All in with Apple Productivity Apps (Mail, Notes, Reminders, Calendar)

Does anyone solely use Apple’s stock productivity apps (Mail, Notes, Reminders, Calendar) for personal management? I really like that these apps are free and available across all Apple devices. There is something to be said for simplicity. These apps also work well together, but you need to know how to use those features. For example, you can link emails from the Mail app to specific reminders in the Reminders app or notes in the Notes app; link notes to other Apple Notes with a hyperlink; and take addresses from Maps and send to Reminders or Notes to retain location information, just to name a few. You can also share Reminder lists and Notes or folders with other iOS/macOS users, which is great for shopping lists, collaborating on notes, and other such things. It’s become almost a game for me to figure out how I can use these tools and building blocks (such as sharing with other users and internal linking) to meet my needs. This is better for me in the long run than chasing after the next best tool.

Does anyone else try to make these tools work, or do you find them too limiting with all of the other features other apps provide? If you do try to make them work, I’d really be interested in hearing some of the tricks you use to better manage your life.


I use these apps, relying solely on Mail, Calendar, and Reminders for their functionality. I do have a few things that Notes could handle in other apps (pdfs of music in ForScore for example), but for what I consider to be notes, I use Notes.
It’s worth pointing out, this is all for personal use and I use a separate Windows computer for work.

As for tricks, I just don’t try to overcomplicate my life.
Mail does email, and does it just fine. It’s reliable, and as they said in a recent MPU, that’s the key ‘feature’. Other bells and whistles like delay-send are pro features to me (which I make use of in Outlook for work, I just never need it for personal use).
Calendar does appointments and things nicely, with shared calendars and a basic natural language entry. I don’t put in things very often for my personal life, so it’s fine. I’d like a better menubar widget, that I could scroll through the calendar with though.
Reminders is simple, clear, and quick to use.
Notes is quite fantastic for me. I’ve got plenty of folders, I have a few password-protected too, and I find it really quick and easy to put pdfs, pictures, links etc in.

What I’m saying, I suppose, is I think Apple has done a great job hitting the target for my personal needs in all of these apps, but I wouldn’t be so happy to depend on them for work. And I think that is fine. Perfect, even.

Actually, I try not to, because I don’t want to be locked into Apple’s platforms just for their apps. However, I’m quite open to using them in situations where my data doesn’t become locked in; for example, I make good use of Calendar (CalDav data is easily portable between platforms) and Mail (likewise with email accounts). In general Apple’s apps usually aren’t the best fit for a few things I want from apps (customizability to fit my workflows, keyboard-centric navigation, etc)

Reminders and Notes are missing features for me, I’ve stuck with Trello and Obsidian for those. I could probably switch to Reminders from Trello (it was what I used before) but I’ve found such things to be counterproductive in the long run. Collaboration features are pretty useless to me since most people I know don’t use Apple products.

That being said, I agree that Apple’s default apps are (mostly) well built, they’re just not for me. Glad to see there are people that get by on the defaults (there’s a reason why they’re default, after all)

My needs are fairly simple so the Apple apps do an adequate job. I occasionally run into issues with some websites and have to switch my browser to something else. I’ve also dumped MS Office and using the Apple apps instead. Using shared calendars works great for my wife and I. Apple mail is more than enough for my needs. There are some minor features I would like but they are not show stoppers. I’m not a fan of Gmail.

I’ve used Apple’s apps and they are built to get the job done (and not much else). But if that’s all you need, there are definite benefits. Plus, there are tools out there to add features as you need them.

I like RemindMeFaster to help parse iOS Reminders like Todoist.

GoodTasks also allows for greater access to power features in Reminders as well.

I use SaneBox which keeps my mail experience consistent with whatever email app I use. But it adds features like a smart inbox, reminders, and automations from a web service side.

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If you are looking for simplicity, the Apple productivity suite is perfect for that. I am a user of Todoist for my task manager, but I use Mail, Calendar, and Apple Notes everyday. I have actually been thinking about using Reminders as my Task manager instead of renewing my subscription when it ends. Apple has continued to make improvements in the Reminders and Notes app, I just wish that they would update these apps throughout the year, instead of having to wait for each release of iOS.

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I am using Mail, Calendar, Reminders and Notes as my default apps for my personal and professional work. Below is the link to a thread I started about Reminders.

I’ve tried a variety of different productivity apps but have landed back with the default apps. They are good but like every app I’ve tried they lack features that I’d like to have. The default apps will not work for everyone.

That said, I believe the default apps are more capable than many believe partly because they have not devoted enough time to master them. I am not suggesting that anyone should devote that time; I’m only making an observation based on my sense of things from reading posts in this forum. Do I run into friction, limitations, and frustrations with the default apps? Absolutely! But I have experienced each of those with every third party app I’ve tried. For my needs and workflow I have determined that the default apps have enough features to make me productive while offering the advantages of deep system integration and saving me money. It is a compromise that I’m willing to make.

I use Obsidian for my PKM system as I prefer to keep my research notes in plain text but I find markdown to be cumbersome to use for notes and long-form writing.

I offer the above as my 2 cents, I’m not trying to convince you or others to use the default apps or any other app for that matter. :slightly_smiling_face:

Here are few screen shot just to give a sense of my overall organization in Reminders and Notes.


I’m trying out using the the default apps and am impressed. As you say, they take a bit of time to figure out what they do and how they integrate, but they’re powerful.

Calendar - it works well and seems reliable, integrating with my Google calendar.

Notes - I was trying GoodNotes, but I prefer the layout/format of AN. The OCR of scanned documents is incredibly good (and the sync has worked fine too). The handwriting tools and the ability to attach Quick Notes to web pages in Safari is impressive. I like the endless scroll on notes rather than a paged approach which is just messy. For my (more) permanent notes, copies of articles and other records I’m using Eaglefiler (and pen and paper for my miscellany), but for my transient notes they’re all easily going into Apple Notes.

Reminders - my needs are pretty simple, but it’s also important I don’t miss a thing. I use a bullet journal type approach, each day manually reviewing outstanding todos and prioritising for the day, rather than allowing tasks to simply float in based on due dates. I think Reminders will be fine for that - just setting the due date to ‘today’ for tasks I’m doing today and running through them each morning. The actual due date - if there is one - is in text in the title of the reminder item. I could possibly write a shortcut to automatically increment yesterday’s due tasks to today.

(EDIT: Didn’t take long to write a shortcut to move all outstanding tasks WITH a due date (i.e., everything I didn’t finish yesterday) to today. I can run this each morning and then remove/add from there.)

I could benefit from aligning my folder structures across notes/reminders and filing, but that’ll come.

Keep at it. You will hit snags and points of frustration but I’ve learned something about myself. My prior tendency to switch apps, especially note and writing apps, most often occurred when I ran into a frustration, e.g., “this app won’t do this or this is easier in the other app.” This would prompt me to consider switching. After doing this a few times I’ve concluded that I will face this issue no matter what app I use. The key is to balance all of the factors and then decide what works best with the highest ROI in productivity and cost. For me this has turned out to be Apple default apps. As I and others have said this is user specific so what works for one may not work for others.


Exactly this. Despite having worked in IT for many years, I forget that most of the cost (money, time) is in trying to get a system to perfectly do the final 10% of a process. So far, the tight integration of the default apps into the operating system helps get around that as ‘work arounds’ tend to be relatively trivial.

Apple Notes has been the star so far - it’s deceptively sophisticated despite appearing simple.


I’m probably missing something but isn’t that essentially built into Reminders? That is, any task due today that is not completed shows up as overdue tomorrow, in red.

I also find “Smart List” in Reminders to be very effective as a way of surfacing specific tasks.

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You have some terrific information in there. I use all of those Mac apps myself. I am going to explore more and copy and paste in Notes and Agenda your post. TY.

I have retreated to just using the stock apps. I don’t do subscriptions therefore I have limited options, but they are remarkably fully functional. There is also the simplicity of it which I like.

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I don’t use “overdue” as such, just “due” I.e. I plan to do this task, or part of it, today. So I’ve made a shortcut to make all overdue (incomplete and with a date prior to today) tasks due today.

Works for me :grinning:

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I’ve just switched back to Apple Notes from Craft. I love Craft but don’t need all of its features and AN works just fine for my requirements. I also get to benefit from Quick Note.

Sticking with Things for GTD and have to use Outlook mail for work so won’t benefit from the cross-app integration … but hopefully common sense will prevail and I’ll avoid flipping back to Craft in x weeks time for no other reason than ‘I can’. Time will tell.

I have done the same thing. I like Craft and I used most of the features. I’ve gone back and forth with Craft. But, one of the frustrations was the block format. I found it frustrating when dealing with text. I would still be using Craft if I had not discovered the Exporter app here on the forum. The ability to bulk export my ANs as markdown and the fact that I can bulk convert PDFs with DEVONthink if needed, resolved my biggest issue with AN—the fear of being restricted to exporting ANs as PDFs. That is no longer a concern so AN works great for my needs.

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I always use apples email app. Apple Notes always used that and I think it’s getting better and better just need to figure out how to organize my notes better.
Apple reminders is much better then it was, I always use that now. I did use goodtask and other apps. But usually went back to reminders. Calendar I use well cal cause I like to make my events different colors, but if I didn’t use week cal I would probably use Apple calendar. I do use Apple calendar widget on my Home Screen I like that one the best.

@Bmosbacker I see in your notes you have templates, how do you have that set up? I want to make a couple templates for stuff I have, but not sure how to do it. Is there a way I can type stuff in it or do I need to copy and paste the template???

Also how do you like smart lists for reminders trying to figure out how to use it.

@Jjm, to setup a Reminders Smart List you may find this video helpful. While it focuses on the iPad the basic process is the same, in fact easier on the Mac. Here are two Reminders Smart List I’ve created:

As to Notes templates, I use these mainly on the iPad because on my Mac I use the Typinator app to create templates, e.g., for meeting notes, “canned” email responses, etc. Typinator does not have an iPad version so I used Typinator on the Mac to create ~30 Notes Templates so that when I’m on the iPad I can copy and paste the contents of a template into a new note. This is not elegant but does save time. For example, I have several long templated emails replies for complex sensitive inquiries I may receive. IF I’m on the iPad and not the Mac I’ll go to the needed template, copy the text and then paste it into an email. On the Mac I just use Typinator for this purpose.

That said, on the Mac but strangely not on the iPad, one can duplicate an Apple Note. So, I have an interview template of questions in Apple Notes that is pinned at the top of the interview folder. When on the Mac I just duplicate that note for an upcoming interview or I can use Typinator (again, only on the Mac).

I hope this is helpful.

@Bmosbacker thanks for the help. I use Apple notes on my iPhone, I see now how I can copy everything and make a new note so I can use it for templates.

And the video for smart reminders is great.
Thanks a lot!!