How to use a simple text based to-do list to get things done

2018/06/06

Categories: General Tags: todotxt dropbox simpletask qtodotxt todotxt-machine gtd

After testing almost every available tool in order to create and maintain my to-do lists, I decided I needed something that followed the k.i.s.s. software philosophy and this is the reason I started using Taskwarrior.

Taskwarrior has all the advantages of a text based to-do list application, but with two drawbacks for me:

After using Taskwarrior for about two months, I went back to what I new best: using a paper to-do list!

That was the proof that I had failed to find the right tool for me and I had to keep searching.

That was when I found todotxt.org. This website has all the information needed in order to create and maintain a simple todo.txt list, suggesting a set of formatting rules to make this procedure easier and, the most important, standardized.

Lets have a look at a summary of the rules:

todo.txt rules

and lets say that I want to keep a note to make myMPD packages for Archphile . That would be:

create myMPD packages for archphile

Let’s start adding information:

2018-06-06 create myMPD packages for +archphile

What I just did, apart from adding the creation date, was to identify archphile as a project tag (adding the + before the word).

Let’s add some more stuff:

(C) 2018-06-06 create myMPD packages for +archphile @pc due:2018-06-08

This is a more complete approach on how to keep a task on that list. It includes a context tag (which is the pc - using the @ before the word) plus a due date at the end. The © in the beginning means that this task is of a not a high priority (that would be A or B for example - however you will decide what these priorities mean).

So, all I have to do is to just write this line on my todo.txt file.

Now lets assume that I finally created the packages one day later than expected. All I have to do is edit todo.txt using any text editor I want and modify the line:

x (A) 2018-06-09 2018-06-06 create myMPD packages for +archphile @pc due:2018-06-08

The x in the beginning of the line means that this task is done and the day just before the creation date is the day that this task was actually done.

Another valid alternative for the above, is the following, with the only difference being the order of completion date and priority:

x 2018-06-09 (A) 2018-06-06 create myMPD packages for +archphile @pc due:2018-06-08

All the instructions above are the fundamentals of this todo.txt approach.

You can stop reading this article and start using your file with a text editor, but below you ’ll find some interesting ways of maintaining todo.txt with the use of various programs.

 

The todo.sh script

todo.sh script is one of the oldest applications (initially created by Gina Trapani) you can use to maintain todo.txt file. In order to install it in Archlinux, I got it from AUR:

yaourt -S todotxt

the next step was to copy the sample config to my home:

cp /usr/share/todotxt/todo.cfg /home/satan/.todo/config

Finally I needed to edit this file and set the location of my todo.txt file:

export TODO_DIR="/home/satan/Dropbox/todo"

Note: as you can see I am using Dropbox to store the file, but I will come back on that later.  

The basic use of todo.sh is very easy:

To put a new task you need to do it like in this example:

todo.sh add "(C) 2018-06-06 create myMPD packages for +archphile @pc due:2018-06-08"

To see all tasks:

todo.sh list

the output should be similar to the one below:

1 (C) 2018-06-06 create myMPD packages for +archphile @pc due:2018-06-08
2 2018-06-06 add todo.txt article on +thepenguin @pc due:2018-09-06
3 buy new keyboard +shopping @pc

To set the first task as done (and archivr it to done.txt):

todo.sh do 1

To give priority A to task 3:

todo.sh pri A 3

To remove priority from task 3

todo.sh depri 3

In order to see todo.sh in action, I highly recommend you to see this video.

What Gina Trapani suggests on this tutorial, is the use of a very short alias, that indeed makes life easier:

alias t='todo.sh'

If you follow this tip, you won’t have to type todo.sh again. So in order to ex. add a new task:

t add "this is a task +koko @lala"

 

todo.sh addons

There are plenty of community add ons for todo.sh script. I haven’t spent much time on testing them.

The only one I have currently installed is due. In order to get it, I did the following:

mkdir ~/.todo.actions.d
cd ~/.todo.actions.d
git clone https://github.com/rebeccamorgan/due.git
chmod +x ~/.todo.actions.d/due/due

Using it with like below:

todo.sh due

I am able to list by due date (by default tasks that are due today or tomorrow)

Adding an extra option, ex:

todo.sh due 9

I am able to list by due date, showing due today plus tasks for the next 8 days (8+1)

 

The todotxt-machine cli application

todotxt-machine is a really nice application that uses todo.sh and offers a nice cli interface:

In order to install it, I got it from AUR:

yaourt -S todotxt-machine-git

Then, in order to use it I created the following bash alias:

alias mytodo='todotxt-machine /home/satan/Dropbox/todo/todo.txt /home/satan/Dropbox/todo/done.txt'

Note: done.txt is the file where the completed tasks are written on when they are removed from todo.txt.

This is a nice demo of how this program looks like:

todotxt-machine interface

Note: I created a pdf that includes all todotxt-machine keyboard bindings. You can download it here.

 

Simpletask application on Android

Simpletask is the reason that i finally kept using todo.txt, as with this application I am able to:

Simpletask offers three alternative options:

This is the main view of Simpletask:

simpletask interface

At the moment I don’t have any self hosted Nextcloud server, so I am using Dropbox (only for the todo.txt file), but I am about to move to a Nextcloud server very soon, because I really don’t trust to use proprietary applications to store my data.

Note: For a better GTD experience, please make sure that you select “USe todo.txt terms” ins Simpletask setting.

 

Qtodotxt GUI application for Linux/Win/OSX

Qtodotxt is a very nice GUI application for those who don’t want to mess around with terminal.

qtodotxt interface

The only issue I’ve found with this is that there’s a bug that prevents “created date” to be automatically added.

 

Summary:

Using todo.txt and editing this file with various tools (mainly with Simpletask because it’s an amazing app and with todo.sh when I want to quickly add a new task from the PC ) has been a real pleasure for me. I believe that it’s by far the easiest way to maintain a to-do list and get things done.

With a todo.txt file you forget about proprietary solutions and ensure that you will be able to read your to-do list forever!

Notes: