Those of you who are familiar with Backpack know that it already had a feature called “Reminders” that let you set alarms that you receive via SMS and/or Email for ious things. Now that Backpack has a calendar, I bet many of you are wondering what the usefulness of the reminders are outside of the calendar. Lets take a look at what types of things should go on the calendar and what sorts of things reminders are good for that should not go on the calendar (which is crucial).

Use the Calendar only for calendar items. David Allen often refers to the calendar and calendar based data as “The Hard Landscape”. He even goes on to say, on page 41 of Getting Things Done, “The way I look at it, the calendar should be sacred territory. If you write something there, it must get done that day or not at all”. In other words, one should be highly selective about what goes on the calendar.

Why is this? Well, your calendar is filled with little contracts between you and yourself or you and someone else. If you schedule a meeting with someone, or lunch, or a vacation, or a daily workout, you have made a “contract” to be there at a certain date and/or time. Don’t show up and you essentially breach that contract – especially if another party is involved. You should really treat these items with that high level of importance.

So what should go on the calendar?

  • Time-Specific Actions (Appointments) – Things happening at a specific date and time that you must attend (i.e. 3.7.2008 @ 12:00PM: Meet with Bob re: Strategy for Project X).
  • Day-Specific Actions (Events) – Things happening on a specific day but not a specific time (i.e. 8.14.2008: Buffy’s Brithday).
  • Day-Specific Information – This is information you may need to know on a specific date and, sometimes, may be tied to appointments or events mentioned above (i.e. directions to location of that meeting with Bob, notes for that project meeting, etc.)

These are all “hard landscape” items. Things that are happening at a specific time or are needed for specific appointments and events.

But there are some more “soft landscape” things that you might want to use the reminders for and should not disrupt the “sacred territory” of the calendar.

Reminders are meant for exactly that, just a quick little alarm to remind you of something. That is the reason that, by default, the reminder times are nebulous and not exact (i.e. “Later Today”, “In a couple of days” etc.). These include, things you need to get done later in the day like “Pick up milk on the way home” or in advance of an event but not by a specific time like “Make dinner reservations for birthday dinner” or maybe just a little nudge like “Don’t forget to pack your charger”. Sometimes, some action items that are time sensitive may benefit from a little timely kick in the pants.

Here is another possible use for the Reminders feature in Backpack – Future Options. In Getting Things Done, David Allen states, starting on page 171, that this category of items can exist on the calendar as well. I would argue that the Reminders feature is better suited to these sorts of items and more protective of the “hard landscape”.

Future Options are:

  • Triggers for activating projects – If you have a project that you don’t really need to think about now but that you should revisit at a time sensitive date in the future (i.e. product launches, yearly reviews, what Buffy wants for her Birthday, etc.). Make a reminder for them and then put them on your project list when it pops up.
  • Events you might want to participate in – Time sensitive events like conferences, seminars, etc. that you may want to wait to make a decision about until they are closer to the date (i.e. GTD Roadmap Seminar coming to town next month, “Bon Jovi Tickets go on sale today“). Set a reminder for it and if you purchase those tickets or book that conference it will then (and only then) become part of your hard landscape.
  • Decision Catalysts – There are decisions that are significant and may need to made by a certain time but you are not, for whatever reason, ready to make them yet. Things like hiring a new employee or changing a job or career. Place a reminder to bring focus back to that choice and review it for action at a time where you are more prepared.

In other words, the Reminders feature allows one to be a little more creative with the sorts of things that are time related but flexible. Use it that way and guard the hard edges of the calendar with everything you’ve got.