Best GTD method for geeks – Todo.txt

For most of the GTD (Get(ting) Things Done) mastery student, there is a constant research of better “todo” app or tool. I’ve been in this for a very long time and used many apps. Desktop, mobile, command line, cloud, API… You name it, I’ve probably used it for some time.

At the end, I found myself staying very plainly managing my todos without needing a lot of features. In fact, I needed not to worry about the features of the apps I used. This especially become an issue as I’m OCD (obsessed about “order” and tidy) and a little bit ADD (regularly distracted). When you have a todo app that looks ugly and you need to use their features in order to clean things up, it eats up your time aside of actually focusing on your todos.

Methods and apps

There are also a million apps (I wrote 4 of them for myself) does a combination of “todo” management and a specific type of method. Like pomodoro, or kanban or whatever is out there. This gets more dangerous because the method is actually completely independent from what the todo is, where it lives and how it lives. It can be written on a paper list. For instance, if you do pomodoro, the best way to do it actually use a kitchen timer. Literally, use that old school timer to perform your pomodoros. Otherwise, I almost always find it time consuming to think that things will be more connected and automated when you have a todo app that does the pomodoro. So you can click to a todo and a button to do pomodoro of that item. It sounds good but it’s opposite in practice.

Plain formats works best

For long time, I used cloud based (to sync between my devices) tools. I used evernote, then quip, then trello at some point, then few more. But I found it, the simplest when I can simply copy paste stuff to move around. Because you’ll be consistently re-prioritizing your todo list, editing, adding, removing, marking things done. It’s just how the process of GTD works. That’s why you need a method that is the most convenient and requires less adaptation and portability between platforms and environment. There are few fancy stuff you may want to have like:

  • A programmable interface (API/CLI) – for instance to have your top 3 todos for the day appears on a screen somewhere. Or query the last completed tasks.
  • Color coding or highlighting at least to distinct what’s done and what’s not done. Ideally, when you’re done with stuff, it should disappear from your screen but in some cases, you want to see them at least until the end of your day to be able to review.

Todo.txt

After many years trying different things, I came across with the todo.txt format. It’s a very low level and with few simple rules to give you the freedom to use whatever tool you want, wherever you want with having additional capabilities with community implementations on CLI, cloud, mobile etc…

https://github.com/todotxt/todo.txt

todo.txt format is so simple that is explained in one annotation below:

To be honest, I don’t use almost any of these things except the “done” marker. So for me, it’s as simple as todos are either not done or done. That’s it. What I want to do manually is always re-ordered them and have separators (which I simply use 3-5 dash characters “——” as an extra line).

I love this format is because I use it in a few different tools on my platforms. Wasn’t super happy with the desktop solutions, so I forked and enhanced a simple code editor written on electron/nodejs. Added a few capabilities and adjusted the color schema to my liking and open sourced published it (You can find, download and contribute to it here: https://github.com/mfyz/todox).

On mobile, it’s not that easy to have a custom code editor without getting my hands dirty with a lot of native coding which I felt lazy. Also, another point that I had to figure out was the sync between my devices. I live on apple ecosystem so I simply used iCloud drive of the text editor app I use on my iOS devices (Textastic).

Texastic supports textmate and sublime bundles (including custom syntax support and themes). I installed a sublime text implementation of todo.txt format and had color coding which all I needed on my mobile devices. Most of the time my activity on my mobile devices are simply adding new stuff to the list or mark them done.

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