Using iOS Shortcuts + iA Writer to reduce journaling friction

Embarassingly-late update:

It turns out there’s a limitation with iA Writer’s URL schemes feature. Unfortunately, the path parameter cannot currently create new directories.

For the time being, I’ve updated the shortcut to create files in a flat directory structure (still assuming the presence of a ‘Log’ folder), like so:

Log\
  2019-01-13.txt
  2019-01-14.txt
  2019-01-15.txt

Get the updated Shortcut here


Over the years, I’ve tried different approaches to journaling. It’s been difficult to make the habit stick.

For every nice feature dedicated apps provide, complexity is introduced, and with that, hurdles to jump through, when I just want to quickly note a few memorable moments in my day.

To avoid platform lock-in and distractions, I settled on a low-fi solution: each day is a text file, within month and year folders. For instance:

/Log/2019/01/14.txt

This structured approach is a great candidate for automation, and wanting to be more consistent this year, I decided to see how I could make journaling on iPhone more seamless.

iA Writer’s URL Scheme

iA Writer is my go-to writing application. It features beautiful typography, and some very powerful features, in a clean interface.

The included URL scheme feature1 allows you to launch the application, and read or write files with an ‘ia-writer://’ URL opened in Safari.

For instance:

ia-writer://new

The ‘new’ command accepts a number of parameters, including ‘path’, which allows you to specify the directory and filename for the new file.

Building a date-aware path with Shortcuts

Shortcuts is a very powerful iOS automation app, that can do some very impressive things.

We can get the current date, format it as ‘YYYY/MM/dd’, and pass it on to be used in the path parameter. Adding a ‘.txt’ suffix to the path tells iA writer the last portion is the filename:

Shortcuts

Running this shortcut opens the following URL:

ia-writer://new?path=/Log/2019/01/14.txt&edit=true

Opening this URL launches iA Writer, creates a new file at the specified location, and ‘edit=true’ opens the keyboard for immediate editing.

Add it to the Shortcuts widget, and a day can be logged with a few swipes and a tap from anywhere, even on the Lock Screen:

Although simple, this shortcut has been very valuable for me so far.

It’s a nice reminder to keep in mind small, quick wins with software, which bring a lot of value by making day to day tasks just that little bit better.

Download, and play around with the ‘Log Day’ shortcut for iOS here:

Log My Day

Going further

The ‘new’ command also allows for a ‘text’ param2, which populates the content of the document. Shortcuts even offers an action to URL encode a block of text.

Here’s just a few ideas for content Shortcuts could include in a new iA Writer document:

  • Your current location
  • The current time
  • The weather
  • The currently playing song, if any
  • A checklist of habits

And that’s just scratching the surface 😎


  1. You will need to enable this feature under Settings → URL Commands → Enable URL Commands 

  2. The text param, and all other strings in iA Writer URL Schemes, have a 4,000 character limit.