Using Apple Reminders for GTD

Hi!

I wrote a detailed post on how to set up and use Apple Reminders for GTD.

I talk about the system and its components in more detail, rather than just having a dry manual about the features of Reminders. I also made videos for each section, hopefully making it easier to understand how the whole system works.

This guide assumes that you use the latest version of iOS and macOS because it relies on newer features of Reminders like smart lists and subtasks.

I hope you’ll find this helpful!

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That’s a good article, thanks for writing it.

I experimented with Reminders earlier in the summer with @Bmosbacker’s wonderful advice. I suspect it’s beyond the scope of your article, but you didn’t mention that Reminders plays nicely in many other apps since it’s part of Apple’s ecosystem, and also has excellent widgets.

E.g. I eventually settled on NotePlan for work task management, which will display tasks from Reminders. Many apps can do similar. I wasn’t expecting to care about this, but actually I find I like being able to see my Reminders tasks when I’m in other apps.

I also love the widgets for Reminders and have large ones on my iPad and my iPhone so I can see current tasks without having to open the app.

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Thank you!

Yes, that’s true. It’s well integrated into the whole system. I mentioned saving links using the integration based on Handoff though.

Very nice!
It’s nice that you explain the hows and whys, rather than just listing features of Reminders, showing emojis available, etc.

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Thanks for sharing this. Last summer (2021), I went on an odyssey where I switched out of OmniFocus and used Apple Reminders for GTD. I liked it, but somewhere along the line it gave me some trouble (my design, not a kind of failure with Apple Reminders). I went back to OmniFocus. Honestly, the exercise helped me improve my system in OmniFocus because I found where it was giving me trouble.

All that said, the only guide I used was the one from GTD itself. I wish I had yours. Great article, and because I still feel drawn to using Reminders, I may try this exercise again with your trusty guide at my side.

Great work, and thanks for your generosity.

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This is a great guide. Thanks so much for sharing it.

My to do list is once again a mess, and I may take a run at implementing some of your ideas.

It appears that your Planning and Doing groups are equivalent to the Projects and Context perspectives in OmniFocus?

Yes, they are very similar.

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Thanks for the excellent guide. This has made me want to try out Reminders again as my main to-do app.

I love the system integration, notably Siri, but last time didn’t have the tags, as it was pre-iOS 15, so I gave up trying to implement GTD. I will miss the Omnifocus review, but I’ll try implementing recurring tasks for review instead and see how it goes!

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Heaping more praise on the pile. Very well done.

Do y’all feel the iPhone made all contexts available everywhere thereby making separate context lists unnecessary?

I wish Things had custom smart lists.

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Yes, a fantastic guide and a well thought-through structure. I was pleased to see it’s very similar indeed to the way I structure my Reminders for GTD, which gives me comfort I’m not way off-beam with my logic!

I also have a smart list my ‘Projects’ tag so I can easily review just project titles and see whether there are any without sub-tasks (ie no next action yet defined). I keep project material in Apple Notes and link the Project reminders to the relevant notes.

I was inspired by the use of ‘Planning’ and ‘Doing’ groups so have changed my grouping of lists to those labels!

I also have an ‘Agendas’ group of reminders lists. These are non-smart lists which means I don’t clutter up tags with lots of people’s names, and I don’t find many issues over wishing the items on an agenda to speak to someone about / include in a meeting were included within next actions or project planning instead.

Thanks again for sharing this resource.

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I still keep using context lists. I think it’s not related to a device on which I can review these lists. The iPhone makes these lists ubiquitous like a Hipster PDA can as well.

I have things to do at home, at work, errands to run, groceries to buy, agenda items to talk about, etc. These require a different mindset, so I like to keep them on separate lists.

But contexts are not required to do GTD per se.

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Thank you for the share!
I’ve tested Reminder many times, but eventually always came back to Things 3 because of the UI.

For example:

  • How you can move from a section to another one of the same reminder or a project
  • How you can bulk copy/paste a list and make it appear as a list of todos

It’s all frictionless on Things 3, and I haven’t found the same frictionless experience on Reminder (not yet).

That is, I always hope to go full to Reminders: I want to keep the less Apps as possibile installed on my devices.

I agree with your observations. I’ve been challenging myself to exclusively use Reminders for the past two weeks (I blame @Bmosbacker because he keeps talking about it!) after being a staunch user of Things 3 .

What I’ve liked about Reminders:

  1. Integration with other applications, especially Fantastical
  2. My data is kept within my iCloud account. I trust Apple more and 2FA is enforced.
  3. My iPadOS widgets refresh in the background (versus having to launch the app first)
  4. The breakdown of morning/afternoon/evening is nice in iPadOS/iOS 16 (though I wish you could tweak the times for each)
  5. ‘When Messaging’ has been great because I am an active iMessage user
  6. Location based alerts are convenient. Notifications when getting in / out of the car are also pretty neat.
  7. Tags are more prominent and flexible
  8. Smart lists are useful (though I wish you could say “any tag except x” in iPadOS 16)
  9. I can mark a reminder as completed ‘early’
  10. Being able to scan an image and have it included is great, especially for receipts
  11. The repeating options are pretty nice, especially “last day of the month”, which is perfect for bills.
  12. Sharing lists with my wife is great, especially for household chores and finances

What I dislike (or miss/prefer more in Things 3)*:

  1. The UI. Why are some of the fields so hidden from editing, while at the same time the UI displays fields that I wish I could hide so lists were more legible?
  2. I miss “start dates”. Sure, I can flag items, but often times I just want a task to disappear until a certain date.
  3. The lack of keyboard shortcuts
  4. I wish there was a system-wide command like Things Helper. Yes, I know I can use the ‘share’, InstaRemind, Fantastical, etc., but they don’t fill in all of the details from the app that I’m currently in.
  5. I miss being able to have a task repeat x days after it’s marked for completion
  6. The app seems to fit best on iPadOS which makes the macOS version feel clunky in comparison. For example, the UI for dragging reminders within macOS has weird drag point that make you feel like you’re using a web app like Todoist, while on iPadOS it feels natural.
  7. I miss being able to hide someday/maybe tasks
  8. Sorting options are limited. Why can’t I sort by due date, followed by title?
  9. Reminders lacks a “mail to add” feature. I’m guessing I can string something together with Mail.app + AppleScript, though.
  10. The UI is difficult to read on macOS and you can’t increase the font size
  11. Reminders gets a ‘Big Bang’ release once a year. Cultured Code moves at a snail’s pace, but at least they release more often. I’m also afraid that eventually Reminders will get treated as feature-complete and development will stop.
  12. No trash can for deleted items

*Perhaps some comes from ignorance, and if so, I’d love to hear of a better method!

The experiment is still ongoing and I’d say I’m 50/50 on whether I’ll revert back to Things 3 or stick with Reminders.

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Please keep us posted; I for one am interested in what you finally decide. I too miss a few features of Things 3. One of the “truisms” of app selection is that all of them require compromises, much like life. :slightly_smiling_face:

I tried this system for a day or two in Reminders, and stumbled over a limitation: There isn’t a way to set up a smart list for undated tasks. I use dates as start dates.

For example, I have a recurring task for giving the dog her trifexis supplement; it repeats monthly. I do not want to see it before the date is due. I guess most people would use a calendar entry for something like that, but I do not like to sue my calendar for that kind of thing.

My solution: GoodTasks. I am working on implementing this system in Goodtasks now.

This is available as a Smart List filter in betas of Reminders.

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Indeed, I may revisit this workflow in a few months when I’m up-to-date on iOS, iPad, and MacOS. In recent years, I’ve upgraded iOS and iPadOS immediately on general availability, but I’ve waited a bit on MacOS.

A big thing keeping me from switching from Things to Reminders is that I have gotten used to a Today view which shows all my areas in one view (e.g., “Home,” “Work,” etc.). With Reminders I seem to have to go to one list or the other. It might be that Apple’s way is better and I should yield, but I haven’t gotten there, yet.

I should try GoodTask again.

I’ll have to revisit GoodTask, but last I checked it could read the tag(s) from Reminders but you couldn’t edit them through GoodTask; apparently it’s a limitation on the Apple side. Has that changed, and if not, how are you working around that?