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Lifehacker: The Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, and Better, Third Edition by Gina Trapani, Adam Pash

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Hack 36: Organize Your Life in Text Files

Level Beginner to Advanced

Platform Windows (Cygwin), Mac OS X, Unix

Cost Free

Hack 35, “Organize Your Life with Remember the Milk,” describes a rich application that can track your tasks, their priority, category, project, notes, due dates, and more. But all those bells and whistles can be too much of a distraction or learning curve when you just want a quick-and-dirty way to make a list fast, check off items on it, and be done. No matter how many new-fangled personal-organizer applications become available, new computer users and veterans alike still frequently turn to the old standby for tracking to-dos: a file called todo.txt.

A plain-text file is an effective, no-frills way to capture and manage tasks, notes, and other lists. This hack covers some todo.txt best practices and ways to interact with your plain-text files.

Why Plain Text?

Plain text is application- and operating-system agnostic. It’s searchable, portable, lightweight, and easily manipulated. It’s unstructured. It works when someone else’s web server is down or your Outlook .pst file is corrupted. It’s free, and because it has been around since the dawn of computing time, it’s safe to say that plain text is completely future-proof. There’s no exporting and importing and no databases or tags or flags or stars or prioritizing or Insert-Company-Name-Here–induced rules on what you can and can’t do with it. It’s small enough to fit on even the tiniest USB flash drive or email ...

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