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How shortcuts changed the ways I use my iPad for the better

iPad Shortcuts Home Screen
iPad Shortcuts Home Screen (Image credit: Joseph Keller/iMore)

Shortcuts have become an essential part of my digital life, not only for productivity but also for entertainment. At the same time, the iPad Pro has become equally vital to me, whether I'm writing an article (like this one), catching up with my favorite shows, or diving into another level of Where Cards Fall.

Because these tools are so important to me, I'm continually looking for ways to make them better or refine how I use them. Accordingly, over the past couple of months, I've changed how I organize my iPad, particularly in regards to apps and shortcuts. I've relegated apps to the dock, and shortcuts now dominate my Home screen, both on the Home screen itself and in the ever-present Today widget.

Together, the widget and my Home screen shortcuts combine to make my use of the iPad Pro more productive and more enjoyable.

The Home screen

Except for the Shortcuts app itself, as well as the occasional new app, my Home screen is now a shortcuts-only zone. The reason for this is simple: I wanted my Home screen to be centered around doing things. They could be work things. They could be entertainment things, but instead of just tapping into an app, sometimes mindlessly, the icons that now inhabit my Home screen perform a specific task. These can be as simple as opening iCloud Drive so I can find a particular file or adding a new task to Things.

Note: Many of these shortcuts require third-party apps

  • Open File - This is a simple, two-action shortcut that slides an iCloud Drive window up in the Shortcuts app to let me open a file. I've turned the 'Select Multiple' option off so that I jump right into the file I pick, but you can turn this on if you have use for it, of course.
  • New Draft - This shortcut requires the Drafts app (opens in new tab). I use this to create a new draft using the app's built-in dictation support. I tap the button, and the app opens up, ready to record. From there, I can keep that text in Drafts, or send it on to another app using Draft's own powerful tools.
  • 5 Minute Morning - I created this shortcut to take advantage of the recent addition of templates to Day One (opens in new tab), my journaling app of choice. Tapping this launches the app into the 5 Minute AM template, which lets you lay out what you hope to get from the day ahead.
  • 5 Minute PM - Also requiring the use of Day One, this shortcut opens the 5 Minute PM template in the journal of your choice. This template focuses on evaluating the day as it happened, what went well, what could have gone better, and more.
  • New Entry - Yet another Day One shortcut, I call this my "Captain's Log button." Tapping it creates a new audio entry in Day One, beginning the recording immediately. It's a great way of getting personal thoughts down.
  • New Thing - This one is simple, and while this particular version requires Things 3 (opens in new tab) for iPad, you can create a version of it for several different to-do apps. Just tap the button to see a dialog to create a new task in Things, with options for filling out certain important details.
  • Search On - This is a great shortcut for anyone who constantly searches different sources on the web. Tap this button, enter your search term, then choose where on the internet you'd like to search from the provided list. You'll jump to the results from that source, such as Google or Amazon.
  • Open subreddit - I use this shortcut to jump straight to a subreddit in Safari. When you tap the icon, you're presented with a text entry box. Just enter the name of the subreddit that would appear in the URL (for instance, iosbeta or shortcuts), and you'll be taken there on the web.
  • Reading List - Going to Reading List has long been a habit of mine to read saved stories on the web. This shortcut opens a fresh tab in Safari and slides over the Reading list so I can catch up on the things I've put aside.
  • PDFs - I'm not linking this directly because it's specific to my iCloud Drive folder. Created using the FS Bookmarks shortcut from Federico Viticci over at MacStories (more on FS Bookmarks here), this shortcut essentially lets you put a specific folder from the Files app on your desktop. In this case, my oft-accessed folder of PDFs in iCloud Drive.
  • Apple TV on - iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 came with many new Shortcuts capabilities, among them the ability to control different aspects of your Apple TV, including waking it up and putting it to sleep. This shortcut wakes my Apple TV and opens the TV app (my preferred Home screen, if you will, for the Apple TV) with one button press. And because my Apple TV and my television both support CEC, the TV turns on as well.
  • New Ulysses Sheet - Ulysses (opens in new tab) is my writing app of choice across iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and this shortcut creates a new document in a Ulysses folder that I designate and then takes me to it.
  • Lights - Rather than have separate 'lights on' and 'lights off' shortcuts, I used a conditional setup (using the 'If' action in Shortcuts) to create a toggle for my lights. When activated, this shortcut checks the status of a particular set of HomeKit-enabled lights in my home. If the lights are on, they're turned off, and if they're off, they're turned on.

Each of the Home screen icons for these shortcuts comes from the beautiful MacStories Shortcut Icon collection, designed by Silvia Gatta. While you don't have to use these icons by any means, if you're a devoted Shortcuts user, you might want to give them a look.

The Widget

The items on the widget are, generally, different than those on the Home screen proper. I'm not going to go through all of them, because most of them are very specific to me and my personal needs, and likely won't do you much good on their own. Something you should know about most of these is that they are dictionary-based shortcuts, meaning when I tap the button for one in the widget, they display a list of choices to pick from without being sending me to the Shortcuts app.

  • Subreddit Select - The previous Open Subreddit shortcut is great if I don't visit a particular subreddit that often but still want to jump there quickly. This shortcut, on the other hand, is for when I know where I want to go. It opens a list of some of my favorite subreddits, and tapping one takes me right to it, no typing required.
  • Send audio - A simple dictionary that lets me send the audio on my iPad to the speaker of my choosing. You'll need to choose from your own devices if you add this shortcut to your collection.
  • Ulysses Group - Another Ulysses shortcut, this one helps with organization. I like to organize my articles for iMore by month, so I'll have groups in Ulysses labeled, for instance, iMore Articles, February 2020. When I activate this shortcut, it automatically creates a new Ulysses group formatted with the current month, followed by the year. All with the tap of one button.
  • Slack DM - This one's a little complicated, but if you jump into a set series of private conversations in Slack regularly, you'll want this one. Using the Team ID and User ID of a Slack user, create a button that will jump right to your private conversation with them in Slack. The Team ID can be found in the first string of numbers and letters after https://app.slack.com/client/ on the web, while a person's User ID can be found by clicking on their profile photo, followed by their name in the pop-up, then on the vertical triple-dot button in Slack on Mac or Windows, finally clicking 'Copy Member ID.' Just remember when replacing the {TEAM_ID} and {USER_ID} parts to also remove the '{}' from each.
  • Netflix Favorites - This one will be highly subjective based on what you like on Netflix, but tapping this shortcut opens a list of my favorite programs on Netflix. Tapping something on that list opens that program directly in the Netflix app, allowing me to quickly jump in and watch it. To make it your own, just replace the titles and links in the shortcut's dictionary with those of your own favorites.

Closing thoughts

I still use shortcuts with Siri, or by opening the Shortcuts app, all of the time on my iPad. But the way I have things configured now has made using my iPad Pro a lot more exciting and fun. Also, getting any social media client off of my Home screen and into a folder, where I have to go search for it deliberately, has been a lot better for both my productivity and my peace of mind.

My essential, must-have apps are still just a tap or swipe-and-tap away, sitting on the dock for when I need them. But everything else sits in my folder, getting out of the way so my Home screen can become a place for initiating action rather than encouraging consumption.

Your turn

How do you use shortcuts on your devices? Is it different on iPhone vs. iPad? Let us know in the comments.

Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.

2 Comments
  • I agree. Shortcuts has definitely changed how I work on the iPad as well. However, a few things broke for me as of iPadOS 13. In 12, I could create a PDF quickly from multiple screenshot images, save it in Dropbox, and preview. However, since 13, I haven’t been able to create a PDF from more than maybe 2 or 3 images. I even rebuilt my shortcut from scratch in 13, but same result. I’ve had to revert to using a 3rd Party app again. Have you found issues with your previous shortcut workflows since upgrading to 13? Thanks.
  • Shortcuts reminds me of the old AppleScript. Very powerful, massively useful, but I just found it more trouble than it was worth. Admittedly you use a bunch of apps that I don't so those are straight out. The closest one to something I might use, and one I tried to set up, is your Send Audio Shortcut. Sometimes I want internal speakers, sometimes the external BT speaker, sometimes the BT headphones. But after a week of fiddling with it I gave up. It just refused to work. I tried several other scripts as well and found them finicky and unreliable. It was just easier to open the app and get the document I wanted, or open Bluetooth and select the speaker, it was just easier to do it manually. That's why Shortcuts remind me of AppleScript. There's all sorts of things I could do with it, but setting those things up takes too much time away from what I actually want to do on my iPad. Back in January you wrote a big article about Shortcuts and how to use them. That was the last time I tried to make them work.