Siri Shortcuts 2: What *am* I doing with my time? / by Will Ringland

This is the second part in a multi part series. Part 1 exists here: Siri Shortcuts 1: Outsourcing Self-Control

I’ve been on the digital health train for years and am really happy that the screen makers are trying to help us understand our habits. With information comes power... assuming you’re paying attention. Screen time is really useful and I think it will help quite a bit for my self-obsessive, hyper-controlling, Quantified Self utopia 1 where I understand All The Things and Never Do The Bad Things2. But, macroscopically, it doesn’t think they way I do.

Tracking my categories.


The categories I care about are broader than what Apple uses with Screen Time,. In that, app categories are dictated by the categories developers assign on upload. So, yes, IG is a social networking3 app but I care less about that specific segment of apps and more about what the apps do to my mind.

what these apps amount to, for me, is a distraction. They waste my time. I always feel better doing things like reading books or writing when compared to falling into the endless scroll of a social media app. but these are not the only things that waste my time. TV services, games, sub sections of the podcasts4, even, can constitute a distraction in my life that can otherwise be better spent.

Sir Shortcuts allows me to trap more applications and track broader information about them, information I care about, more than Screen Time.

My phone screen looks like this.

Image 39.jpg

We’ll talk about each of the Shortcuts in that first line.


Image 39.jpg

1: distraction

Shortcut share link: []

I’ve talked through this one in detail before but I’ve added to it since last time. I downloaded Tally5 and every app launch will trigger a counter update I have for each application as well as track the usage of the workflow in a particular way. If I launch the app and choose the distraction option, I’ll increment a counter for that.


And since we shouldn’t exclusively slap wrists, I track the times I launch but don’t do the bad thing.

2: Spending

Shortcut share link: []

This workflow adds just a little bit of friction to me buying something. Amazon’s One Click has done wonders for my Kindle library but, my internet friends, I have not read most of my Kindle library. See everything above re: Distraction. But man, I am good I giving Amazon money.

So, when I launch the Shortcut, it asks if I actually need the thing. If so, ok you can’t keep going. But otherwise, let’s just chuck that into OmniFocus and the “someday/maybe” tracking list I already have.

I am less concerned about the specific launches and branches I take here. Any spending gets tracked elsewhere - like Mint - and is processed as part of different lifey tasks I follow6. I’m not awful with spending but I’m much less likely to buy unnecessary stuff if I just ask my self if I actually need the thing.

Similarly, I am both great and terrible at reviewing my Someday/Maybe list. So maybe the item will disappear for a few weeks and I won’t care by the time I get back to it...

3: Safari

Shortcut share link: [] Ever have trouble with the rabbit hole? Like hours lost in Wikipedia? Yeah..... This Shortcut is intended to control that.

This one is complicated. First: It asks for a search term. If that term has a “.” in it, I’m probably just looking for a page directly so I will open it in Safari directly.

Otherwise, ask if I’m searching a definition or google. I write a lot and want quicker access to dictionary tools so I will launch the dictionary if I want that definition.

Otherwise otherwise, I will launch a google search. I increment another tally because... data. Then change the spaces in the term to pluses and launch the search URL directly with the term embedded in it.

I’m re-thinking the word piece as I’ve had very few lookups and, if I’m writing, I can select the word > long press> and lookup directly on iOS. So, this one may be over engineered

4: Finance

Shortcut share link: [] OK.... I’m gonna tell you something a little embarrassing. This one mostly exists to have a full row of red icons. I wanted the strong color blocking more than I have a “problem with finances.”

I mean, sort of. I have some long term investments and, occasionally, track them obsessively. When the market crashed a few years ago, I compulsively checked my 401k and fretted over all the Doom and Gloom obviously befalling me. So locking that down in some way is useful for very specific cases. Because, really, I’m 36... investments recover.

Or America will devolving into Mad Max-style dystopia anyway and that’s why I should spend less time on my phone and more time practicing knife throwing7

So this one is pretty much a glorified app launcher excluding some special handling for Chase and Edward Jones whose apps are fucking terrible.



Any Shortcut that uses Tally has kind of an annoying need to jump back to Shortcuts to finish the action. The app is stand alone and doesn’t seem to have a built-in x-url response action to auto-jump a user back to the Shortcut in process. There’s probably a way to accomplish that with scripting in Shortcuts but I’ve not yet investigated.

You need to pre-create your Tally lists otherwise it will error. Though I seem to be getting errors still. Not sure what's up with that...

Also, to get multiple tally lists, you have to pay for the app. And you should. Give money to developers so they keep developing.

I also have a weekly action to pull all the counts for the week and reset all the counters. I have a recurring task as part of my weekly Sunday review process to launch the Shortcut. The shortcut grabs all the counts, resets the counters, and creates a shell DayOne journal entry which also starts my weekly journaling workflow

Shortcut share link: []


Here is my general Tally/Launcher template workflow Shortcut share link: []

Not very fancy but it can get you started.


So... I obviously do a lot with iOS. I use an iPad as my primary device, often remotely connecting to my Windows workstation even to work out of my office during the week. I started all the Shortcut designing for my Phone which just really amounts to a distraction in my life. If I could get rid of the phone, I probably would.

Which also means that getting all of this working on my iPad has completely different set of circumstances I’m trying yet to understand. Here’s my iPad screen so far.


It’s a mess.

The primary problem is multitasking. I use slideover windows constantly and can use Shortcuts to launch apps in that mode usefully. Right now, Shortcuts will run in the slideover window iff you had Shortcuts recently open there. And then it will still take over the main window, disabled, until you tap “done” in the Shortcut window.

I hope I’ll be able to have more control over that eventually but until that point, I’m probably going to need to put a bunch of straight applications back in the dock.

Later: my utility and audio shortcuts. And my art and productivity shortcuts. Also a bonus shortcut I call “sweet nothings” to send nice little messages to my wife. Generally about her butt.

  1. We are at war with Facebook. We have always been at war with Facebook.

  2. Like I said before, bad is relative. Social media, games, and all that serve useful purposes. We’re more talking about Bad Things as destructive behavior - using these apps to the obviating of other tasks.

  3. And so is.. Find my Friends.. ?

  4. Some. Some are engaging more than distracting. Cortex, for example, I shouldn’t listen to at work otherwise I’ll be horribly unproductive for paying such close attention.

  5. It is literally exactly what you think. It talkies things. But it integrates well with Siri Shortcuts so it takes way less effort to capture app launches.

  6. Are you watching your spending? You should be. He says to himself....

  7. For real. My [instagram][1] with way too many photos of knives in stumps. Also: cats!

  8. [1]: