ToDo.txt Command Line GTD. Is it REALLY that good?

Gina Trapani at SXSWi 2007
Image via Wikipedia

Over the last little while there have been a few articles over at Lifehacker by it’s editor Gina Trapani about how she uses a plain text file to organize her life. It got my attention! I love text files! So I read this article on how she uses a plain .txt file to keep herself organized. Here are my thoughts on this system…

Gina(if I can be so informal…) is a GTD advocate! I love that about her. Lifehacker is one of the primary sites that I keep up to date on apps and systems that utilize GTD. Gina has come up with a way to interact with a simple todo.txt file on the command line and being a programmer, she has made a script to enter and prioritize and even mark her tasks complete. Head to the site and watch the video. It is really nice looking. There is also an article yesterday that talks about how to integrate your todo.txt file with Dropbox to create a mobile, get it anywhere list. Very nice concept!

Kevin Purdy from Lifehacker wrote an article yesterday on ‘Why I Get More Done with a Plain Text To-Do List‘. Really? Does he? What am I missing?

Now, being a guy that loves plain text, and the command line(not that I am any good at it by any stretch of the imagination), I want to LOVE this. I really do. But I see problems with the system…

Gina shows how you can use grep(or her script) to look for tasks. That is fine and dandy, but one of the best things about any GTD system is the ability to get quick access to all your contexts and projects. I have about a dozen projects going at one time between my personal life and work. Sometimes I quickly make a project( an action with more than one step), and tag the first item needing my attention as a Next Action step. I have a LOT of next action steps! And a LOT of various tasks with contexts. With her system, I would need to remember the name of the project in order to look it up. The only way to look at all my tasks is in a linear fashion in the todo.txt file. What if I have 100 tasks in there? I do. I have a @someday file, #movies, #books, and if I need to scroll through tons of entries to find that forgotten named project, it is not efficient. Nozbe, Remember the Milk, Nirvanahq, GTDagenda, all of these and more have a VISUAL area to look through projects. The todo.txt system does not. You need to manually search something you can’t remember the name of. Not good in my opinion.

Another thing I think is missing from this system is a tickler file. Those little tasks that you want to review or do at some specified date in the future. Maybe there is a way to do it here, but I am missing it. I suppose that you can add another #tag with a date, but isn’t the task supposed to be easy to read? I think that maybe Gina doesn’t use this system for her tickler, but perhaps Google Calendar or some equally good calendar.

One thing that I don’t like is the way your tasks look after they are entered. I am used to RTM, so adding a task like this:

Call mom to ask about catering arrangements for the wedding @phone #wedding #na !1     would give me

Call mom to ask about catering arrangements for the wedding

The task would be in my @phone context, in my #wedding project, a next action step, and have a high priority on all this lists.

With todo.txt the task would remain looking like the initial input. Yes, I can search for it, but the task will still look the same.

How does this read for you? @mac @pc @paper @offline Draft todo.txt feature
p:garage @phone Schedule Goodwill pickup 555-1212
@phone Thank Mom for the package
p:incometax @homeoffice Gather tax documents @mac @pc @online Update FAQ @pc @offline Test drive WhizFolders
p:garage @shopping Bike rack at Lowe’s
p:incometax @email Inquire re: K1 form
p:garage @email Neighbors re: joint garage sale Sat, June 10

That’s what I thought. WTF did I try to say again? I am being a bit harsh here, as I can read this just fine, and I’m sure Gina, who is way more tech savy than me has no problems, but there is something to be said for making something simple to use AND simple to read. Oh, and simple to quickly look up a task you know you put in there when you forgot what the hell you were trying to remind yourself to do. I think that trying to go back to simple text files is a nice concept, but when all your tasks are merged together in one big Inbox littered with #, @, ^, +, etc…, a weekly review isn’t going to help sort it all out! It is hard on the eyes.

I won’t say that I am not going to try and use the todo.txt app if it ever comes out for the iPhone, because I love the idea, but as it stands, Remember the Milk makes this system look, well, like an unorganized mess.

Have you used Gina Trapani’s todo.txt GTD system? If so, please leave me comments.