Apple’s Mac Reminders App Is More Capable Than You May Realize

With Apple’s productivity apps like Calendar, Contacts, Notes, and Reminders, which look and work pretty much the same on the Mac and in iOS, what you see is largely what you get. Particularly in iOS, they tend not to have much in the way of hidden depths.

With Reminders, however, Apple’s engineers snuck some surprising little features into the Mac version. We like using Siri on the iPhone, Apple Watch, and HomePod to add items to our iCloud-synced Reminders to-do lists and shopping lists whenever we think of them. And then, when we’re at our Macs, all those reminders are waiting for us. Here are some useful tricks on the Mac that you may not have noticed.

Open List in New Window

By default, Reminders is a single-window app with a sidebar that shows all your lists. You can hide the sidebar to focus on a single list at a time, at which point you navigate between lists by clicking the dots at the bottom of the screen or swiping on a trackpad.

But what if you want to see multiple lists at once? You can open any list in its own window by double-clicking it in the sidebar or by choosing Window > Open List in New Window. Resize and position that window as you like. Reminders even remembers which lists you had open if you quit and relaunch (and if it doesn’t, deselect the “Close windows when quitting an app” checkbox in System Preferences > General).

Check Today’s Tasks and Notice the Scheduled List

Perhaps the best part of making reminders is telling Siri to alert you at a particular time. “Hey Siri, remind me to test my backups on Friday the 13th at 9 AM.” Such reminders work well if you just want a notification at that time, but for those who like to see what’s coming up, Reminders has a few features for you.

To see what you’ve scheduled for today, choose View > Go to Today—we prefer the Command-T shortcut. To expand your view of tasks to those you didn’t finish yesterday (drat!) and those that are coming soon, click the automatically generated Scheduled list at the top of the sidebar. (It also exists at the top of the list of lists in the iOS version of Reminders.) The Scheduled list shows every reminder that has an associated time—it’s helpful for longer-term planning.

The Scheduled list may become overwhelming if you schedule lots of tasks, so Reminders on the Mac has one more trick for helping you view your tasks by date. Choose View > Show Calendar to display a tiny calendar at the bottom of the sidebar. Any date that has tasks on it gets a dot underneath; click one to see that day’s items.

Set and Sort By Priorities… Or Not

For those who have so many tasks that they need to prioritize them to stay on track, Reminders provides four levels of priority: None, Low, Medium, and High. To set and reset them quickly for a selected to-do, use the keyboard shortcuts:

  • Command-1 for Low
  • Command-2 for Medium
  • Command-3 for High
  • Command-4 for None

Once you’ve set priorities, choose View > Sort By > Priority to put your most urgent items at the top. Alas, if you have multiple Reminders lists open at once, the Sort By setting applies to all of them. So you might want to switch back and forth between Priority and other sorts, such Due Date, Creation Date, or Title. Or choose Manual and drag the items into the order you like.

Other Shortcuts

If you want to move an item from one list to another, you can drag it. The trick is to click to the left of its circle or the right of its name; clicking on the name will start editing. You can also Command-click to select multiple items or Shift-Click to select a range of items.

Although clicking the i button that appears when you hover over an item lets you set its notifications and priority, it’s easier to double-click the item. Or, you can Control- or right-click to the left of any item to update it too. Even better, select multiple items first, and then Control- or right-click them to modify them all once! And if your goal is to delete unnecessary items rather than marking them as completed, just select them and press the Delete key.

 

View Notes in Their Own Windows, and Float Them Over Everything Else

Here’s one for those who use Apple’s Notes app for storing bits of information. By default, Notes in macOS gives you a single window, with each note listed in a sidebar. But what if you want to see two notes at once? Or keep one always available no matter what else you’re doing? Select the desired notes in the sidebar by Command-clicking them, and then choose Window > Float Selected Notes to open them in their own windows. Or, just double-click them in the sidebar! Then, to make sure one or more of those windows is never obscured by another app, make it active and then choose Window > Float on Top. It’s still a normal window that you can move and resize and close, but no other app will appear over it. See how Safari is the frontmost app below, but the Notes window is on top?

Count Selected Items in a Folder with the Finder’s Status Bar

When you work in a Finder window on the Mac, take note of the helpful Status bar. It can tell you how many items are in a folder, as well as how many items you have selected. This latter bit of information is useful if, say, you need to move five items to another folder and you want to verify that you’ve selected all five. The Status bar also shows the amount of free space remaining on your drive and provides a slider to change icon size if the window is in Icon view. Look for the Status bar at the bottom of every Finder window (or the top, if the toolbar is hidden). If you don’t see it, choose View > Show Status Bar.

Use Tabs in Apps in Sierra

We’ve all become accustomed to opening Web pages in separate tabs in Safari, Google Chrome, and Firefox. And in OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Apple gave us the capability to open different folders in tabs in Finder windows, making it easy to work in multiple folders with limited screen real estate.

In macOS 10.12 Sierra, Apple has gone one step further, building tab support in system-wide so you can open windows in tabs in most Mac apps. Tab support is “free” for apps; developers don’t need to do anything to support it and you won’t need to download an update to take advantage of it in most of your apps. (Some apps based on older code don’t support tabs at all, but those will be few and far between.)

So how do you get started with tabs and how can you use them in your everyday work?

First, to determine whether Sierra was able to add tab support to a particular app, look in that app’s View and Window menus. If you see View > Show Tab Bar and tab-related commands in the Window menu, you’re good to go.

Next, if Show Tab Bar doesn’t have a checkmark on the View menu, choose it to reveal the tab bar, which appears between the app’s main toolbar and the document itself. You’ll see a tab for the current document or window, and (in most apps) a + button at the right side of the tab bar. Here we’re showing three tabs in Maps.

app-tabs-maps

One final setup step: By default, documents open in separate windows. To make them open in tabs, open System Preferences > Dock, and choose Always from the “Prefer tabs when opening documents” pop-up menu. This setting applies both to existing documents and those you create by choosing File > New.

app-tabs-prefs

Now that everything is configured, here’s what you can do:

  • Create a new, empty tab: Click the + button in the tab bar.
  • Move between tabs:
    • Click the desired tab.
    • Choose Window > Show Next Tab (to the right) or Show Previous Tab (to the left).
    • Press the Control-Tab (next) and Control-Shift-Tab (previous) keyboard shortcuts.
    • Choose Window > Tab Name.
  • Merge multiple windows into tabs in one window:
    • Drag a document’s tab from one window’s tab bar to the tab bar in another window.
    • Choose Window > Merge All Windows.
  • Move a tab to its own window:
    • Drag the tab out of its tab bar until it becomes a thumbnail of the document.
    • Choose Window > Move Tab to New Window.
  • Rearrange the order of tabs: Drag a tab to the desired position in the tab bar.
  • Close a tab:
    • Hover over the tab to see the X button at the left side of the tab. Click the X.
    • Choose File > Close Tab.
    • Press Command-W.

Getting used to tabs may require a little adjustment, but if you configure your Mac to always prefer tabs when opening documents, using tabs will quickly become second nature, just as it is in Web browsers.

Sierra Simplifies Aligning Windows

Here’s what may be the most subtle new feature of Sierra: when you’re dragging one window next to another, Sierra makes them “stick” slightly when their edges align perfectly. You’re most likely to notice this in the Finder, if you work regularly in two side-by-side windows for moving files around your system, but it applies to any two windows, even those from different apps. To see this effect in action, open two windows and then drag one toward the other, noticing how it stops briefly when the window edges meet up. If the feature gets in the way of aligning windows as you want, press Option to disable it while you’re dragging. This window alignment feature won’t change how you use your Mac, but it should make for a neater screen.

tip-Sierra-align-windows

 

Cycle through a Mac App’s Windows via the Keyboard

It’s easy, in some apps, to end up with oodles of open windows. You can usually switch between them by clicking those you can see or by choosing one from the Window menu, but wouldn’t it be nice to cycle through them from the keyboard, much as you can cycle through active apps with Command-Tab? You can! By default, the shortcut is Command-Backtick (the key above Tab), but if you want to change it to something else, open System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Keyboard and look for “Move focus to next window” in the list. To change the shortcut, double-click right on it in the list and type your preferred alternative.

keyboard-cycle-windows-shortcut

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