“My productivity app for the past 12 years has been a single .txt file”



He lost me as soon as I read:

The one outside tool I use is an online calendar, and I put everything on this calendar, even things that aren’t actually for a fixed time like “make a coffee table at the workshop” or “figure out how to recruit new PhD students”

Based on my over 25 years of experience and most everything I’ve ever read about productivity best practices, that is bad practice. There may be the outliers (the author of this article apparently being one of them) but for most people using one’s calendar to track and manage tasks would be bad advice.

My calendar is reserved for events with fixed times, which includes times blocked for specific projects. Unless I was going to be the workshop building a coffee table on a specific day and time it would not be on my calendar.

That said, tracking tasks/projects in a plain text file (or paper for that matter) may be all that is necessary for some people. This is a matter of one’s particular needs and preference but I for one would find it cumbersome, difficult, and inefficient to track projects and tasks with such a rudimentary system. I’ve been fortunate in that my career commenced just as computers and mobile devices were going mainstream. Consequently, I have never had to rely on a paper-based system to track my projects. I experimented with systems like Franklin Covey back in the day but quickly abandoned them for computer-based systems and dedicated apps for my calendar, projects, writing, etc.


I think you might have misinterpreted what they said.

The one outside tool I use is an online calendar, and I put everything on this calendar, even things that aren’t actually for a fixed time like “make a coffee table at the workshop” or “figure out how to recruit new PhD students” — I’ll schedule them on a date when I want to think about it.

In other words, they schedule time for reflection on projects or problems on the calendar. That’s a good idea; not a bad practice.

It’s an interesting article @MitchWagner – good prompt to consider why I spent so much time over the years chasing technology to do a simple thing: make a list to keep track of obligations, commitments, and interests. A plain text file is sufficient – for that matter, a piece of paper and a pencil is sufficient. The rest is fluff.


You may be right, I may have misinterpreted it. I read it as he was using his calendar for unscheduled tasks. If so, I would consider that bad practice. :slight_smile: Obviously, scheduling time to think about a project is appropriate, similar to my example of scheduling time for strategic planning.

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I’m getting by for the moment with four text files always open in the Byword editor on my Mac and the Due app on my iPhone. No calendar. Of course, I am old and retired now and leading a quiet life. :slightly_smiling_face:

What are your four text files?

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The four text files are today, topic, yesterday, and To Do. I use a “.txt” file extension and have the Byword editor set to treat them as Markdown.

  • Every morning I review and clean up today and topic and append them to yesterday.
  • I put a custom template into each of the briefly empty today and topic files using Alfred snippets.
  • I check the To Do file and the Due app (and my Tot app, I forgot about that) for any notes that I’ve made about appointments or other things that I want to get done that day and copy or move them to the today file.
  • Every once in a while I empty the yesterday file by appending it to an annual roll-up file that is indexed in the EagleFiler app.

Gina Trapini wrote about using a plain text file to track your stuff, back in 2006. (Approximately 5 internet lives ago):

Trapani maintains a site todotxt.org (http-only) which offers a CLI and other tools for maintaining files in the suggested todo.txt format.

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Tried this a number of times, but it never worked for me. As much as I like plain text most of these guys using this need some form of scripting to make it work. You need to be able to filter lines and I found BBEDIT was great at this in the search window, but this is fraught with problems for me. I need links to other places. With plain text tools available now that have so many more features such as obsidian, I see no reason for this. There’s also the issue of security and privacy with a txt file.


My lesson from this is in the value of reviewing your to do list each evening for the next day, copying tasks and appointments for the next day into a separate note, and using that note — rather than the tasks app — as the guide to the day.

Not an original idea to the author of the essay, but it clicked for me yesterday.

Additionally, I just thought it was cool. Living in one big text file was hip in the 2000s. It proved impractical for me, but I’m glad to see this writer stuck with it.






Great read! My system is very different, but I share the feeling of having a secret weapon that develops over years of practice.

Some of the other articles on his blog echo the principles involved, chiefly, keeping things simple so you don’t risk the system rotting if you become unfamiliar with part of it.


In good nature I ask why go to all that trouble? A weekly review results in a list of to do items for each day of the coming week, which of course can be tweaked as the week progresses. No extra copying/pasting and note creating required. Hence the Today views (or equivalence thereof) in OF, Things, Reminders et al not to mention the ease for handling recurring tasks and projects and the ability to add hyperlinks to task related resources.

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In my estimation, using a plain text file and creating a new daily text files is a case of “old school not being better school.” :grinning:


“I don’t really care about keeping my inbox empty because then I feel like I have new work to do whenever email comes in.”


I’ve been doing my own variant of bullet journaling and I find the process of manually reviewing/prioritising/copying events and tasks very helpful. While there are plenty of tools for automation, I find a little friction helpful in that it s time in which I can consider my own load, mental capacity and what I want to work on (if I have a choice) in setting out the next day, rather than going with priorities I may have set a long time previously.

I use interstitial journaling through the day. Swithering between Obsidian and paper to maintain this in 2022! Maybe I should add .txt!


Like @nationalinterest says, sometimes friction is good.

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I really do like the idea of a single txt file for all information. However, how would you recommend this is set up for 2022 where privacy and security are major issues? A few questions:

  1. How do you use a single txt file on macos and ios keeping it private and secure?
  2. How do you keep a version control or backup to guard against corruption or sync issues?
  3. Once the file starts to grow in size incremental search is far from ideal. Filter would be better. This can be achieved easily enough on macos, but what about ios? What text editors are best set for this on macos and ios?
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Agreed and obviously anything that is helpful to someone is well, helpful. :slightly_smiling_face: I guess I’m fortunate in that I don’t find myself adding unnecessary tasks to my task manager and a consistent weekly review results in any needed clean up. For my purposes, the less friction and the faster the better when it comes to task management so I can actually work on the tasks. :grinning:

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I tried “one big text file” when that was a meme in the 2000s. I quickly realized that the technique made it difficult to keep projects separate. And thus did I reinvent separate documents contained in folders.

I’ve used the todo.txt mentioned above in @quorm’s post above and I still occasionally drop back to it.

On iOS, I’ve used SwiftoDo for the app and the same on macOS and it works nicely.

One of the perks for me was that I could use multiple different clients on the Mac, which all seemed to do some items better than others and at one point, I had Alfred set to add and complete tasks.

I just relied on the versioning built in to the sync and backup tools that were already running on my Mac. I used iCloud to sync, but the iOS can use the Files app, so anything that works with that should work.