Software, Development, and WordPress

My Day-To-Day: Using Reminders To Get Things Done

Earlier this year, I talked about how I use Things to help get things done. Since that post, a few things have changed.

As I alluded to last week, I’ve been purging a lot of stuff in my online life in an attempt to greatly increase the signal to noise ratio such that I’ve really only got the things I need to get done (or things that I enjoy doing) in order to make sure that I am as focused as can be with as few distractions as possible.

One of the transitions that I’ve been working on in the last few months is migrating my “Getting Things Done” model from Things to Apple’s Reminders application.

Using Reminders For GTD

In my original post on using Things, I mentioned the following:

My preferred method of organizing and managing tasks is using GTD. I’ve tried a number of different ways or organizing tasks, but this particular is what works best for my how I naturally work.

The thing about using GTD is that I also organize all of my personal tasks using this method, as well. This means that if I have a bill to pay, a phone call to make, or a reminder email to send, then it goes into my task list with the appropriate label.

Personally, I’m a big fan of Things. I’ve tried nearly every TODO list app that’s available – I’ve always come back to it. In fact, I’m so sold out on GTD and Things that I’ve got it on both my desktop and mobile devices.

There’s one caveat about GTD: I don’t use that many labels.

For the most part, I still follow this exact model, but I’ve found the Apple’s built in application, Reminders, has done just as good a job at making sure that I’m able to classify, date, and sort my tasks all the while using iCloud to sync data across my devices and do so with a simpler interface. Reminders So from the screen above, you can see the following:

  • I tag each TODO item with where it falls. For example, you see [Pressware] and you see [Tom]. Those two things refer to things I need to do for my business or for myself, my family, respectively.
  • Next, you’ll see that I assign tasks to a date. Since it’s stored in iCloud it’s available on all of the devices that I have that offer Reminders.
  • Finally, it allows me to search, to see my completed tasks, and to see what tasks I have outstanding

As much as I like – and will continue to recommend Things, I’ve found that Reminders’ offerings are simpler and more focused but still allow me to track the things that I need to get done.

What About Events?

This is really more of a topic for another post, but I’m quick to delineate between Events and Tasks.

  • Events belong on my calendar
  • Tasks belong in Reminders

Easy as that. After all, events are things that you are usually attending, right? Therefore, it makes sense to schedule them somewhere on a calendar; however, one of the reasons that I do this is also because it’s easy to share the events with my wife so she knows what my schedule looks like week to week.

The details of my tasks are of far less interesting.

This Won’t Work For You

As with most other posts in this series, I can’t say whether or not this will work for you, nor am I even recommending it.

I’m just sharing how I’ve transitioned from one GTD application to another and not missed a beat. As far as scheduling events are concerned, perhaps I’ll cover that in another post.

But, for now, this is how I’m getting things done.


  1. Max Leitch

    Do you use Evernote as part of your GTD workflow? If so, what do you think of their take on reminders?

    • Tom McFarlin

      I can’t really speak to Evernote. I’ve tried three times to integrate it into my workflow and it doesn’t work, so I’ve just opted to stop trying :).

  2. Cam Brennan

    I’m right there with you on using Reminders Tom, I love it! It’s so simple, already cooked in to the Apple ecosystem and is much more useful than most people realize.

    I never thought about adding labels, I always used separate lists. But when looking at day view you never see what list each to-do is on. Thanks for the tip!!

    • Tom McFarlin

      Yeah – the labels are how I deal with having “multiple lists” per day. It’s also easier to know how to prioritize stuff. Generally speaking, the work stuff is of greater priority during the week :).

  3. Japh

    After mulling this over for a couple of days, I’m going to try switching to Reminders for GTD and see how I go.

    Do you use recurring Reminders much?

    • Tom McFarlin

      I only have two recurring reminders and they are for doing stuff around the house. That’s really the only ones I have right now :).

      • Japh

        Haha! My recurring reminder is to put the garbage out weekly.

  4. Chris Howard

    Nice, Tom. I have to meekly ask though, with trepidation someone will hear me, what’s your secret for *doing*?

    I have lists overflowing with things to do. Reminders popping up and ignored.

    The big things I tend to get done, but the lesser things just keep getting pushed back until they become urgent or very important. :(

    I’ve tried so many systems, including Things and Reminders. But none of them help me overcome me.

    (one thing I’ve had a little success with is to only put 3 things on the todo list. And when those 3 are done, add another 3.)

    Anyways, that’s just me. Always been the ninja of not getting things done. :/

    • Tom McFarlin

      This is a tough spot because really, at the end of the day, no application, methodology, or whatever is going to actually get the stuff done for us, you know?

      If I had a secret for doing (which I don’t really), it really comes down to time management. I make sure that all the things around me are conducive to getting work done. I don’t participate in certain social media (although some I do, obviously :)), and I make sure that anything that could be a distraction simply isn’t.

      Then, each day, I look at the things that I need to get done and I work through the list.

      If an item on the list doesn’t get done, then I move it to the next day. Eventually, I catch up. Rarely do things get pushed back until they are urgent.

      One strategy that I do think is useful is to mix in what you have to do with what you want to do. For example, say you need to respond to some emails – though you don’t really want to – and say you also want to write a blog post.

      For everyone, say, three emails you respond to, you get to work on a draft of the post. Bounce back and forth between the two, and maybe you’ll make progress.

      The thing is that we’re all made differently so the way in which we get stuff done is going to vary from personality type to personality type. I personally don’t think that’s a prescriptive method that works for everyone.

      It’s more of a matter of what works best given our personalities (or putting aside the things that end up causing distraction).

      • Chris Hwoard

        Thanks, Tom. I will work on that idea.

        Communication has a become the rod of distraction on our backs.

        I’m 50, but when I was young, lol, you read the paper in the morning, and that was it. Now the paper is there 24/7.

        If you wanted to write to someone, well, you did – on paper. Which meant writing was a conversation. You picked up the phone for that. Dealt with it there and then.

        So much of our communication now is conversational. And as I see with my kids, the problem of conversation is you have to remain engaged. They have conversations via messaging that goes for hours or days even. And they “can’t go to bed, I’m in the middle of a (text) conversation”.

        I’m digressing a little, but even though I’m 50, I’ve been dragged into this modern world of distraction and endless conversation.

        What did Elvis say? “A little less conversation, a little more action”.

        I think I need to make that my mantra.

  5. Chris Howard

    oops. Should say
    “If you wanted to write to someone, well, you did – on paper. Which meant writing was NOT a conversation.”

  6. Jorge Silvestrini

    So now with the new iOS 7 and the improving of reminders and notes, has your workflow changed a bit or stayed the same? I’m using more reminders and notes and trying to leave Wunderlist. Evernote still has useful things for me, specially for its search features. Think of it more as my virtual file cabinet.

  7. Rich

    Is there any way to forward emails to reminders to create an reminder?

    This has been the thing that has kept me in evernote for gtd – the simple way that I can get an email and then ship it off to the inbox in EN. This is probably how I create 75% of all my GTD actions.

    • Tom McFarlin

      Unfortunately, I don’t think so. It’s pretty much just as-is.

      The one thing it has going, rather than email, is the iCloud sync so that if you add something on your computer, it’ll show up on your i-device (and vice versa).

    • krrh

      You might want to check out the iOS app Dispatch. It’s designed for fast processing to inbox zero, and includes the ability to quickly create a reminder out of an email while archiving it out of the inbox. It actually works with dozens of other todo list managers.

      It creates special links in the notes of a todo item so you can directly access the archived email on your iOS device or Mac (via a helper utility).

  8. Maryam

    Hi, what exact lists and labels do you use out of interest? I’m new to the GTD system abd iPhones! still trying to get my head around it…. How does the next step in one of your project for example move to the next list automatically when you have completed one task? Or do you do this manually? I’m used to using every task on android which does it all for you once you’ve set it up. Thanks.

    • Tom

      Rather than using labels, I use lists so for example I have a ‘Shared’ list for my wife and me, I have a ‘Personal’ list for my stuff, I have a ‘Pressware’ list for work stuff.

      I then place each action item on that particular list, date it, and then add notes as necessary.

      Hope this helps!

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