Quickly add to do items to iCal's Reminders from anywhere with a keyboard shortcut

Until recently, my favourite task management (to do list) app for Mac and iPhone/iPad has been Things. It has just the right balance of Apple-like simplicity and powerful features that makes managing tasks quick and easy and not yet another task in itself. Unfortunately, the developers, Cultured Code, have been very slow at getting the cloud sync sorted out, meaning you still have to manually sync your tasks between your different devices and on top of this it’s still not even possible to sync tasks between multiple Macs.

With that in mind, I’ve been trying out some alternatives, including Wunderlist, but I’ve finally settled on using Apple’s own solution. With the release of iOS 5, Mac OS X Lion and iCloud, finally iCal Reminders on the Mac and the Reminders app on the iPhone are good enough to rival these third party solutions.

One piece of Things functionality I find myself missing, however, is the Quick Entry window. This allowed you to quickly create a new To Do item using a simple keyboard shortcut that worked in any application. This meant I could be reading an email, press the keyboard shortcut and Things would bring up a new To Do item dialog, autofilled with the details of the current email message.

Fortunately, we can go some way to replicating this functionality using an Automator service. Don’t worry if you’ve never used Automator before, this is a really easy workflow containing only a single “Automator action.” Start by opening Automator (located in the Applications folder), and choose the Service type for your new document.

Automator New Service

From the Calendar section of the Library, drag the New To Do Item action over into the workflow area on the right. This is the only action we’ll need! Using the fields and drop-down menus, you can customise the default values that will appear when the Quick Entry window is invoked. Before we save, there are two more things we need to set. Firstly, change the drop-down menus above the workflow to specify that the service receives no input in any application. Secondly, click the Options button at the bottom of the action, and check the box Show this action when the workflow runs. When you’re finished, it should look something like this:

Automator New To Do Item Action

To finish, choose Save from the File menu and give it a name like “New To Do Item.”

The next step is to add the keyboard shortcut so that we can easily bring up the Quick Entry window without having to go to the Services menu. To do this, open up System Preferences and go to the Keyboard section. Under the Keyboard Shortcuts tab, click Services in the list on the left, and scroll down to the bottom of the list on the right to find your new service. To add the keyboard shortcut, double-click on the area to the right of your service and press whatever shortcut you want. I went for Control-Option Space.

System Preferences Keyboard Shortcuts

Finally, all that’s left is for you to test it out. Open up Safari or Mail or any of your usual applications, and start going about your normal business. Then try pressing your chosen keyboard shortcut, and the Quick Entry window should appear. iCal doesn’t even have to be open.

Bonus Tip: If you’re feeling adventurous, try creating a second service that automatically takes the currently selected text as the title of the to do item by changing the Service receives drop-down menu to text. Check out the screenshot below for some ideas on how to do this.

Automator To Do Item Selected Text

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