Last month, we covered the best Shortcuts on Mac and iPhone for beginners. In that post, I described how to create several Shortcuts and went into detail about how they worked. That way, you could practice making those Shortcuts for yourself and then use the principles learned from doing so to start making your own. Today, we’re graduating with Shortcuts for pros.
In this post, I’m going to be walking you through more advanced Shortcuts concepts. These are going to be “pro” Shortcuts in two ways:
- First, they’ll be more complex. I will not be going into as much detail on how they work, and they’ll be using more high-level techniques. I recommend working through the previous post if you need some more practice.
- Second, they have a more professional slant. Some of these are just handy routines, but most are going to be geared towards work, productivity, and streamlining your life.
Just like in the last post, I’m not going to be including links to these Shortcuts, as the idea is for you to recreate them yourself and learn about Shortcuts in the process. If you want a list of Shortcuts you can quickly download, you can check out this post.
Alright, enough preamble! Let’s get into it.
The best iPhone and Mac Shortcuts for pros
Create automations that run whenever you open/close apps on your device
The first in our list of Shortcuts for pros might seem simple on the surface. It involves creating automations that run whenever you open or close apps on your device. You can use this for basic use cases, like locking the Books app in portrait orientation whenever you open it.
But you can also use this automation to chain together some sophisticated commands. For instance, let’s look at the basic automation we just gave as an example.
It can be frustrating to have apps turning sideways when you aren’t expecting them to, and on the flip side, not being able to turn an app sideways whenever you expect it to.
Something I’ve noticed is that these apps are always the same for me. There are certain apps that I always want locked in place (Books, Safari, Maps) and some that I never want to be locked in place (YouTube). The number of apps I want to be locked in place on my iPhone, however, is far greater than the number of apps I want to have an unlocked orientation.
This means that, rather than creating specific rules for all of these apps, I can instead treat portrait lock as a default state. “I want all of my apps in portrait mode unless otherwise specified”.
To do this, I can have YouTube unlock portrait mode whenever it’s opened and lock it again whenever it’s closed. And I can do this for every app that I want an unlocked orientation in.
This means that I can safely assume my orientation is locked at all times unless I’m in an app that I prefer to have an unlocked orientation for. Essentially, I’ve created a new default state on my iPhone. Portrait lock is now less of a toggle button and more so a standardized setting.
Even with this added layer, the automation is still pretty basic. You can expand on it by performing operations whenever a certain app is opened, putting data on the screen, or sequencing the order you use apps. For instance, if you have a workflow where you send an invoice in QuickBooks, log it in Numbers, and then message a client in Slack, you can automatically open Numbers when QuickBooks is closed and Slack when Numbers is closed.
The open/close feature of Shortcuts was something I ignored the first time I noticed it, but I’ve since found that it’s a powerful feature when you consider versatile use cases. I now consider this to be a bread-and-butter Shortcuts feature.
Use Shortcuts to automate your smart home devices
Another way you can start creating Shortcuts for pros is to integrate your Shortcuts with your smart home devices. Smart home devices can be pricey, so this might not be a feasible option for everyone.
For those that own smart home devices, however, you can use Shortcuts to make them even smarter. Shortcuts can be used to link various smart home devices together so that they all operate as a unit. You can turn your living room lights, television, and Christmas lights on with a single button press on your iPhone.
You can also use Shortcuts to create automated routines for your devices. That could be something as simple as changing your smart light settings depending on the time of day or as complex as a morning routine that incorporates lights, curtains, blinds, alarms, coffee machines, and so on.
I’ve also found (and mentioned it before on AppleToolBox) that NFC tags are a great way to set up automations around your home. They’re small plastic discs that send out a short wave, just an inch or so in radius. This is the tech that Apple Pay uses, so if you’ve used Apple Pay, then you are already familiar with using NFC.
You can set automations to run whenever they detect a specific NFC tag. For example, I have one near my sink that starts a two-minute timer when I “tap” it with my phone and another on my desk that switches my devices into work mode.
But there are far more uses for NFC tags. If you have smart home routines that you want to run but don’t necessarily want to time them, NFC tags are a great option. If you wake up at a different time each day, for instance, but still want a morning routine automation, then you can place an NFC tag next to your bed. Whenever you wake up, tap it with your iPhone to start your routine.
Similar to how using Shortcuts allows you to master and “hack” your iPhone, you can use smart home Shortcuts to do the same with your home. Over time, you’ll have several routines and automations that you can’t imagine living without.
Build Shortcuts for pros using webhooks
One of the most “pro” Shortcuts for pros ideas is to start incorporating webhooks into your Shortcuts.
For those not in the know, webhooks are a feature of certain websites that allow you to pull data from that website. For instance, some webhooks allow you to grab data like today’s weather or the current time in Indonesia.
There are virtually limitless possibilities for using webhooks, and Shortcuts has nearly as many options. You can monitor a webhook using time-based automations, update a webhook by activating a Shortcut, and more. Webhooks are especially popular with enterprise SaaS services like MailChimp and Stripe, which you can connect your Shortcut to and have it function similar to an RSS feed.
The one catch with webhooks is that they can be difficult to implement. You will generally need some technical know-how to understand how a particular webhook works, how you can integrate it into a Shortcut, and how you can then make that Shortcut do what you want. You can read here for Apple’s documentation on the subject as well as this Reddit series explaining how to use them.
Create and manage various documents and spreadsheets
Another pro strategy you can employ is to use Shortcuts to manage documents and spreadsheets. That may sound a bit boring, but it can open up a variety of applications.
The first way that this can help you create Shortcuts for pros is the more obvious use. You can use it to update, template, append, and send documents and spreadsheets automatically. If you work with these documents regularly for work or otherwise, this can save you a lot of time and cut down on errors. I use this method to update and calculate invoices, and it works great for making sure that all of my payments are correct.
The second and more versatile way that this can be used is to create databases. If you’re familiar with Zapier, then you may already be familiar with this use case.
You can combine Shortcuts with Numbers or Google Sheets and automatically store information in these apps. It can take a bit of time to understand how, but once you understand the basics, you can essentially create long-term storage for any kind of data that Shortcuts can read and write.
For example, if you have an email list of subscribers, you can use Shortcuts to automatically update that list in a spreadsheet. Or you can use it to track the time you spend at work by running a Shortcut that stores the time that you start and then running another Shortcut that logs the time you stop. Or maybe you are trying to build a new habit/reach a goal and want to use Shortcuts as a way to monitor your progress.
There are a lot of use cases for spreadsheets and documentation with Shortcuts. It can be difficult to discover them if you aren’t familiar with this concept, but once you start to experiment with it the ideas should come easily.
The only challenge here is that, oddly, it doesn’t look like the Mac version of Shortcuts supports Numbers. You can see this in the screenshot below, even though I have Numbers installed on my Mac.
The iOS version of Shortcuts does support Numbers, however, so you can create and run spreadsheet Shortcuts from there.
Link your Shortcuts together into complex routines
A technique you may have discovered on your own for creating Shortcuts for pros is to link your Shortcuts together. There are built-in actions in the Shortcuts app that allow you to execute a Shortcut from within another Shortcut.
This opens up a few possibilities. One is dependency management, which is something that programmers are no doubt familiar with.
Dependency management means creating as few dependencies, or places for error or confusion, in your code as possible. Since Shortcuts run on Boolean logic, the same principle applies.
Say I have a Shortcut that turns a list of words separated by columns into a list of separate line-by-line items. Turning this:
Apples, Bananas, Oranges
Then, that Shortcut adds this list to Reminders as separate items. And I use this to quickly update my shopping list before going to the store.
Well, what if I later realize I can use the same function to quickly add bulk items to my To-do list in Reminders, and another to keep track of books I want to read?
In this situation, I could just copy and paste the same list-to-reminders set of actions into each of the Shortcuts. Or I could create a Shortcut that turns a list of words separated by commas into a line-by-line list and then copies that to a Reminders list.
This allows me to more easily reuse those actions however I want. And it’ll make reading my Shortcuts easier because there won’t be as many actions. And most importantly, if something goes wrong with this set of actions, I only have to edit it once rather than fix it in all of my Shortcuts that I copied this set of actions to.
That’s the first way that this idea can be used. You’re essentially creating your own Shortcuts actions when you do this, and it’s one of the fundamental ways that programming works.
Another way that you can use this idea is to create more complex routines. You can create a single Shortcut that runs two or three other Shortcuts in succession. For instance, if I have a Shortcut that adds an item to an invoice and another that sends the invoice, I could create a Shortcut that first adds an item to the invoice and then sends it. Helpful when I want to do both at once.
Create sophisticated reminders for Shortcuts for pros
I don’t know about you, but for me, Reminders are one of the most useful features of my iPhone. Being able to create custom notifications allows me to manage my tasks for work, remember when to take meds and run errands, and keeps track of when it’s time to do certain chores.
Sometimes, though, Reminders can be a bit limited. It’s been getting more sophisticated over the years, with location-triggered reminders. Even still, if you want to set conditions for when a reminder will appear, you might find the options offered by Reminders a bit lacking.
Luckily, you can expand on this with Shortcuts.
The first thing you can do by combining Shortcuts with Reminders is to create more variable conditions. For example, say I want to create a reminder that tells me to start work at 10am. But I only want it to remind me if I’m also at home.
Now, I can create a reminder that activates at a certain time when I’m leaving or arriving home, but not one that checks if I’m already home.
Using the Alert, Get Location, Text, and If actions, I can piece this sort of automation together myself. I can create an automation that runs every weekday at 10am, stores my address in a Text action, Gets My Current Location, then shows me an Alert If the Text action and the Get Current Location variables match. If not, nothing happens.
Of course, you don’t have to use location-based reminders. You can also have reminders that don’t run on holidays, perform calculations before showing you an alert, and more.
The second thing you can do with this idea is create reminders that do things. Rather than a passive alert that you can dismiss, you can create alerts that prompt you to run a Shortcut. That means you can create a reminder that runs when you leave work and asks if you want to start your After Work playlist, another that reminds you to log your workout when you go to the gym and opens up the app for you, and so on.
Track your diet and health
Next on our list of Shortcuts for pros is an idea that will help with your health.
If you’ve ever looked at a list of Shortcuts before, then you’ve no doubt come across several “Track your water drinking” routines. These are handy, but they barely scratch the surface of the things you can do with the Health app in Shortcuts.
You can replace entire health apps on your iPhone with Shortcuts. Just to give you an idea of how powerful this feature is, add the Log Health Sample action to an empty Shortcut and see how many options there are. You can add vitamins, water, weight, proteins, and a ton of other stuff.
Now, unless you’re a true Shortcuts fiend (maybe even a self-titled “pro”), I think it’s best to leave most of this sort of logging to health apps in the App Store. The math can be complicated, and if you’re sharing this data with a doctor, you need it to be accurate.
But I do recommend looking at your own health routine and finding ways to automate certain segments of it. That could mean reminders, automatic tracking, logging your weight with a tap, and more.
As with all things dieting and health, be sure that you balance this with a lot of self-care!
Quickly add text to a specific note
This next suggestion in our list of Shortcuts for pros is a pretty simple one, but also an important one if you’re someone who needs to write things down a lot.
You can use Shortcuts to append, or add text to the end of, a note in your Notes app. This has virtually limitless possibilities, but here’s a list of suggestions to get your ideas flowing:
- Save ideas for blog posts or YouTube videos
- Keep track of the gifts you want to get others
- If you’re working on a project, like a book or drawing, you can have a widget on your Home Screen to quickly save ideas in your Notes on-the-go
- For travelers, keep track of every town you visit with a Shortcut that adds your current location to a Note
- Keep a list of restaurants you want to try in your area
- If you struggle with anxiety, you can create a Shortcut to write down and store whatever is causing stress in a note
- Save things that people tell you
- Update a list of quotes that help you stay motivated
- Log feedback that your employer or client gives you, or keep track of a meeting
There are so many more ideas, but these should be a great place to start!
Search through your iPhone 11 photos and see which lens was used to take each photo
The last item in this list of Shortcuts for pros is going to be a freebie. Mostly because the principle here is not so much about building this for yourself but rather expanding what you may think Shortcuts is capable of. Personally, this wasn’t something that ever would have occurred to me to create.
Essentially, this Shortcut (click here) allows you to check which iPhone 11 lens was used to take each of your iCloud photos. If you check the steps within it, it’s a pretty simple algorithm, but the idea is interesting, nonetheless. And if you’re a photographer, it can also be pretty useful.
Now, you can check this by pressing the i icon at the bottom of a photo. The Shortcut is, technically, a bit redundant. And it’s only been updated for iPhone 11, so you’ll have to adjust it yourself if you have a later model.
Instead, this is an example of pulling and using data from your iPhone in a way you might not at first consider. You could use this to create a Shortcut that creates a Note containing the title, location, and lens used for a specific photo. You could use a similar concept to pull data from songs in Apple Music. This concept could be applied to items in batch using a loop.
It’s a great reminder to look past the obvious and create something more sophisticated!
Take your automation skills to the next level with these Shortcuts for pros
And that’s it! Those are my picks for the best Shortcuts for pros. By applying these concepts, you should be able to start expanding your creativity. While I think that the Shortcuts app has a bit of an issue with being too dumbed down (see my picks for more advanced automation apps) there are still plenty of inventive and complex ways to put it to work.
Practice these suggestions, write down any ideas you have, and start tinkering!
For more insights, news, and guides on all things Apple, check out the rest of the AppleToolBox blog.
See you next time!