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00 Spark Logo-1.jpgAfter forgetting many small things that I have to accomplish, I am certain that I need to implement a to-do list. I don’t need fancy things, just as long as I can have access to this list wherever I go.

I have my Mac at home, but what about when I’m on the road? Pen and paper is out of the question. Aside from having almost unreadable handwriting, I tend to lose pieces of papers easily. Since a mobile phone is less likely to go missing, I prefer to have my to-do list there.

So the requirements of my to-do list software is that it’s both lightweight and synchronize-able with iCal.

Small Sparks

In the comments of my previous article about Notational Velocity, a reader suggested an alternative note taking application called Spark (this app is, by the way, different from another Mac app with the same name How To Add New Shortcuts to Mac OS X with Spark How To Add New Shortcuts to Mac OS X with Spark Read More whose function is to create shortcuts).

After taking a quick look, I concluded that this one is more to-do list software than a note-taking app. And it’s just my luck that Spark meets my requirements of a to-do list app. But I also found out that this useful app is still imperfect and buggy.

My first complaint would be about the non-availability of documentation. I can’t find the version number of this app. There is also no data about shortcuts that you can use. As a shortcut guy, I was a little bit disappointed. I managed to find several common shortcut keys, but not enough to navigate the app without the mouse.

The interface itself is pretty simple and straightforward. There’s the search field at the top of the window, the task pane in the middle, and the note area below it.

to-do list software for mac

To add a task, you can click on the plus (+) icon at the bottom of the window or use “Command + N“. You can add notes to the task if necessary by editing the notes field. Deleting a task is also as easy as selecting one and then clicking the minus (-) icon or the “delete” key on your keyboard.

You can nest tasks under another task and make them as part of a bigger project. You can also drag and drop the project into another project and create big and smaller projects.

to-do list software for mac

The next place to visit is the Preferences pane. Click the small gear icon at the right bottom of the window or use “Command + Comma (,)” to open the window.

There are several things that you can set here. Under the General preferences, you can tell Spark to open at login, hide/show the menubar icon, enable iCal/email syncing, set the font for the notes, and hide/show the Dock icon.

03 Spark General Preferences.jpg

You have to restart Spark after choosing to show the dock icon before the effect takes place. The advantages of having the dock icon are the ability to see the dock badge (a.k.a: how many tasks left undone) and having the “normal” menu just like any other application.

to-do list software mac

There’s also the ability to add the due date. Just select a task and click the eye icon on the bottom right of the window.

You could also add a shortcut to quickly summon Spark under the “Preferences > Shortcuts“. I expected to find many customizable shortcuts because of the “s”, but there’s only one item there.

06 Preferences - Shortcuts.jpg


I personally think that Spark has the potential to be a good simple project and task management app. But to be honest, there are still many things to fix and add before it can achieve that goal.

After playing with the to-do list software for a while, here are my list of the things I wish the Spark developer could add, improve or repair:

  • Interface: it would be so much better if the task/project title is more visible. Please do not use grey above grey.
  • It would also be cool if the users could adjust the note color.
  • What about the ability to add alarms to a task/project?
  • The search function and the dock badge is still buggy. Some fixing would be great
  • Show some love to the keyboard: add more shortcuts to the level that users can put their mouse to rest.
  • And please add some documentation and information about the version number.

Have you tried Spark? Do you know other simple-free-quick-lightweight project and task managers for Mac? Share your thoughts and opinions using the comments below.

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  1. Sarie
    March 10, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    @Joshua - tried out Sparks. Downloaded it. Is there a way we can change the size of the font? The "show dock badge" is greyed out? Why?

    In general, the application is simple and nice. Hope you can answer my query.


  2. fellowweb
    March 4, 2010 at 2:08 am

    Thank *you*! ;)

  3. fellowweb
    March 3, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Hi Joshua,

    I've tried out Spark as well and it is really lovely. However, since I didn't have access to the Help menu using Spark's default settings and since I couldn't find a lot of information regarding Spark on you homepage, it was pretty difficult to get to know Spark.

    Maybe you could facilitate access to documentation and, especially, "getting started" information.

    Thank you!

    • Joshua Garnham
      March 3, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      I'll probably add a Getting Started page to the website or change the default settings so you can see the help menu.

  4. Joshua Garnham
    March 2, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Hi There,
    I'm the developer of Spark and I thought I would just add some comments. First, Thanks very much for the detailed review. Now to answer some of the things on your wish list. Having the ability to change the note color is a good idea, I will look into that. The problem with adding alarms to tasks is that it would defeat the purpose of Spark being a Lightweight to-do list and instead 'clog' up the user interface. The Search functionality at the moment is rather restricted as it can only search Tasks that are at the top (not a child/task in a task) and is case sensitive. What keyboard shortcuts would you like? The version number is in the About panel. I do have some help documentation but what would you like me to add to that?

    Thanks again for the review.

  5. fellowweb
    March 2, 2010 at 2:41 pm


    Great that I could convince you to have a look at Spark. ;)

    I totally share your opinion on it. It's promising but somehow disappointing... and one even doesn't know if one simply forgot about something as there is no documentation.

    Nevertheless, have you had any success with the advertised sync?

    I didn't have the impression that it was working here.