As some of you will be aware, I’m an avid user of to-do lists.
Long before such lists were commonplace on the net, I used something we techies call “pen and paper” to keep my lists.
By the late 1990s, I had my first Palm Pilot and still think that the To Do list that came with the device was one of the best thought-out bits of software I’ve ever used.
Ever since then I’ve tried pretty much all the available options and have to say that I liked Toodledo best of all of them, and synced it to my various phones and tablets over the years.
I recently thought I’d give Wunderlist another try as it keeps getting amazing reviews from places like Lifehacker.
But Wunderlist has one fatal flaw.
The default display of tasks is not in the order in which you need to do them. In other words, if I have 100 tasks, some of them due today, some due next month, the default should be to show the ones due today first, right?
But if I look at all tasks, Wunderlist shows me them grouped by category — so I may very well see non-urgent tasks appearing on top of the page, but urgent ones appearing far further down.
As I use my to-do list as a calendar, I need to be able to see rather quickly if I’m free on a certain date. With Wunderlist, that’s pretty much impossible, especially if you have a bunch of categories. (If you keep everything in a single category, it would work.)
So I decided this week to try, once again, an old favorite — todo.txt.
Originally developed by Gina Trapani, who founded Lifehacker, todo.txt is basically a stripped-down, open source system for power users of to do lists.
It’s feature-poor, which is perfect, because you can add the features you want.
And it’s based a simple text file (todo.txt) with a human-readable, easy-to-understand syntax, which you ideally host on Dropbox.
Here’s what a typical task would look like in todo.txt:
Write article about todo.txt
That’s right — that’s all you’d need. Make a list of those, and you’ve got a working database for todo.txt.
But I’m going to improve it by adding a category, in the case, “Writing”.
Write article about todo.txt +Writing
That’s built-in to the “official” spec for todo.txt. But it’s also very easy to hack.
For example, the default version that appears on my Android devices doesn’t include a field for the due date (though there is a way to due this using the command line interface).
This would normally be a deal-breaker.
But I can insert a date as the first bit of text in the title, and voila, it sorts by date when you sort alphabetically, which I can leave as the default (unlike Wunderlist).
Here’s how the line would now look:
2013.11.26 Write article about todo.txt +Writing
And within a single date, I’d like to highlight essential tasks without using the existing priority field, which would look like this:
(A) 2013.11.26 Write article about todo.txt +Writing
This is because I don’t want to choose between sorting by priority and sorting by date.
So instead, I put an asterisk just after the date. That way, the automatic alphabetic sort by title works perfectly. In other words, this would be one line for a top priority task for me, due today:
2013.11.26 * Write article about todo.txt +Writing
The one thing that would make todo.txt perfect would be if the Android version would include recurring tasks and the due date, but maybe that will happen in the future.
So, sorry Toodledo — you’re not getting a renewal of my $14.99 “Silver” subscription.
And Wunderlist — well you can forget about getting those €45.00 you ask to become a “pro”.
I’m sticking with Gina’s solution because, while not perfect, it’s flexible and it’s free.