Drafts

There’s no app quite like Drafts. It can be hard to explain to someone exactly what the app is for or what it does, partly because the answer can change hugely depending on who you ask. Here’s my answer.

Essentially, it’s a super fast powerhouse toolbox for your text. Step one is getting your text into the app.

Entering text

Any time I want to put some text anywhere on an iOS device, it usually starts in Drafts. It’s the leftmost app in my dock on my iPad and iPhone. This removes a huge amount of mental friction and distraction for me. When I think of something, I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to end up as – is it going to be a note, a task in Omnifocus or Due, a text message, a calendar entry, a reminder, a message in slack, a tweet, an email, a blog post, a diary entry? Sometimes you can’t tell until you’ve started typing.

With Drafts, it doesn’t matter – you open the app and you have a blank screen and the keyboard waiting for you. There’s no navigation, no need to start a new note or choose a filename or anything like that. Get the thoughts out of your head and into the app. Everything you type is automatically saved and synced to all your devices.

You could leave it at that, and I’m sure many people do. If that’s all Drafts did it would still be a super fast, minimal, syncing notes entry and management tool with Markdown support and a configurable keyboard row.

If you open the app after a (configurable) amount of time has passed, you get the blank screen again. All of your previous drafts are available in the “Inbox”, whose name gives you some idea of Drafts’ true purpose: you’re supposed to do stuff with the text you’ve typed in, and get that inbox down to the fabled Inbox Zero.

There are other ways to get text into the app besides typing, but I don’t use them very often – you can use Siri to add to a specific reminders list, and Drafts will import from that list for you. Siri and I don’t get along well enough for that to be practical. You can use the Apple Watch app to dictate, which I also don’t do for the same reasons. Or you can use the share extension, which allows you to add to existing drafts, make new ones, or just run an action on the text you’re sharing.

Running actions is where Drafts comes alive.

Actions

Actions are configurable things that you can do with your text once you’ve entered it. The most basic one is probably just bringing up the iOS share sheet, but that’s not very interesting. I have three categories of action that I use regularly, here’s what they do:

Organisation

These actions are all about sorting my schedule and workload out. There isn’t much here that you couldn’t achieve by simply opening the app in question and using it directly, but that’s not the point. This is almost always quicker, and doesn’t require me to find or open any apps that might not be on the home screen of the device.

  • Due: this takes the text I’ve entered and creates a reminder in Due. Due has excellent natural language processing, so I can have something like “take chicken out of freezer tomorrow morning” turn into an annoying reminder that doesn’t shut up until I’ve done it.
  • Groceries List: My wife and I share a Reminders list which we both add to during the week, then empty it out when we do the supermarket order. This takes my plain text list of things and puts them into reminders.
  • Fantastical: Like Due, Fantastical has great natural language processing, so “Cat to Mrs Moggins 10 – 20 Aug” goes straight into the calendar
  • OmniFocus: This creates a task in OmniFocus, with the first line of the text as the title, and the rest as a note. It opens OmniFocus to allow you to set other details if you like, which I sometimes don’t want to do right then, so I more often use…
  • OmniFocus Mail Drop: This will email the text to my OmniFocus mail drop address, which then creates the task for me on the server. Drafts can do this in the background if you require – the email won’t be sent through your normal iOS mailbox, but from a unique Drafts address. For automated stuff like this that’s ideal.
  • OF List: Yes, I have a lot of ways to get things into OmniFocus. This one takes each paragraph in the Draft and makes it into a task, via Workflow
  • Flagged OF List: As above, but this makes everything in the list flagged. I do this sometimes for checklist or shopping list expeditions, where I can view all flagged tasks on my watch and mark them off as I go.
  • FantastiFocus: This one is just showing off, really. It uses the processing capabilities of Fantastical to extract a due date from my text, which then adds it to the appropriate reminders list, which is then imported into OmniFocus. It’s the only way I could figure out plain text to dated tasks in one tap.

Out

These actions are for sharing the solid gold wisdom I’ve just typed with the rest of the world.

  • Twitter: Does what you’d think – posts the text to Twitter. This is often better than opening up a twitter client or the website, because you’re not compelled to read all of Twitter before you can post.
  • Message the Boss: Opens the iMessage composer with my wife as the recipient.
  • Email: Opens the mail composer with the first line of the draft as the subject, and the rest as the body.
  • Share: Opens the share sheet. I mostly use this when I’ve decided that what I’m writing needs to go to another app, for more hardcore text editing purposes.
  • Post to Micro Opinions: Every post I’ve written on Micro Opinions was done in Drafts. This opens Workflow which takes over publishing to WordPress and composing and posting a tweet.
  • Post to Macro Opinions: How you’re reading this right now!
  • Day One: Posts to Day One for journaling, though I tend to use the app itself nowadays so I can see the “on this day” feature – I’ve been using it so long I get stuff from four years ago now!

Web

These actions do stuff on the web that is easier to do than by opening Safari directly, going to a website, finding a search box and entering text there.

  • Get Anagrams: This opens wordsmith.org creating anagrams for the entered text. Handy for doing crosswords.
  • Search in IMDB: Opens IMDB with the text as a search term – I use this a lot for writing Micro Opinions.
  • Search in Wikipedia: What it says.
  • Search in Google: Also what it says.
  • Better Giphy: This runs a Workflow which opens a screen of giphy results and allows me to select and share one. I made this because /giphy in Slack sometimes gives terrible (sometimes hilariously terrible) results.

Summary

I’m a total amateur when it comes to Drafts. You can do things with JavaScript, you can have actions that process and reformat the text in your draft, custom keyboard actions, do amazing things with x-callback URLS… the only limit is what iOS lets you get away with, and on the iPhone how difficult it is to enter fiddly URLs and things with the phone keyboard. But I still find it tremendously useful and use it multiple times a day.

The main value it offers me is to have a known, single starting point for so many things that my iOS devices can do, and allow me to do them with a single tap. Over the course of the next day you spend with your iPhone, think about all of the text you type in – would you be better off starting in Drafts? I’m about to publish this post with a single tap…

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