; rest days would not count toward the overall streak of days, but would not restart the streak from zero.

The better way to handle this would be to create a new type of streak for weekly goals and provide associated badges which are separate from the daily goals. This preserves everything from users who are currently happy with how everything is implemented, while creating a new paradigm for those who aren't as emphatic about fitness but want to remain healthy. For example, I could see where a user might set weekly goals – say 10,000 kCals active calories burned, 180 exercise minutes, and 45 standing hours – which sets up their week with more flexibility to adjust their routines based on how they are feeling. If you have a solid 2-hour workout one day and two 30-min workouts later in the week, you still are accomplishing your goal of being active. But you could do that 2-hour workout on Monday and finish up the week with the 30-min workouts on Thursday and Saturday. Doing it this way would be beneficial for those that are maybe new to their fitness journey to still hit a goal while not having to do something every day to achieve it. It eases you into everything while still reaching for a goal.

With some small changes, Apple could empower more people to close their rings. It encourages better behaviors without penalizing for a day off when rest is needed, or an injury or illness sidelines you for a little while. As I'm on my own health journey, I've found that positive reinforcement has been key to my success. It's time that Apple start doing the same for everyone.

Flexible Packing List in Drafts

Recently, I created a shortcut for the Club MacStories Discord as part of the Automation Academy. If you're not a member, I highly recommend doing so. This shortcut was in response to the latest lesson, all about Reminders. I've been meaning to create this for a while, and it seemed like a good idea to apply this lesson in practice.

From the Discord:

I've been using packing lists in Drafts for a long time. Once it is created in Drafts, I send a single task over to Reminders with a link back to the packing list. This has worked well for years, but when I read the piece by Federico, I thought that maybe it'd be a good idea to make a customizable, variable shortcut for a packing list in Reminders instead.

I do appreciate this shortcut, as it creates reminders with subtasks in a packing list. Unfortunately, there are three things I do not like about it after using it for a short while: first, I cannot create a new list for each trip I without manual interaction; second, it clutters up my system with a lot of new tasks; third, it takes longer than I'd like to run. Now, that last point is a complete nitpick, but the first is critically important. There has been more than one occasion where I have needed to pack for work trip and then a subsequent personal trip. Having two lists to separate them is more ideal for me.

I started thinking about how I could better use Drafts to manage all of this. I have had a single packing list action for a long time. My biggest complaint about using this method is that it wasn't variable for the type of trip I was taking. I'd run the action to create the same list over and over, then have to remove items that weren't applicable to that particular trip. That kind of solution works, but is far less elegant. Having just gone through the shortcut activity, I couldn't help but think that there was a better solution for me: cleaner appearance in Reminders and faster automation with Drafts.

Managing a workspace is easier for me than a complex dictionary with arrays and items.

With this in mind, I created a new tag packing. This tag is only used by my newly created Packing workspace. None of my other workspaces contain this tag, and this workspace contains only this tag. I've also archived these particular drafts to keep them out of any other workspace inbox in the future, so it's very filtered for what I need. Next, I take each category from my shortcut and make its own draft. Within each draft, the title line is formatted ### Category and I have checkboxes for each item underneath. I can modify each draft as I need, or I can add completely new categories with items to pack.

Using a query on the drafts with the specific tag, I created a checklist prompt: it presents the same information as what was in Shortcuts and functions in much the same way. I even briefly thought about making an HTML prompt for this, but thought that this was easier and fits a user's preferred theme better; this is about quick interaction after all, right?. The way this is constructed grabs all of the draft titles and presents them as items; as the categories grow, so does the list.

Setting up individual trips is better this way.

The next script then pulls in the selected draft content, and compiles it into a single list. There's an optional forth step, which creates a new task in Reminders with the URL to the newly created draft. I personally don't like the way this is rendered as just the URL. I actually use Siri to do this, usually when on my iPad by pressing Globe + S and typing to Siri "remind me of this". This shows the Drafts icon to the right of the task and the URL; I will delete the URL part, which still keeps a link via the icon on the right, for cleanliness.

I prefer using Siri to "remind me of this", and edit the task in Reminders manually to make it cleaner.

This might seem a bit more complex than editing a single shortcut, but there are a few reasons why I prefer this method. First, It runs really quickly: sure, I might only be saving a few seconds, but it makes me feel better. Next, I think that the manipulation of text within a draft, combined with the power of arrange mode in Drafts, is better. I can also duplicate categories – like with my backpack and travel sling – to make a different version with or without camera gear far easier than creating another array in Shortcuts. Finally, it keeps me in Drafts. I'm not saying that Shortcuts isn't the right tool for most here, but I know that Drafts is a better tool for me. I trust the system I've developed over years, and it doesn't let me down. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Shortcuts: even in the setup of the packing checklist shortcut, there were bugs that prevented me from completing it fully. With the groundwork done in Drafts, this is fully extensible and will adapt to new situations or changes in my gear.

Now that I'm going to travel slightly more than I have in the past, having this type of flexible packing list will keep me better prepared for travel. As I continue to venture out into The World, A.C., [1] I'll have the confidence and assurance that I have packed everything I need for any type of trip that might come my way.

  1. After COVID. ↩︎