Using Zapier to Automate My Life Just Enough

Using Zapier to Automate My Life Just Enough

I’ve never gotten into Zapier, mostly because it was too expensive (free plan, but you probably want to pay for the premium tier) and it didn’t make sense to use when free services like IFTTT existed and I felt did the same thing.

Well, I recently started using Zapier more seriously than ever before and I have to say, it’s pretty incredible. Here’s what I’ve set up so far, and how I’m using each one.

Send Birch Bark Articles and Videos to Todoist

I have a weekly newsletter where I share a bunch of links, videos, art, and music that I loved that week, and I’ve been using Todoist to keep track of all these things throughout the week and then I pick things out from there on Thursday afternoon when I compose the email. I’ve got 4 different projects in Todoist that I use to queue up content.

Zapier allows me to automate 2 of these. I save everything I read to Pocket, so one of my “zaps” is to automatically add any story I favorite in Pocket to my “Birch Bark Links” project. This lets me simply like the things in Pocket’s UI and not spend time using the share sheet, finding Todoist, adding the tag, and saving the task. That’s not horrible, but when I want to be fast, tapping a star icon and having the rest happen in the background is amazing.

Similarly, I have a zap set up that adds a task to the Birch Bark Videos project when I add a YouTube video to a specific, private playlist. I was hoping Zapier could do this when I simply like a video, but that does not appear to be possible.

Still looking for a way to automate my music and art picks, but that’s trickier since there’s no Apple Music integration, and my art posts are more manual and just require a little more work.

Post BirchTree Posts to Twitter (2x)

Zapier has a native integration into Ghost, which means when I post something to this blog, I can have Zapier automatically tweet out a link to the post. There are two reasons this is cooler than what I was previously doing with IFTTT.

First, I can authenticate multiple Twitter accounts in Zapier, so I actually have this configured to post to @mattbirchler, my personal account, as well as @_BirchTree, the site’s “RSS feed on Twitter”. IFTTT only let you authenticate one Twitter account, so I could only post to one. Followers of the @_BirchTree account hadn’t seen a new post since December, so I hope they are happy this is back working!

And second, since this is a native integration, these tweets are sent immediately when I post something new. IFTTT used the RSS feed and checked it for updates every 15-30 minutes, so I would post something and then Twitter would get the link an arbitrary time later. This lead me to actually posting things earlier than I might have wanted to, just to get the Twitter post to go out at the time I wanted. Now I don’t have to choose. This post should be posted at 7:30AM CDT, so check the time on the tweet to keep me honest here.

Make a Task in Things when Pitchfork has a “Best New Music” Review

Pitchfork has an RSS feed of all records that get a “Best New Music” designation, and I like to see what those are because sometimes they turn me on to amazing music I would have totally missed otherwise. This automation just watches that feed and adds a Things task to my inbox with the album title, review summary, and link to the review.

Log the Daily Weather in Airtable

This is a silly thing I’m just doing because I can, but this is taking the daily weather and logging it as a row in a spreadsheet I have set up in Airtable.

I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, and honestly all I can think of is to do this for years and be able to build charts that show the weather over time, but like…I think I’m just going to delete this one because other people can do this so much better 😋

Post my Instagram photos to Twitter (2x)

This one is super exciting to me, and is another time that Zapier’s ability to link to multiple accounts on the same service are useful.

I like to share photos, and Instagram feels like a good place to do that, but the vast majority of my audience is on Twitter, so to get my photos in front of the most people, I typically post to Twitter only. And since Twitter and Instagram have some bad blood, the cross post tool in Instagram doesn’t attach an image to tweets, so it’s pretty useless to me. Zapier lets me post to Instagram and then have the description, the link, and most importantly, the photo shared in a tweet a few minutes later.

I also have a second account, simply_sherman where I post dog pics. Again, being able to post here, and try to grow this account (I’ve set an arbitrary goal of 1,000 followers by the end of 2020, so go follow Sherman!), all while sharing those shots to Twitter as well is super nice.

Log Transactions in Airtable

This is not one for me so much as a demo for people using my company’s software for processing payments. It’s a demo that uses webhooks to log specific transaction types (aka ones you need to take action on) to an Airtable database. It’s a slick proff of concept, and it’s a cool way to use webhooks without needing to write any code yourself.

Audit Birch Bark Newsletter when it’s Sent

And finally, this one simply makes a new item in Things for me whenever my Birch Bark newsletter goes out. I’d love to be able to do more with the MailChimp automation, like maybe exporting a daily subscriber count to a spreadsheet, but that is not possible right now.

Use ScreenFlow Like a Pro with a Few Simple Tips

Use ScreenFlow Like a Pro with a Few Simple Tips

One of the most valuable apps on my Mac is ScreenFlow, which is a screen recorder and powerful video editor rolled into one. I love this app, and I use it basically every single day at my day job to make video tutorials or even tiny GIFs that I use to communicate new features our company is rolling out to its products.

So with hudereds of hours of experience with it now, and a workflow that I think is really efficient, I decided it was time to try and help other people get better screencasts with it, so I made this video, which takes you through a quick project where I share exactly what I do to get something that looks good, is helpful to viewers, and isn’t so much work that you’ll never want to do it again.

Enjoy, and if you want to give ScreenFlow a shot, it has a free trial here. It’s $129 if you want to buy it, so you really need a use case for it, but if you do, I really think you’ll like it.

P.S. This is not a sponsored post, I just really like ScreenFlow.

My Home Screen: May 2020

My Home Screen: May 2020

It’s been what feels like years since I’ve done one of these, so let’s do a deep dive into my iPhone home screen. And before you ask, I can’t in good conscience share the wallpaper, but you can get it by supporting The Iconfactory on Patreon.

The Dock

My dock is reserved for the most important things I want to do on my phone.

Messages

I use iMessage to talk to the people I’m closest with, and it lives in the bottom-left, where it has been for the entire time I’ve used an iPhone.

Things

Things used to be the pretty app that never quite got updated in time and lacked major features the other guys had for years. No more! Things is feature-rich, still looks better than any other task manager I’ve seen, and has powerful automation and recurring task functionality that make it indispensable for me.

Things is really good with Shortcuts as well, and I have a few non-regular projects that I have set up that involved about 10-30 tasks, and whenever they come up, a single tap in Shortcuts creates all of those tasks and assigns proper due dates for them based on when I’m creating the project. It’s amazing.

I change task managers every year or so based on my current needs, so you may also see OmniFocus or Todoist here from time to time.

Castro

Castro excels at a few things:

  1. An amazing queuing system that makes sure my favorite shows are always at the top of my queue.
  2. A beautiful UI.
  3. Ability to sideload youTube videos as podcasts.

That queue is the main reason I use it, and for those unfamiliar, Castro has a “queue” and an “inbox.” New episodes in your feeds go into your inbox where you can decide to add them to your queue or archive them to just skip that episode. This makes the “queue” page exclusively a list of episodes you are going to listen to. I subscribe to a bunch of shows and I don’t listen to each episode of all of them, so this works with how I listen to podcasts.

This gets more magical when you learn that you can set show-specific rules, so for those couple shows that are in my “drop everything and listen to this” category, they will skip the inbox entirely and go straight to the top of my queue so I never miss them.

Audible

Audible is bar none the best audiobook app on the iPhone, mostly due to its extensive library of books at the best prices out there. What more do I need to say here?

Top Row: Photography

I love taking photos, and this whole row is devoted to the 4 apps I use to get the most out of my phone’s camera.

Photos

I use it to see my photos…yeah, that’s really it. You know this app already, so moving on.

Camera

I shoot most things with the stock camera app for a couple reasons.

  1. I get the benefit of all of Apple’s smart processing of photos, and the results are almost always unbelievable.
  2. It has everything: photos, videos, slow-mo, all in one app.
  3. It’s hella fast to launch, so I always get the shot.

Again, this is a stock app so I’m not going to get into it more here.

Halide

Finally, a third party app on this row! Halide is my RAW shooter of choice, as sometimes I really want a flat, raw image to do more extensive edits in post. Basically, I shoot most things with the stock app, but if I know I’m going to stylize the photo more than normal then I’ll use Halide to get the most image information possible for those edits.

Adobe Lightroom

I’ve tried all the rest and no image editors work as well for me as Lightroom. I pay Adobe $10/month for access to Photoshop and Lightroom, and Lightroom gets way more use for me. I love how the app is the same across macOS, Windows, iPadOS, Android, and iOS, and my library and images sync across all devices effortlessly.

I know Darkroom gets a lot of love, but it’s never quite worked for me, especially since it doesn’t help me edit across all the devices in my life. I know I’m an outlier as I sometimes take shots on my iPhone and edit them on my Windows PC, or I’ll shoot on my Pixel and edit on the iPad. The cross-device/platform sync is essential for me.

Row 2: Information

The second row on my home screen is devoted to things that I use to gather information, or log things that I'll reference later.

Safari

It’s my web browser and I use it because as someone who spends most of their computing time on an iPhone and iPad, it’s the best browser in both of those places. If I was primarily on a Mac or PC all day, I’d probably use Edge because I love that on the desktop, but their mobile apps are not nearly as good.

Notion

I don’t use Notion for nearly as much as some people, but I use it to log my daily activity (workout history, dog walk times, alcohol intake, games played, etc.). I have a reminder set up every day to log my day in Notion, so it lives on my home screen almost exclusively to do just that.

Letterboxd

I use Letterboxd to track what movies I have seen, as well as what movies I want to see. I love being able to see what I’ve watched over time and Letterboxd makes that easy. It also has some social aspects, so you can see what your friends are watching. You can follow me there at mattbirchler.

Goodreads

Basically the same concept as Letterboxd, but for books. I use Goodreads to track what I’ve read and occasionally to find new books to read. You can also follow me there!

Row 3: Distraction

Yes, I have a “distraction row” on my home screen. Sometimes you just want to have fun and let your mind wander.

Twitter

Not a stock app, but also what do I have to say about Twitter that you don’t already know? The most interesting thing is probably that I don’t use a third party app, which maybe makes this a little notable.

I prefer the official Twitter app because it has all the service’s features on day one and the algorithmic timeline is the only thing that allows me to follow the people I want and see the best stuff as often as possible. I sometimes go day or two between checking Twitter and I don’t want to have to scroll through hundreds (or thousands) of tweets to find the wedding announcement from someone. Twitter.app will make sure I see that tweet immediately when opening the app because it’s a major event for that person, while the reverse-chron timeline treats everything equally, so I feel compelled to scroll through everything to make sure I don’t miss any important things.

Mail

Another stock app! I would say I’m generally unsatisfied with all email apps on iOS, with no app scratching every itch for me. I use Mail because it seems reliable and shows full emails, even long ones, very nicely. It sucks at notifications though, and archiving emails is a little slower than I wish because the swipe gestures are harder to pull off than something like Spark or Outlook. It’s a good enough app, but it’s also something I’d love to swap out with something better, if only that something existed.

Slack

Slack is used mostly for work, but I’m also in a few private Slacks with friends that I enjoy using to chat about personal lives and video games. I know some people like Discord for this, but I genuinely love Slack’s interface and prefer to chat here than basically anywhere else.

Apollo

Reddit is a bit of a wild west, but there is enough good stuff there to make it a decent place to scroll for a little bit when I want to be mindlessly entertained for a few minutes but don’t know exactly what I want to see. Apollo is the prettiest, easiest to use app I’ve seen for Reddit.

Row 4: Targeted Activities

If my third row was all about distraction, the row below it is for targeted distraction. When I launch Twitter, Mail, Slack, or Apollo, I don’t really know what I’m going to get. However, when I launch these 4 apps, I have a much better idea of what I will get, and I tend to have an idea of what I want to do when I go into the app.

YouTube

This app has the potential to suck me in for a long time, but I don’t love holding my phone to watch videos for long, so this is more of a way to watch things for a couple minutes at a time. I typically watch things from my watch later queue to kill a little time.

Apple Music

I’m a happy Apple Music subscriber and use this to listen to it, so yeah…

Reeder

Many RSS apps have come and gone since it debuted 10 years ago, but my heart still belongs to Reeder. In my experience, no app combines beauty with speed better than this. NetNewsWire might be faster, but it doesn’t work with Inoreader, and I find it to be harder to quickly scan my feeds. Unread is more beautiful, but it’s also much slower to use for reading a lot of feeds.

I read a lot of news sources and I also maintain a weekly newsletter that needs content, so I’m going through a lot of stuff, and Reeder simply makes it easiest for me to do this work.

Nike Run Club

This is a super personal pick, but I really like Nike Run Club for tracking my running workouts. I think the maps and stats are presented well, it has nice achievements, and the professional athlete “you can do it” and “great job!” messages are irrationally enjoyable.

And with that, I should probably go for a run now, huh?

6 Months Using Ghost for Blogging

6 Months Using Ghost for Blogging

It's been almost 6 months since I switched this site from WordPress to Ghost. It was the first platform change I had made in like 5 years, and it was a non-trivial task that worked out in the end, but had some turbulence along the way. I chronicled the transition here, if you were curious to see how that went. Today I'm interested in telling you how it's been using Ghost for the past 6 months.

In a word: great!

There have been literally zero days where I wished I was still on WordPress, which in all honesty is less than I expected. I was really expecting to have some times where I wished I could do a thing that I did in WordPress, but it really hasn't happened. I'm not someone who ever used nearly all the tools available to to me in WP, so the fact all that advanced stuff is gone simply makes using Ghost feel like a more focused experience.

And the blogging tools here are really excellent! Everything is lightning quick and looks beautiful. Seriously, the admin interface in Ghost is super nice! It's so good that I even find myself writing some posts (like this one) there instead of in Ulysses and then publishing to my site. I never did that in WordPress because their editor was either too clinical (legacy) or made me feel like I was losing too much control (Guternberg). Ghost's editor lets me write like I'm in a standard rich text editor, but it also lets me switch over to Markdown or HTML in the middle of a post, and that's really powerful for me.

I also like that Ghost is a JavaScript-based app and not PHP-based. I know PHP pretty well and can get pretty much whatever I want with it, which made modifying WordPress second nature to me, but as someone who spend more time using the admin UI rather than tweaking it, I really appreciate Ghost's single page application qualities. Moving from page to page is instantaneous and everything feels more dynamic to me. I never feel like I'm waiting for the app to do something, which is the sign of a good tool.

This isn't a full review or overview of features, so I'm going to leave it there. The short story here is that I'm super happy with my decision to change platforms at the end of 2019. The transition had some challenges, but it was a worthwhile move for me.

Introducing Quick Inflation Calculator

Introducing Quick Inflation Calculator

I’m happy to announce my 2 day project, Quick Inflation Calculator!

I got the idea for this Wednesday night and did about 3 hours of dev work on this seriously MVP site, but I think it’s already better than all the other sites out there for this basic function.

This site was built out of my frustration of there only seeming to be ugly or ad-ridden sites out there for calculating inflation between two years. Here’s a cross section of the top current results for “inflation calculator.”

Look, not all sites have to look hyper modern or anything, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could go somewhere and get this data from a site that looked decent and wasn’t serving up a bunch of ads? Much like with my similar project, Quick BIN Lookup, this new site aims to be the nicest way to get this question answered in a world of not pretty, and sometimes sleazy current options.

I got down this rabbit hole when my dad texted me the receipt for our first computer, a Performa something-or-other from December 1994 and I wanted to know how much that machine cost in 2020 dollars. It turns out it wasn’t cheap, and I wished there was a site like Quick Inflation Calculator that I could have used.

Anyway, this is just a side project and I’ll probably iterate on the UI in the coming weeks to make it a bit nicer, I’ll eventually get a single, small add on there so it can maybe pay for its hosting fees, and I might add stuff that you guys tell me I’m missing, but I want this to be simple, so don’t expect too much more 😊 Let me know on Twitter what you think!

Enjoy Your HomePod Apple Music Playlist

Back when the HomePod was new, I made a playlist with a bunch of songs I thought would sound great on Apple's then new speaker. Since then, I'm not sure a day hs gone by without me getting a notification that someone has added that playlist to thier library. The thing is that playlist is 3 years old and there has been so much that's come out since then that sounds great on the HomePod too!

Today I spent a few minutes and made a new playlist with 50 songs, most of which came out 2017-2020, that sound fantastic on any nice speaker, including the HomePod. And if Apple does indeed release a HomePod Mini this fall, you can bet these will sound good there too.

Fair warning, this list is made up of music that aligns with my taste, and it also includes a few songs with strong language, so pay attention to those explicit warnings on a few songs.

Try this link if you can't add from the player below.

Birchtree.css

Birchtree.css

Today I’m excited to announce Birchtree.css!

Birchtree.css is a a single, tiny CSS file you can use to add some quick, easy style to your web page. This if far from something like Bootstrap, and if you’re building a full website, then that will do you much better, but if you’re building a simple page for yourself or a test page for something, then this could fit the bill just right. Birchtree.css is a single 4KB file while Bootstrap is upwards of 1,000x larger if you just import it into your project. If you want the leanest code possible, then this might be more up your alley.

Oh, and of course this was 100% developed on an iPad. Would you expect anything different from me?

If you'd like an idea what this was made for, check out my test site for Collect.js, a product I own at my day job.

You can download the project from GitHub and make pull requests there if you’d like something added or improved.

Quick Apple Weather + Dark Sky Mockup

Quick Apple Weather + Dark Sky Mockup

I've had the itch to mock up something for a little while and Apple's recent acquisition of Dark Sky was the perfect inspiration to do something in the weather app space. This is a quick mock up, and took about 2 hours this afternoon, so no, not everything is there, but I like the idea of putting ideas out there quickly and seeing the response.

Here's a breakdown of what I was thinking for this first run.

Oh, and of course there's a dark mode!

COVID-19 and BirchTree (in four parts)

COVID-19 and BirchTree (in four parts)

It’s an interesting time for tech blogging right now. A part of me is like “I’m going to be working from home for the foreseeable future, and going out is frowned upon, so I’ll have tons of writing time,” but another part of me is thinking “there is nothing going on to write about…in tech, at least.”

Obviously, there is tons going on in the world, and right now it frankly all feels more important than anything new happening in the consumer tech space I usually cover. I love the new update to Things’ Apple Watch app, but it just feels a little weird to publish much about it right now. I look through my timeline on Twitter, I look at what people in the real world are talking about, and this sort of thing just isn’t breaking through. And even if I did want to talk tech, it feels like a lot of the tech world is on pause right now. Most news is about things getting cancelled or delayed.

I’m sure I’ll find something to write about, and work-from-home allows many tech companies to proceed mostly with business as usual, but it’s all just a little weird.


Switching gears, I went out Wednesday night during the President’s address (that was an embarrassment for the office, but let’s move on) and my local grocery store was pretty normal for 8PM on a weeknight. I bought some ice cream and fruit and came home.

I then decided to get our weekend grocery shopping done a couple days early last night and oh my god, it was a madhouse! People were straight up shopping like they were not going to leave their homes for months. Toilet paper and hand sanitizer was sold out of course, but so was bread, milk, pasta, most beans, soap, paper towels, and thermometers. People’s carts were overflowing, and Target was running a weekly sale with signs yelling “FUN RUN!” all over the place, which I just thought was hilarious.

Anyway, my wife and I went to a few stores and they were almost all crazy. Walgreens was the only one not insane, but it too was out of the essentials.


My work is recommending all employees work from home starting Monday next week, and I will be following that guidance for as long as it’s needed. My at-home setup is not as nice as my office setup, and I really value working with people directly, but I’ll be fine. I definitely feel for all the retail and restaurant workers who can’t work from home and who can’t take time off nearly as easily. They are more essential than ever right now, as we’re all going to need to keep getting food and basic life necessities, so we need the grocery stores and other retail establishments to stay open for business. Be extra nice and extra courteous to anyone who is working and helping us all keep things moving.


You’ll see me mostly on Twitter, being as disappointed, but not surprised at the utter failure of this administration to handle this situation remotely well. We have a president who is unreliable and has coasted on a low-stakes presidency so far. All previous crisis were frankly of his own making, but now when the stakes are high and people will die, regardless of party affiliation, we have a man at the helm who peddles lies because his whole world view revolves around public relations and how he’s always “winning.” He’s a little man and we deserve better in times like this.

Buying a Coffee

I wouldn’t say BirchTree has a business model. I run ads on this site through Carbon, which is pretty nice, especially for the slippery world of online ads, but my podcast, newsletter, and YouTube channels are all completely ad-free: I do these because I enjoy them, not because they’re financially lucrative.

In terms of investment, these numerous projects take up money, and maybe more importantly, time. I’m not going broke running these projects, but I could be spending my time writing bullshit articles for Forbes and making a lot more money compared to the time investment.

My Ask

Which brings me to Ko-Fi, which is basically a tip jar. I’ve done the Patreon thing before, but I don’t think I give people enough value there, as to do that right, I would need to produce exclusive content and really cultivate a community over there. I don’t have time to do that, so supporting me there is basically making a monthly subscription to supporting my work, and I understand this could be too much to ask, especially in a world where people feel more and more impacted by “subscription fatigue.”

To that end, I’m trying out Ko-Fi, which lets you make small, one-time donations whenever you want. I think this lines up better for you and me, and I hope that you consider supporting my work. Thank you!

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Ko-Fi asks you to upload photos and set a goal. I wasn’t sure what to do for either of those, so I uploaded a bunch of Sherman pics, as well as set a goal of $100 to pay for my Birch Bark newsletter costs for 2020.