How to Make Drafts an Even Better Capture Tool

During my initial tussle with GTD and iPad productivity, one of the apps that popped up multiple times throughout my research was Drafts. I had some iTunes Apple Bucks stashed away for a rainy day, so I decided to see what the fuss was all about. My initial impressions were slightly underwhelming. I enjoyed the instant typing functionality – you open the app to a blank sheet and go, which definitely caters to the GTD collection mindset. I also enjoyed the Evernote integration and Markdown support for blogging. But after that novelty wore off, I said to myself, “is this it?”

That was before I dove into the powerful features that Drafts offers through custom actions and action arrangement. I’m still adjusting and creating custom actions to streamline my workflow during this discovery phase, but even just rearranging and hiding certain actions helped me make heads and tails of Drafts’ capabilities.

I’ve been listening to some great Evernote productivity podcasts like the Productive Life Show, which got me thinking about how to improve my usage of Drafts with Evernote. And while I’m totally for minimizing the amount of tools you use, Drafts is one that is worth the time tinkering around with because of the amazing return you get and its fantastic utility as a capture tool.

Hiding and Rearranging Actions

Let’s get into the easiest (and I think most helpful) adjustment first: hiding and rearranging actions. When I first tapped the export icon, my eyes glazed over with the sheer amount of choices Drafts offered. After looking at all of them and pairing them down, I was able to hide the ones I would never use and organize the ones I would according to workflow. I now have tabs for GTD capture, markdown, and social sharing.

To change what options are displayed, tap the export icon.


Then tap the gear icon to access settings.


Tap Manage Actions.


Tap Arrange to reorder your actions within that column and drag using the slider bars.

The cool thing about Drafts is that it gives you four columns to use for actions. I got a bit overwhelmed seeing all those actions on one tab (which is the default). I opted instead to organize these tabs by workflow.

While in the Manage Actions option in settings, tap an action. From here you can select what tab you want that action to appear on. You can also put it in the Hidden tab if it’s an action you’ll never use. It also gives you post-action options, like deleting after the action is complete. Very useful if you’re sending captured items to Evernote quickly.


Create Custom Evernote Capture Actions

The killer feature about Drafts is that it lets you set up custom actions. There is a ton of potential here (and probably many a lengthy blog post), but I’m going to show you how I set up my Drafts custom Evernote capture. Automating this process has not only saved me time, but made me more comfortable using Evertnote as a GTD tool.

In the settings, scroll down to the Custom Actions section and tap Evernote Actions.


Tap + to create a new action and name it.


Here’s where it starts to get neat. We’re going to tell Drafts to pull information out of our draft note to use as fields in Evernote!

For Title, enter [[line|1]]. This will pull the first line from your draft note and make it the title for in your Evernote. (Make sure there are no spaces after the last character or you might get a Title error.)

For Notebook, you can designate which notebook you want it to dump to. Leaving it blank will send it to your default notebook. I have mine pointed to my inbox notebook (Bucket). If you use multiple notebooks and would like to choose which one to send a note to, you can use the [[line|n]] syntax when creating these custom actions to do that. I found that designating a notebook every time I made a draft was tedious, so I just send it to my Bucket for processing. It is important to note that if you type out a notebook that does not exist in Evernote, it will not make a new notebook. You’ll get an error message stating the notebook cannot be found.

For tags, enter [[line|2]]. This will take the information from the second line in your draft note and make them tags in Evernote! You can use multiple tags by separating them with commas. If you enter a tag that is not created in Evernote, it will create a new tag when it is sent. This is such a cool feature because you can draft everything in one shot using Drafts and send it to your Evernote inbox for processing already properly tagged and ready to go.


The template field is another really powerful feature. Here you can add text to a note you are creating, which allows for some pretty powerful template creation. For basic note capture, I use [[line|3..]]. This will take everything from line 3 and beyond and use it as the note body. Clean and simple. I then go back to the Manage Actions setting and change the post actions to delete (see directions above).


There are a ton of other fields you can add, so check out this Agile Tortoise page to see all of the acceptable things you can add. You can use this to create very specific capture actions, such as an action for meeting notes, new contacts, projects, the possibilities are endless!

If you scroll down to the bottom of this custom action, you also have the option of sharing this custom action to import to another device. Nifty! For those of you who don’t want to waste any time creating this action on your own, here is the link to import it into your own copy of Drafts.

The Takeaway – How to Use It…

Here’s what the process looks like when I’m using it for my daily life:

I have an idea! Must open Drafts and capture it!


I title the note in the first line. (Making sure there are no spaces after the last character so I don’t get a Title error.)


Next I add the proper tags in accordance with my GTD system in the second line. In this case, it’s a next action with an iPad context.


Then I’ll write supporting information about the idea.


Send to Evernote for processing! Easy as pie!

And here’s how it appears in Evernote!


I hope this guide for setting up Drafts as an Evernote capture tool was helpful. Please share it with your Evernote/GTD/iPad productivity enthusiasts and help them leverage this awesome tool more effectively! If you have any questions about how to do this or have some techniques you would like to share, please let me know!

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