Capturing Tasks from Messages

The Problem

A recent episode of the Automators podcast (episode 71, to be exact) explored the various ways to capture information (tasks, events, reference notes, etc.), one of the central pillars of GTD. There’s a lot of good information in it, including lots of helpful automation tips and best practices for getting ideas out of your head before they evaporate. As David and Rosemary noted in their discussion, capturing tasks via email is easy, but capturing tasks in the context of a message—whether that message comes via SMS, iMessage, Slack, Discord, Facebook, etc.—is not as easy. I created a shortcut to help with this, and I’ve been meaning to write it up here for a while. Thanks to the Automators for the final nudge to post this!

The Solution

While no messaging app that I know of has a way to share a message with a native iPadOS/iOS task manager (share sheets are a rarity in these apps in general), every service I’ve used will let you copy the text of a message by long pressing on a message bubble. Starting with the copied message text, my shortcut will ask for the name of the sender and the name of the messaging platform so that it can create the note for the task that will be created in Things. It’s not the same as having a link directly to the message in question, but it gives me enough context to know what I’m doing when I sit down to do the task. Knowing when a message was sent, by whom, and in what app allows me to find it easily enough if I need to, or at least go back to that conversation so that I can respond when I’m finished. The final step in the shortcut will open a new task in Things, with the notes section filled in and the cursor in the title field, ready for me to type in what needs to be done.

If you download this shortcut, please be sure to open it and read through the comments. And you will definitely want to tweak it to fit your particular usage of messaging apps. Happy capturing!