Hey Siri, Record a Zettel

Making some small Siri shortcuts for adding to my Zettelkasten on the fly.

December 14, 2018Filed under Blog#automation#ios#notes#research#zettelkastenMarkdown source

Assumed Audience: people interested in reading, writing, learning, and research systems—particularly on iOS, and particularly with automation in view.

A few evenings ago, I spent a little while building out some Siri Shortcuts to make the process of building out notes in my Zettelkasten on the fly easier. Building them in Bear is easy enough, but it’s even nicer to just be able to tap a button and have things like the date auto-generated for the note title in exactly the format I want: YYYY.MM.DD.HHMM, like 2018.12.14.2205 for a note created on December 14, 2018, at 10:05 pm.

This timestamp format means I can always find notes by when they were written, and it’s easy to sort them by when I created them, which in turn seems the kind of thing that will prove helpful in the long-term, given how much our memories are associative. (This insight is not original by any means, but it’s something I’ve long valued in my work.)

So having a little tool that handles that part automatically is great. The other thing that’s nice about using shortcuts is that I can use them in a hands-free context. I can now just say, “Hey Siri, record a new Zettel” and (since Shortcut configurations are shared across my iCloud account), I can do the whole process without typing a thing. Tagging is a bit harder here, but I can do well enough (it helps that I enunciate extremely clearly).

One thing I wish is that iOS had support for doing these kinds of things when in do-not-disturb mode when driving. That’s the time when my “record a new Zettel” Siri Shortcut would be most handy, and it’s not available. I’d be perfectly fine with having to come back and do a bit of cleanup later to get it just right, as long as I could get the thought down somewhere I could come back to it later. You can do things like say “Hey Siri, in Bear, add a note,” and Siri will prompt you for its content—so clearly the functionality is there. SiriKit just needs to better support it.

As for these particular shortcuts: I’m still working out the kinks, but for what it’s worth, here are the shortcuts I’ve built so far:

I’m also thinking I’ll end up using the built-in hook Bear has to download a web page, but I haven’t worked that into my flow just yet.