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How to Stay Organized With the World’s Simplest To-Do System That Works – Todo.txt

Joel Lee 12-07-2013

TodoTxt IntroHere at MakeUseOf, we’ve covered plenty of to-do systems in the past. These systems have all sorts of features that distinguish them from competitors and you can find them across so many platforms, e.g., Wunderlist Wunderlist - The Best To-Do List Application On The iPhone [iOS] Wunderlist is one of the simplest ways to keep track of what you need to do. It has an elegant user interface that just makes sense. Anyone can pick it up and figure out how... Read More , >Any.DO, Do It (Tomorrow) Do It (Tomorrow) Is An Extremely Simple Online To-Do List If you love the idea of an online list of things you need to do, but never manage to actually use one for longer than the time it takes for you to add all of... Read More , and more. But if you’re like me, to-do systems can sometimes become too much work to maintain and end up costing you in productivity.


I don’t know about you, but I tend to procrastinate using my to-do lists because they can become cumbersome over time. I need to open up the app, fill out a new task, assign priorities and categorize them, and a bunch of other actions – each which require their own menus, selections, and whatever else. By the end of it, I’ve used dozens of taps and clicks just to add a single item.

What if there was a system that eliminated all of that overhead and actually saved you time without skimping on the core features? Well, that system exists: Todo.txt.

What Is Todo.txt?

Created by the founder of Lifehacker, Gina Trapani, Todo.txt is the essence of a to-do list boiled down to its very core. It does away with all distracting interface elements like dropdown menus and buttons – it’s operated through a command-line interface for maximum efficiency. If you aren’t a computer whiz, don’t worry! It isn’t difficult at all.


There are three basic elements to the philosophy that drives Todo.txt:

  • Priority: A proper to-do list should be able to sort your need-to-do items based on the importance of each item. Priorities are set with an uppercase letter within parentheses at the start of an item.
  • Project: A proper to-do list should be able to categorize your tasks into projects so that you can work on a specific set of tasks if you need to. Projects are set with a ‘+’ followed by an alphanumeric word (no spaces) and you can insert these anywhere into the item after priority.
  • Context: A proper to-do list should be able to contextualize each item, i.e. the place and situation in which that task needs to be done. Contexts are set with a ‘@’ followed by an alphanumeric word (no spaces) and you can insert these anywhere into the item after priority.

Knowing these elements, the screenshot above should be easier to understand now and you should be able to see why this system is so easy to use. There are no complications – it’s all text and you can include or exclude the different elements as you will. The system is as powerful as you need it to be OR as simple as you want it to be.

How To Make Use Of It

On top of the three basic elements outlined above, the Todo.txt system has a few more features for even more flexibility.

  • Mark as Complete: If you want to mark a task as completed, place a lowercase ‘x’ at the start of the item.
  • Creation Date: If you want to mark an item with a creation date, you must put it directly after the priority. If you don’t have a priority, the creation date must be first. The format of dates in Todo.txt is YYYY-MM-DD.
  • Completion Date: The completion date comes directly after the ‘x’ for marked as complete. If you want dates for both creation and completion, the order will be ‘x’ then completion date then creation date.

The best thing about Todo.txt is that the format is so minimal – it’s just plain text saved to a file called todo.txt. That means you can easily sync it through Dropbox What Is Dropbox? The Unofficial Dropbox User Guide What is Dropbox and how do you use it? Our Dropbox user guide will explain everything you need to know to get started. Read More and access it pretty much anywhere you go without needing to install any apps or programs whether you’re on your desktop computer, your netbook in a café, or your smartphone on the go.

If you only plan on using Todo.txt in the simplest of ways, then all you really need is a text editor (Notepad++ 3 Handy Built-In Notepad++ Features For Beginners [Windows] This summer, I’ve used Notepad++ for my internship quite a bit, so I can see why almost all developers and programmers I know actually prefer it, not to mention, the thousand of Notepad++ fans that... Read More is my recommended text editor) – you can input a separate item onto each line and use the project/context elements in tandem with file searching to find your next task. But if you want to unleash the full power of Todo.txt, you’ll want to use one of the apps or programs that have been designed for the system.


Todo.txt Apps and Tools

All of the neat features and elements of Todo.txt that I mentioned above won’t be of any use to you unless you use a Todo.txt app or program.

Todo.txt CLI is the original command-line interface for Todo.txt. It may look intimidating, but thankfully there’s some documentation that will get you situated in no time.

todotxt-todotxtnet is a minimalist, keyboard-driven GUI for Windows. It adds a GUI layer on top of Todo.txt and uses keyboard keys for quick actions (e.g., ‘n’ for new item, ‘u’ to update an existing item, ‘x’ to mark complete, etc.).



Todour is a desktop program for Windows and Mac. It doesn’t implement all of the Todo.txt features (e.g., there is no support for dates at all) so if you prefer Todo.txt for its simplicity, this might be the one for you.


TodoTxtJS is a web-based implementation of Todo.txt and it’s quite straightforward. It’s not the prettiest of websites but it makes up for it with high usability and fast speed. The site can import and export your items AND it can sync directly with Dropbox.



Todo.txt has an official app that’s available on both Android and iOS [No Longer Available]. It’s not free ($2 USD), but it’s worth the price if you use Todo.txt often, especially when you’re on the go. It natively syncs the todo.txt file with your Dropbox account.


If you’ve been looking for a to-do system that doesn’t need anything more than text, Todo.txt is the one for you. You’ll need to adhere to the official format if you want to use any of the apps and programs that are meant for Todo.txt, but if you want to diverge on your own and alter the rules a bit to develop your own personal way of managing tasks, feel free to do so.

Let us know what you think of Todo.txt! How does it compare to your current To Do system? Does it help you get things done? The comments are open for your feedback.

Image Credits: Notepad Via Shutterstock

Related topics: GTD, Organization Software, Time Management, To-Do List.

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  1. Christian
    October 22, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    todo.txt truely is a simple and powerful system! Here's another open-source, cross-platform Desktop client that you might want to take a look at: