To-do apps. Again. I know, this is starting to look like an obsession. But it is fully under control. Trust me on this.

The point that I’m trying to make is that there is room for more than one, depending on the requirements applicable for a given situation. In other words, there is an entire spectrum of capabilities that a to-do app can come with and which may or may not recommend it for a given purpose. Allow me to explain.

There is the “feature-heavy” end of the spectrum that is firmly occupied by apps like Things or OmniFocus. These apps come with a rich feature set and a sophisticated UI to support the user in utilizing these features as good as possible.

And then there is the “lightweight” end of the spectrum that consists of apps that come with a very minimal feature-set with respect to keeping track of your tasks.

For the sake of the argument, there are TO-DOs and there are to-dos. The difference is fuzzy, of course, but here are some characteristics of the lightweight to-dos:

  • They don’t have a deadline or a collection of them shares the same deadline.
  • No need for push notifications and reminders.
  • No recurrence, i.e. once completed, it is OK to throw away the to-dos.
  • The items on the list are thematically related.

Clearly, it would be possible to track this kind of to-dos in apps like Things or OmniFocus as well, albeit with a certain amount of friction.

To overcome this friction, it would be possible to utilize a kind of app behavior that facilitates adding a bulk amount of (fine-grained) tasks to the list. This typically comes in combination with the ability to easily mark a given task as completed or assign further qualifications. Fittingly, there is little or no UI to work with. For example, this kind of app is well suited for setting up shopping lists.

I have always had a weak spot for the idea behind TaskPaper that used to be the prototype of the lightweight to-do apps. The app uses structured plain text for the specification of tasks as well as tags (e.g. @done, @cancelled) that further qualify the task. TaskPaper as a product is available on OS X only.

Back in 2011 I wrote:

The most compelling feature is that the content is stored as a mere text file that can be put on the dropbox so that other instances of Taskpaper can access the same to-do list. Just let dropbox take care of the syncing!

There used to be a first-party app for iOS as well but this one has been discontinued nearly a year ago. Recently, I came across an article on Macdrifter endorsing the app Taskmator as possible counterpart of TaskPaper on iOS.

And sure enough, I like the approach taken by Taskmator1. The app is nicely designed and a pleasure to use. I like the swipe gesture to set a task to “done” and also the strikethrough applied to these tasks has a nice touch:

After I had created a couple of files TaskPaper-style in Taskmator the app started to crash on my iPhone. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t stop crashing. I tried the usual suspects but could not make any progress in achieving more stability.

I guess there is something wrong with the connection to Dropbox, i.e. the crashing stopped after I disconnected Taskmator from Dropbox. This conclusion does not provide any comfort, of course.

The bottom line is that I have to either wait for a fix or start looking for a replacement. Fortunately, there is hope: Editorial 1.1 supports the TaskPaper format. The developer, Ole Zorn plays it low:

Now, before you get too excited, the new TaskPaper mode is not a full replacement for the TaskPaper app, it’s actually more like an additional syntax highlighting mode with a couple of convenience features for editing lists, but it should be possible to build workflows for a lot of the other things.

But in my opinion the implementation of the TaskPaper format in Editorial is more than decent and doesn’t need any excuse. Sure, the presentation doesn’t look exactly like Taskmator and it is necessary to use the file extension “.taskpaper” in order to make Editorial apply the applicable presentation, but that’s hardly a reason not to use Editorial for this purpose:

I especially dig the fact that this is another way to take benefit from a great app, in the spirit of the idea to use one app for many aspects and learn to use it really well.

Again, neither Editorial nor Taskmator will ever replace Things on my devices. However, for all the lightweight tasks that are easier maintained in a pure text format I’m now having a proper alternative at hand.

  1. Although I’m slightly irritated by the fact that the “developer website” registered in the App Store is a generic Facebook page