How are you using Shortcuts?

I don’t often see posts about using Shortcuts and I’m curious if you use them and how. I’ve got quite a few that I use. My most recent is my favorite thus far. Not to complex but perhaps the most complex that I’ve created.

One of my regular tasks is updating the front page of our regional library website, either adding upcoming events or removing finished events. Our front page is a grid of event flyers with an expandable accordion under the flyer that contains a text description of the event, usually very similar to the flyer itself. A staff member emails the flyer with the accompanying text.

Previously my process was to have Mail and Textastic open side-by-side for easy copy/pasting. The attached flyer images are a mix of pdf, jpg or png. In the past I would have saved to Photos then selected them all and used a Shortcut to export to the website’s image folder in Files, converting them all to jpegs at a preset size and quality. Fairly quick and easy. I still had to rename the files and then I would proceed to copy the event text from the email and paste it into the html, manually copying or typing the name of image files into the html.

But in recent months I’ve added new steps to the shortcut. Now the shortcut will first process text in the clipboard, turning it into a variable, then it extracts the text of the flyer image and adds it to the clipboard. Then the shortcut puts all the text together into a field which it copies to the clipboard. I’m not sure why I didn’t add these steps in earlier. This is the third revision of this shortcut, each time new steps have been added to streamline the process.

The only downside is that I can only do one image at a time which isn’t too bad as the typical email only has 2 to 4 such files. Overall I’m still saving far more time with this approach.

So, here’s how it flows from my perspective as a user: I select the text of an event in the email sent to me and copy it. Then I select the image or pdf in the message and select share then select the shortcut. The shortcut runs and brings Textastic to the forefront. I just scroll in my html document to where the new event text/photo is to be inserted then paste. Done! I still have to spend a minute there adding a couple of paragraph tags and a quick clean-up any errors in the text extraction but it works pretty well and the whole process only takes a few seconds after I paste.

So, while the original process was 6-8 minute back and forth between Mail and Textastic with bits of text editing, copy/pasting in Textastic, the new process is a text selection and copy, 2 trackpad taps in Mail then a paste. About 20 seconds. In a typical email with 3 events, my time spent is 1 minute compared to 18+ minutes previously.

Originally posted the above on my blog.

Another recent favorite is a simple one for stripping formatting from text and copying it to the clipboard.

And another that gets used often, especially useful when using the iPad with an external monitor, switches audio out to the HomePods for media viewing. Generally media apps won’t allow for Airplay to HomePods when connected to a monitor, using a Shortcut bypasses that restriction. Editing to add that with iPadOS 17 there is now an option to set a personal automation in Shortcuts so that when an external monitor is connected a Shortcut will run. I’ve set it to automatically run my shortcut to AirPlay to the HomePod.

Got any Shortcuts use cases/workflows you’d like to share?

1 Like

I really like Shortcuts. I have a number of them that I rely on—some daily, like the ones you shared with me for stripping formatting from text. I have not made any ambitious Shortcuts, but what I try to do is monitor some area where I’m doing repetitive work or have to grab information from a bunch of different sources, and then seeing if I can find or build a Shortcut to automate the process.

One of the things that I always appreciated with the Linux/UNIX world is the sophistication and pervasive automation that is available. You have a this whole ecosystem of small utilities, plus pipes and all the other tools that surround them. From there people can create these remarkably powerful automations that allow them to make computers do the heavy lifting.

I think for a lot of applications AppleScript was equally powerful for automating the tedious busy work.

I really appreciate that Shortcuts has recreated that system within iOS and is allowing us to build together automation solutions that stitch together the functionality of various different apps, that can grab information from websites and the like, and process that information in some really useful ways.

If Apple keeps a strong commitment to Shortcuts and invests in developing it, maybe we end up with a visual scripting tool that’s as powerful, robust, and pervasive as the tools available on the *nix command line.

One example of a more complicated script that I developed has to do with Scrivener. I really like Scrivener, and I especially love the Scrivener Scratchpad. But it’s not available on the iOS app. So, I created a shortcut that will create Scratchpad entries for me from iOS. Then, when I’m using desktop Scrivener, those notes are all available. I wrote about it here:

A small kind of dorky Shortcut I created is one that takes a piece of highlighted text and searches for the definition in Urban Dictionary for me. It’s a simple shortcut, but almost every time I use Twitter I find some excuse to use it—often to my shock and dismay.