Monthly Archives: September 2017

Comparing todo.txt and TaskPaper formats

I am a huge fan of managing my tasks using plaintext files. I mostly use todo.txt, but I have recently learned about the TaskPaper format. This is what I have learned about both formats.

Both formats

Both todo.txt and TaskPaper formats are, of course, plaintext files. You can open them in any text editor on any platform. There are several clients available on each of the major computing platforms specifically built to handle them. None of the clients controls your data or is able to lock you in. You are free to organize your task list any way you wish, and even to have multiple task list files. Both formats offer different ways to define projects and tasks, and both have some kind of tagging support, which helps in filtering tasks. You can also have multiple task list files, though most clients work with only one file at a time. Last, but not least, you are on your own when it comes to syncing your task list across systems. Dropbox is the most common third-party file sync service.


File format

Todo.txt is a simple flat-file format—just a list of tasks, in a particular format—that was initially built for command-line querying. It acts as a junk drawer that you can throw stuff into and easily get out later through sorting, filtering, and searching. It is for the sort of person who, for example, archives all their email into one folder, figuring it can be found later with search, rather than those who file every message into an elaborate folder tree. It works for me because I tend to have dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of tasks at a time, spread across a variety of projects, with only minor dependencies between them.

App ecosystem

There are many todo.txt compatible apps on all the major platforms. I created SwiftoDo (iOS) SwiftoDo Desktop (macOS), which are todo.txt apps highly focused on filtering and sorting tasks, and allowing for easy updating and reprioritizing. On Windows, is my favorite client. I sync them all via Dropbox. As long as you have a good client, like the ones I mention above, the todo.txt format is especially good for entering and managing large amounts of tasks, and rapidly reprioritizing them.


File format

The TaskPaper format is much simpler than todo.txt’s format. It is a multi-level outline that includes support for tags and notes…and that’s it. It uses tags for just about everything: project, context, priority, due date, completed status, etc.

Because it is an outline, I find that the TaskPaper format is superior to todo.txt for planning—either project planning or simple day planning in my work journal. Having different outline levels makes it easy to see how tasks are grouped, ordered, and inter-dependent.

These strengths as an outliner are weaknesses, for me at least, when it comes to working through my task list, finding my next actions, and adjusting priorities to reflect what I need to work on next. The outline and order of tasks feels fixed in TaskPaper files, and it feels somewhat unnatural to sort and filter them. It is possible to flag all of the tasks to do today with a @today tag and filter the file to show them. I prefer to work with one very short TaskPaper file for the day, containing only the few tasks I plan to do that day, and mark tasks complete as the day progresses.

App ecosystem

TaskPaper’s macOS app is, as you would expect from the creator of the file format, the gold standard TaskPaper editor. It is clean, well thought-out, and deceptively simple. It has powerful outlining and filtering features that I admire, and extensive keyboard shortcuts that cover everything.

Because I have to work on Windows, I mostly use a bastardized version of TaskPaper format in Sublime Text, using the PlainTasks plugin. Editorial on iOS is the best mobile app I have found that supports the format. It looks like the next version of Drafts will do so in the near future, as well. In my opinion, outside macOS, you are best off using a text editor for TaskPaper files.


Both todo.txt and TaskPaper are useful tools in the plaintext toolbox. I use todo.txt to manage all my tasks, but I use TaskPaper to plan new projects or to outline priorities for my workday.

Deciding Whether to Upgrade to the iPhone X

Last year, prior to Apple’s announcement of the iPhone 7, I had hoped for the “all-screen” design that was announced last week for the iPhone X. I was sure that would be my next phone. Now that it is here, one year later, I am not sure if I want it—at least not yet.

As an iPhone Upgrade Plan customer, I have three options at my disposal:

  1. Do nothing, upgrade to something new next year, keep my iPhone 7, and give it to one of my kids, put it in a drawer, or sell it for peanuts in 2018.
  2. Pre-order the iPhone 8 Plus, which would presumably be available soon, as the most rabid Apple fans will prefer to skip it and get the X. I would have to turn in the iPhone 7 around month 12 or 13 of my 24-month payment plan.
  3. Wait until next month and pre-order the iPhone X via the iPhone Upgrade Plan. I would likely have to wait a couple months for the phone to be available (probably January). I would have to turn in the iPhone 7 around month 15 of my 24-month payment plan.

Cost: the main reason to skip the iPhone X for me

The iPhone X starts at $999. The model with more storage that I would buy is $150 more, and AppleCare Plus costs about $200 on top of that. That represents a huge outlay for the phone. I don’t begrudge Apple for pricing the iPhone X so high, or other people for buying it without worrying about its cost. The high price is, however, a hint that the X may not be for me—at least not this year.

Additional switching costs of an early upgrade

While I love the idea of “renting” a smartphone with a fixed monthly cost (hardware as a service), it doesn’t really work that way. You actually have to buy the phone, and deal with the downsides that entails.

When I upgraded to the iPhone 7, I was surprised that I would have to pay 100% of the taxes on the new phone (about $100), plus a fee to activate it on my Verizon account (about $20). I had been thinking only about the difference in the monthly phone payment I would make, which was minuscule, and the expected cost to buy a new, compatible case. I was out over $100 for the new phone, and realized that I had already paid those costs one year earlier for the 7, and was giving up that hardware completely. On top of that, the case cost a lot, too (about $50). It is easy to forget about these costs when (1) the cost of the phone dwarfs them, and (2) the main cost of the phone is a relatively small monthly payment.

This year, wiser about the switching costs, I am just not sure if it is worth it to go from the 7 to the 8 Plus or X.

Other reasons why I am iffy on the X

Coming from the Plus, the iPhone X actually represents a step down in screen size (though it has a higher native resolution), lacks Touch ID, and has a smaller battery. I am not sure how my apps will look on the iPhone X screen. I bet developers will have to figure out how best to handle the notch and curved corners. (I am a little worried about my iOS app, SwiftoDo, too.) Face ID might be slower or less convenient than Touch ID. Battery life might not be as good as on my one-year old, heavily used iPhone 7 Plus, or even the new iPhone 8 Plus.

Considering these minor drawbacks and unknowns, it might be nice to sit out the period in which users and developers figure out the new hardware, and Apple fixes any iPhone X-related software bugs.

What about the iPhone 8 Plus?

The iPhone 8 Plus is actually pretty attractive, despite having the same old (but good!) case design as the iPhone 6, 6S, and 7. I’m sure demand for it will be rather low, by iPhone standards. I would actually be able to get one soon. It is at least $300 cheaper than the iPhone X. The model I want costs $949, which is really expensive, but my monthly iPhone Upgrade Plan payment would not change.

What to do?

If money were no object, I would buy the X outright sometime soon and never use the iPhone Upgrade Plan again. Because that is not the case, I am leaning most heavily towards skipping an upgrade this year. I will deal with decreasing battery life and knowing I don’t have the best camera or performance anymore, but I will not suffer much. Or, I may just order the iPhone 8 Plus and not worry about the X until next year. I will go to an Apple Store in the next few weeks to test my resolve.

Sublime Text 3.0 Officially Released

Sublime Text, my text editor of choice on Windows, Linux, and sometimes on the Mac, released version 3.0 tonight.

I was surprised to learn the news, because I have been using Sublime Text 3 since 2013. Those were betas, of course, but were more solid and stable than most production software I used. I have been using beta versions for so long, I basically forgot that a final release would ever be forthcoming. There was, famously, about a year over which there were no beta updates, but the developer pulled through more recently with more frequent updates and meaningful new features (like High DPI support). Now, after several years of development, the release is marked complete.

I am a huge fan of this text editor. I use it constantly for many things. I even wrote popular articles about it in my Plaintext Productivity guide. Congratulations to the developer for wrapping up the release.

Now is a good time to buy a license, or pursue an upgrade. My 2013 Sublime Text 2 purchase qualified me for a free upgrade, so I am a very happy customer now.

New A List Apart wants you!

I am a fan of the open web, and also a fan of people asking their audiences directly to pay to support content they find worthwhile. A List Apart announced yesterday that they are pulling away from their advertising-based funding model, which apparently was not working well for them anymore, toward a volunteering and patronage model, which will draw from the community that reads and loves the site. I think this reflects a trend that is starting to separate “the open web” (community-based sites) from the big commercial sites (Google and Facebook, mostly), based on funding models and even content types.

I learned so much from A List Apart over the years. As a publication, it means an awful lot to me and my professional career. I am somewhat sad to admit that I stopped reading it after I shifted away from its core topics, web design and development, and moved toward finance, data analytics, and audit. I am not longer part of its core audience or community, but I wholeheartedly wish them, and the site’s readers, writers, and editors, well.