Put Your iPhone to Work

How to Use Siri Shortcuts As a Productivity Tool


October 20, 2019 Guides & How-To's By

Up until the iOS 12 rollout, Siri has largely just been a hit for iPhone users seeking help with rudimentary tasks and queries. Basic voice commands for your iPhone are executed with ease, like calling or FaceTiming someone, launching apps, setting reminders and calendar events. Siri’s capable of Googling questions on your behalf, too, but simplicity has always been the key to ensuring Siri’s accuracy. (Siri has served up some misses, too, of course.) However Shortcuts, a new app that came with iOS 12, seeks to make Siri infinitely more useful to you, and ultimately, make your life easier.

What is Siri Shortcuts? Effectively, it distills a complex task that ordinarily requires a giant amount of steps down into a single action. It’s Apple’s version of third-party apps like IFTTT (If This, Then That), and while it doesn’t come standard on iPhones with iOS 12, it will become de rigueur after you download it, for free, from the app store. Once you have it, you record custom phrases, which kick off a pre-programmed sequence of automated inputs across one or more apps.

For example, you can say “Cheese” to Siri, which will launch your camera app, turn it into selfie mode, and snap a photo. But it can get far more elaborate. Let’s say after every meeting you, you want to find a cup of coffee. Say your phrase — “Caffeinate me” — and your phone can automatically launch the Maps app, search for nearby coffee stores, and launch directions to get there. (In the future, with cooperation from the likes of Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, your order could also be placed simultaneously.) Sequences can even be automated by GPS location or time, meaning if you append your calendar to your “Caffeinate me” Shortcut, the minute your meeting ends, your phone would start the process.

While it gets far more intuitive the more you tinker, Shortcuts initially seems dense and daunting. Don’t fret; we’ll walk you through how to set Shortcuts up, and give you some top shortcuts to start. You have two options when using Shortcuts. There’s the app, which in addition to allowing you to create your own shortcuts, boasts a gallery of preloaded options curated by Apple. The second is in your Settings, under Siri & Search. Here, you’ll find a selection of suggestions derived from your everyday use of your iPhone. You may find them a little simplistic — one of mine was a shortcut to text my wife — but it’s a nice thought by Apple. You can activate all of these either by voice or by tapping an icon, by the way.

Let’s start with the app, in the Gallery. Here are our favorite picks.

Heading to Work

Fire up this shortcut right before you step out the door and it’ll activate your maps app to give you directions, traffic conditions, and your ETA to the office, tell you what meetings or events are coming up from your calendar, and start up your favorite playlist. Tap the ellipsis icon on the shortcut tile to edit your mode of transportation (subway, driving, or walking), swap your playlist, and more. In the editing mode, you can tap the upper right settings icon (two sliders) to rename the shortcut, give it an icon on your home page, and create your custom Siri call-to-action.

DND Until I Leave

Hate your phone blowing up in a meeting or when you’re in a loud bar? Activate Do Not Disturb Until I Leave and you’ll be in stealth mode until you’re about three-tenths of a mile away from the GPS location where you initiated the shortcut.

Where Next?

Unsurprisingly, this shortcut utilizes your calendar, your current location, and your maps app to help guide you to whatever’s coming up next in your day. It’ll give you the travel time to your destination and directions, adjustable to your preferred transportation mode.

Send Receipt

If you need to keep track of your expenses, either for your company or yourself for tax purposes, this nifty shortcut will group together photos of your receipts, create a PDF of them, and pops it all in an email form.

Share Availability

Use this shortcut whenever your friends are all trying to pick the perfect day to get together. Just enter the dates you’re eyeing and the shortcut will cross reference your calendar for gaps of free time on those days, note them, and then send the options to whomever you choose.

Convert Photos to GIF

You used to have to open a different app and then upload your photos to turn your snaps into a GIF, but this shortcut opens your photo library, lets your select your images, and converts them in a fraction of the time. Super handy for those who want to turn anything into a quick meme. There’s also another shortcut for shooting a GIF from scratch, and another for converting existing video footage into a GIF.

Of course, because you can create your own shortcuts, there is already a slew of options out there from intrepid users who have done just that and uploaded the sequences. Among our top choices, courtesy of Shortcutsgallery.com (not affiliated with Apple).

Calculate Tip & Split

Sure, you can sit around the table when the bill comes, while everyone tries to do the math in his or her head. Or you can grab this nifty shortcut and enter the bill, your preferred tip percentage, and the number of ways it needs to be divided. It’ll be finished before your friend can even get a calculator app open on his phone. Click this link on your phone to get it.

Social Media Downloader

This shortcut lets you download videos and photos from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Dailymotion and save them to your phone. There are varying levels of quality you can select between, too. It should go without saying, but use this responsibly and don’t steal other people’s content and pass it off as your own.

Keep Me Alive

Yes, Apple has a low power mode, but whenever your battery icon turns that dreaded hue of red, you can also use Keep Me Alive. It’ll stretch however little juice you have left by disabling all non-essential iPhone systems and programs, including wi-fi, Bluetooth, music, and more, while lowering your screen’s brightness. Get it here.

Share Wi-Fi

Want to give someone your wi-fi but don’t want him or her to have your password? This shortcut creates a quick QR code the person can scan that’ll get the device online without sharing your password.

Search Anywhere

Highlight whatever text you’re looking to search, hit Share, then Shortcuts, then the Search On option to scour from any of the following options: Google, YouTube, IMDb, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google Image Search, or Reddit. (Sadly, you can’t do all simultaneously.) You can add a voice command here, too, so when you highlight the text, you tell Siri “Search on,” and you’re off. Download it here.

Lastly, you can create your own shortcuts by going to the Library and adding a new tile. Trial and error will probably serve you well here, or you can modify other existing creations. Sharecuts has good options and Reddit has a popular Shortcuts page brimming with ideas. One neat shortcut from Reddit is Item Lookup, which uses the iPhone camera to scan an item’s barcode, then it searches Walmart, Amazon, or Target. You’ll have to do your own price comparisons, since it merely opens three new windows with each retailer’s website, however, it’s still quite helpful when shopping.

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