Updated on 08.08.07

Using Mozilla Sunbird To Schedule Infrequent Home Maintenance Tasks – And Other Irregular Tasks

Trent Hamm

SunbirdA while back, I posted an extensive checklist of monthly home maintenance tasks. There were some items on the list that didn’t need to be done every single month, but most of them are really quite useful to do each month if you want to keep your house in tip-top shape.

There’s one big problem, though – that list is a pain to do all at once. There’s a lot of things on that list and while many of them just take a few moments, tackling everything on that list can devour a whole day. My philosophy is to spread the chores out so you only have to do one or two a day throughout the whole month. That way, you can do the one or two minute tasks on weekdays and maybe a few longer tasks on weekends. This presents a few problems, the biggest of which is coming up with a reminder to do each activity at a certain time during the month.

This is one of the best reasons to start using a scheduling program, and the best one I’ve found for my personal record keeping is Mozilla Sunbird. It’s a free open-source scheduler (download it here) that I use to manage all of my personal and blogging related tasks all in one place. I actually use it in conjunction with Getting Things Done – I use GTD to manage and complete the irregular stuff, but all of the regular things get put into Sunbird.

So let’s take a look at the program. This is the default screen you’ll see when you first fire up the program:

Sunbird 1

Everything in Sunbird is either an event (something that occurs on a particular day and/or at a particular time) or a task (a checklist of things to be done). I almost exclusively use the events in Sunbird, as the “tasks” are more irregular and I have a good system for handling those.

When I want to add a regularly scheduled household chore, I click on the “New Event” button (in the upper left corner of the window) and up pops this window:

Sunbird 2

I fill in the required information (for me, the title, the date (which I put in the “From” box), the category (“Home Maintenance”), and the calendar (“Home” – I have other calendars set up for blogging and other things)) and check the “All Day” and “Repeat” boxes so that it looks something like this:

Sunbird 3

I then click on the “Set Pattern…” button and up pops this window:

Sunbird 4

I set the pattern so that I am always checking the filter on the first Tuesday of each month, then I click OK, then OK on the other box. I go back to the calendar and suddenly there’s the task I created.

Sunbird 5

It actually shows up twice, because the list of events there at the top are the ones for the next thirty one days and the first Tuesday of a month happens twice in that period. I generally use the “Next 7 days” list so I only see the tasks coming up in the next week, unless something has come up and I need to work ahead.

Now, when I’m done with a particular task, I just click on that event in the list and hit the delete button on my keyboard and the task vanishes. Easy as pie.

This system makes sure that I keep up with the regular maintenance on my home, my automobiles, and my health, among other things. I schedule an abundance of things using this tool and it often makes it appear as though I have a ton going on. This tool makes it very easy for me to use less brain space remembering this stuff and more brain space focusing on doing it well. Plus, by doing these regular maintenance tasks, I extend the life of the equipment I use and keep my house in good shape, thus saving me a lot of money and worry over time.

Free software does pay, after all.

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  1. Avlor says:

    Glad there’s other people out there applying calendars to mundanities! I did a similar thing with cleaning tasks that don’t occur every week. (I.e. so once I’m done sorting and cleaning a room via “combat cleaning”, I won’t have to do it as often. Just go back through that area every once in a while to de-junk and re-organize a bit.) Google calendar is my preferred software for such tasks, mainly because I already heavily use Google calendar. (Helps keep track of my family’s activities and helps me to keep the activities we do to a sane level.)

  2. Heidi says:

    I love Google calendar for this as well! My finance and I share our social and chore calendars so we always know how our evenings and weekends are shaping up.

    I also use it to remind me of non-grocery items I may need to pick up at the store on my way home from work (ie: bottle of wine for dinner with my folks, tennis balls for our Thursday night match, special treat for the dog).

  3. David Syzdek says:

    I use Llamagraphics Software’s Life Balance ($40 to $80 for Mac, PC , and Palm OS) to schedule events that have to occur regularly. It’s a very dynamic software that uses fuzzy logic to “balance” your life and todo lists. You can set a reminder to change air filters monthly with a 1 week notice. At about 1.5 weeks out it appears as a low priority task at the very bottom of your to do list. As the date gets closer, the task will climb up in importance up the list. Items that are overdo are at the top of the list but the software will also use many other factors to order them. It’s great software that is the cornerstone to my GTD system.

  4. Justin says:

    Haven’t used Sunbird before but looks pretty nice. I too use Google Calendar for these type of tasks (among other things) because I can access them from everywhere, not just my home computer.

  5. David says:

    If you are a Thunderbird user, you can use Mozilla Lightning instead:

    It is basically the same code as Sunbird, rolled up into Thunderbird as an extension (less extra apps running around is a bonus)

    Also, if you want to use Sunbird/Lightning AND Google Calendar, check out the Provider for Google Calendar extension:

    It will allow you to access your Google Calendar from your desktop client (i.e. Sunbird or Lightning) and modify them at will.

  6. junger says:

    My biggest problem with scheduling and calendar programs is that I never look at them to see what I need to do!

    It might not be a great organizational scheme, but sometimes Post-Its work best!

  7. Jamie says:

    Another less-involved option which I use is just a gadget on Google’s personalized home page called “Days Since”. I write the name of the task and put in parentheses how many days I am supposed to go without doing it and then just hit reset everytime.

    It’s free too, but accessible everywhere. And frankly, I can’t justify using Sunbird in my org systems right now.

  8. Sankar says:

    This looks like an interesting software. I need to give it a try.

  9. Sandeep says:

    Nice idea to apply for GTD !. I use Google Calendar for similar purpose. I guess simplifying everything under Google is better.

  10. Stephen says:

    I use yahoo mail. It has a calendar and you can send yourself an email, or you can send a text message. I get unlimited text messages, so I get the text message the day before my task needs to be done.

  11. Bill K says:

    I’m with you Justin and Sandeep. I’ve gone your route San and starting using most Google products to simply my life at one spot. I’ve got to say that I really don’t have a use for Thunderbird anymore, thanks to Gmail, and Calendar is great. I even love iGoogle for my homepage now.

    BTW, there is a Widget for iGoogle and for Google Calendar from Trent’s favorite, RememberTheMilk.com. I use that for my task lists in conjunction with the Google sites.

  12. John says:

    I use the Windows Live Calendar for this. But I think that Google or Yahoo would be just as good, and they are online, so you never have to download software, and you can access the calendar from anywhere. Live Calendar also will send you email reminders (as I’m sure the other ones will too…)

  13. Marta says:

    I don’t know where I’d be without my Google calendar. The best thing about it is you can share it with others – it’s nice to see when my coworkers have meetings or are out for the day. I only share my social events with my boyfriend and it’s nice to see when we’re both free instead of calling each other to make arrangements.
    I use Gubb.net for my to-do lists, which are really easy to manage and print out for later. I guess you can also email them or SMS them to yourself as well but I haven’t tried them yet.

  14. Jen says:

    I like this program and quickly recognized that I could use it for classroom planning as well, since I usually plan at home and work. I wonder if I can link it to my work computer somehow, so I can access it for planning in both locations. Anyone know?

  15. wayne says:

    I don’t trust google, too big brother for me. I like the look of this, think I’ll give it a try. I’ll keep it on my USB drive (which I can access from anywhere). I’ll keep it right next to my custom built todo list.

  16. Adam Donkus says:

    Downloaded and willing to give it a try..will do a post with a trackback to you to let you know about the results.

  17. pam says:

    Sad. I would rather call my SO/friend/family than look at a calendar. I love the convenience of computers, but the personal touch seems to be fading more and more. Of course, maybe you have a much more complex schedule than me.

  18. Marcus Murphy says:


    Free calendar. For ~$20 you can get the pro version which interfaces with Outlook and Google Calendar and you can have a shared Network Calendar. It has ability for multiple calendars and takes up very little space on your desktop, so you always have a calendar at hand with your events and tasks list underneath if so desired.

    I like the program because it is so customizable in every way.

    Great post though on how to manage getting things done! =)

  19. Michael Langford says:

    I use google calendar for my normal calendar and use yahoo calendar for events that are long off and periodic. I have yahoo setup to send me an email when the time is here. For instance: I give my dog a heartworm rub every 4 weeks, and i get an email in my email box 2 days before I must do it. Same for birthdays, etc.


  20. Laura W. says:

    I like Airset, which offers group calendars on the web that are also accessable by cell phone.

  21. Andrew says:

    Now – if Sunbird and Tbird would just merge completely ( i know there is a plugin, but PIA if you ask me) Just get both Projects into 1, and then add decent palm sync capabilities, I would be happy.

    2 things are stopping me from switching to completely Linux/Open Source.
    1. A Microsoft Outlook like client, everything rolled into 1 with palm sync.
    2. Dreamweaver (adobe take note please)

    Oh well – thanks for this anyway.

  22. rogun says:

    I’ve been using Sunbird to do this since the first release of Sunbird. I’ve tried many different calendars throughout this time and the reason that I’ve stuck with Sunbird is because a) it’s free and open-source software (FOSS) and b) because it’s better at syncing with other software then the alternatives. Sunbird still has a way to go before I’d consider it to be excellent, but it’s very good now.

    However, for single tasks that I plan to complete soon, I use Ximian Evolution, which can be installed on Windows with a little work (although I use it in linux.) The reason for using Evolution is because it integrates into the Gnome desktop and works with the calendar applet, so that, unlike with Sunbird, I don’t have to have it open all the time to receive reminders and I’m able to easily see daily events by clicking on the calendar applet.

    I’m also able to retrieve my ical-compliant Sunbird calendars within Evolution (view only), so that I’m able to use the calendar applet with my Sunbird calendars too (including reminders!) The reason I don’t use Evolution exclusively, however, is because it doesn’t sync with other calendar software as well as Sunbird. I keep my calendars synced with several different devices and web servers, so this is important to me or I’d probably use Evolution exclusively.

  23. rogun says:


    Both KDE and Gnome have PIM software that’s similar to Outlook. Gnome has Ximian Evolution, which I mention above, and KDE has Kontact. Both will sync with a Palm device and both are very good alternatives (I much prefer either to Outlook, because, among other reasons, they’re both more secure.)

  24. Rob in Madrid says:

    I used to use outlook but as I don’t use it for email I never open it so it doesn’t help. Instead I use my mail.com calendare, bit of pain using web based calendares but I can set reminders for my self, and since I check email several times a day I never miss an appointment

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