Recording dreams: an exercise in iOS automation – Brett Kelly
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Recording dreams: an exercise in iOS automation

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Being a navel gazing, white, American male, it only makes sense that I see a shrink once a week. She’s really great. For the purposes of this post, we’ll call her Babs—which isn’t her real name, though I kinda wish it was.

In a recent meeting with Babs, we were discussing the quality and quantity of my sleep (which, to put it gently, suck miserably). During this conversation, we began talking about dreams.

I was like:

I hardly ever remember my dreams. Usually, the best I can hope for is waking up with the feeling that I dreamt something, but damned if I could tell you anything about it.

And she was all:

Try keeping a paper and pen next to your bed. When you wake up in the middle of the night, quickly jot down a few words related to your dream so, when you wake up, you can have an easier time remembering it.

Then I’m all:

I don’t wake up during the night.

And she was like:

Yes you do lol. We all do. I didn’t think I did either until my brain started paying attention to when it happened. Even if it’s to roll over or rearrange the blankets or whatever — it happens.

Sure enough, she was right. The next night, I woke up a handful of times and was keenly aware that, “holy crap, I’m totally waking up for a second.” I forgot to put the pen and paper next to the bed, though. But still, Babs was onto something.

Dude, I thought this was about iOS automation juggernaut Workflow, not about your stupid sleep crap. Get on with it.

Right.

So, the pen and paper thing is problematic on several levels:

  • I wear glasses, which (donk) I don’t wear to bed.
  • Writing things down on paper in the dark is hard.
  • My handwriting is downright abysmal. I can’t read things I wrote half the time. A handwriting sample would probably go a long way toward getting me some kind of government aid, should I pursue it.

Anyway, my thought was:

Surely there must be a way I can do this using my phone and my voice instead of trying to scrawl words on a paper in the dark like our forefathers.

With that, the challenge was issued. I needed a way to record my dreams with my iPhone, but I wasn’t going to stop there. If I’m going to automate this business, I’m going to automate the living pudding out if it to the greatest extent possible. I hammered out this list of requirements for my dream recording thingie:

  1. The ability to capture something using only my voice; I love me some iOS text editors, but having to unlock my phone, browse to an app, launch it, and type some stuff sounded about as efficient as writing it down by hand.1
  2. There should be a mechanism in place to harvest all of the recorded dreams and collect them somewhere sane and easy to access.
  3. The collected data needed to include the date and time I recorded the dream.
  4. The storage area needed a place where I could, the following morning, read through the dream stuff I collected and, if possible, jot down a more thorough description of the dream.

So this system has three discrete parts:

  1. The recording part (for use during the night)
  2. The harvesting part (for use the following morning)
  3. The storage part (for use when I want to remember and share my dreams with Babs)

The Recording Part

Since I wanted to use only my voice, the obvious answer is Siri. And, since I want to record little bits of data with the date and time included, that meant using Reminders.2

I created a Dreams list in the Reminders app. Now, when I wake up, I can just invoke Siri and say “add peanut butter pancakes to my Dreams list” and, assuming she doesn’t poop the bed when interpreting my words, my peanut butter pancake dream will be captured. Easy peasy.

The Harvesting Part

This is where it gets interesting.

Man, frickin’ finally.

I know.

Workflow does the heavy lifting here. Quickly, this workflow does the following for each item in the Dreams list in Reminders:

  1. Grab the title (aka, the part I dictated)
  2. Grab the date and time the reminder was created
  3. Formats those two values nicely and appends the result to a text file in Dropbox (which lives in a folder that I’ve configured to work with nvAlt on my Mac and Editorial on my iOS devices).

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Then, at the end, it cleans out the Dreams list, leaving it empty and ready for the next night’s collection of nonsense. Note that you’ll need to confirm that you really want to delete reminders when the workflow runs (no way around it).

And, because I’m hardly the sharpest knife in the drawer, I also want this thing to run automatically each morning. The closest I’m able to get to full automation here is to have my phone bonk at me every day using my old pal Launch Center Pro.

Any Workflow workflow can be added to LCP. I’ve detailed this process before in a similar post from awhile back (go check it out if you want details). Suffice it to say, I have the Harvest Dreams action in LCP scheduled to run every morning at 8:45am. I get a notification on my phone and can run the workflow with two taps. It works beautifully.

The Storage Part

Once all that harvesting malarky runs, I have a running text file of all of my dream stuff and, thanks to the latest addition to my daily task list, I revisit said text file each morning and, assuming my goofy brain can recall any of them, add the details of each dream to the text file.

And, with that, I have my dreams, documented and described, ready for Babs and I to review during our next visit. Pretty cool.

(I went with a text file here for flexibility, but you could just as easily use an Evernote note if you were so inclined.)

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This was actually very simple to set up; probably 15 minutes, all told. Most of the time was spent learning how Workflow interacted with Reminders.

Tiny, bespoke automations like this are what make Workflow and Launch Center Pro so great. I love being able to spend a few minutes and a few brain cells coming up with little ways to make my life easier using technology.

Probably most of you aren’t in search of a snazzy way to track your dreams—or maybe you are, I don’t know—but I hope this has been a fun, if a bit strange, example of the great stuff you can do with Workflow and Launch Center Pro.


  1. Yes, I know the venerable Drafts launches ready to type, but that’s still too much friction. ↩
  2. I don’t use Reminders a ton (because most of what I’d put in there lives in a much more capable and versatile task manager), but I do use it for a handful of things. ↩

(Sleeping dude image courtesy of epSos.de)

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 3 comments
wretsub

I would like to learn how to use workflow…but being of a simple mind, I am having a hard time understanding how to write or even execute the current workflows I have seen. Can you point me to a book, ebook… or any kind of documentation to better understand this app..
thanks

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    brett

    I’d start with the Workflow posts over at macstories.net and my pal David’s Workflow Field Guide. The latter will probably give you a gentler introduction to the app. Good luck!

    Reply
Teresa

Love this quick tutorial and will try to use it for a few things beyond dream recall. Would like to remember dreams too, I find when I set the intention clearly beforep sleeping, I more frequently wake up and remember a fragment. To date I have been reaching for larger post it pad and scrawling a word or two blind, in the dark, to avoid waking up too much to return to sleep. Recording sounds easier than that, but I avoid keeping electronics in my bedroom, a rather well-supported sleep hygiene recommendation. The filling-in of details also works for me only if I do it immediately upon finally rising for the day, otherwise it’s lost. I would like to try to utilize a transfer to storage automation that would allow me to reflect on dreams and patterns over time, so I’ll see if I can use this. Thanks for interesting post.

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