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Like most people I have many things that have to be done at a certain time or on a certain day.

Some examples:

  • wish a friend a happy birthday at a certain time
  • remember to bring XXX to work tomorrow
  • pay my credit card bill (the one that doesn't allow me to auto-pay the full amount)
  • order something so in gets here in time for _
  • buy concert tickets that go on sale at noon

Some of them absolutely need to be done at a precise time (e.g. concert tickets), while more often things need to be done tonight, but it doesn't matter what time. Generally I put a reminder in my phone (not a smart phone) but the problem is a have to basically guess at when I'll be available to do the thing.

For example, I may guess that I'll be home at 8pm tonight, but then it turns out that I meet a friend for dinner and don't get home until 10, and editing that reminder to change the time to 10 is clunky, sometimes rude (if I'm at the dinner table), and often I just have to guess again (at 8, how do I know if I'll be home at 10 or 10:30 or 11?).

Edit: Some good answers so far. I am realizing that my question is very specific - I am looking for a good, simple way to receive a snoozable reminder on my cell phone. Note that I don't have a smart phone so I'm limited to its built-in organizer or something via SMS. My phone's organizer does have a snooze button on reminders but the time is not configurable (it can only be ~10 minutes so if I'm not going to be free for 2 hours this is way too annoying) - I need an easy way to snooze for any amount of time. Also if you do have a smartphone and have a solution, I would love to hear it because I'm sure I'll give in and get one at some point.

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Welcome to Personal Productivity! I've removed the non constructive part to prevent your question form being closed, you can find it back here. We're generally trying to avoid GTKY questions... – Tom Wijsman Aug 19 '11 at 16:45

10 Answers 10

Before specific smart and dumb phone advice, a quick word about next actions versus tasks with due times. You are struggling with a canonical GTD problem: the difference between next actions and calendar tasks.

  • Things that you can do as soon as you're in the right place (e.g. at home, by a computer) are called next actions. They should go on a context list that you'll look at when you're in that "context". Remembering to grab a textbook to take to work the next day is a classic @home next action.

  • Buying concert tickets is something that must be done at a specific time (Gaga sells out so fast!). These tasks belong on a calendar or in a system that will interrupt you at precisely the right time.

Now the practical part, for those things you want to be interrupted to do right then:

  • Dumb phone

    I use Remember the Milk for all my to do list management (excessive details here). I tag interruption tasks with a reminder; they stay off my GTD context lists until that time. I can also set up RTM to send my phone an SMS when it's due, so you'll get a reminder at the exact time you wanted and you'll have the persistent reminder (an unread text) that the task is undone until you clear it. Reminders can be set for entire days (remember to bring XXX to work tomorrow) or specific times (buy concert tickets that go on sale at noon). Also, since the task will still be in your context list you'll see it as a next action when you're at your computer.

  • Smart phone

    Obviously the dumb phone system works on a smart phone too, except that you'll also be able to use the RTM app so you can manage your lists on the go, and not just receive reminders. The notification system in iOS 5 or on an Android phone should make it harder to miss or forget a text.

    If/when you upgrade phones, the built-in reminder app in iOS 5 will become another option. It includes geofencing, which will cause the reminder to go off when you get to a specific location (like home from the bar). :) Update: Evidently you can now use Siri to send tasks to RTM as well.

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Some of them absolutely need to be done at a precise time (e.g. concert tickets), while more often things need to be done tonight, but it doesn't matter what time. Generally I put a reminder in my phone (not a smart phone) but the problem is a have to basically guess at when I'll be available to do the thing.

I'm having the same problem and if I set an "arbitrary" alarm for tasks, I get bombarded with reminders and tend to ignore them automatically.

IMHO the following approach would be better:

  • create a list of things you'll have to do until next time you'll be able to see your complete task list, so e. g. until this evening.

So you have everything you'll need to know on this list. Now the only thing you'll need to do is looking on the list at the right time!

This sounds easy, but it maybe is not (my experience).

  • One solution might be to create and train a habit to regularly look at your list to see what has to be done.

  • Another solution would be to let your phone remind you not about a specific task but only about having a look at that damn list.

Sure, for appointments which really start at a certain time, you can define a specific reminder. But for everything else it should be enough to remember looking on your list, no?

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If you must do a task at a specific time you should plan to be next to the place where you need to do that task by that time, to do it at the right time is a matter of putting an alarm before you need to do the task. This way you should be able to stop with what you are doing and get yourself ready to do the task. Make sure that you don't perform a task that you can't stop at that time, check your alarms if you have multiple and forgot them...

If your alarms collide with other events, you need to use a calendar to schedule your time. That way, you can plan in advance and when your friend tries to schedule the dinner at that time; you say you need to get your concert tickets at evening before they are sold out and hence plan the dinner for the next day...

Tasks that have to be done on a certain day are a matter of scheduling tasks in a task system (like GTD), those that have to be done by a certain day can be given a deadline. Most software solutions provide fields for those and on paper it's a matter of writing the date along. And in the agenda, put it on those days.

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If you are in front of computer you can use something like Stickies (free application from Or, you can use Google calendar for instance and set reminders with sms notifications. Or you can appoint new tasks using your mobile phone etc... I personally write sms and send it to draft so that I can delete rows in the sms meessage as I get done one by one.

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There are applications for smartphones that use the cell location / wi-fi location / GPS to set off an alarm based on your current location. Guess that would solve your problems regarding alarms for home being delayed until you're actually home, or to remind you of getting something at the pharmacy if you either set the location of a pharmacy you know to be on your way, or if you just set it to go off once you're a certain distance from the office.
For Android, go to the Android Market and search for something like "location aware alarm" - which gave me two hits immediately. I also remember seeing something like this for Symbian (though that was a while ago). Not sure that iOS with its limitation of background tasks allows anything like this.

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If you have an iPhone, or other iOS device, use the app called Due. You can quickly register tasks, set a time, recurring if necessary and it will remind you when they are due. If you can't do the task at the allotted time then it is simple to put the task off by ten minutes, one hour or one day. Muliple clicks put off the task by multiple minutes, hours, days. If you ignore the alarm, it will remind you every minute or hour until you have done it or put it off. Due is a tireless reminder of tasks.

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Instead of guessing the time when you'll be available to do it, note all the things that you want to do and then check the list when you get available. Simply put, do it the other way round.

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This can work in some scenarios, but not others - for example, my list would either be online somewhere, or on paper. Now consider something I need to do on my way home (say, for example, I'm going to dinner and have to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy when walking home from dinner). If my list is online, I'm not going to see it until I get home. If it's in my pocket, I have to check it specifically between the dinner and the pharmacy, and the chances of that happening are slim. – Jer Aug 25 '11 at 21:28
I understand your concern. I have searched Android Market and found that there are a quite few apps that can show up reminders based on time, location and deadlines, etc. Appstore might have better ones though. I should try them on my phone. I will let you know if I liked any. – Sundeep Aug 28 '11 at 6:06

Tasklist is a feature of every cellphone today. It has an inbuilt alarm system which you can use. Use it.

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I do - but the big problem with that is that it's too clunky to "snooze" the alarm. – Jer Aug 25 '11 at 21:26

The switching from paper to computer is a common problem.

Currently, I keep everything on the computer, because its easier to edit/rearrange than on paper:

  • Tasks and projects ordered in trees
  • Active calendar for meetings and appointments (the one I have to use at work).
  • Date calendar (people's birthdays, when things expire) this is just a file with a header for each month.
  • List of recurring tasks (e.g. cut hair, call parents tidy flat, do accounts)

Every week I:

  • Go through the list of recurring tasks, and copy any that need to be done on my to do list/active calendar*.
  • Go through the date calendar and see what's coming up, and if I need to do anything about it, it goes on my to do list/active calendar*.

*If something has to happen at a specific date/time, it goes into the active calendar, else its on the to-do list.

I do all of the organising on the computer. When I leave the computer for any period of time, I get a scrap piece of paper and write everything that needs to be done before I next get back onto the computer. When I get back, I cross-off things from the list of tasks, and if there's stuff I wrote on the paper while I was out, they get copied onto the computer-based system. I never have more than one piece of paper.

I find this works well: it's minimal fuss, and I never miss anything, though its amusing to see people at meetings look at my torn scrap of paper and assume I'm completely disorganised :-)

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My biggest trick has been google calendar and gmail, I use gmail to remind mysel of thing's to do, and I set goals, appointments, into google calendar.

I also bring my ipod touch with me, so any appointment is entered on that, and when I get home synch's to google calendar.

After years of trying different systems, software and plans, I usually stick to what is simplest and easiest to use, since that's what i'll actually use.

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