Whether you have hundreds of notes and are looking for a way to sift through them, or you want a quick way to create a note or add to an existing one, Shortcuts is a terrific solution. I have about 300 notes. That’s a lot, but I know people with many more. Between pinning and sorting by date modified, my notes are manageable, but often I find myself searching for a bit of information I stored away months ago. That’s why I want to kick off a pair of Shortcuts Rewind installments with two shortcuts to help you locate existing notes. In a future installment, I’ll tackle note creation.
Apple’s Notes app has built-in search, and its sorting is powerful, but with Find Notes (with Menu) and View Recent Notes, you can create a customized system that takes you to your most-used notes faster, regardless of whether you are working in the Notes app.
Aside from the utility of the shortcuts themselves, these two shortcuts are also an excellent way to dig into Shortcuts’ scripting actions. As I walk through each shortcut, you’ll see how picking from lists works and use a counting script action to tie a shortcut’s behavior to the number of items found. I’ll also briefly revisit If and Otherwise actions, a staple of many shortcuts.
For this installment of Shortcuts Rewind, I’m going to focus on date and calendar actions. I’ll also touch on some of the Shortcuts actions that Apple Maps offers and explain dictionaries.
I wanted to cover date and calendar actions early in the Shortcuts Rewind series because they’re the sort of actions that come in handy over and over in a wide variety of shortcuts. Plus, date-based shortcuts are useful to lots of people. After all, everyone deals with schedules and meetings to some degree.
With Shortcuts, dates become modifiable building blocks that go hand-in-hand with events that the app allows you to decouple from your calendar app and recombine in new ways. It’s a powerful pairing that, along with an understanding of dictionaries, can be extended to other contexts over and over.
You can download each of the three shortcuts I cover at the end of each section of this story or by visiting the MacStories Shortcuts Archive, where you’ll find these and over 200 other shortcuts. Once you download one of the shortcuts, opening it on an iPad side-by-side with this walkthrough is a terrific way to learn how each works. Another technique that is effective is to rebuild each shortcut from scratch yourself, as you follow along below.
Over the past several years, Federico has built hundreds of shortcuts that are sprinkled throughout the stories he’s written. Last spring we debuted the MacStories Shortcuts Archive, a one-stop destination that collects all of those shortcuts organized by topic, so readers can find them easily.
There’s no better way to learn how to build your own shortcuts than by downloading someone else’s, which is what makes the Archive such a valuable resource to readers and one of MacStories’ most popular features. Still, it can be hard to pick up best practices and patterns or other tips and tricks from experimentation and tinkering.
That’s why today we are introducing a new series on MacStories called Shortcuts Rewind to add context to the shortcuts in the Archive. Periodically throughout the year, we will pick a few shortcuts from the Archive that we think would benefit from a further explanation, whether that’s to help new Shortcuts users learn the basics, to illustrate a particular technique that can be used across multiple shortcuts, or to automate a task that you might not have thought was possible.
Tying Shortcuts Rewind together is a new graphical approach to explaining shortcuts. As you’ll see, we’ve created a system that dispenses with distracting UI elements and breaks shortcuts into logical sets of actions. The approach allows us to simultaneously provide step-by-step instructions alongside commentary that we hope will help readers achieve a deeper understanding of Shortcuts and assist them in building their own automations.
Let’s get started.
For this first installment of Rewind, I wanted to start with a trio of relatively simple shortcuts that illustrate the power of Shortcuts’ ability to streamline the transformation of one type of content into another. All three shortcuts can be found in the Text section of the Shortcuts Archive, but there are also links to them below. The foundation of this process is the Content Graph, a core part of Shortcuts dating back to its origins as Workflow. The idea is a simple but powerful one that eliminates complexity for the user, handling much of the data compatibility and conversion chores behind the scenes with little or no effort on the part of the user.
At the heart of the three shortcuts discussed below are transformations between plain text, rich text, and URLs. Thanks to the Content Graph, Shortcuts has the flexibility to create powerful text and link handling functionality.