Siri, SMS, IFTTT, and Todoist.

When a lot of us started checking out Todoist after Federico’s comprehensive review, one of the things I noticed I’d be giving up was the Siri integration that I’d come to rely on with OmniFocus. OF has a nice feature where it would watch your Reminders for things you added, presumably using Siri, and pull them into your inbox within the app. Todoist is insanely flexible in so many ways, but there’s not currently a direct parallel for this feature.

I started looking to IFTTT for a solution to this. I noticed some recipes that attempt to do the same thing, as IFTTT can monitor your iOS Reminders as well. But since it needs to occasionally be brought up from the background, if you don’t jump into the app regularly, the reminders may never show up. Which defeats the purpose of capturing this way.

I had forgotten that IFTTT can process incoming SMS data as a trigger as well as use it as an endpoint. So today I looked into pushing text messages to IFTTT and having them then get redirected to Todoist. Since both services talk to one another directly on the web (one of the most interesting parts of Todoist in my opinion), this actually works incredibly well, and way faster than I’d anticipated.

You’ll need to set up a recipe in the following way:

  • Start with the SMS channel, and choose either the plain incoming SMS option or a tagged one if you prefer (my suggestion would be to keep it simple, since we’re relying on Siri to do the work and you want accuracy).
  • Then choose the Todoist channel (activate it if you haven’t already) and have the task sent to whatever project you like. I always use inbox, as it’s just for general capture anyway.
  • Once the recipe is made, you can tap to edit certain parameters of the Todoist action (priority, task content, due date1, and note for premium subscribers).
  • I created a contact simply called “Inbox” on my iPhone, again to keep things simple for Siri.

So now, I just say: “Send a message to Inbox that says remember to follow up with the team” and Siri parses it as you’d expect, and sends the message2 directly to IFTTT. Seconds later (it’s shockingly fast in my experience) the task is in my Todoist inbox. It’s way faster and more reliable than hoping the IFTTT app is running often enough to pull reminders directly, and since sending text messages is one of those easier Siri things that works more often than it doesn’t, it’s pretty solid.

Todoist’s web core makes it an interesting way to funnel things into your task list. I’m so glad I thought to do this, because it makes that instant capture I was missing totally achievable again.

  1. I noticed one weird thing related to applying due dates to Todoist via IFTTT. I have my Todoist account set to add a reminder notification to any task that has a date and time associated with it. However, while tasks with times were added correctly, the reminder notification was not. I reached out to support about this and was told that this connection probably isn’t currently supported via IFTTT. If you’re just collecting inbox items this way and processing them later, it’s a nonissue. If you edit the recipe to add dates/times however, just be aware of this potential limitation. 
  2. You can do this with Siri and email too, using the subject line as the task item and the body as the note (if you’re a premium subscriber). But I found that since I’m usually only doing the name of the task anyway, as it’s the bit I need to think about and SMS is so fast and easy, it’s preferable to email in this case. 

Workflow: Annotate Screenshot and Delete.

One of the things I’m always trying to do is reduce the number of apps I need to use to accomplish certain tasks. In the absence of Yosemite’s Markup feature on iOS, I’m using Skitch, and have for a while. It’s good, but I almost never open it unless I need to draw an arrow in a picture for some reason. And then I send it somewhere, and then I have a screenshot I don’t really want, and a second version with an arrow. Both of which I want out of my Camera Roll.

So I built a workflow to do just that. Here’s what it does:

  • Looks for your most recent screenshot
  • Opens that photo in the editor so you can do whatever you want to it
  • Copies the edited photo to the clipboard
  • Launches the Share sheet
  • Provides the option to immediately delete the original screenshot after sharing is complete

Instant editing, no messy screenshot leftovers. Unfortunately since the image editor can’t currently run as part of an extension, you need to launch it by itself. If that changes, this is going to be awesome.

Get it here:

Annotate & Delete

12-14-2014, 9:24 PM
Phillip Gruneich over at One Tap Less (one of my new favorite places on the internet) took this and improved on it, bypassing the clipboard entirely. I’m still getting the hang of variables, so any time someone can take my initial idea and make it better, I’m all for it. Check out his full post here, which has a few other gems as well.

Oh, and it was brought to my attention that the ampersand in the workflow name causes trouble if you try to use it in Launch Center Pro. Just change it to ‘and’ to avoid that. Didn’t occur to me. I just liked the way it looked.

Quick memes with Workflow.

Something I do a lot (for better or worse) is look for silly images online, and apply text over them, for ostensibly comedic purposes. How effective this is depends on a variety of factors, such as alcohol intake for the evening, who the intended recipient is, etc. Anyway, there’s this amazing new app called Workflow that is bound to make so many things on iOS so much cooler and easier. It’s truly a groundbreaking achievement, and as such, I decided the first noble application of this new power would be to extend my reach as a horse’s ass.

With that, I introduce my first workflow. I’ll probably revise it, and I’m certainly looking for feedback if you’re the kind of person who can make it better. Please get in touch. Anyway, here’s what it does. It’s saved as a shortcut in Launch Center Pro. When I tap it:

  • The Workflow app launches
  • I’m prompted to enter some text
  • I’m sent to Safari for a Google search on that term, where I can pick “images” and find something
  • I find an image and copy it to the clipboard
  • A second workflow that sits as an extension 1 returns me to Workflow (the app is told to wait until I return to continue executing the flow)
  • Upon returning to the foreground, it opens the clipboard contents in the image editor
  • From here I can add text quickly
  • The new image is saved to the Camera Roll
  • Then my Twitter app opens, and I can drop the new asinine image right into a tweet

I know for sure that I can tighten this up, and I plan to keep tweaking it, as well as try to do something legitimately productive with this unbelievable app. But this was a great little exercise to figure everything out and now I have a handle on the basics.

If you want to try it out, you can install the following:

Add Text to Photo

Return to Workflow (action extension)

Have fun and make lots of hilarious pictures!

  1. I reached out to Ari for a hand relaunching the app from the action extension since I couldn’t get the default URL to work. What’s currently saved in that extension will likely change as the team updates the URL scheme(s) for the app, so keep that in mind. For the time being, it functions as expected. 

Some new time-saving Launch Center Pro actions.

I made a couple of cool Launch Center Pro actions in the past week or so and thought they might be useful to others, so here they are.

Update TextExpander Snippets

I make changes to my TextExpander snippets constantly on my MacBook, and while they sync via Dropbox, you still need to manually refresh apps that can take advantage of this feature if you’re not using the keyboard extension (I do a bit of both). I was always forgetting which apps can do this, so instead of keeping a list I had to refer to, I put them together here.

TextExpander Snippets

Now I can tap once to launch TE, making sure the newest snippets are on the device, and then return to LCP, tap to go to the other apps and quickly make sure they’re all up to date too. It would be amazing if I could go right to the “refresh snippets” option in each app, but that’s just not possible, so this is as close as I can get. Pretty good, and saves me time and aggravation.

Amazon Re-Orders

I know you can subscribe to products on Amazon and have them delivered on a regular schedule, but there are plenty of things that we buy repeatedly, but not with a specific timeframe in mind. I used to go to the Amazon app, scroll through my orders, find the thing I wanted to re-buy, and add it to the cart.

Amazon Orders

Now, I have a list of the things we re-order frequently, I can tap one, go to Safari (where I’m already logged in to Amazon) and add it in one tap. When I feel like closing out my cart, I can do it here or hop into the Amazon app itself to do so. It’s nice to have a list like this, and it’s very quick to get to the products we like.

I love thinking of stuff like this that makes little chores easier.


Part 2 of 2

As I said in my previous post, I stopped using Todoist after a week, and it has nothing to do with the tool. I still think it’s totally amazing, and may absolutely go back to it. Which is the point of what’s to follow.

Since transitioning from client work with Nickelfish to product work with Derby, the demands on my time are radically different. I no longer have dozens of meetings and calls a week, and my time is not double- and triple-booked. I can manage things in a very different way, and honestly, it’s been a very nice change. As a result, I’ve started to pay less attention to things in certain capacities. Since my calendar isn’t packed, I barely look at it. Which made me forget that my wife added a doctor’s appointment that I agreed to be present for earlier in the week (baby stuff, you know). Not a problem, as I remembered the day before and didn’t miss the appointment, but it brought an issue to light: I missed something.

I’m not someone who likes to miss something.

Similarly, my task list is different. I used to have multiple deliverables for many projects tied to me at any given time and I needed to manage my time in a super granular way. That’s not currently an issue for me, so I have lists of tasks I’d like to accomplish for my new projects that aren’t pressing, and hence aren’t always getting done. Which is not to say I’m not getting things done, I’m quite good at getting plenty done, but even with weekly reviews and my insistence on checking those lists, I’m usually focused on a “Today” view, which I’ve come to rely on. Fine in most cases, but I’m feeling like I could be doing more, because once “Today” is wrapped up, I’m celebrating and not necessarily looking for more to do.

Prior to this week, I put everything I had into one system (OmniFocus, then Todoist). This included all personal and work responsibilities, recurring reminders, one-off items, anything. One place for everything. Nice. Except that since there was always something (i.e., some trivial recurring task) I felt like I wasn’t “accomplishing” because I could never clear those lists. While this may seem dumb to any person in their right mind, as we always have something we can be doing, it started to grate on me. Just a little, like a single grain of sand you feel after getting back from the beach and can’t quite find.

So I’m burning it down. Zeroing out the dials. I’m going back to plain text. One file, all tasks, neatly written, and always in my face. Here are the specifics.

  • A single .txt file (Todo.txt), in my dock, synced through Dropbox (duh), edited with TextEdit. It’s opened when I start my workday, updatable at any point, presenting all my tasks across my projects. Instead of a weekly review, I’m always reviewing, deciding what I can really do in the next few minutes, moving list items up and down, adding, deleting. No times, no dates, no contexts, just a few grouped lists. These are items that have no particular time component in terms of “due”, just stuff that needs to be done, by me, at some point.

  • Anything that requires a time component gets a reminder in All recurring items are here now, so they don’t clutter up my tasks. I have four lists right now: Bills, Repeating, Reminders (things due this week), and Future (things due after this week). I may add more, I may consolidate. Point is, they exist somewhere, but I don’t see them all the time, allowing me to focus on what I need to do. Since they exist alongside calendar items, I can now view these secondary items all together in Fantastical, so they’re visible but not prominent. An item in Todo.txt may have a partner reminder, but the point is it’s a reminder, the item still exists as a top-level task item in front of my eyes.

[Yes, I realize I could have done this with OmniFocus perspectives and Todoist filters. I may eventually go back to it, which is the point of the post. This isn’t about switching tools again, this is about understanding how and why I think about my data and how that changes based on where I am and what I’m doing.]

Naturally, with Launch Center Pro, Drafts, and any of the other dozens of apps I like to use, I can interact with this plain text file, appending, prepending (which I do as my “inbox” approximation, just throw things on top, and then move into appropriate lists), etc. It’s very fast, can be done in the background, and is accessible from anywhere, as is the case with my notes now.

So: why the hell am I still doing this to myself?

I thought about this last night and earlier this morning. As I said previously this isn’t about your typical productivity masturbation, or ‘this tool is better than that tool and here’s why’. This is about my brain, understanding how it works, and more importantly, coming to grips with the fact that my brain will work differently depending on a variety of ever-shifting factors in my life. I’ve written before about giving up and settling on a trusted system, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that my trusted system is me, and I need to allow myself the flexibility to use the right tool at the right time.

I am not the kind of person who enjoys jumping from tool to tool instead of working and getting things done. But I’m no longer going to feel guilty about these explorations because I simply can’t fight it anymore. It’s evident to me now that it’s in my nature to change, as much as I’d like to think I’m stoic and able to calcify around something. I can’t think of anything less productive on a personal level than sticking with a system that isn’t working for you–for any reason. So for now, it’s this. Next week it might be something else. I won’t bore everyone with the details every time it changes, but I think I’m done apologizing to myself for feeling the way I have about it. And that makes me feel good.


Part 1 of 2

This past month has been a pretty interesting period of reevaluation for me. I uprooted my entire note taking system, finally broke down and bought a Pebble to see what this next phase of computing will look like, and after reading this great post dumped my tasks out of OmniFocus and into Todoist last week, which is super cool.

Which is why it’s strange for me to be telling you that I’ve already stopped using Todoist. Not that there’s a single thing wrong with it in my experience–it’s amazing and flexible and actually fun to use. But as I go through this weirdly intense examination of my current tools, patterns and problems emerge and reintroduce themselves. I’ve been thinking a lot about why this happens for me at different points in my life and I don’t have a great answer.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was a kid, and old enough to manage it on my own, I rearranged my bedroom furniture constantly. It was like, an almost weekly occurrence. It would often happen in the middle of the night. My parents would wake up and come into my room the following morning and find everything totally different but neatly organized (big surprise to everyone, I’m sure), like some anal-retentive college prank. I’d find something I liked eventually and stick with it for a while, but it was always in flux, always up for grabs at any point if my mind changed, because I thought it could always be better somehow.

It occurs to me now, 25 years later, that my room is my computer(s) and I’m still doing it. I mean, as opposed to my actual bedroom which would probably lead to divorce or something. I thought this was a problem I had, one that I needed to eliminate, but now I’m not so sure. I’ll get into specifics later.

This week’s shift began when I forgot about a calendar event that my wife added earlier in the week because I wasn’t paying attention to my calendar over the past few days. Which led me to think about why that was happening, and in turn to how I’m organizing different types of information. I pride myself on not letting things fall through the cracks, so when something does, it means something’s wrong somewhere. And I need to find out what it is.

I’m going to write a separate post shortly about the technical changes in my workflow that arose as a result of this situation. Consider this the preface to that breakdown.

The lead in is: I don’t think I’m as sick as I thought I was, and understanding this allows me to grow in other ways. Follow up forthcoming.