Capture

Previous entries in this series:


Okay, this is where things start to get interesting and hopefully a little fun.

Capturing your words needs to be three things:

  • Fast
  • Reliable
  • Always available

Fast

The biggest driver behind my capture system is the idea that doing things manually is slow. Opening an app, letting it sync with Dropbox, finding my Ideas file, opening it, and entering text takes too much time. Even simply launching the Evernote app on iOS can be too time consuming. Hot keys, Drafts actions, and AppleScript keep me sane and productive.

Reliable

Dropbox and Evernote became my go-to services because they Just Work. They’ve never lost my data, they never fail to sync, and I’ve yet to experience any down time, which means I never have to worry about whether the ideas I’m jotting down are going to get lost.

Always Available

For this system to work, I need ways to capture text anywhere at any time. Since I spend most of my time with iOS devices nearby, the tricks I’ve come up with rely heavily on Drafts, a text editor for iPhone and iPad that supports some incredibly clever automation techniques. Drafts lives in the dock of both my iPhone and iPad.

What Gets Captured

I’ve found that the things I capture fit into four categories:

  • Article ideas
  • Project ideas
  • Journal entries
  • Random stuff I want to remember (i.e., everything else)

Article ideas, as I previously mentioned, live in a text file in Dropbox called Ideas. Project ideas live in a note in Evernote, journal entries are in Day One, and everything else goes into my Evernote inbox notebook to be sorted and filed away later. Here’s how I get all of these things into their proper bins.

Article Ideas

When I’m on my iPad or iPhone, I could open Byword or Editorial every time I wanted to jot down one of these, but I find it’s much faster to use Drafts and the Append to Text File action. Here’s what the action looks like:

Drafts Workflow

This appends whatever text I enter into Drafts as a new line in my Ideas file prefixed by a * to maintain Markdown list formatting. Very handy.

On the Mac, I’ve rigged a Keyboard Maestro workflow that performs the same append-to-file behavior by first displaying a prompt with a text field. It’s triggered with ⌃⌥⌘I.

Input Window

Heres what the workflow looks like:

Ideas Workflow

Project Ideas

On iOS, I use a workflow similar to the Drafts-based Dropbox action above, but this one uses the Evernote version of Append to Text File. Enter an idea, run the action, and it’s saved to my Project Ideas file in Evernote.

Project Ideas

Because new project ideas come along so infrequently, I haven’t set up a quick capture method on the Mac. Instead, I just launch Evernote.

Journal Entries

This is simple: just put them straight into Day One. The Mac version offers a menu bar item that you can trigger with a hot key for quick entries. I’ve set mine up to respond to ⌃⌥⌘J. On iOS, if you find Day One to be too slow, Drafts can help. It comes with a pre-built action called Send to Day One that appears if you have Day One installed.

Stuff to Remember

Everything else gets thrown into my inbox notebook in Evernote.

On iOS—wait for it—I use Drafts. I have an action called Send to Evernote Inbox that creates a new text file with the current date and time as the file’s name. When I process my Evernote inbox, I’ll rename the file to something sensible and file it in the proper notebook.1

Evernote Inbox

On the Mac, Evernote includes a menu bar item (similar to Day One’s) called Quick Note that can be triggered with a hot key.2 I use ⌃⌥⌘N. Mash the keys, type a note, and press ⌘Return to quickly capture something. The nice thing about the Quick Note window is that, until you press ⌘Return, the content is persisted, so you can easily do something like collect a set of URLs. Copy a link, paste it into the Quick Note window, go back to your browser, copy another URL, etc., and then save the note with ⌘Return. This is really great for doing research (among other things).

What’s Next?

Made it this far? Cool, high five! Thanks for sticking around. The next entry will cover the things that you do before you write—prep and research.


  1. Being a GTD nerd, I tend to process my inbox while I’m doing my weekly review on Friday afternoons.
  2. You can customize your hot keys in Evernote’s preferences.