A simple reminder workflow

I didn’t buy any of the Amazon Echo products during last week’s Prime Day. I have what may be a generational reticence to talking into thin air, especially when other people are around. This isn’t helped by my family’s ridicule when I talk to Siri. “Remind me to check the grill in five minutes”—one of the few commands Siri gets right every time—never fails to get either a laugh or a resigned sigh from my wife and kids.

After a few years of putting up with this, I decided to see if I could work out a way of setting a timed reminder silently that was about as fast as doing it through Siri. The key, unsurprisingly, was a combination of the Workflow app and the Today view.

Here are the steps of the workflow:

Grill reminder workflow

At first, I thought all I’d need was the Add New Reminder action, but I soon learned that its Alert Time field had to be set to an absolute time (“July 16, 2017 at 12:45:32”) rather than a relative time (“five minutes from now”). The first three steps of the workflow do the date math needed to get the absolute time I needed for the last step.

The workflow is saved as a Today widget, which means it will show up in the Today view when I swipe left-to-right on my lock screen. Because I have Raise to Wake turned on, my lock screen appears as soon as I take my phone out of my pocket. After swiping to the Today view, I can access Workflow’s Today widgets with a tap. At the moment, I have only two: the grill-checking reminder and a nearly identical reminder for when my tea is done brewing.

Reminder workflows in Today view

As you can see, I have the Up Next section at the top and the Workflow section just below it. That way, I can see immediately that tapping one of the buttons worked.

I can bring up Siri slightly faster than the Today view by pressing the Home button as I bring the phone out of my pocket. But Siri’s interaction time—especially when she bounces back and forth, thinking about what I’ve said—is nowhere near as fast as the entirely local workflow. Overall, the workflow is faster, and I don’t get laughed at by my kids.

I make no claim of originality for this workflow. Although I haven’t seen any like it, that’s mostly because I haven’t spent much time with Workflow. I’m sure there are plenty of similar Reminder workflows. If you want to use mine as a starting point for your own ideas, you can install it from this link.

Update 07/17/2017 9:57 AM
Bill Mosca pointed out something interesting:

@drdrang Helpful if precision isn’t critical. Reminders fire at start of the minute so “4-minute” timer could be as short as 3:01
  — Bill Mosca (@billmosca) Mon Jul 17 2017 3:55 AM

My first thought was that Bill was wrong because I knew I had gotten reminder alerts at fractional minute marks. But, it turned out, that had been back when I was using Siri to set reminders “in five minutes.” Reminders set by this workflow did indeed fire only at whole minute marks, just as Bill said.

But there’s a way to get around that. In last step of the workflow, tap on the GrillTime variable name to reveal its details.

Set workflow time format

Change the Time Format from Short (which I guess is the default) to Long, as shown in the screenshot above. Then the reminder will include the seconds portion of the alert time and will give you the full duration, not some truncated amount. I’ve updated the link at the end of the post to reflect this change. Thanks, Bill!

I’m surprised at this behavior, as I had assumed that the date/time formats mattered only when you were going to insert it into a text field or string. Setting a reminder date, I thought, would use the underlying date/time numeric value. Live and learn.