Late last year, I purchased an app called Workflow just as soon as it came out. I wasn't really sure what to do with it, but the idea sounded interesting: an app that lets you automate certain tasks on the iPhone. But after poking around the app a little, it seemed a little complicated and I wasn't exactly sure what I might do with it, so I never really started to use it in earnest, and thus never talked about it on iPhone J.D. Then a few weeks ago, California attorney David Sparks released a video tutorial — Sparks calls it a video field guide — explaining exactly how the app works and what you can do with it. Sparks was nice enough to send me a free copy of his Workflow Video Field Guide for review purposes, which was nice because I was actually about to buy a copy anyway (it is only $9.99) to see if this video would help me to figure out exactly what the Workflow app is all about. I had high hopes for the video field guide because Sparks has done such a great job with his prior e-book field guides (e.g. Paperless, Email, Presentations, and his prior book iPad at Work), but even though I expected something really special, this video tutorial is excellent so I was not disappointed.
The Workflow app lets you combine tasks done by different apps and do them all at once, making you more efficient on your iPhone (and iPad). For example, you can create at workflow that lets you press one button and then the app figures out how far you are from home, determines how long it will take you to drive home from where you are, and sends a text and/or email to multiple recipients to say what time you are expected to arrive. Another workflow lets you press one button and have your iPhone take a series of photographs and then stitch them together into an animated GIF and then post that GIF on Twitter.
In this video, Sparks walks you through every step of creating a complicated workflow, sometimes starting by downloading one of the many (free) downloadable workflows and then modifying it, other times by creating a workflow from scratch. By the time I finished watching the one hour video, I finally felt like I understood how the Workflow app works and how I can integrate it into my life.
For example, I've long wanted to stop saving paper receipts and instead save them electronically, but I never thought it was worth the hassle of setting up a system. This video field guide helped me to create my own workflow (it just took a few minutes to create) in which I press one button and my iPhone asks me to enter one string of text — the name of a vendor, restaurant, etc. Then the iPhone turns on the camera and waits for me to take a picture of a receipt, then the app converts the picture into PDF format (my preferred format for saving documents), then the app creates a title for the PDF file in the format of the date plus the text I entered (such as "2015-03-30 - Commander's Palace"), and then the app saves the PDF file into a folder of my Dropbox called Receipts. So all I need to do is press a button and enter a word or two, and the app does everything else automatically, and I don't have to save the paper receipt. If I ever need the receipt in the future, all receipts are stored by date in that one folder in my Dropbox, which I can access from any computer, iPhone, iPad, etc. And best of all, because the workflow is right there on my iPhone, I can image the receipt immediately after I receive the receipt and before I forget about it, and then I no longer need to think about it again — much better than other systems that require me to bring the receipt home and then find time to remember to scan a bunch of receipts and make sure that each has the right date.
That's just one workflow that appeals to me. Maybe that one doesn't appeal to you. But by devoting just an hour of your time to this video, you're sure to come up with ideas for lots of other tasks that you can do more efficiently with the Workflow app.
I realize that the Workflow app is geeky and not for everyone. But if you think that the app might be for you, you can watch the first 11 minutes of the Workflow Video Field Guide for free by clicking here. That preview is more than long enough to demonstrate the high quality of the video tutorial that Sparks has created. If you like the first 11 minutes, I encourage you to buy the full video and then find an hour one night — or maybe even find some time while having lunch in your office — to watch the full video and learn all about Workflow. It's a fascinating app, and an excellent video.