Speeding Up Consumables Orders with Shortcuts on iOS

In my lab, I'm responsible for placing the orders for chemicals we need. To make sure this takes up as little of my research time as possible, I've implemented a couple of automations that I use in the Shortcuts app on my iPhone or iPad. This helps me consolidate the list of items that my labmates need me to order in one place, then quickly retrieve those items one by one when I'm ready to place the order. I use Bear as my notes app to store the list because it is well integrated with the Shortcuts app, so I can easily append items to a given note and pull out the contents when I need them. Bear has a free version but notes don't sync across devices unless you pay to upgrade, so if you are using the free tier, make sure you use these shortcuts on a single device rather than trying to use it across multiple devices. There is an option in one shortcut to add a task to Todoist to remind you to actually place the order, but this feature can easily be removed if you don't use Todoist or the Todoist actions can be switched to another To Do app - let me know in the comments if there is a particular app you would like to send the reminders to instead and I can try to help you out! There's also an option to send an automated email to your coworkers to let them know that you will be placing an order soon, which I find to be a real timesaver for this frequently repeated task.

Get the Apps


Shortcut 1 - Add Item to Order List

This shortcut serves three functions, it adds new items to your order list, sets up a reminder to place the order in Todoist (my To Do app of choice), and sends an email to your coworkers letting them know you will soon be placing an order.

Set it up

  • Create a new note in Bear to store your order items and give it a title.

    I call mine Sigma Orders since I'm ordering our chemicals from Sigma Aldrich.

 
A new note in Bear to track my order list

A new note in Bear to track my order list

 
  • Configure the shortcut

    Use this iCloud link to download the Add Item to Order List shortcut. When you import the shortcut, you will be presented with a series of questions to configure the shortcut. You will be asked for:

    • The title of the note you made in Bear to keep your order list
    • What you would like your Todoist task to say reminding you to place the order
    • What project in Todoist this task should be added to
    • Who you would like to email about your upcoming order
    • Your email address
    • The subject of the email

Note: If you do not intend to use the reminder and email features of this shortcut you can skip over those parts in the set up process and delete everything in the shortcut that you will not be using.

  • Customize the shortcut to fit your needs

    If there are features of the shortcut you will not be using you can delete those now. If you exclusively want to use this shortcut to add items to your order list, delete everything after the "Add to Bear Note" action. You can customize the message that will be sent if you are using the email option by changing the text in the Text box.

Use the Shortcut

  • Identify the item or items you need to add to the list

    When you determine you need something or someone asks you to place an order, there are two ways that you can get that item into your order list in Bear. If the item arrives by email or you've looked it up online, it's probably easiest copy it to the clipboard and then run the shortcut, which will automatically grab the item from your clipboard. You will be able to confirm before running the rest of the shortcut. Otherwise, when you run the shortcut you can type the item directly into the list when prompted. If you have multiple items, you can add them all at once, just make sure each item is on its own line. Once you hit OK, the item(s) will automatically be added to the proper note in Bear.

Adding items to my order list with the shortcut

Adding items to my order list with the shortcut

  • Add a reminder if needed

    You will then be asked if you would like to add a reminder to place the order in Todoist. If you select yes, the shortcut will prompt you to enter when you would like the reminder to be set. You can type in the date formally, i.e. April 23, or less formally, i.e. Tuesday. Your reminder will then be automatically added to Todoist.

Adding a reminder to place the order to Todoist

Adding a reminder to place the order to Todoist

  • Send an optional email to your coworkers to let them know you will be placing an order.

    You can next select the option to send an email about the order. If you do so, it will show the email compose sheet allowing you to make changes before automatically sending it out to the email addresses you have previously entered. Using the default message includes the date chosen for the Todoist reminder to let your coworkers know when you plan to send the order.

 
Send an email to your coworkers using the shortcut to let them know about the order

Send an email to your coworkers using the shortcut to let them know about the order

 

So with that you have added one or more items to your order list for later, set a reminder for yourself to place the order and sent an email to your coworkers letting them know to send you any items they may need. Use the shortcut again as more items are sent your way to add them to your list, skipping the options to add a reminder and send an email.


Shortcut 2 - Place Order

This shortcut retrieves the items in your list, opens the webpage you need, and copies those items to the clipboard one by one so that you can place your order. After the shortcut runs, it opens up your Bear note so that you can clear out the items you just ordered and it's ready to be used again.

Set it up

  • Configure the shortcut

    Download the shortcut using the iCloud link. There are only three import questions for this one, you will need to enter the URL of the website where you place your orders, and then the title of the Bear note where you keep your order list twice. So for me, the URL is https://sigmaaldrich.com and the title of the note is Sigma Orders. That's all you need to do to get this one ready.

Use the Shortcut

  • Run the shortcut

    The shortcut will open to the webpage to place your order.

  • Switch back to the Shortcuts app

    As soon as you are back in the Shortcuts app, the shortcut will re-open the webpage and your first item will be on the clipboard, so you can now easily search for and add that item to your cart. Repeat by switching back to the Shortcuts app until all the items have been added to your order and you're ready to place it.

Switch back to the Shortcuts app every time you are ready for the next item

Switch back to the Shortcuts app every time you are ready for the next item

  • Delete the items from your note in Bear

    Once you have gone through all the items on your list, the shortcut will open Bear so you can take everything you just ordered out of the note and you'll be all set for next time!

Delete the items you just ordered from your list

Delete the items you just ordered from your list

I hope this pair of shortcuts helps you keep your order list organized and makes it a breeze to place the order when the time comes. Let me know if you have any questions about setting them up and using them in the comments! If you're a Shortcuts nerd like me, keep reading to find out about how I used the Shortcuts app to make these work.


How it all works

Shortcut 1 - Add Item to Order List

This shortcut uses the Ask for Input action combined with the Add to Bear Note action to add your order items to the order list in Bear. The default answer in the Ask for Input action is the clipboard so that information can easily be added from other sources like email or the web. The information can also be entered manually. As long as each item is in the Ask for Input text field on its own line, as many items as you like can be added at once. It is important that each item is on its own line so that the list can be processed appropriately with the second shortcut.

 
Use Shortcuts actions to add items to Bear notes

Use Shortcuts actions to add items to Bear notes

 

The shortcut then gives you the option to add a reminder to place the order using a Choose from Menu action with the options being Yes, which takes you through the steps to add the reminder, or No, which skips it. Todoist is nicely integrated with shortcuts, so I can have the Todoist task essentially pre-made with everything except the date that the task will be due, which is simply entered through another Ask for Input action. I use the magic variable option in shortcuts to select the result of the Ask for Input action in the Due Date Field of the Add Todoist Item action.

Use a magic variable to add the result of the Ask for Input action to the Add Todoist Item action

Use a magic variable to add the result of the Ask for Input action to the Add Todoist Item action

The final option in this shortcut is the option to send an email with a pre-defined message to a pre-defined list of people about the upcoming order. The text of the email is passed using a Text action into the Send Email action. I have included the same Ask for Input magic variable containing the order date from the Todoist reminder in the message to let my coworkers know when the order will be placed. This message can be easily customized to suit your needs. The email addresses and subject of the email are all contained within the Send Email action, and, by enabling the Show Compose Sheet option, I can quickly take a look at the message to make sure everything is alright before I hit send.

 
Send an email automatically using Shortcuts actions

Send an email automatically using Shortcuts actions

 

Shortcut 2 - Place Order

The first action in this shortcut opens the desired URL to place the order by combining a simple text field containing the URL with the Open URLs action. The shortcut then proceeds to pull out the contents of the Bear note and split the list up into individual items using the Split Text action. This is why it was important before that each item get its own line in the Bear note. I then use the Get Items from List action to get the split text items. I use the Get Items in Range option from Index 2 because I want to skip over the title of the note and get straight to the order items. I then use Repeat with Each to copy each item to the clipboard and open it up in Safari to paste in that item and add it to my order. The Wait to Return action is essential because it gives me the time to work with each order item before I re-open the Shortcuts app and the next item is added to the clipboard. Finally, the Open Bear Note action opens the note so that these items can be removed from the list.

 
Combine Repeat with Each and Wait to Return to have plenty of time to order each item

Combine Repeat with Each and Wait to Return to have plenty of time to order each item