All about Reminders

Whether it’s to pay the bills, replace furnace filters, or take the ferret to the vet for its annual cleaning, we all need reminding from time to time. Yes, you can accomplish this through a calendar event and alarm, but a calendar is too broad a tool for this kind of thing. What you really need is the digital equivalent of a scrap of paper onto which you write notes and shove into a handy pocket. Such is exactly the purpose of Mountain Lion’s Reminders application.

This is another OS X application originally rooted in Apple’s iOS. And it differs very little from its iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad counterpart. Fire it up and here’s what you see.

☑ The overview

Reminders is made up of two major areas by default. On the left side of the window you find any lists you’ve created. For instance, you might find Work and Home headings here. If you’ve configured your Mac with an iCloud account (or other services that support reminders including Yahoo, Exchange, and Hotmail, but not Google Tasks), you’ll see headings for those services, under which will be lists associated with them.

On the right side of the window are the reminders that are associated with the selected list. For example, if you’ve created a Home list, when you click it you’ll see the Take Out The Trash, Tune The Piano, and Eat More Leafy Green Vegetables reminders you’ve created for that list. If you’ve ticked off (and by this I mean “completed” rather than “angered”) any reminders in this list, you’ll spy a Completed entry at the top of this list (you may need to scroll up to reveal this entry).

You can make the list column disappear by clicking the Hide Sidebar button (Command-Option-S) at the bottom left of the window. And you can show or hide a monthly calendar by clicking the Calendar button (Command-Option-K).

The Reminders window bears two Plus (+) buttons. The one at the bottom of the list column is for creating a new list (Command-L). The button in the top right of the reminder pane is for creating new reminders (Command-N).

☑ Creating and configuring reminders

As I just mentioned, you can create a new reminder by clicking the Plus (+) button in the reminders area or press Command-N. Additionally, you can simply click the first unoccupied line in a reminder list and a new reminder will appear, ready for you to enter the information you like.

As soon as you start typing, a small gray Info icon appears to the right of your reminder. Click it (or press Command-I) to configure the details of your reminder. Specifically, in the resulting window you can change the name of the reminder, choose when (and where) you’ll be reminded, assign a priority to the reminder, and add a note to it.

Click Info to configure your reminder.

When you enable the On a Day option, date and time entries appear below. Click the date entry and you can choose a date from a monthly calendar. To move from month to month, use the left and right arrow buttons. To return to the current date, just click the dot that sits between the two arrows. You edit time as you normally would be changing the hour and minute fields and choosing AM or PM. Also, when you enable this option, a Repeat entry appears. Use this to repeat the reminder every day (Take Your Pills), every week (Attend Team Meeting), every two weeks (Suck Up To The Boss), every month (Pay Alimony), or every year (Arbor Day).

The At a Location entry may puzzle you, particularly if you’re using a desktop Mac rather than something more portable such as a MacBook Air. After all, what good does it do by telling your iMac that you’d like to be reminded to pick up Ferret Friskies when you’re within shouting distance of the Weasel Warehouse?

The location entry is all about syncing and your iPhone. One of the marvels of Apple’s phone is that it knows where it is, and it can use that knowledge to perform minor miracles. In this instance, it’s quite aware of where the Weasel Warehouse is and it’s more than happy—with a reminder in hand to instruct it to do so—to issue a gentle nudge when you’re close to this source of comestibles for the discerning mustelidae.

Create location-aware reminders on your Mac and have them appear on your iPhone.

Better still is that you can configure these location reminders to go off either when you leave or arrive at a particular place. On the day’s list of things to do may be Cut Hair followed by Attend Soccer Game that are arranged that way because of how your day’s appointments fall. It makes little sense to wait to offer up an Attend Soccer Game reminder until you’re actually at the field. Far better to create that reminder so that it goes off when you leave Krazy Kuts.

Entering a location is simple. If you’ve created a contact that bears an address, just enter that contact’s name—Weasel Warehouse or Krazy Kuts, for example. Otherwise, type in a street address and tap Done.

While this feature is iPhone-centric, you may prefer to create these kinds of reminders on your Mac. Many of us find it easier to enter information with our computer’s keyboard and some people like to organize their lives on their Macs. Using the Reminders application is one way to do that.

There are four priorities you can assign to a reminder—none, low, medium, and high. When you assign a priority other than none to a reminder, exclamation marks appear next to the reminder (!, !!, and !!!, respectively). These priority marks appear on other devices synced with your reminders.

And the Note field is for exactly that. Click Done when you’ve finished configuring your reminder.

☑ Using reminders

Reminders works very much like a pen-and-paper list, but it’s smarter. When you’ve completed a task, just click the checkbox next to it to mark the reminder as complete. If it’s a reminder that doesn’t repeat, it will disappear from the list and be added to that list’s Completed items. (As well as the overall Completed list that appears at the top of Reminders’ lists.)

If, however, it’s a repeating reminder, that instance of the reminder will be replaced with the next one. For example, if you’ve checked off your fortnightly Suck Up To The Boss item, that item will remain, but it will display the next iteration of the reminder, two weeks hence.

Reminder items need not stay in the list in which they were created. You can easily move them to another list by selecting and dragging them to a list of your choice. Optionally, you can Control-click (right-click) a reminder and choose Move to List from the resulting menu.

If you’d like to remove a list, just select it and choose Edit > Delete or Control-click (right-click) it and choose Delete.

☑ Sharing reminders

Reminders provides a number of ways to share your to-do items. You can select an item and choose File > Export. Or you can select a reminder and drag it to the desktop, where it turns into a .ics file that you can send to others. Importing these files can be done through File > Import, or by dragging the file on top of the Reminders icon in the Dock. When you do this, you’ll be asked which list you’d like to add the reminder to. (I’ve had to quit and restart Reminders for these imported items to appear.)

This is one way to share your reminders, but you may have to use Reminders to remind you to do it. A more efficient method is to share a list. And it’s easily done if the person you want to share with also has an iCloud account and is using Mountain Lion 10.8.2 or later.

Just hover your cursor over a list you’ve created and you’ll see a broadcast icon appear to the right of the list’s name. Click that icon and a small window appears. Into this window add the iCloud email addresses of those you wish to share the list with. (If the person you want to share with is in the Contacts application and that contact has an associated email address, just type their name.)

Share a reminder list.

When you click Done, the person you want to share with will be sent a couple of invitations. One will appear in their iCloud email. When they click Join Reminders in that message, they’ll be taken to the iCloud site where they must sign into their account. The other invitation appears in their copy of the Reminders application. The shared list will appear in the list column. To join the list the participant simply selects that list and clicks the Accept button that appears in the Reminders area. Those sharing your list will be able to add, update, and delete reminders in this list.

And that’s Reminders, an easy-to-use and lightweight to-do application.

Next week: Introduction to Messages

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