The last, and first time I wrote about TaskPaper, was only a few hours after I installed it. You can read about that here. Following that post, I talked a bit with Mike Vardy on Twitter. Which ended in me saying that I was going to talk a bit more in depth about TaskPaper, after I’ve been using it for a while.
This post goes into depth on a few different topics, mainly TaskPaper, how I use it, some considerations I had to take before going for it, and also my GTD system in general and some other GTD apps I’ve used in past.
I started writing this post after using TaskPaper for a month, and then continued to writing it, and it was published after I had used TaskPaper for a full month.
My GTD app history
I might write an article about all of the different GTD and todo related apps and services I have used at some point. But this is about the three major ones I have used during the last six years. And a few notes on two that I have tried to use as my main GTD system.
Reminders and that Gmail thing.
I use Reminders now, but only for the fraction of my tasks that either are recurring, or require a due date. The rest are going into TaskPaper. I have tried to use both Reminders and Googles built-in Task manager in Gmail a few times. And I think they are both pretty decent. I would love to be able to get away with using Reminders, but I can’t. They are just to simple. The problem with them is that they are not designed to handle the amount of tasks and project that I would need them to handle.
Remember the Milk
Remember the Milks is a great Web-based GTD app, with apps for iPhone, iPad, android etc. I used it for a total of two years, on two different situations. RTM is great. But it has it’s limits.
You might ask, why should I use RTM when I have Reminders? For one, I think RTM is designed to handle the amount of tasks and projects you would fine in the typical user that is between the simple needs of Reminders and the advanced need in OmniFocus or Things. But. It is also great to have as a platform independent solution. There have been times when I’ve had an iPad, Mac and one of those Android things.
Things from Culture Code is one of the two power user GTD system for OS X and iOS, and I used it for a total of two years. It was great. Like I said with RTM, Things is not as advanced as OmniFocus, and a lot simpler. I think they attend to two different user groups. I think a lot read Getting Things Done, then they decide that Reminders isn’t enough. And then they go to Things. Let’s face it. Things is a lot easier to get started with, than what you will find in OmniFocus. But I also think a lot of people move on to OmniFocus from things, if or when they grow out of it.
OmniFocus is kind of the goto GTD app for all of us crazy productivity nerds that belong to the church of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done”. I love the book, and I still love OmniFocus. I also used this app for two years straight. This app managed to get my through one full time job with an insane amount of tasks to complete, a lot of private projects, some studying on the side, and some times some part time development gigs.
I didn’t grew out of OmniFocus per say, but what it is and was is not the kind of GTD system that is the right thing for me right now. I don’t need a lot of due dates, start dates and stuff like that. I need an easy way to write down a lot of tasks in a very short time. I need some basic ways to organise them. In shallow and deep structures. I need some basic tagging, and most important of all, a simple way to combine Tasks and Notes. Both from a getting them in there perspective, and from a reading them perspective.
What I needed was something like a notebook, but digital. And what I found was TaskPaper.
Why plain text and “open containers” matter.
I have been working very hard to limit my tools, and to refactor what tools I use and to try go get by with less. I used to have a lot of text editors; now I don’t.
One of my goals for 2014 is to move back to using my nvALT plain text file database as the storage for my tasks, notes and everything else that I am working on. And implementing a good GTD system in something like TaskPaper was a very important part of this.
The reason I like to use formats like TaskPaper and Markdown which is just text, in an open container, like Dropbox is that I can use any tool I want to work with them. For example, I can use Notesy to edit both my notes, write on a new blog post or to work with my TaskPaper document.
TaskPaper vs Todo.txt
I decided to go plain text with my GTD system. But which should I pick? There was two very popular options out there. I think there are more, but these two was the one I’ve heard about. And they are quite different.
Todo.txt is different from TaskPaper on a few different things. For one, it has a lot more functionality that TaskPaper, and it seems like it is designed a lot more from the “easy to parse for the developer”-perspective. One of the things I love about TaskPaper’s format, is how simple it is. And how easy it is to work with it, and how fast I learnt it.
The format rather than the apps
After realising that TaskPaper was a lot like my go to markup language, markdown, I also realised another thing Im not just picking a few apps for managing my tasks here. Those does not really matter in a plain text world, what I am going is to pick a format.
And I picked the format with the fewest features, and the format that was the easiest for me – as a human to both read and write. I picked TaskPaper.
The OS X app.
Let’s move on to the OS X application, this is where you find the TaskPaper experience at it’s finest. It’s a text editor, that includes different markup depending on what you are typing. A project will have bolder and larger type, and notes are highlighted with grey text. While completed tasks get a strikethrough formatting.
The app makes it very easy to work with TaskPaper, it treats the document as a text file. This means that you can just do everything with your keyboard, if this is your thing. But there is also buttons and menus for creating tasks, notes, and projects, if this is your thing. There are also menus for focusing on certain tags or projects.
One of my favourite features in the app is that you have a search field that let’s you create rather complex queries. The query “@next and not @done” would show all of my tasks with the tag “next” that isn’t complete. This is a search I use all of the time on the mac to keep track of everything that is “up next”.
[Text Expander] is a great companion app here.
To sum things up, Task Paper for OS X is a great app with all of the power any power user want to have. But the app is designed in a way that makes is very easy to get started.
The iOS app
The iOS app was unfortunately removed from the store. I won’t get in to details about here. But you read about why Hog Bay Software decided to go so here. The app have been open sourced, and I think someone might pick it up, and start doing something interesting with it.
The iOS and OS X apps for TaskPaper is kind of different. The OS X app is a text editor with some TaskPaper specific features, and the iOS apps is more like a regular GTD “list” app. And I also think the iPad and iPhone versions have their own respective strengths and weaknesses.
I think the iPhone version is a very good app to mark items as completed, and to just look up items within a tag or project. And the iPad version on the other hand is much better at adding new items, due to it having an extended keyboard, with some task paper specific buttons on the top.
One note regarding the iOS apps is that they slowed down, when I tried to work with some large TaskPaper files in them(larger than 50K).
Dropbox is the go to syncing mechanism for TaskPaper, and it’s fast and works more or less like you would expect it to. Just one heads up, try to always save and close the document if you plan do open it in iOS.
The reason for this is that the OS X version is not as good as I want it to when I comes to saving when it comes to autosaving and loading changes from the local file in the background. This is probably something I expect the developer to fix in the coming versions of the OS X app, now that he is focusing only on OS X apps.
Third party apps
One of the great things about TaskPaper + Dropbox sync is that you can use anything capable of editing text. Let’s get into the great third party apps I use to work with TaskPaper, on both OS X and iOS.
nvALT, is one of my favourite OS X apps, and it is one of the five apps that would be enough to do all of my work. To sum it up, nvALT is a note taking application that have great support for markdown, have full text search and stores all of the notes in plain text files. I store everything from my notes, blog posts to my “bookmarks” in it.
nvALT is not as great as TaskPaper when it comes to working with your TaskPaper files, but I often use it for it anyway. The reason for this is that I often need to get down a few task, while working on something else.
Notesy is my iOS counterpart to nvALT, and it have been my go to notes application on iOS since I started using it. It’s fast, reliable and it is the only application that can handle any amount of notes I have sent it’s way.
Here is the thing. Some of my notes is two words, while other of them is a 10 000+ word notes file containing all of the notes I have taken from an entire text book. And I have a lot of them. Notesy is the only app that never crashes on my. One of the other great features in Notesy is that it have full text search, like nvALT and it let’s you customise large parts of the application.
Notesy is often my only writing and notes application on iPhone, but I also use Editorial on the iPad. Editorial is this crazy thing that let’s you build workflows to automate things, with both built-in functions, and with Python(!!) – it’s awesome.
The other great thing about Editorial, is that is seems like it was built for both online writers and people like me, that need to switch to a browser to do some quick research ALL THE TIME. I use it to find links, and I use it to make sure that I really understand what I am writing, while doing notes for my studies.
It’s a great app, and I have written hundreds of thousands of words in that thing.
Here is a great blog post about using Editorial with TaskPaper.
Drafts is another of these great and innovative iOS applications. The basic concept is that you have a simple text editor that always starts up with an empty text file. Then you can either send it on to other applications with a lot of built in integrations, or write your own to apps with a url-scheme.
The way I use this is to “prepend” text to my default TaskPaper file(add it to the beginning).
The difference between reoccurring tasks and Habits.
I rediscovered one of my favourite apps from the iOS version 6 period, while writing this post. And immediately changed parts of my setup and workflow. Habit List is a app designed to handle tasks regarding to habits. Let’s take a look at the differences between using Habit List and recurring tasks in for example Reminders.
Let’s say, I want to get into working out. This is one of the things you would want to use Habit List for. The reasons for this is that you might not want to do it on particular dates, but rather let’s say three times a week. And you would also want to keep track of when and how often you actually did it.
This is all parts of the functionality that Habit List provides.
And then you have other kinds of tasks like “Adding events for all of my lectures in the coming week”, is not something I want or need to have in Reminders. For one, I don’t care to see the stats, and it is just something I need to do – not just each week, but every sunday.
In other words, the difference lies in stuff you want to have statistics on, and to have both functionality that is made for one thing – creating habits.
Now, finally. This is how I do things myself.
Pen & Paper.
I often use Pen & Paper, and my go to tools for this is large Moleskine notebooks, pocked sized FieldNotes and my beloved Retro 51 pen. I journal, and do quick capture stuff in the Field Notes when this is the fastest and or the most fitting tool.
While I use Moleskine’s when I need to write notes on paper, or need to plan out larger projects.
Later I bring all of the stuff I write on paper into either nvALT if it is notes, TaskPaper if its tasks and Day One if it is journaling.
My current TaskPaper setup consists of three different .taskpaper files: GTD, Wishlist and Archive. Wishlist is just a collection of different items I want, but don’t need or have the money to buy right now. I could store it in the main GTD file, but I prefer to have them separated. It makes it a lot easier to get overview of things.
Archive is just a file where I move completed items from the GTD file, this is to make the file load and sync faster. But also to avoid having hundreds, if not thousands of completed items and projects at the bottom of my file.
GTD is the main file I am working on at any given moment. I use a lot of projects, and I use a few very simple tags. – nnn – I add this tag to any item that I intend to work on “next”. It’s pretty close to how I have used flagging in various other GTD systems. I find it useful to have an easy way to look up what I should tackle after what I was doing. – @today – This is more like a hard deadline. This is a indicator that I need to do this today. – @monday – @sunday. – I don’t use these a lot. But I do so sometimes. I introduced a set of tags for each day, to have something similar to the forecast view in OmniFocus, it’s just a simple scheduling paradigm, the few times I need it.
This is the generalised tags that is crucial to my workflow in TaskPaper, I also use some vert specific ones. I’m not going into them here.
My GTD workflow in OS X involves three different apps. I use to Reminders to recurring tasks, and stuff with a due date. And the rest ends up in a .taskpaper file. My main app for this is TaskPaper. I might use some other TextEditor, but I rarely do so.
Both OS X’s nature, and the maturity of the TaskPaper for OS X makes this part of my workflow kind of boring.
iOS is bit more complex. I always use Drafts on both my iPhone and iPad to quick capture ideas and tasks, and even projects I need to plan. The TaskPaper app is often used to look up certain tags or projects, and it is also my preferred app on OS X to mark tasks and projects as completed.
Notesy on the iPhone and Editorial on iPad is however my go to apps for writing down larger portions of tasks, and for planning projects. The reason for this is that I find it a lot easier and more efficient to do this in a text editor environment.
In other words: drafts for quick capture, the TaskPaper app for viewing and searching and Notesy or Editorial for editing. They are all great in their own unique and awesome way.
Reminders & Habit List. Both of these apps are also a crucial part of my workflow. The stuff I track with Reminders is planning the coming week(adding events to my calendar), processing my paper notebooks, and reviewing my tasks. While I have stuff like working out three times a week, journaling every day, taking a daily selfie and playing guitar every day in Habit List. The divide between the two is like I based on if I want to have statistics on how often I actually do it, and if I need a loose scheduling.
Reminders works on certain days and times, while Habit List allows me to set “every 2-3 days” or “3 times a week”, something that is awesome for certain tasks.
This setup is all in all very different from what it used to be, just a few weeks ago. I used to have everything in one app, OmniFocus. But I feel that this app is a lot more future proof, than it used to be. I’m a lot more mindful about what kind of task it is, and if every actually needs a due date.
You might say that this system is a bit more fiddly, and it is, but I know that the majority of my tasks will work on any computer I am going to use for the coming 25 years. That is not something I can say about my old Things or OmniFocus databases.