Reminder Plumbing

I am a fan of The Omni Group’s OmniFocus for both the Mac and iOS. While I’ve owned the apps for a long time I’ve only recently started taking more advantage of them. They have become critical to my own deployment of the Getting Things Done task-management methodology.

One particularly great workflow is afforded by the iOS version of the app’s option to automatically import reminders from the default iPhone reminders database. What this means in practice is you can use Siri to add items to OmniFocus. You say: “add take out the trash to my reminders list,” and the next time you open OmniFocus, the items are instantly imported to OmniFocus and removed from the system list. (Intrigued? You have to make sure you turn on the option in OmniFocus for iOS preferences.)

Unfortunately, OmniFocus for Mac doesn’t support this. I love OmniFocus for both Mac and iOS, but it turns out that because I lean so heavily on using Siri to add items, I tend not to open OmniFocus while I’m on the go. When I come home and get to work on my Mac, I notice that OmniFocus doesn’t contain any of my recently added items, so I have to go through the cumbersome steps of opening my iPhone and launching OmniFocus just to get this theoretically time-saving trick to work right.

I’m looking forward to a future release of OmniFocus that supports a similar mechanism for automatically importing reminders. Who knows, maybe the feature will even make its way into the forthcoming OmniFocus 2.0. But I decided I don’t want to wait even a single day longer for this functionality, so I decided to tackle the problem myself.

I developed a tool, RemindersImport, that solves the problem by adding behavior to my Mac that strongly emulates the behavior built in to OmniFocus for iOS. When launched, the tool will scan for non-location-based reminders, add them to OmniFocus (with start and due dates in-tact!), and then remove them from Apple’s reminders list.

If this sounds as fantastic to you as it does to me, I invite you to share in the wealth of this tool:

Click to download RemindersImport 1.0b3.

How To Use It

Warning: RemindersImport is designed to scan your Mac OS X Reminders and remove them from the default location in your Reminders list so that they may be added instead to OmniFocus. You should understand very well that this is what you want to do before running the tool.

Let’s say you have 5 Reminders that you added via Siri on your phone. In the background, thanks to Apple’s aggressive syncing, these have been migrated over to your Mac and are now visible in To migrate these from Reminders to OmniFocus, just run the tool once:


If you’ve opted to use a different reminders list for OmniFocus, you can specify the name on the command line to import from that list instead:

./RemindersImport "Junk to Do"

Of course, running the tool by hand is about as annoying as having to remember to open up the iPhone and launch OmniFocus, so ideally you’ll want to set this thing up to run on its own automatically. I haven’t yet settled on the ideal approach for this, but a crude way of setting it up would be to just use Mac OS X’s built-in cron scheduling service to run the tool very often, say every minute:

*/1 * * * * /Users/daniel/bin/RemindersImport > /dev/null 2>&1

(Note: to edit your personal crontab on Mac OS X, just type “crontab -e” from the Terminal. Then paste in a line like above and change the path to match your own storage of the tool)

Something I’d like to look into is whether it would make sense to set this tool up as lightweight daemon that just stays running all the time, waiting for Reminders database changes to happen, and then snagging stuff. For now, the crontab based trick is doing the job well enough for my needs.

How To Leverage It

I am sharing the source code for the tool under the liberal terms of the MIT License. You can download the source code on GitHub, and of course I would also welcome pull requests if you make meaningful improvements to the code.

The RemindersImport tool satisfied my needs for automatic OmniFocus import from a single list. Maybe your needs are more complicated: you only want to import tasks that meet certain criteria, or you want to import, but leave the existing items in Reminders. Or you want to do something similar with a completely different app than OmniFocus.

It should also go without saying that the general structure of the code serves as a working model for how you might implement an “import from reminders” type of feature in your own apps. Since I learned about the OmniFocus for iOS trick, it’s always jumping out at me when another app could benefit from applying the same technique.

For example, imagine if the Amazon app offered a feature to import as any items from a list called “Amazon”. Then I could, in the middle of a run, ask Siri to “add running shoes to my amazon list,” and be assured that it would find its way to the right place.

Since Siri first debuted as a system-level feature of iOS, developers have been yearning for “a Siri API.” In the absence of that, this is as good as it gets. This “reminder plumbing” is available to every app but has so far been woefully under-utilized. Maybe once you play around with how well it works with OmniFocus, you’ll get inspired to add something to your own apps, or to beg for similar functionality from the developers of apps you love. When you do, I hope my contributions provide you with a head-start.