Supertip: Get the Most from Reminders – Mac Kung Fu, 2nd Edition

Tip 69Supertip: Get the Most from Reminders

The Reminders app lets you create lists of tasks and attach alerts to them. Used correctly, it’s an app that can revolutionize your workflow. It also works seamlessly with the identical apps on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch—any reminders you create on these devices will be instantly shared with your Mac, and vice versa.

Here are some tips for getting the most of the Reminders app, although you might also want to see Tip 17, Create Reminders Ultra-Quickly and Tip 65, Share Reminders and Calendars.

Quickly Create Reminders Alerts

Each entry in the Reminders app can have its own alert to remind you of the task as a particular time or based on your physical location.

In a similar way to the Calendar app, the Reminders app is somewhat intelligent in interpreting what you type. For example, if you create a new reminder and type as its body “Pick up dry cleaning at 5 p.m. on Tuesday,” a reminder will be created called “Pick up dry cleaning” with an alert automatically set to sound at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.

See All Reminders Due on a Particular Day

Want to see all the reminders for which you’ve set an alert that’ll chime on a particular day? Open the calendar view in Reminders by clicking the icon at the bottom left of the program window (the middle of the three buttons), and then click the date in question from the calendar that pops up. Double-click the date to cause a new window to appear listing the reminders due on that day.

To return to the list of reminders, just select from the reminder lists in the list at the top left of the program window.

View All Your Reminders at Once

By default Reminders has just one list that can contain individual reminders, but you can create others by clicking the plus icon at the bottom left of the Reminders window. You could create two reminders, for example Home and Work. You can delete lists by selecting them and hitting Delete (or right-clicking any and selecting the Delete option on the menu that appears).

However, using multiple lists raises an issue: How does one see all upcoming reminders at once, without having to click through each separate list?

Just hold down Command and select each one of the lists. Just like when selecting files, you’ll be able to select multiple items, and any reminders contained within them will be shown on the right in a unified task list. Or you can select the first task list, then hold down Shift, and select the last, which will select all the reminder lists in between.

In fact, the Reminders list works in a very similar way to a file list in Finder. You can slow double-click to rename a list, for example, just like you would a file, or you can click a list and then hit Return in order to rename it.

Another way to view all your reminder lists at once is to double-click each in turn in the list. This will cause the list to pop out into its own window, allowing you to see the contents of all lists at once.

Be Reminded When You Arrive (Or Leave) Somewhere

Here’s a tip for those with MacBook computers. Reminders is location-aware, which is to say you can set a reminder alert to pop up whenever your computer senses you’ve arrived at a particular location or—conversely—when you’re no longer at a location (that is to say, upon leaving).

For example, you could create a reminder to buy some milk but be reminded of it only once you’ve left your house. Or you could add a reminder to speak to a colleague and be prompted about it only when you enter your workplace. If your Mac is powered-down, as it almost certainly will be if you’re traveling, then you’ll be reminded as soon as it powers back up again, although the alerts will pop up on any iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad that you have with you and that is signed into the same iCloud account as your Mac.

What You Need to Know About Location Alerts

There are a couple of caveats related to location alerts, as follows:

  • For reminders to work on your Mac, Location Services needs to be enabled; if you didn’t enable this while installing OS X, you can do so in the Security & Privacy pane of System Preferences (Apple menuSystem Preferences) by selecting the option on the Privacy tab. When you first set a location alert in Reminders, you’ll be asked to confirm that you want the app to use the location service.

  • Additionally, unlike Location Services on the iPhone or cellular iPad that use GPS, OS X Mountain Lion uses the physical location of the Wi-Fi base station you’re connected to in order to know where you are, as reported by a huge database that covers most if not all of the western world and almost certainly including your home and place of work. Although surprisingly accurate, there will inevitably be some omissions in this database—if your workplace installed a new Wi-Fi base station yesterday, for example, then it won’t yet be on the database. The location database that OS X uses is compiled by specially modified cars driving up and down every street and highway in the country sensing Wi-Fi base stations and noting their locations, and in my experience I’ve found Wi-Fi routers in locations not accessible by car are also omitted, such as Wi-Fi routers inside shopping malls.

  • Dismissing a location-based alert for a reminder doesn’t clear the reminder itself. You must still manually put a check in the box alongside the reminder in the Reminders app on your Mac or iPhone/iPad/iPod touch. Until you do this, the alert will repeat each and every time your location matches its specification (that is, when you leave home or when you arrive at work, to continue the two examples mentioned earlier).

Creating a Location-Based Alert for a Reminder

Here’s how to create a location-based reminder:

  1. Create the reminder in the usual way in the Reminders app by clicking the plus button at the top right of the program window, before typing the nature of the reminder into the field.

  2. Click the “i” icon at the right of the reminder, or double-click the reminder’s entry in the list if this isn’t visible. This will pop out a window near the top of which will be a heading marked “remind me,” beneath which you can select On a Day to create a time-based reminder or At a Location. You can check both to be reminded only at a certain time or when you leave or arrive at a location—whichever occurs first. Note that time-based reminders aren’t limited to just the day; you can set the hour and minutes too.

  3. Check At a Location, and then in the field below you can either start typing the first line of the address or, perhaps more productively, type the ZIP/postal code (note that “Current Location” might automatically appear, but you can over-type this). Hit Tab when you’ve finished typing, and the address should be looked up within a few seconds, with the result shown below the address field. If what you see is incorrect, try again by over-typing with different details—perhaps leave out the street number, for example, or type a fuller version of the address. Note that if an address matches one for a contact in the Contacts app, the full thing will automatically be filled in with those details.

  4. Click either Leaving or Arriving beneath the address box to control whether you’re notified upon leaving the address you specified or upon arriving there.

  5. Click the Done button when you’ve finished.

Any reminder for which a location-based alert has been set will have the small arrow head icon beneath its description.

Create Reminders for Particular Days

There are several ways to create new reminders within the Reminders app: you can double-click in a blank spot under the list of reminders on the right, click FileNew, or press Command+N.

You can then set the reminder to fall on a particular day by clicking the “i” icon alongside the new reminder and setting a date and time in the pop-out window.

However, you can invert this procedure by first selecting a day you want the reminder to come due and then creating the reminder(s). This is perhaps best explained by example, so open the calendar display in Reminders by clicking the icon at the bottom left of the program window (the middle of the three buttons); then from the calendar that pops up, click the day you’d like the reminder to fall due. This will show the day on the right of the Reminders window and at the top right will be a plus icon. Click this to add new reminders that will then automatically have an alert set for that particular day. The alert time will be set to 9 a.m. unless you change it by clicking the “i” icon, as described previously.