This is the system I use to manage my to-dos.


I group similar tasks together in text files, formatted in Markdown.

The main file is Tasks.txt. But I have others — Journal.txt (thoughts for journaling), Links.txt (stuff to read and watch later), Friends.txt (notes for future conversations), and more.

This isn’t revolutionary — these are just text files. But that means the interface for managing tasks is local and nearly-invisible, which is an essential reason why this system works so well for me.

Managing tasks is not an ‘experience’. There are no cutesy microinteractions to wait for, no new features to be distracted by, no subscriptions to manage, no proprietary data to be held ransom, and no system of task management to be constrained within. Instead, what’s left is just a really nice place to organize my thoughts.

I use basic text editors — Atom on my Mac and 1Writer on my iPhone — and both work great with Markdown.

Files are synced to Dropbox, which updates files reliably across those devices.

Dropbox IFTTT

Because these files are synced to the cloud and already not trapped inside a proprietary task service, I can use IFTTT to integrate them with lots of other online things.

For instance, I use IFTTT recipes to add starred items from Feedbin and Pocket to lists automatically.

Google Calendar IFTTT Dropbox Tasks.txt

I keep future and recurring tasks in a dedicated calendar. The scheduled time is when I want the task to appear on Tasks.txt (not the task’s due date). If there is a due date, I note it in the task name.

When a task hits its scheduled date/time, it’s added to Tasks.txt automatically — using IFTTT to connect Google Calendar and Dropbox. All of this happens in the background.

And as with any calendar event, tasks can repeat. And to postpone a task, I just re-add it to the calendar with a new date.

I use Fastmail for email and most of my calendars because it’s not funded by advertising. But, for this Tasks calendar, I’ve continued using GCal because Fastmail doesn’t support IFTTT (yet).

Automator Tasks.txt

I tend to process thoughts better when I can get them out of my head and make room for more. Being able to add tasks quickly has become an essential tool for the way I think, and I use it all the time.

On my Mac, I use an Automator Quick Action to drop new tasks into Tasks.txt without needing to open the file.

Shortcuts Dropbox Tasks.txt

On my phone, I use iOS Shortcuts to add tasks.

Dropbox 1Writer

Atom doesn’t have a mobile app, so I use 1Writer instead — especially useful for the grocery list.

Updated September 5, 2020.