Using Location-Based and Future Reminders

Not all reminders fit simply into a to-do list. But luckily (for once) our to-do list apps aren't simple. Use location-based and future reminders to remember the complex things in life.

Stever Robbins
6-minute read
Episode #482

a finger with a string tied around it as a reminder

We all have things we need to remember to do. That’s why we have to-do lists. Or in our modern, smartphone-filled world, to-do list apps. But not every reminder fits into a daily to-do list.

“Buy rare Albanian nose hair clippers” is something you can only do when you’re near the Albanian antiques store, all the way across town. It’s not important enough to make a special trip, and your nose hair is generally well-behaved. But gee, when you’re in the area, you really want to pick up a pair. There’s something about the combination of lapis lazuli and amethyst that you just can’t get out of your head. 

Other reminders don’t apply yet. During the 2017 solar eclipse Bernice discovered, the hard way, that her Audrey II plants get a little testy during an eclipse. At the next eclipse, she’d like to remember to pick up some restraining straps. Just in case. But that’s seven years away!

A normal to-do list doesn’t quite work for cases like this. Fortunately, many mobile to-do list apps have features that can help.

Get reminded when you’re where you need to be

Even though our phones make it feel like we can be at any place at any time, the reality is we can’t. And for some tasks we really do need to be in the right place, at the right time. Luckily, our smartphones can help remind us when we get there.

A location-based reminder goes off only when your GPS says you’re near a certain location. It will encourage you to visit a specific place when you’re near it, but won’t nag you about it until then.

Next time you’re on your way to get a tattoo across town, as you travel past the Albanian antique store, your nose hair clipper reminder will pop right up. You can swing by, take those puppies for a test drive, and be all set for your tattoo. Indeed, do it right, and as you’re laying on the table having Bessie the Cow etched into your upper arm, your tattoo artist might look down and say, “Wow! You have the most neatly groomed nose hair of any clients I've seen this week.” You’ve become a semi-celebrity, and all thanks to a location-based reminder.

We can also use location-based reminders for daily errands that depend on location. My grocery store is between the subway stop and my home. When we’re running short on a critical staple, like matzoh or saffron, a location-based reminder set to go off near the grocery store is a perfect trigger. Next time I walk home, deep in thought, my reminder will tell me when it’s the perfect time to pop in to shop. You can even set a general location-based reminder for the supermarket, and in the notes section, write your full grocery list. So as soon as you walk into the store, your shopping list will show up onscreen.

Use location-based reminders for clean-up after a trip

Location-based reminders can be handy when traveling, because you know that certain tasks are done in certain locations. Before traveling, I take my local subway pass, frequent eater cards, and access cards for the local nuclear reactor, and hide them somewhere in my house so they don’t get lost. Then I set a location-based reminder for when I get back to the house, to remind me where I put them, so they can go back in my wallet before a wild night on the town. Nobody likes the embarrassment of being unable to get into the nuclear reactor on a Saturday night.

Keep in mind that location-based reminders only work when your phone’s GPS is enabled. So if you plan to rely on location-based reminders—as I do when I put my ID cards in their hands—make sure you turn that on.

Use future reminders for future obligations

Sometimes we need to set reminders for ourselves, but they’ll be totally irrelevant until the far-flung future. It doesn’t make sense to make a handwritten note for something that needs to be done in six months. But we can tell our future selves to make that note, using a future reminder in a to-do list app.

Say you need to get your parent a gift for Parent’s Day, but you don’t want to worry about it until June. If you put a future reminder for June 1st, you’ll know when to start worrying, so you can really indulge yourself in the stress and anxiety we all feel when pressured to show our feelings to someone we love. 

Bernice has a reminder set for January 2024, to remind herself to buy restraining straps for the Audrey IIs before the next solar eclipse. She can just set it and forget it, feeling secure in the knowledge that when the time comes, so will the reminder. And then, the restraining straps.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.