Use Siri Shortcuts for org-capture

24 September 2018

If you’re like me and you use the fantastic org-mode and its agenda capibilities to keep track of the things you need to do, you might also be thrilled about the new Shortcuts app, which came along iOS 12. Shortcuts lets you create pretty powerful workflows to save you from performing the same repetitive task over and over again. Think about creating a simple ToDo item in your ToDo list. If you use an app like Apple’s own Notes or Reminders app, or a third party app like Clear, Wunderlist etc. etc. this task is a no-brainer. If you use org-mode however, there is no quick way to add a new item to your list. The basic workflow to do it might be something like this (assuming you use Dropbox where you keep all your .org files):

  1. Open the Dropbox app
  2. Go to your file where you store incoming tasks (let’s say it’s in /org/inbox.org)
  3. Open the file, edit it, and add a new line, e.g. * TODO I gotta do this

If you had to do this every time you wanted add a new item on your to do list, you’d probably go insane after the 4th item. So the solution so far for me was to just wait until I’m on my Mac again.

Siri shortcuts to the rescue

With Shortcuts I am now able to use org-capture from anywhere on my iPhone. I only needed to replicate the the steps above in the Shortcuts app and now adding a item to my list is as simple as hitting my newly created widget.

org-capture workflow

A note on iCloud Drive

Before Dropbox, I used iCloud to keep all of my Org files in sync. However, there was a bug when I tried this workflow with iCloud: If the file inbox.org is not yet created in iCloudDrive the file will be created before writing the first ToDo item to it, which is good. Unfortunately, when I added the next item, instead of appending a new line to inbox.org the line was appended to a new file named inbox.org~2. This bug did not occur when using a .txt extension instead of .org and it did not occur with Dropbox at all. I hope this will get fixed in the future.

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Siri's suggestions are a hit and miss

16 September 2018

Yesterday (a saturday) I decided to visit my parents again for the weekend, as I do once in a while. I got into my car, hooked my iPhone up via bluetooth and was ready to go when a notification popped up on my screen which told that it’ll take me 65 minutes to get to my parents. So cool! How did it (aka Siri) know where I wanted to go? For all I know Siri had three options to choose from:

  1. My office
  2. My SO, though I usually go there by train
  3. My parents

I guess Siri ruled out my office because it was a Saturday and / or because when I drive to my parents it’s usually on a saturday. Siri probably ruled out my SO because I rarely drive that 4 hour distance and rather go by train. Or maybe Siri’s on-device machine learning decision making is something completely different. Maybe Siri was even smart enough to check our family’s WhatsApp chat group where I told my mom that I will arrive before 7pm and kindly requested dinner. Anyhow, Siri picked the right choice and I was quite impressed. Ultimately, those are the little things that make me love iOS. The feature itself saves you approximately 7 seconds, but the fact that my phone told me how long it’ll take me to get to where I intended to go without me asking beforehand felt quite futuristic.

Fast-forward to today when I got in my car to go back home. A notification pops up telling me that it’ll take me a little bit over 4 hours to get to my SO. Way to go Siri…

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