Ask DN: Do you use plain text files to manage your to-do lists?

over 6 years ago from , I make web stuff

I did, after trying many more elaborated options. I liked better the simplicity of a simple .txt over any app. You can do everything just with the keyboard. To mark a to-do as completed I would just move it to the bottom.

So, I ask and say all this because when I started learning Rails almost 2 years ago, I decided to make my ideal to-do list web app as an exercise (yes, very original), with the idea that it would behave just like a text file, but with specific capabilities and nice typography. Truth is I been using it ever since, and now I wonder if I should polish it and release it publicly. Would you like to check it out?


  • Account deleted over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Old school post-it notes. I love to toss them away after I've completed my task. Post-it notes

    2 points
  • Diego LafuenteDiego Lafuente, over 6 years ago


    I open IA Writer or Sublime Text. That's all.

    I've read this book (The Checklist Manifesto) and made me think most of the todo list software is so sophisticated that it rests interest in doing checklists.

    2 points
    • Hernán Sartorio, over 6 years ago

      Awesome! I used Sublime too on Windows, now on OSX I would definitely use IA Writer if I didn't made this.

      IA Writer it's a great example in terms of design simplicity to me. If I would compare my thing with any app, I would dare to say it's like IA Writer for to-do lists. I even implemented something similar to the focus mode, when you focus on a to-do, all others turn gray.

      Haven't heard about that book, will check it out! Thanks.

      0 points
  • Marc EdwardsMarc Edwards, over 6 years ago

    Yep. I use Markdown + often save to Dropbox.

    It means I can use Byword or Elements on the go, and Mou or other Markdown editors on my Mac.

    I definitely see the benefit in using task managers and I think there’s some great software out there to do it, they’ve just never fit with me — my to do lists often morph from a list to a full document, article or reference file.

    2 points
    • Hernán SartorioHernán Sartorio, over 6 years ago

      Right! I used them on Dropbox too so I could manage them from any computer.

      Well if your lists morph into articles this wouldn't be much of a fit for you, but would love to have your opinion anyway. I'll polish some things to make it more user friendly and will post it here tomorrow.

      0 points
    • Milosz FalinskiMilosz Falinski, over 6 years ago

      This is a borderline self-plug, but I've been using a similar system and am currently building an app that will support this as well.

      http://octoboxapp.com was on DN a while ago - it's a mix of a bookmaking and note-taking tool with markdown support. It'll have a functionality similar to Taskpaper - you'll be able to click on a task to mark it as done. It'll all be synced and browsable through Dropbox, too.

      0 points
  • Adrian HowardAdrian Howard, over 6 years ago

    My "personal" to do list sits in a text file in my notes folder in Dropbox. Edited with Sublime / Editorial / WriteRoom / vim depending on where I am.

    Work to do lists live in trello when they're not made physical with post-it notes on the wall.

    1 point
  • Jonathan CutrellJonathan Cutrell, over 6 years ago

    I have more todo apps than I know what to do with...


    Seriously, there's so many out there, many that fit my needs and many that don't.

    Plain text solutions are great, but I think any well-liked todo app has opinions about the management of todo items.

    I recommend you look into a few todo-oriented methodologies, and choose one to shape your idea around.

    My personal favorite is KanBanery.

    1 point
  • David KizlerDavid Kizler, over 6 years ago

    I use Things for Mac.

    Sometimes I think a plain text file might be a better option, but I love the ability in Things to send email links directly to my Things inbox. I also like the quick entry Alfred-like window that Things offers so I don't have to switch to a document if I need to enter a new task.

    That said, while I like getting my tasks into Things, I feel a plain text editor would better help me see and review my tasks. Taskpaper is the closest I've found to something that combines all of this, but I could neve get it to work as fluently as Things.

    I'd check it out if you ever release it publicly. Playing with new todo apps is one of my favorite ways to not get anything done ; )

    1 point
    • Hernán SartorioHernán Sartorio, over 6 years ago

      Thanks for your comment! Haven't tried Things until now, seems powerful with all those features. Still I prefer a simpler solution. Taskpaper seems to be similar from the screenshots, haven't tried it.

      Haha, well wait till tomorrow! I'll post the link in this thread. Cheers!

      0 points
  • Larry HynesLarry Hynes, over 6 years ago

    Yup... using TaskPaper syntax, but rarely the TaskPaper app, I just use vim to edit.

    1 point
  • Hernán Sartorio, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Thank you all for your comments and encouragement.

    As promised in the replies (sorry for the delay), I've now polished some details (at least enough to show it here), and now I present to you:

    Pie, the to-do list (web)app for people who prefer simple text files over to-do list apps.

    Sorry for the really devoted landing page, until yesterday it was actually just the signup and login links and unstyled inputs.

    There may be some edge cases bugs but it works fine most of the time, tell me if you find any odd behavior.

    Note that there is no save button anywhere, it saves automatically as you make any changes.

    That's it, for everything else it works mostly the same as if it were plain text.

    Please tell me what you think. Also, should I make a new SHOW DN post?

    Cheers, Hernán

    PD. Almost forgot, you can also "import" a text list you already have. It's a little buggy, it only works if you paste it at the end of a list, but it does the job. It will convert every line into a new to-do.

    0 points
  • Gadzhi KharkharovGadzhi Kharkharov, over 6 years ago

    So where's your thing?)

    0 points
  • Thierry MeierThierry Meier, over 6 years ago

    I switched back to old-school written lists. If I write things down, I feel more responsible for them, since the tasks exist physically and not just in some productivity tool of choice.

    In addition to that, it is also pretty easy to over-complicate things with digital productivity tools. Pen and paper is flexible and quick.

    0 points
  • Christoph OChristoph O, over 6 years ago

    I use Apples Notes App for everything, including to-dos. The simplicity forces me to be specific, and it syncs to all my devices as soon as I stop typing. It's the tool with the least amount of friction for me.

    0 points
  • Samuel ZellerSamuel Zeller, over 6 years ago

    I use my brain to remember them most of the time, for really important stuff or long term tasks I use Due on iphone or post-it.

    I tried a LOT of different Todo apps (osx and web based) but never found "the one". I also use Simplenote with Justnote on osx but that's more for storing important informations.

    Also use dropbox but only for assets and personal stuff.

    0 points
  • Katie HarronKatie Harron, over 6 years ago

    I've been using PlainTasks, a Sublime Text plugin for several months now, I find it very handy!

    0 points
  • Xavier HaniquautXavier Haniquaut, over 6 years ago

    It is a webapp but it's close to the mecanisms of a text todo list. https://hollyapp.com/ And it's fun!

    0 points
  • Dustin CartwrightDustin Cartwright, over 6 years ago

    One key feature nearly every to-do list app I've found lacks is multi-level lists. I tend to store my lists in a bunch of sub lists. For example: "Clients > 'clientname' > 'projectname' > Design to-dos > "

    I've only found a single app that offers that sort of functionality, and it's very limited sadly. I would pay to have a roll-your-own solution that I could throw on my own server and is fairly simple to configure. So while the "I built a to-do list app" idea isn't unique, there is still plenty of room out there for improvement!

    0 points
    • Hernán SartorioHernán Sartorio, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

      How would you like that implemented?

      I just use indentation to group to-do's. But I don't like more than one or two levels of indentation, and I have a list per project.

      What is the app you mention? Thanks for your comment!

      0 points
      • Dustin CartwrightDustin Cartwright, over 6 years ago

        The app I've been using is called Todoist. They handle it quite gracefully, allowing for collapsible sub-lists:

        Todolist lists

        They also implement a sort of Karma system so that you don't just add things to your lists and leave them there forever. It gives an incentive to actually do them haha.

        1 point
    • Jon GoldJon Gold, over 6 years ago

      OmniFocus and Workflowy both excel at multi-level lists. The outlining capabilities of OmniFocus are what always bring me back to it.

      0 points
  • Tor Løvskogen BollingmoTor Løvskogen Bollingmo, over 6 years ago

    I use TextEdit where I have a text file with stuff I've done i grey color and stuff that needs to be done in black. Sometimes I create to-do's by taking a screenshot and naming the png file with the to-do.

    0 points
  • Ashraf AliAshraf Ali, over 6 years ago

    Maybe it's just me but I'm an OmniFocus nerd. Something about the GUI is so addictive and gravitates me towards adding tasks, organizing tasks, and most importantly, getting them done.

    0 points
  • Vladislav ArbatovVladislav Arbatov, over 6 years ago

    Please show it. I use textish solution https://workflowy.com/.

    0 points
  • Rob HampsonRob Hampson, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Nice! I can see the sense in this. I played with using a .txt file on and off over the last year. However, I keep coming back to Trello. The ability to drag / drop, give tasks dates and arrange in different columns just works for me. But everyone has their own individual preferences.

    Would be cool to try out your To Do list though. Let me know if you ever make it publicly available.

    0 points
    • Hernán SartorioHernán Sartorio, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

      Thanks! I've tried Trello, but I guess I just have much simpler needs.

      With mine you can see one list at a time and there are no dates, but you can drag and drop too, and have keyboard shortcuts for that and everything else too. And you don't have to hit save or edit never, it just saves automatically in the background.

      I'll polish some things and post it here tomorrow. I even chose a name for it ("Pie", because it's as easy as pie) and have it on its own domain. Wait for it!

      0 points