Going Paperless: Using the Drafts App to Quickly Add Common Notes to Evernote

Regular readers of these posts know that I am very big on automating stuff that is repeatable. Adding notes to Evernote is one of those repeatable things, and I am always looking for ways to speed up and improve the process. Lately, I have been using the Drafts app more and more to get common “ad hoc” notes into Evernote very quickly. Over time, I’ve realized that there are 3 kinds of notes where Drafts has become indispensable for me:

  1. Ad hoc notes that I need to capture quickly. These include things like jotting down telephone numbers or addresses, or other very short bits of information.
  2. Story notes for my work in progress. These include ideas I might get while on my daily walks, when I’m thinking about the story in the background. If I can’t capture these notes quickly, I won’t capture them at all.
  3. Ad hoc lists, like grocery lists, or things I need to pick up from the story.

For the first item, ad hoc notes, I need a way to capture individual notes very quickly. I don’t need to see all of the other notes that I have in Evernote, so I don’t need to be in the Evernote app on my iPhone. I just need to capture the note and make sure it gets into Evernote.

For the last two items, things are a little different. I want to capture my story ideas or my grocery list items, but I don’t want these to create a new note each time; rather, I want them to append to an existing note.

Fortunately, the Drafts App allows you to create custom actions that do just that. Before I get into the details on how I setup these custom actions, I want to address the question:

Why not use the Evernote App for this?

The Evernote app is a great way to have access to all of your notes, saved searches, and shortcut right on your mobile device. I use the Evernote app extensively when I’m away from my computer. But I use it mostly for looking up information.

Pretend for a moment we are living in the pre-mobile device days of, say, the mid-1980s. If you were walking down the street and remembered that you needed to buy milk at the grocery story, or you needed to jot down the phone number of the person you just met with, you would’t need to bring out your entire filing cabinet to capture those bits of information. More than likely, you’d pull out small notebook from your pocket, or even a scrap of paper on which to scribble the information.

The Drafts App serves that role, but in an even better capacity. The idea behind the Drafts app is that it is a “portal” app: a place for you to quickly capture information and send it somewhere else. This is very useful when you don’t need to see your other notes. Drafts allows you to capture a note, and then send it to Evernote (or other applications) and you can create custom actions that allow you to predefine how the note gets created and filed in Evernote.

How I use the Drafts app for adding notes to Evernote

Drafts comes with tons of actions that allow you to integrate with many other Apps. One of those apps is Evernote. Using the Evernote integration, I’ve created 3 different custom actions that sent my notes to Evernote for each of the common types of quick notes that I make on the fly. For instance, if I am adding items to my grocery list, I have an “Add to Grocery List” action that appends the items in the note to my Grocery List note:

Grocery List Example

There are three quick steps:

  1. Type the note
  2. Click the Share button
  3. Select where you want to share it

That’s it! The pre-defined actions can contain things like what notebook to file the note in, how to tag the note, whether to appending it to an existing note, or create a new one.

Below I show how I’ve setup actions for each of the three types of notes I capture in Evernote with the Drafts app.

Capturing Ad Hoc notes

To capture quick notes on the fly (phone numbers, meeting places, email addresses, etc.) I have an action called “Quick Note to Evernote. I set it up as follows:

1. First, I selected the settings option in Drafts, which takes me to the settings screen. On that screen, I scrolled down to the “Custom Actions” section and tapped the “Evernote Actions” option as illustrated below.

Drafts - Custom Actions

2. On the Evernote Actions screen, I clicked the (+) to add a new action. You can also see the list of actions I have already created and these can be edited from this screen as well.

Drafts - Evernote Actions

3. For ad hoc notes, I created a new action labeled “Quick Note to Evernote” and configured it as illustrated here:

Drafts - Quick Note

The title of the note is the [[title]] which is the first line of text in my note. I leave the notebook and tags blank so that the note shows up in my Inbox notebook (my default notebook). There’s no need to tag it now. If I need to tag it, I’ll do it as part of my Daily Review. But a lot of these type of notes are ephemeral and I’ll end up deleting them during my daily review so tagging isn’t necessary.

The [[draft]] is the full text of the note that I typed. I could also use [[body]] which would be everything but the first line, since I’ve already captured the first line in the [[title]].

The Write action is “create” meaning this will create a new note in Evernote each time I use the action.

The result is that when I need to capture a quick, ad hoc note, all I have to do is open Drafts, type my note, and click Quick Note to Evernote. That’s it! No waiting for applications to start. No tapping on buttons for new notes. No need to tag or file. It is all done as part of the action.

Capturing grocery list items in Evernote

For my grocery list, I created a new action labeled “Add to Grocery List” and configured it as illustrated here:

Drafts - Grocery List

The Title is the title of the note. The notebook and tags fields allow you to predefine what notebook the note should be filed in, and what tags it should be given.

Under the Write section, I’ve selected Append. The way the “append” feature works, is that the note I type will be appended to the most recent note with the title I’ve provided in Evernote.

The Template is what will be appended to the note. [[Draft]] means that the entire draft I’ve typed in my note will be appended to the note.

You’ll notice that there are “tags” in Drafts as well. These are things like [[drafts] and [[title]] as well as many other tags that you can use as placeholders that get expanded as part of the note or note element. Some examples of these tags include:

  • [[draft]]: the full text of the draft
  • [[title]]: the first line of the draft
  • [[body]]: everything except the first line of the draft
  • [[selection]]: the text last selected, or the full draft if not text is selected
  • [[line|n]]: replace the n with the line number in question to specify a line
  • [[clipboard]]: the contents of the clipboard
  • [[date]]: the date in YYYY-MM-DD format
  • [[time]]: the date in YYYY-MM-DD-HH-MM-SS format

If you use TextExpander on iOS, you can also include TextExpander snippets that will expand into their full values as part of the draft.

The result, in the case of my grocery list action, is that I can type one or more items, click the Add to Grocery List action, and those items are instantly appended to my Grocery List note in Evernote.

Adding story notes for my current story

I often jot down notes for the current story I’m writing when I am away from the office. I do this often enough where I’ve created a custom action for it so that I can capture the notes quickly. Rather than have lots of notes for the same story, I append each idea to the same note, but I include the date/time automatically as part of my template. The action looks like this:

Drafts - Strays

Note that my template for the note looks like:

[[time]]
---
[[draft]]

The result is that each item appended to the note is preceded by the date/time that I added the item, so I have a kind of running history of notes for that story.

When I start work on a new story, I update the action to use a new note title–one specific for the story.


At the end of each day, when I do my daily review, any notes I created or modified on that day show up on my daily review search. This allows me to see all of the notes that I added or updated through these custom actions, and if further action is required, I can do it then, as opposed to doing it when I am capturing the note.

The best part of this is that it takes 5 minutes to set up these custom actions. You only need to set them up once, and then you can use them again and again. You can setup as many or as few as you like.  But I’ll tell you, the three that I’ve setup for Evernote (4 if you count adding to my reading list) save me a great deal of time each day. Moreover, because it is so easy to get the notes into Evernote, it ensures that I will jot the note in the first place.


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let know me. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: Automating Repetitive Stuff About Meetings.

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19 thoughts on “Going Paperless: Using the Drafts App to Quickly Add Common Notes to Evernote

  1. OK … I’m really convinced. But then I realize this is NOT for Android… bummer. I really enjoy reading your posts. Pictures, arrows, diagrams, everything you need. ….For this “howto” you will need a iOS device? Hopefully someone will know os a strong alternative in Android?

  2. Hi Jamie. I followed the link for Drafts and saw that it was only available iTunes but I kept reading, waiting to see a mention of the Android or Windows equivalent. I understand that some apps are specific to only one operating system, but it would help the reader to understand this up front (or am I missing something?).

  3. You know, my own ecosystem is based on iOS, so that is what I report on. There may be products for Android or Windows that do the same thing, but seeing as how I’ve never used them, I don’t feel as qualified to report them as I do iOS.

  4. Jamie,

    I started following you post recently and love them. Now I have a question. Which would you recommend for I note that I add Monday thru Friday. Same note “Things to do Today” MM/DD/2014. That is the title and the body of the note are items that i have to deal with from my calendar and my shared staff calendar. I tried modifying your IFTTT for meeting notes. Maybe Draft would be better?

  5. I love Drafts. It is an integral part of my workflow as well. Being able to jot things down on the fly, and send them to Evernote, Toodledo, Remember the Milk, etc. (or to more than one of the above, if I want to send a note to both Evernote and Toodledo). I have it set up to send to different notebooks in Evernote, but haven’t found a need for the append function yet.

    You can also share to Facebook, Twitter, etc. but I don’t generally use it for that. But it’s great to have one app that you can coral all of those thoughts in, and then slot it into the appropriate app, list, or notebook as needed.

    The developer is very responsive, if you run into any problems or have feature requests. It is updated frequently, and you can add custom actions as well.

  6. I use WriteNote Pro for some of this stuff on Android. It’s a simple little app for writing notes and sending them to Evernote. You can have up to 6 templates. The templating doesn’t appear to be as powerful as Drafts, but I find it useful.

    I have one template for creating a quick ad hoc notes that get sent to my .Inbox folder for later sorting. The first line becomes the note’s title.

    I have another template for quickly recording story ideas. When I apply this template, the note goes straight into my Fiction notebook with the “story ideas” tag applied.

    You can create templates that append text at the top or bottom of an existing note in Evernote. I have another story ideas template that does this for a note titled Story Ideas in my Fiction notebook.

    If anyone knows of a better app on Android, I’d love to hear about it. This is the best one I’ve found so far for quickly sending notes to Evernote. It’s faster than using Evernote itself and the templates make creating certain kinds of frequently used notes even faster.

  7. Jamie, great posting as usual.

    As a minimalist and proponent of the KISS philosophy, I find bringing the Drafts app into the game to be “over-kill” for me.

    I realize the younger generations think everything has to be done fast and always multi-task, but one day simplicity and quality will make a comeback.

    What I have done is to create a Note in Evernote called “Scratch Pad”, along with a shortcut to find and open it pretty quickly (probably not as fast as the Drafts App). Whenever information is coming at me real fast, I’ll use my “Scratch Pad”. It is somewhat of a template in that it has a start on a bulleted list, a start on a check-box list, and a place for a phone number.

    Such an approach may be preferable to others, too.

  8. Thanks for bringing this app to my attention. It’s really useful and, after playing around with it for a bit, I’ve realized is very powerful.

    When appending a note in Evernote (such as a grocery list), is there any way to add a check box before text?

  9. HI Jamie

    First of all, I want to thank you. I went paperless about a month ago, and your tips and advice were invaluable in helping me. I’m very proud to say I have now read every single Paperless post on your blog since your started with them. I was very excited when I saw the first Evernote Paperless challenge only to this discover this was way back when.However I read in the December 2013 post there will be another challenge in January. But I can’t seem to find the details? Did it already take place? Did I miss it again?

    Once again thanks for sharing, I really enjoy your posts.

  10. Werner, thanks for the kind words. You are correct, there was indeed supposed to be another paperless challenge in January, but it got postponed, and I’ve been working with the folks at Evernote to get it rescheduled. As soon as I know when it will be happening, I’ll post an announcement.

  11. Okay, that didn’t work – can’t show html code in a comment without it behaving like code and not actually showing up in the comment 😉

    Basically just add the en-todo/ code that agile tortoise refer to in the above link, including their angled brackets too!

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