How to be productive with Apple’s task manager app.
Why Use Apple Reminders for GTD?
For years, Apple’s Reminders app was a pretty basic to-do list app. It lacked many of the features that people wanted in order to implement Getting Things Done, (GTD), a popular productivity system from David Allen.
Times have changed. It’s still not a perfect GTD app, but it’s much better than it used to be. If you are in the Apple ecosystem, it’s well worth taking the time to see how Reminders can work for you.
How to Make Lists in Apple Reminders
Every great GTD system starts with a list. Whether you strictly follow the original philosophy, or you adapt it to meet your needs (like I do), you will want to start with creating lists to house your tasks. Here’s how.
- Open the Reminders app
- Tap “Add List” at the bottom of your screen
- Enter the name of your list; Projects, Next Actions, Waiting For, etc.
- Choose a color and an icon for your list
- Repeat for as many lists as you need
Lists can be reordered as needed. On iOS, press and hold on a list and then drag it up or down. On a Mac, click and drag to do the same thing. The order you set on one device will sync to your other Apple devices, so long as you are signed in with the same Apple ID.
You can choose a default list in Reminders. This is particularly useful when interfacing with Siri. I have a list called “Inbox” as my default. I use it to capture ideas quickly. I return to this list periodically to perform some triage and move tasks to a dedicated list.
On an iPhone or an iPad, you go to Settings > Reminders to select your default list. On a Mac, you click Reminders > Preferences to pick your default list.
Collecting Tasks and Filling Up Your Inbox
Now that you have your lists set up, the next obvious step is filling them up. David Allen said your mind is for having ideas, not holding ideas, so the sooner you get things on a list, the sooner you can put your mind at rest.
One of the nice things about using Apple Reminders for GTD is that there are multiple different ways for you to add things to your list. Here are some of your options.
1. The Reminders App
An obvious place to start is the Reminders app on your mobile device or your Mac. Once you open the app, all you have to do is select the list you want to add a task to and then tap or click “New Reminder”.
2. Share Menus
If you are browsing the web or using an app on your phone, you can add something to your task list via the Share menu. On iOS, tap the Share arrow in the corner of the screen and then select the Reminders app. From here, you can choose the list you need.
On a Mac, you can use File > Share while using Safari or Chrome to find the Reminders app. In Firefox, you can click the three buttons in the address bar to find the Share menu and then pick Reminders.
You can also add to Reminders from the Share menu in Notes or Mail.
3. Ask Siri
Apple’s digital assistant is another great way to add tasks. I use it a lot while I am driving. I say things like, “Remind me to call Mike when I get home.”
Tasks are added to your default list (see above), but you can specify the list you want with a command like, “Add milk to my Shopping List.” Siri works on an iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, HomePod, and with CarPlay.
4. Use iCloud.com
It’s not ideal, but if you are using a Windows computer, and you don’t have access to any of your Apple devices, you can view and add tasks to Reminders by visiting iCloud.com.
The web version has a more limited feature set, but it works in a pinch, and it’s available on any desktop computer.
When adding a task in Reminders, there are several options you may want to take advantage of to help you see the task at a specific time or even at a specific location. To find all the options that are available to you, tap or click the “i” next to a new reminder. The selections include:
Remind Me on a Day
Turn this on to be reminded about a task on a specific day. You can choose the default time to be reminded on iOS in Settings > Reminders or in Reminders > Preferences on a Mac. Drill deeper, and you can add a custom time and decide if you want this to be a task that repeats on a schedule.
Remind Me at a Location
You can be reminded of tasks at specific geographic locations or at locations your iPhone already knows, like home or work. You can also add variables like getting in your car or getting out of your car because your iPhone knows when it is connected or disconnected from your car.
Remind Me When Messaging
This lets you select a contact that you want to tag in a task. So, if your task says, “Ask Brian about the latest quote for materials”, then the next time you are messaging Brian, you will be reminded of that task.
Flags and Priority Levels
To mark tasks as important, you can flag them. This adds a visual reminder to each task and automatically adds that task to a smart list (see below).
If you prefer, you can add a priority level. You can choose between low, medium, and high priority. This adds one, two, or three exclamation points before the task title, depending on the priority level you pick.
Organizing GTD Tasks in Apple Reminders
You can add as many tasks as you want in Reminders, but your productivity won’t increase unless you get those tasks organized. Here are some tips to help filter out the noise and get focused.
1. Reorder Tasks
To sort the tasks on your list, simply drag and drop them into the order that you need. Do this daily to organize your work.
2. Smart Lists
There are several smart lists (or filters) you can use to view your tasks. “Today” shows tasks with today’s date and any overdue tasks. “Scheduled” shows all tasks with a date, “Flagged” shows your flagged tasks, and “All” shows all the tasks from all your lists.
You can hide or show the Smart Lists you want on iOS by tapping the three dots at the top of the Lists screen and then tapping Edit Lists. On a Mac, go to View > Show Smart List for a similar option.
3. Grouped Lists
Lists organize tasks. Groups organize lists. For instance, you could have a Group called Projects, and a separate list for each project could live inside that Group. You could do the same for Next Actions and have a list for Work and a list for Home.
To create a Group on iOS, tap the three dots at the top of the Lists screen and choose Edit Lists. Next, tap Add group. On macOS, go to File > New Group. Once you have your Group created, drag and drop your lists into a group to combine them in one place.
You can’t implement a good GTD system without subtasks. You can turn a task into a subtask by dragging and dropping it on top of another task.
iOS users can tap the “i” next to a task and then enter subtasks from the Details menu, or swipe right on a task and select Indent. On a Mac, right-click on a task and pick the option that says, “Indent reminder”.
5. Move Tasks
There are several ways to move tasks from one list to another. On a Mac or an iPad, the easiest way is just to drag a task to the sidebar, where you can drop it onto the list that you want to move it to.
On an iPhone or iPad, you can also tap the “i” on any task to enter the details screen, where you can select a different list for that task to live. Tap “Done” to save the new location.
6. Sort Tasks
To change the default view of a list, you can sort your tasks by due date, creation date, priority and more.
On an iPhone or iPad, tap the three dots above your list, and select “Sort By” to see your sorting options. On a Mac, go to View > Sort By.
Adding Contexts in Reminders
While contexts are an important part of many people’s GTD system, I have to hold up my hands and say that they are not a big part of mine.
However, the ability to add contexts in Apple Reminders is easy to manage thanks to tags. You can add a tag to any task by typing a hashtag and the name of the tag. For instance, #office, #home, #phone, #email, etc.
You can also add tags by clicking the “i” next to a task and navigating to the Details screen, where you can tap or click on “Tags”.
Once you have added some tags, you will be able to view them in the tag browser that lives underneath your lists. You can click or tap on any tag to view all the tasks that are associated with that tag.
The Case for Apple Reminders & GTD
I have used numerous task managers over the years; Wunderlist, Todoist, Microsoft To Do, TickTick, and many more. However, I feel like Apple Reminders is finally flexible enough to do what I need it to do.
Reminders has evolved from a simple to-do list app to a full-featured task manager. Again, it’s not perfect, but it does what I need to do, and it works well for the GTD system that I employ.
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