Shortcuts For Work and Fun

Written by Pam Lefkowitz on October 27, 2022

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Time is money, right? And, if you’re anything like me, the IT Admin part of you finds repetitive tasks super annoying. So we want automations for everything – not just in our tech life, but in our personal life as well.

Apple has made this relatively convenient with Shortcuts. Today I’m going to share a few of my favorites with you. Some have been really helpful, some are a small convenience, and others are just there to prove it can be done. 

Shortcuts or Automation

An Automation happens at the time of an event: time of day, someone arrives or leaves home, an accessory does a thing, etc. For instance, I might want my home to turn on a light at 5pm. Or I might want to be reminded to call a client when I get home.

A Shortcut is something you need to interact with: either by pushing a button on your device or asking Siri for an assist. Personally, I use Siri for activating a Shortcut; I can’t imagine why I’d still want to push a button if I didn’t absolutely need to.

Apple has great documentation on how to create and use them so I won’t repeat that. I’ll just do a quick high-level once-over and then give you some suggestions on Shortcuts that I find valuable.

How-To For The Rest of Us

We’re not all developers (and some of us aren’t even very good at writing scripts!). Fear not, good people of the IT Admin variety. Apple has a Gallery filled with shortcuts. Once downloaded to your phone or Mac (they’re synced through iCloud), you can edit them to meet your specific needs.

If you click on the three dots in the corner of an action (or right-click on the computer), the Shortcut will open up in the editor and you can see the script, comments/instructions, and all of the Actions (Actions are the individual steps to a shortcut). Combine Actions to create a more robust Shortcut. The Shortcut will run sequentially, top to bottom. 

Some actions require you to enter data. You will be prompted to input the necessary information when you get to complete the Action and move on to the next step. Take “Block Off an Hour” as an example:

Configuring Block Off an Hour

This will ask you when you want the hour to yourself. You can use natural language (“in 2 hours”) with Shortcuts.

Other Shortcuts are device-dependent (and more robust, imo, on the phone than the computer). For example, let’s look at “Say Cheese”. On the phone, you can choose which camera to use. On the Mac, you don’t get a choice because you only have one camera. The phone also gives you suggestions for other things you can do with the picture besides just saving it to an album.

Say Cheese
Say Cheese configurations

As always, if you’re going to play around with customizing these, I recommend making a duplicate and then messing with that rather than the originals. Not like you can’t re-download them, but it’s a time-saver.

Using Shortcuts IRL

I have known about Shortcuts since their inception, but have just recently started using them. It’s amazing to me how many times I hesitate to implement some feature, only to end up kicking myself for not capitalizing on it sooner. I sure could have enjoyed “Say Cheese” during last year’s snowstorm instead of using my nose to tap (you’ve done that too – don’t lie to me).

I figured that if it will take me longer to learn how to do them and then set up the task than it will to just do the task, then I don’t need a Shortcut. And, honestly, for most things in my life that is the case. Until I needed to do a task daily.

A Real Life Example

This summer I started vision therapy and had to do a number of exercises at home each day. In one exercise I tape a piece of paper numbered 1,2,3, or 4 to each corner of a wall. Then I’m supposed to focus straight ahead and, using only my peripheral vision, randomly look at a specified number on paper. OK, that was more than you wanted to know about vision therapy but stick with me here. 

For our current discussion, the important part of the exercise is the random part. For all intents and purposes, I live alone. My dog refuses to learn her numbers so I had to have a way to randomly generate and “vocalize” numbers between 1 and 4 at least 15 times. Enter Shortcuts.

I will admit that it took me a little bit to figure out how to create this. Once I understood nesting, it all fell into place. It was a lifesaver (well, an eye saver anyhow). I use this Shortcut nearly every day. 

Configuring eye therapy

Useful for IT Admins and Consultants

As a consultant/IT Admin type, I would have benefitted from these Shortcuts:

  • Stop Distractions – Quits all running apps (except for the ones you choose) and turns on Do Not Disturb.
  • Remind me at work – Don’t forget to do that thing you need to do when you get to work. You know, that thing; the thing you forgot while you were fighting traffic into downtown for the last hour.
  • Where Next – The consultant’s best friend. It will look for the next appointment on your calendar and calculate how long it will take to get there. Follow it up with Running Late and you can send your next client a quick text with a proposed arrival time.

Some of My (non-work) Faves

  • Laundry Timer – It’s Sunday. You put your laundry into the dryer and turn it on. 12 out of 10 times you’re going to run that dryer at least one more time because the laundry wrinkled while you were doing other things. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get it out of the dryer by Wednesday, amirite?
  • Tip calculator – Hey Siri, Calculate Tip. It asks for the total of the bill and what percentage you want to tip (you always tip 20%, right?), et voilà! 
  • Home ETA – Sometimes you just have to know how long it will take to get home. Mostly on Mondays. Or Fridays. 
  • Log Water – I’ve been told I need to drink a LOT of water. When I don’t have my bottle with the time and measurement markings on it, Siri Log Water comes to my rescue.

Basically, if you perform a task repeatedly, you can (probably) find a Shortcut to do it for you. And, while you could make a button for the Shortcut, honestly Siri is easier.

Apple has a whole gallery filled with Shortcuts. And they’ve made them editable so you have a working example to help you create customized Shortcuts of your own. Take a look through them when you have some time to kill. You might just find something that piques your interest.

Name your favorite and most useful Shortcuts over in the JumpCloud Community. Have you created some that you can’t live without? Sharing is caring, y’all. Give some Shortcuts; get some Shortcuts.

Pam Lefkowitz

Pam is an IT Columnist at JumpCloud where she uses her experience as a consultant and MSP to write about IT admin life and tech. Outside of (remote) work hours, she spends her time with her dog, visiting her kids across the country, and being creative with fiber.

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