Why Use a Plain-Text File for Your Todos?

I wrote this blog post as plain-text (markdown)

TodoPaper uses a minimal plain-text file format for storing your todos (and projects, and notes). I want to go over some of the details around the format and why I think you should be using plain-text to store this type of information, even if you aren’t using my software.


Plain-text is a ubiqutous file format devised over 50 years ago. It has stood the test of time as a lowest-common-denominator for information storage and transmission. Plain-text is used quite a bit in our lives and throughout the world for storing data and content. The format is almost guaranteed to be able to be opened and edited on any computer system.

Although modern word processing programs can do some amazing things…there’s one thing they can’t do: Guarantee that the words I write today will be readable ten years from now. That’s just one of the reasons I prefer to work in plain text: It’s timeless.

David Sparks

This is where plain-text shines. It’s as usable now as it was 10 years ago and will continue to be as usable 10 years from now.

Minimal & Focused

Plain-text keeps you focused on the content. Unlike a rich-text document (like Microsoft Word), plain-text does not allow for arbitrary formatting and styling of the text. It focuses you on what really matters…the words and their meanings.

Compare & Sync

The lack of formatting makes for a simple document which can easily be compared with others. This means that if you have two versions of the same document, you (or a computer program) can compare both and illustrate the differences in the text. This, combined with smart file synchronization services like Dropbox, allow plain-text files to be shared and kept up-to-date easy.

Freeform or Structured

Plain-text files allow you impose as much or as little control on the structure of your document. The structure of the document is based on the text within. TodoPaper (and TaskPaper) files are an example of a structured plain-text document:

 Projects end with a colon:
  - hyphens start a task and can be @tagged with @done
    lines without either are notes

It’s amazing how a little structure in the document can help you stay organized, but still afford you the freedom and focus of plain-text. This structure, combined with the use of Dropbox, the peace of mind of knowing your information will stand the test of time, and your ability to edit your documents on any computer (or mobile device), are the reasons why you should be using plain-text.