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Sandy v. Remember the Milk: The Web-Based Reminder Cage Match

reminder-708092.jpgWithin this little GTD cult of ours, there are an alarming number of battles fought over the best tool, notebook, web application, etc. In my mind, it’s a little silly – just use what works, right?

Well, sometimes there will be two “competing” services/devices/things that both offer a compelling solution to a common problem. Today, that problem is reminders and the two services I’ll be covering are Remember the Milk (hereafter referred to as ‘RTM’) and Sandy.

Now, before everybody starts frothing at the mouth about how the service they use is better than both of those, let me reiterate – I don’t really care what you use. If a stack of cocktail napkins, a set of soap crayons and a shoebox get the job done for you, then that’s great. My point here is not to decide on the all-time greatest way to remind yourself to take the pizza out of the oven or pick up your kilt from the dry cleaners. I’m simply going to compare the capabilities of these two services and tell you which one I like best. Mmkay? Mmkay.

[For those of you that are horribly impatient and just want to know how the story ends, I like Sandy better. Read on if you're interested in why that is.]

First, a list of things that both services do reasonably well, since there’s actually a fair bit of overlap between the two as far as reminders:

  • Tags – both apps allow you to tag everything for sorting/searching later. Since tagging is pretty much a “you do it or you don’t” kind of feature, this one is a tie.
  • Date/Time Parsing – both services know what to do when I tell them “Call Jimmy tomorrow at 3pm” or “Call Jenny in 2 months”. Both offer some flexibility in this area – when you tell Sandy things like “Foo in 20 minutes”, you’ll get ‘Foo’ in 20 minutes, and no reminder 15 minutes beforehand (like you would with “Call Bobby tomorrow at 3pm”). RTM will send reminders at both times (n minutes before and right “on time”), and it’s configurable.
  • Reminder Delivery Media – Both services are capable of sending reminders via SMS, Email, Twitter and various instant messaging platforms. I really only use the first 3, but there’s hardly ever a time when I don’t get a reminder using one of those.

Now, here are the things Sandy does that make it the better choice:

  • You can override the default reminder settings in the body of the message you send her. In other words, if my Sandy settings indicate that I want to be reminded by email only, I can say “Remind me to put air in the left rear tire tomorrow at 9am @sms” and I’ll get the reminder via email and an SMS message. To me, this is an excellent feature because I’m not always in the same place (or near the same devices) when I want my reminders, so I have that much more control.
  • The Daily Digest – If I don’t give Sandy a specific time for a reminder (only a date), that’s alright, she’ll still get me the message. Every morning at 9am (configurable), I get an email outlining the day’s events and the times at which I’ll be reminded of them. This is a truly sweet way to take a quick look at what’s on tap for the day and move things around if need be.
  • Dead-simple snoozing – By far my favorite (and most utilized) of Sandy’s features is the “snoozing”. For instance, if I get a reminder tomorrow at 9am to walk the dog, but I’m right in the middle of The Price is Right – I’m clearly much too busy to be bothered to walk the dog, so I’d like to be reminded of that in an hour. Simply reply to the reminder email with “remind me in 1 hour”. It’s that simple. And I’m really not exaggerating when I say that I use this a ton (probably 60% of the reminders I get from Sandy get quickly rescheduled using this feature).

Finally, there’s one deal-breaker for me when it comes to using RTM for simple reminders – they inextricably mix in with my action lists. I hate seeing things in my @Home list with dates attached to them because a) it always bubbles those to the top of the list and b) I don’t want to be constantly reminded of my upcoming reminder. The whole idea behind these “tickler-ish” reminders is that they are out of sight until I want them to be. Another benefit of Sandy’s style of interaction is that I can fire things off to her and trust that they’ll find their way back to me when I asked them to. I can, as we like to say in the techie world, “set it and forget it”.

Please don’t take this as some sort of a general indictment of RTM as a service – I use it every day and absolutely love it (a more detailed explanation of how is forthcoming). And there are things that RTM does extremely well that Sandy doesn’t handle as well (because she wasn’t really designed to, frankly).

So, in conclusion, while both services are capable of sending me a text message when it’s time to take my pies out of the oven, Sandy is *designed* to do that (among other things, obviously).

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