Sometimes GTD Text-Style Is Best

Recently I switched from using the web-based GTD tool Tracks to the simple, text file system called todo.txt. It’s based on a text file, with several interfaces, such as a command line tool, and an Android app. Naturally, one could also simply open the text file and edit it as well.

Initially the switch was made for a practical reason: the web filtering software at work happened to suddenly decide that parts of the Tracks website should be blocked, making it extremely difficult to use. But in time I’ve found that the new approach works quite well for several reasons.

First, it’s incredibly simple. I use the command line client (along with Cygwin) to interact with my todo file, with two aliases set up. One (the letter ‘t’) I use for keeping track of work items; the second (the letters ‘tp’) I use for personal items. That keeps the two separate, work versus personal. That way I’m not tempted to knock off some work related item when I really should be cleaning the kitty litter.

Let’s say I want to add an item called “Followup with Dave re laptop status”, with a context of “@computer”. I simply type t add "Followup with Dave re laptop status @computer", and the item is added. I’ve always been a CLI junkie (in no small part because I really suck at GUI design), so I’m really loving it.

The second reason actually started out as an annoyance. Initially, I found reading the long text file rather cumbersome; sorting out projects, priorities, due dates, etc, wasn’t nearly as intuitive as it was in Tracks. Instead, I had to really scrutinize the list and read things over one at a time before deciding what to do. I was becoming quite frustrated when it dawned on me: this is actually a good thing, because it’s forcing me to explicitly examine everything on my plate whenever I look at the list. No more glancing over things without really seeing what they are.

If you’re into simplistic (yet elegant) solutions and also happen to be a GTD junkie, I’d highly recommend checking todo.txt out.

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