Siri, Reminders and OmniFocus

I am a huge fan of having a “Trusted System” where you store anything and everything that is actionable. For quite a long time that has been OmniFocus for me. To the point where I don’t even bother to look at other reminder apps when they come out — I have no interest.

Then Apple added the Reminders app to iOS, with the ability to remind you of tasks as you leave or arrive at certain locations. I thought: OK that is too cool and too handy not to give a go. And it is, incredibly handy and creates a somewhat ideal situation for a task management app — for people that don’t care about due dates.

OmniFocus, being the smart ones that they are, quickly added this functionality to OmniFocus on iOS and just when I thought that I now could let go of Reminders, Apple upped the ante and brought us Siri.

With Siri I can create a reminder that is location aware without ever hitting a key on my iPhone — that’s pretty powerful for a guy that drives ~90 minutes round trip every day. 1

So do I use both apps, effectively destroying my trusted system, or do I forgo the added benefits of one or the other?

I chose the former, but I found out it doesn’t destroy anything.

What I have found (and am not alone in finding) is that you can have a pretty elegant solution by using both the Reminders app and OmniFocus. For any task that I create on my Mac, I use OmniFocus as the sole repository. It is still the best option and easiest to use when my fingers are already on the keyboard.

However, OmniFocus has two big limiting factors:

  1. It does not natively integrate with Siri.
  2. Location aware reminders are based on the context that you add to the task, not the individual task as with the Reminders app. (More on this in a bit.)

You could also add a third downfall, which is in my testing Reminders seems to remind you when you really are at the location, whereas OmniFocus seems to remind you when I get within 0.5 miles of the location — that’s a bit annoying.

Location Reminders with OmniFocus

As I noted above OmniFocus uses contexts to provide the location data to each task, whereas Reminders uses input on a per task basis. This is both good and bad. To get around the inevitable need for a reminder when leaving instead of when arriving, in OmniFocus you need to create two contexts, such as:

  1. Office – arriving
  2. Office – leaving

Then setup your tasks accordingly. This is a pretty good solution, especially when applied on your Mac — but certainly not as elegant as Reminders.

The problem with OmniFocus, though, is that the reminders are not pushed to the phone — you must manually pull them down by opening the app.

Often I find that I set a reminder on my Mac for when I get home, only to arrive home never having seen that reminder. The problem is that I didn’t open OmniFocus on my iPhone prior to getting home. Bummer.

My work around is Siri and the Reminders app and truthfully this is more of a solution than a work around.

Siri + Reminders

What I have found is that those one-off reminders that belong to no project and therefore are simple “reminders” fit pretty well in the Reminders app. 2 So instead of looking at Reminders as a competitor to OmniFocus, instead I look at it as a completely different app that complements OmniFocus.

Siri is essentially my personal nagger. In that I always ask people (mainly my Wife): remind me next time we go to X to do Y. As any couple knows, asking your significant other to remind you of something is rather hit and miss — not so with Siri.

So instead of using Reminders to store tasks I use it to store, well, reminders. OmniFocus stores my tasks, projects, and goals — everything else I just ask Siri to remind me of, because typically these are just simple things that truly are reminders.

This doesn’t break my trusted system, instead it cleans it out for me. The reminders I input typically aren’t actionable things that I need to do, as much as things I just need to remember.

This all works surprisingly well.

  1. A side note: You can use Siri to create tasks in OmniFocus via email, but that is an inelegant hack that I have no interest in.
  2. Go figure.
Originally posted for members on: October 31, 2011
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