Managing My Reference Material with DEVONthink, OmniFocus and Shortcuts

Reference material is a big challenge, and I find if I don’t set myself up for success from the beginning, then I am most definitely doomed to fail. I found DEVONthink some years ago and really like it for managing my reference material.

I realized a while ago that creating a place to store material related to a project when I create my project is critical—if it doesn’t happen then, when will it happen? As I have a strong tendency to reach for my iPad or my iPhone rather than a Mac, I solved this problem with a little help from Shortcuts and X-Callback URLs!

When you import the shortcut, it asks you for a DEVONthink destination. I keep all of my project material in one database, so I used that as my destination. You could also use a group – or remove the destination components entirely to put everything in the global inbox.

Copy the item link in DEVONThink so you can get the ID for Shortcuts.
Copy the item link in DEVONthink so you can get the ID for Shortcuts.

When you run the shortcut, it asks you for a name, you can cheat and add lots of names though (use a return to separate them), and it will run through each item.

For each one, you can choose if this is a project or a task. For projects, the shortcut automatically creates a group, and for a task, you get the choice of markdown, text, or a group.

The shortcut creates the DEVONthink item first, then creates the project or task in OmniFocus with a link back to the DEVONthink destination in the note. It’s a simple system but works well for me!

You can download DEVONthink And OmniFocus here.

Automators 30: Our Recent Automations (& Shortcuts Album Player)

In episode 30 of Automators David and I thought we’d share a few of our recent automations with you – as well as updating my TextExpander outputs to accommodate a switch in my email addresses I had some fun with Shortcuts!

Continue reading “Automators 30: Our Recent Automations (& Shortcuts Album Player)”

Automators 21: Invoicing, Writing, and Regular Expressions with Dr. Drang

In episode 21 of Automators, David and I were joined by the lovely Dr Drang! You may have heard him on a few other podcasts, including Mac Power Users. Continue reading “Automators 21: Invoicing, Writing, and Regular Expressions with Dr. Drang”

Automators 19: Shortcuts Updates

In episode 19 of Automators David and I dive into recent updates to Shortcuts.

David has recently updated his Siri Shortcuts Field Guide, and if you listen to the podcast there’s a discount code you can use to get a $10 discount – he’s added a lot of videos which are great! Continue reading “Automators 19: Shortcuts Updates”

Automators 17: Live at PodCon

Episode 17 of Automators comes to you live from PodCon!

TripIt – Automated Trip Itinerary

I personally use TripIt to create my itineraries – it actually automates everything for me. I could let it read my email inbox and auto create itineraries, but I prefer to choose which emails to forward to it. As I mentioned on the show I also have a filter in Gmail that marks and read and deletes all of the “Your TripIt Itinerary was imported” emails – I only need to do something if it didn’t work after all.

Bear Notes for Trips

David rolls his own travel schedule system – with Bear. The advantage of Bear is you can easily add attachments and text to a document, meaning everything is in the same place. You can even use a nice Shortcut to allow you to append a document or text to a specific Bear note: Append to Bear

Zapier Turning New Trips into OmniFocus Projects

This is an automation I mentioned that is a little hacky, but it works well for me. TripIt creates a calendar, or you can use any of your own calendars for this if you don’t want to use TripIt – you just need to get that calendar into Google Calendar. What we do is we watch this calendar for new events, then we filter – continuing if the length of the event is more than 23 hours. Then I use the text action to write up the TaskPaper I want to be added to OmniFocus, and URL encode it. The final step is to add a task to OmniFocus – this is accomplished via the MailDrop, and it has a URL scheme which looks something like omnifocus:///paste?target=/folder/Travel&content= -%202019/09%20-%20Amsterdam%0A%09-%20Organise%20Travel in the body – so when this task arrives in my inbox and I process it, I just tap on the URL to add the project. You can even run a Shortcut via a URL scheme (which I usually do!). The Zapier steps are:

  1. New Event
    • Watch the specific calendar in Google Calendar
  2. Only Continue If
    • Duration (hours) Greater than 23
  3. Text (Formatter)
    • I typed my TaskPaper in here, and URL encoded it, if you already have the URL encoded text, or another URL you want to appear in the body of the task ready you can skip this step.
  4. Create Task
    • The title is “Set up project for trip Event Name“, which I also include in the Text action above. The body is the URL I will tap on when I process the task.

This series of steps is a pretty solid way to add projects and tasks to OmniFocus based on other events happening, I use it for lots of automations.

Rose’s Packing List Shortcut

I use a modular approach to create my packing list – along with an extra list of devices to charge! While I save this to OmniFocus you could easily modify this to work in any task management system, or just to create a PDF to print if that’s what you prefer to do.

Naming Documents with Scanner Pro

Scanner Pro is an app David and I both use to scan documents on the go – as well as when we’re on the road. It has built-in OCR, and Workflows which allow you to chain multiple actions together. Most of the time I use a Workflow called “Simple Scan” which formats the name to Scan YearMonthDay, Time and saves the document as a PDF to Dropbox. I usually save to a specific folder in Dropbox which Hazel then watches and automatically files certain things or me.

Airmail Custom Actions for a Trip

Airmail is a mail app for power users, especially with its custom actions. I have a custom action which forwards the email to TripIt and then moves it to my Gmail account’s Travel tag, this allows me to find all my travel email quickly if I need it, and gets it into TripIt without me needing to remember to forward it as well.

Quickly Add Travel to your Calendar with Shortcuts

This Shortcut isn’t really generic, but hopefully, it will inspire some of you. To get to the airport I take a tram and then a train (at least most of the time). The tram normally takes 11 minutes to get to the train station, and then the train should take 16 minutes to get to the airport. While I could use the public transit API to get all of the information to figure out my route to the airport I prefer to look at the available times in the app and choose which one I would prefer to take – before adding this to my calendar. This Shortcut asks me for the departure and arrival time for each mode of transport (and automatically suggests the arrival time based on the departure time) allowing me to just input 2 dates and times most of the time. You can grab it here: Airport Travel.

If you haven’t already listened, make sure to check out episode 17: Live at PodCon!


  • 00:54: Automating Travel
  • 01:04: TripIt
  • 01:57: David’s Homegrown TripIt
  • 03:57: TripIt to OmniFocus Project
  • 04:51: Packing Lists
  • 06:11: Rose’s Packing Shortcut
  • 08:55: Scanning on the road
  • 11:21: Project Templates for Travel
  • 11:34: Airmail Travel Action
  • 12:21: Dealing with Email on the Road
  • 14:47: Rose’s Travel Task Management
  • 16:22: Noise Cancelling Headphones
  • 17:06: “Here I Am”
  • 19:38: Sponsor: Express VPN
  • 21:44: Welcome Back from Seattle
  • 23:59: Feedback Time
  • 24:25: Forums
  • 25:21: iBeacons
  • 28:11: David tries to convince Rose to be Jane Bond
  • 30:15: Filing Feedback
  • 35:57: Creating a Contract
  • 36:43: List all the applications on your Mac
  • 38:39: Launch Center Pro NFC Stickers
  • 39:56: David’s Break from Time Tracking
  • 41:43: Chapter 25
  • 42:18: Our Favourite Feedback

Thank you to our sponsor this week: Express VPN.

Automators 11: Shortcuts Home Screens

The world has gone wild for Shortcuts home screens – including David and myself! In episode 11 of Automators we have gone into why you might want to try this crazy fad and how we’re using it ourselves, so – let’s dive in!

There’s numerous reasons why you might want to have Shortcuts on your home screen:

  • To run your shortcut, yes – an obvious one, but a worthy one.
  • To give you context – e.g. when I tap on my Automators icon I get the options I want when I’m wearing my Automators hat.
  • To run multiple actions at once – such as starting a timer.
  • To put one app or shortcut in multiple places, so Quip is in my Learn OmniFocus and my Automators shortcuts, but the Quip app itself could only be in one folder.
  • To assist less technical folks with an iOS device.

You can build these Shortcuts very simply: with a Choose from Menu and either Open App or Run Shortcut actions. I put together a short YouTube video on that for you.

One of the examples Shortcuts I talked about was my Home shortcut, this lets me choose from different scenes at different times of day – something you may want to incorporate into other Shortcuts, here’s how it works:

The trick is to format the date action to give you just the hour, and then you can nest if actions to get what you want. You can download this Shortcut sample here.

David talked about his Shortcut to take a nap – it sets an alarm and turns on Do Not Disturb. You can download that Shortcut here, it will ask you how long you want to take naps for too: Take a Nap.

David made a video where you can see how he does his different contexts with Shortcuts:

And you can download a sample Shortcut here.

We also dived into customising Shortcuts, as promised here’s a Shortcut to put that blank character on your clipboard so you can have Shortcuts with no name: Copy Whitespace.

As we mentioned on the show, you can put Shortcuts just like these in a widget too – and here’s a bonus trick for you. Tap on Show More on your Shortcuts Widget, and then at the bottom tap Customise in Shortcuts – this lets you enable and disable Shortcuts in the widget, as well as change the order of them quickly.

Since we recorded the show Federico Vittici, Shortcuts nerd par excellence, has created a wonderful Home Screen Shortcuts Shortcut which you can check out over on MacStories: Home Screen Icon Creator: A Shortcut to Create Custom Icons for Apps, Contacts, Solid Colors, and More – MacStories

Listen to Episode 11: Shortcuts Home Screens