How-To Geek

What You Said: How Do You Set Reminders?

Note: This article is part of our archive and is likely out of date.
(Links may not work, downloads have not been recently tested for safety)


Earlier this week we asked you to share your favorite tricks for staying on top of your tasks with timely reminders. Now we’re back to highlight some great reader tips (including a bit of software older than some of our readers).

Most of us have to-do lists longer than we can do in a given day (or week!) and a constantly changing set of demands and next-actions. Having a timely and effective reminder system is the difference between dropping the ball and getting things done; how exactly that reminder system plays out, however, varied greatly from reader to reader.

OJMDC sticks with analog reminders:

Sticky notes in the middle of my monitor and in my wallet. I’ve tried my phone apps but I typically disregard them.

While we love digital task management, we can hardly blame him for keeping things analog—there is something to be said for the tactile nature of writing down and crossing off a task.

Many readers use Google Calendar to schedule their reminders; Photon takes it one step further:

I use a second Google calendar for reminders. This keeps my primary calendar clean for events/meetings and also allows me to set separate alert standards for the reminders.

Frankly, we’re ashamed of ourselves for not thinking of this. We hate cluttering up our primary calendar with reminders but never thought to create a separate reminder calendar!

TheFu highlights his different systems for reminders and tasks, as well as the dangers of putting all your reminders in the same digital basket:

Tasks are very different from reminders for me.

Meetings, trips, and deadlines are placed into a Zimbra calendar with reminders. This will annoy me at appropriate “before due” time(s) for the specific reminder. Sometimes 3 days or 1 day or 15 minutes before if I expect to be in the correct location already. Zimbra is like Gmail, GTalk, Gcal, G-storage, G-contracts … but it runs on your own server accessible from anywhere on the internet. It is an MS-Exchange replacement and F/LOSS.

Tasks are usually for lower priority things. For most tasks, I use a GTD-based spreadsheet with different tabs for the @Contexts. I could put these into Zimbra too, but for me, the simplistic task management was not sufficient. Sorting based on priority, ownership, due date, and other criteria is critical to me. I’m almost 100% priority driven, since there are always 2-3x more tasks on the list than can possibly be completed. That spreadsheet can be PDF printed to a single sheet that folds up nicely to keep me on task for a few days away from the office.

After having a smartphone stolen in a foreign country at the beginning of a multi-week trip, you quickly learn to not trust anything someone else wants enough to steal. Nobody cares about the paper with my GTD lists, contacts and different addresses when on travel. This wasn’t my first trip that I needed to live without a portable device, so I’ve always had paper as backup for critical knowledge, contacts and appointments when away from home more than a day.

Having a smartphone stolen changes many other behaviors too. Think about all the data and access that your smartphone provides to anyone who gains access to it.

Finally, BigBird takes the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mantra to the extreme:

I use an old DOS program, very small, that runs from STARTUP at Boot. It is no longer listed by Google. It is called WILSTAR Reminder. I have uploaded it as a ZIP file to DropBox and will leave it there for a few days. It is excellent and has served me for well over 20 years now. Highly recommended.

Surely it exists somewhere in a Google search results page, we said… only to be proven wrong. Wherever WILSTAR Reminder is today, it’s certainly not floating around the web anywhere we looked. Thanks for sharing an old gem, BigBird!

To check out all the reader responses, visit the full comment thread. Have a question you want to put before the HTG audience? Shoot us an email at to log your vote.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 08/24/12

Comments (9)

  1. TheFu

    The description of REMIND-Wilstar was intriguing enough that I grabbed a copy. If it is a 16-bit program, that isn’t supported on Windows7 and later. Running inside a virtual machine will be necessary. DOSBox might be needed. According to the “DOC” file, it is limited to 500 reminders and the reminders are daily, not just before an event.

    Looking over the documentation, this seems like a nice program for someone to replicate if he is trying to learn to program in a new language like Python, Java, C, C++, Perl, Ruby, … It is simple to get things working. As programming skills improve, the subtle complexities become more challenging. If you write it correctly, then you can port to every platform and use dropbox to automatically replicate the data file.

    BTW, I looked for the original author and found someone who seems like this same person.

  2. kittyheaven

    Oh pooh. I really wanted remind wilstar remind. Any chance it could b developed for w7 or 8? (Can u tell I,m a begginer on smartphone :-P )

  3. luschka

    for me, only desktimer – All I want is on the desktop.
    calendar up to 6, dedicated fields and many more. Only German! L

  4. atm

    just using google calendar

  5. Mike Trout Congress 2012

    This idea of having a secondary (google) calendar is a good one, and reminds me of my wish to have various instances of my browsers, so that, for instance I can have a clean and fast instance of chrome or firefox apart from the one I have loaded down with extensions, and even further instances for other separately purposed vehicles — one for social activity, one for web developing, etc…

  6. Jay

    Still use MS Outlook 2003 for email because of the category feature and the fact that ANY email can be dropped into a task or appointment type and it doesn’t damage the email, etc.
    Also, while I am on the subject, Rules and Alerts in Windows saves me a lot of time. It’s a little difficult to learn at first because of the poor instructions, but in combination with everything else it is great and very simple to use. Email may be going down in popularity but it can be used with a lot of other things too.

  7. Darlene

    I use my blackberry which has reminders (tasks) option separate from my appointments calendar. I have used this method since 2006. Reminders can be set for specific dates and times and also to re-occur daily, weekly, monthly, or up to one year.

  8. Debbi

    “Finally, BigBird takes the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” mantra to the extreme:

    I use an old DOS program, very small, that runs from STARTUP at Boot. It is no longer listed by Google. It is called WILSTAR Reminder. I have uploaded it as a ZIP file to DropBox and will leave it there for a few days. It is excellent and has served me for well over 20 years now. Highly recommended.”

    27 Aug
    Just reading this now and tried the download link – got 404…..BigBird, could you please repost?

  9. Atharton

    I use my android for all the alerts and reminders of my personal work, but since I work in a staffing firm I work with a lot documents and I find using CollateBox tool for sharing documents which has super solid for notifications and alerts.

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