Add events to your iPhone calendar using natural language and Drafts

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Adding an calendar event with Drafts is as easy as writing it on paper.
Adding an calendar event with Drafts is as easy as writing it on paper.
Photo: Sludge G/Flickr CC

Do you hate adding new events to your iOS calendar? It’s a real pain, right? You have to click, and type, and turn one of these time and date dials, and type some more. On the Mac you can just hit ⌘-N to create a new event, and then type something like Dinner tomorrow at 19:00, and the Calendar app just works out what you mean, and adds the event.

On iOS, you have to do it manually, or try to coax Siri into doing it for you — neither of which is a pleasant experience. Why isn’t there a natural-language input for the iOS Calendar app? Well, if you’re using the awesome Drafts app, then there is.

Fantastically Good Event Parser for Drafts 5

The Fantastically Good Event Parser for Drafts 5 is the title of a Drafts action created by Peter Davison-Reiber. And Drafts, if you haven’t tried it, is an amazing kind of inbox-for-text app that lets you quickly jot down a snippet of text and then act on it. One of Drafts’ more advanced features is the ability to create your own actions in Javascript. And that’s what Davison-Reiber’s event parser is — an action that takes a line like this:

Dinner tomorrow at 19:00 in McDonalds 30 min

… and turns it onto a calendar appointment for a really sad and lonely hamburger dinner that will last for a half hour. To use it, you just install the action from the Drafts Action Directory, and then run it on text in the Drafts app. You can even put in several events at once– just make sure that each event is on a separate line.

The parser is based on the one used in Flexibits Fantastical app, and has much of the same functionality. The advantage is that you don’t have to use Fantastical, which is a full-featured but rather busy Calendar app that I find confusing, even thought I’ve been using it for years. Here’s the rundown of what the parser supports, copied from Davison-Reiber’s blog post

  • Dates and times entered in natural language
  • Locations entered in the form at location or in location
  • Durations entered in the form 30 minutes or 2 hours
  • Alerts entered in the form alert 30 minutes or alert 1 hour
  • The specific calendar where the event should be created in the form /family or simply /f

There are some more in-depth notes on the post page, with tips on shortcuts you can use.

The Fantastically Good Event Parser works so well for me that I have now deleted Fantastical on both my iPhone and iPad. The default iOS Calendar app is way cleaner, and easier to use, for everything except event entry. And now that’s fixed. Excellent work.