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.