Capture, process and automate with Drafts and Launch Center Pro

Drafts for iPhone and iPad is one of my favorite utilities. I love that it manages two sides of GTD – capture and processing – so well. Many solutions do one or the other. Drafts handles both on the one device.

Capture

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To capture a thought or piece of information with Drafts, just tap it and start typing. There’s no new document to create, to tags or categories to fiddle with, nothing. It’s as easy as opening a notebook and grabbing a pen. I use it to collect tidbits all day. It’s very easy but the real power is in the processing.

Process

When you’re processing an inbox, you must decide what each item is, what must be done (if anything) and then move that information into your system. When I’m processing a stack of index cards on my desk, I’ve got to have apps like OmniFocus and Evernote open on my computer. Drafts lets me send actions and reference material directly to those apps with a tap.

Automation options

Federico Viticci at MacStories recently wrote a great article about iOS workflow automation with Drafts. You should read it. In it, he mentions how powerful the combination of x-callback-urls, Drafts and Launch Center Pro can be. Briefly, you can create an action in Launch Center Pro that passes text to Drafts, which triggers an action of its own and then sends you right back to Launch Center Pro. It’s very convenient and super fast.

From Drafts to digital notebook in a snap

I wanted to use this idea to move notes from Drafts to nvALT, which is my digital notebook. I name notes in nvALT according to a convention described by Michael Schechter, who borrowed heavily from Merlin Mann. It makes things very easy to find. Fortunately, I’m now using Launch Center Pro and Drafts to create a note in Simplenote (and, as a result, nVALT on my Macs) that uses the naming convention with a bare minimum of effort. Here’s how.

Set up Drafts

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First, create a URL action in Drafts that will pass the note to Simplenote. Mine looks like this:

simplenote://new?tag=Drafts&content=[[draft]][[time_short]]

The “[[draft]]” pulls the content of the note and the “[[time_short]]” appends the current date and time to the end of the title. Once that’s done, it’s time for Launch Center Pro.

Set up Launch Center Pro

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In Launch Center Pro, we’ll create an action to pass text to Drafts and then jump right back. To begin, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the edit button (It looks like a pen) in the upper right-hand corner.
  2. Tap a blank square to create a new action.
  3. A slip appears. Selection Action.
  4. The action edit screen appears. Enter a descriptive name (I chose Drafts>Simplenote).
  5. Add the URL. Here’s what mine looks like:

drafts://x-callback-url/create?text=[prompt]&action=Simplenote&x-success=launchpro%3A

  1. Tap done.

This action will pop up a compose field (below), pass the text to Drafts which then triggers the Simplenote action we created earlier and finally, comes back to Launch Center Pro. The whole thing takes 2–3 seconds. Plus, I’ve got Simplenote set up to sync with nvALT on my Macs. The new note appears with my naming convention intact.

readyforinput

This has saved me a lot of time and I hope you like it, too. There’s much that can be down here, so start playing with Drafts and Launch Center Pro. Thanks to Federico and Mike for the inspiration.

Thanks for reading. You’ll find more tech-y “how-to’s” here.

Manage a trip with an iPhone, Simplenote and NValt

Years ago, travel meant carrying around tickets, boarding passes, maps, email printouts and so on. They were easy to lose, easy to damage and cumbersome.

Today, connected travel apps and smartphones like the iPhone have eliminated that hassle. Flight Update Pro is one of my favorites and I recently enjoyed Flight Card. They’re both great, but you can manage much more than flight information with two simple, free apps: NValt and Simplenote. Whenever I travel, I manage the entire trip – from planning to execution and conclusion – with these two apps.

Here’s how you can do the same. It’s simple, fast and reliable. What more do you need? Let’s get started.

Continue reading →

nvALT as my database for everything

Several months ago I started using nvALT and Simplenote as a portable electronic notebook. Both apps are easy to use and offer near ubiquitous access to my stuff. Today, that combo is my Great Database of Everything, from reference emails to post ideas and driving directions. Here’s how I use nvALT and Simplenote to keep things organized and accessible.

Cloud before cloud was Cloud

nvALT wirelessly syncs with Simplenote. To enable this feature, first create a free Simplenote account. Then launch nvALT and open the Notes preference settings. Click the Synchronization tab and then select Synchornize with Simplenote. Enter your username and password and finally set the sync frequency. That’s it. Now your nvALT notes will be kept in sync with the Simplenote web app and free, universal iOS app.

Organize by name

Careful naming will keep your list tidy, readable and search-friendly. Here are a few tips. First, front-load the name of each note with its topic. For example, notes relating to 52 Tiger start with, you guessed it, “52 Tiger.” Right now I’ve got “52 Tiger – post ideas” and “52 Tiger – future gloating” in my list. Likewise, “TUAW – policies” and “New York Trip – parking” are also bopping around.

Equally important is the subtitle. Merlin Mann posted this trick once and I’ve used it since. Once you create a note, format the first line like this: “Subtitle: Description” (for example, “Subtitle: NYC hotel information”). That way, when you look at your list of posts you’ll see exactly what each one is about (see below). Finally, click the View menu and opt to sort by title. Now all related notes will be next to each other.

Needle, no haystack

Both nvALT and Simplenote search the entire contents of a note. This means I can search “New York” to see every note relating to our pending family trip to the Big Apple [1. Incidentally, I’m planning a trip to NYC entirely in nvALT.]. Likewise, searching “reservation New York” will pull up hotel and restaurant information both planned for this trip and stored as reference (restaurants visited in the past). Perhaps I’ll take the family to a place I previously enjoyed on my own.

This is working out so incredibly well. Any bit of reference material I receive is added to nvALT, properly named and synchronized with Simplenote. Changes made in one app show up in the other. Try it out for simple, fast access to all of your stuff.

Simple, mobile text editing

Something that should be simple has me confounded. Suddenly we’ve got a surplus of simple text editors. Notational Velocity, Simplenote, PlainText and Apple’s own TextEdit hardly represent the beginning of what’s available, and each deserves a thorough examination. For example, spend an hour with TextEdit and you’ll begin to see what it’s capable of.

The problem is that I’m a nerd, and as such feel compelled to check out any system that might be better than one I’m using.

Let’s start with what we know. I know that I love PlainText. Why?

  • It’s beautiful
  • Dropbox support
  • I can create files on my iPad and edit them in TextEdit on my Mac, and vice versa
  • Tidy folders appeal to the neat-nick inside of me

What don’t I like?

  • It works with Scrivener but does weird things as well, like create oddly-titled folders that you are not allowed to move or rename ever under penalty of death
  • It won’t open any plain text file in my Dropbox, only those in the designated directory

The other problem is that I can’t easily find a file created in the PlainText folder from the Mac OS Finder. That requires opening a Finder window, navigating to the right folder, double-clicking the file. [1. Yes, I know there are significantly worse things in the world, like cancer, social injustice and Tim Allen movies.]. But it’s still bothersome. For that reason I’m tempted to use Notational Velocity and Simplenote, but I don’t like the Simplenote web app. I’m not keen on its looks but more importantly, it dumps everything into a single pile. My brain needs folders.

Fortunately, I found this post from CMDComma explaining how to use Notational Velocity to sync with the PlainText folder on Dropbox. It almost works for me. The problem is that, as I said, I’ve got several folders within the main SimpleText folder, and NV makes you choose one. So, I’ve made a “NV” folder within the SimpleText folder. But that’s just added another layer of complexity.

Hopefully, I’ll be discussing the whole mess with Myke and Terry on tomorrow’s episode of The Bro Show, as they’ve been kind enough to oblige me. Believe me, I’m keenly aware of the irony here. Dead-simple text editing has got me befuddled.

iOS vs. paper

I’ve long contended that I can capture information more successfully with pen and paper than with any iOS app. After reading this great post by Joshua Schnell, I felt justified. Of course paper is better!

I also know that perception isn’t always reality, so that might not be true. It’s time for an experiment.

I’m going to spend the next month with four apps apps (using one per week) plus a notebook and a pencil. I’ll monitor my habits, take data and report back in five weeks. Here are the specifics.

The focus will be on capturing incoming information only. I’m looking for the best mobile inbox. For example, if someone asks me to perform a task at a certain time, I must be able to enter that request into my trusted system as easily as possible, with a 100% guarantee that I’ll see it again during processing. In this experiment, I will not be setting up calendar appointments, creating or adding to project lists, etc. Instead, I’ll simply push incoming stuff to “In.”

Some definitions

Stuff – I’ll go with David Allen’s definition: Anything that isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Like an appointment confirmation on voice mail, or a task in an email message.

Trusted System – The procedures by which I put a figurative stake in the ground that says, “This must be attended to. Here’s how and why.” In order for a system to gain my trust, I must feel absolutely confident that any information forwarded to it will not be lost or forgotten.

Ubiquitous Capture Tool (UCT) – The physical object(s) that allows me to capture stuff in any situation or environment.

The apps

Due – This app touts super-speedy task input.

TaskPaper – Super simple interface.

SimpleNote – It’s got companions on the desktop and iPad, plus over-the-air sync.

OmniFocus – Ph.D.-level task management.

That’s a nice range of apps. Before you balk about pitting Due against OmniFocus, remember: the goal is to jot down ideas. Every item on the list is just as capable as the others. Also, you might wonder why I’ve omitted obvious choices like Teux Deux and Calvetica. They’re both tremendous, but are best at handling time-sensitive tasks. I’m looking to capture any and everything.

Finally, I will use the iPhone only. No iPad.

The notebook

I’ll be using one of my trusty Field Notes Brand notebooks.

The data

As I work through the month, I’ll note:

  • How long it takes to enter a task
  • Convenience
  • Reliability
  • Usefulness
  • Which one I find myself wanting to go to (towards the end of the month)

Hardly scientific, I know, but still telling. For now, I’m off. Look for part 2 in five weeks.

Simplenote updated to version 3.0.2

Version 3.0.2 of Simplenote hit the App Store tonight with a slew of big changes, including a new web app, full iOS4 support, tags, “sticky” notes (keep important ones up top), improved sharing and search, fullscreen mode and much more.

Many of you suggested I try Simplenote after I wrote about using Notational Velocity and Write Room as my solution for the iPhone. I did and was impressed. This update kicks it into the stratosphere.

Simplenote is free, universal and available now.