All too often, people treat Apple’s iCal exactly like a paper calendar – a place to scribble down appointments and little more. But as these tricks demonstrate, iCal can do so much more, with the power to automate, communicate, and remind.

1. Quickly create events - Mac OS X’s Data Detectors let compatible applications like Apple’s iChat and Mail identify embedded information – addresses, phone numbers, days, dates, and times – that you can then use in other applications. Hover your cursor over something as innocuous as “lunch tomorrow with Paul‚” in an email message, for example, and a small triangle appears next to “lunch tomorrow.” Click that triangle and you have the option to create a new iCal event. That event will appear in iCal and be scheduled for the time you specify.

2. Schedule Automator workflows - You have better ways to spend your time in front of the Mac than performing tedious chores. Using Automator (/Applications), you can create workflows that automate some tasks. Better yet, with iCal alarms you can trigger these workflows to happen when you’re away. At the end of the day, for example, you could back up the files related to an ongoing project to another hard drive. To do so in Snow Leopard, launch Automator. In the template sheet that appears, select iCal Alarm and click the Choose button. Create your Automator workflow and save it. You’ll be prompted to name the alarm. Do that and click Save, and a new Automator calendar appears, along with an event that will trigger your workflow.

3. Easily transfer calendars and events - Suppose you want to take the events on your desktop Mac and place them on your laptop for your next road trip. It’s easy to transfer events, single calendars, or all your iCal calendars from one Mac (or account) to another. To make a copy of an event, just select it in iCal and drag it to your desktop, where it turns into a .ics file that any application or web service that supports the iCalendar format can open. To copy a calendar, select it in iCal’s Calendars column and choose File > Export > Export.... The resulting sheet bears the name of the calendar. Click Export to save the copy. To export all of your calendars choose File > Export > iCal Archive. The resulting .icbu file contains all of your iCal calendars, ready for you to import into another copy of iCal.

4. Simply remember your to-do list - iCal users routinely create tasks with the program’s To Do feature and then promptly forget to pay any attention to them. If you are the kind of person who needs a gentle nudge in this department, select a to-do item, press Command-E, and, in the window that appears, create an alarm for it. iCal’s to-dos support the same kinds of alarms offered for iCal events – Message, Message With Sound, Email, Open File, and Run Script. Although to-dos don’t include a repeat option, you can easily create multiple alarms simply by clicking the subsequent Alarm entry that appears after you create the initial alarm.

5. Email an event - iCal has a helpful feature that lets you email someone else an event. To do so, just Control-click (or right-click) on an event and choose Mail Event. Regret­tably, this feature uses Apple’s Mail application, regardless of the email client you may have configured as the default. If you use a different email client, you’d be completely out of luck were it not for ZappTek’s iCal Email Notifications (payment requested; www.zapptek.com/ical-mail). These AppleScripts force iCal to choose a different email client. Although the ZappTek site currently makes no mention of Snow Leopard, the Leopard scripts appear to work with Snow Leopard’s version of iCal.