What exactly is Drafts 5? That was a question I found myself asking after reading many glowing reviews of the app online.
Was it some sort of glorified note taking app? If so, I saw no need for it since I was already invested in Evernote. But the reviews seemed to suggest it was more than that.
To be honest, the reviews did not make perfect sense to me the first time I read them. They talked about actions, call back urls and automation using workflow — while I understood the general idea, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the specifics.
What was so special about having one app where you could input text and then move it someplace else? Because that was what the app was billed as, an entry system for text that you could later move somewhere else.
I decided to take the plunge and get the app to do some hands-on testing. And since most of the power of the app seemed to be in the ability to write custom actions that allowed you to process text in a way that suited your workflow, and since this was a “pro” feature only unlocked by a subscription, I decided to subscribe for one year to try it out.
I know, you’re probably mouthing the word “overkill” right now, but I’ve always found it very hard to stay away from new tech toys. Any who, to cut a long story short, I fell in love with the app. The rest of this article describes why.
Actions — The core of Drafts 5
The strength of Drafts 5 comes from actions. Actions are essentially operations that you can perform on the text you have inputted into the application.
Builtin actions, that don’t need a subscription, are installed by default on the app and include such common tasks as moving the text entered to Evernote, WhatsApp, iMessages or Email. The app also includes builtin actions to send text to Fantastical 2 (my favorite calendaring app) and Todoist (my favorite todo manager)
So right off the bat, I could use the app as a single place of capture for all those apps and then move the content to the app I wanted it to live in. In a sense, it corresponds to GTD’s trusted capturing station — it is a digital version of an in-tray.
While that provides a very convenient way for implementing the capture phase of GTD, it, in my mind, was not enough reason to shell out for a subscription.
So I decided to try out the feature that Drafts 5 keeps behind its paywall — adding custom actions — to see if it was worth the subscription price. The next section talks about this in greater details.
If the power of Drafts 5 rests on actions, its superpowers rest squarely on customizable actions. Using this feature, you can interact with other iOS apps through an interface they expose to all other apps — called url schemes. These url schemes allow you to call another app, send it an input and ask it to do something with it.
Url schemes are not the only way to customize actions, you can also call workflows — which you define in a separate app called Workflow — that take Drafts 5 notes as their input and then perform a sequence of operations on them.
For example, you can write a Drafts note and then, using Workflow, have it sent to a certain WhatsApp user or users, email it to a group email and send a copy over SMS. I personally use that particular workflow when I want to make an announcement to the department and know that each person in the department uses a different method of communication.
What you can do with this is only limited by your imagination. For example, I modified a script I found online to process my meeting notes. While writing my meeting notes, I add a tag “TTodoist: “ to all items I want to add to my todo list. Similarly, all items I want to add to my calendar are tagged with “Ccal: “.
My script then processes each line in the meeting notes, and adds all the “TTodoist” tagged lines to Todoist and all the “Ccal” tagged lines to Fantastical 2. In a few seconds I’ve processed my meeting notes and stored any actionable items that resulted from the meeting in my todo app, and any meetings or events in my calendar — is this worth the subscription price? For me, the answer is a resounding yes.
Think of anything involving text that you want to automate, and Drafts 5 probably has a way for you to do it.
The cherry on top
As if all the above features are not enough, Drafts 5 is a very competent markdown editor. You can use Drafts 5 to write all your markdown documents — for those not in the know, markdown is a method you can use to format text by adding tags to a plaintext document that is later interpreted by a markdown renderer to format the text accordingly.
In addition to markdown support, Drafts 5 supports TextExpander, a fantastic app that allows you to replace short snippets of text with longer pieces of text.
For example, I’ve setup “tto” to expand to “TTodoist: “ on TextExpander. This allows me to write the tags I mentioned previously when describing the script that processes my meeting notes very quickly. TextExpander is very powerful, and can do much more than simple text substitution. However, describing its features is out of scope of this post. Suffice it to say that coupling of Drafts 5 and TextExpander allows you to notch up your productivity several levels.
Given the awesome feature set of Drafts 5, it is definitely worth its subscription price. I’ve moved the app to my home screen, and the more I use it, the more uses I find for it. It has simplified my workflow on iOS greatly. Give this great app a shot, you won’t regret it.