Category Archives: personal automation

My New Obsession: Simplicity and Automation in Technology

I have spent the past two and a half years going paperless. During that time, I wrote more than 120 posts about my process and the tools I used. I knew I was approaching the end of those posts when I began to find it difficult to come up with new topics to write about. I’d written about everything I had done, and I hesitated to write about those things that I had no direct experience with.

But my urge to write about technology hasn’t waned. Indeed, it has grown over time. And so, you can expect more from me on technology subject, centering around what is my new obsession: simplicity and automation in technology. While I’ll have much more to say on the subject, my basic thinking goes something like this:

There are tons of tools out there that are supposed to make us more productive. In my experience, however, the tools accumulate and the accumulation of tools lends itself to a decrease in production because we’re stymied by the question: which tool do I use for this job?

Consider the word processor/text editor. There are countless varieties of these beasts that all do about the same basic task: they allows to write and store our writing. But which one is the best tool for the job? That will vary by person, but there are probably some elements that you could look at to narrow the scope. Part of it involves what that job is. Are you writing code, or a novel? Email or poetry? There is a balance between functionality and simplicity. You don’t want to have to learn more tools than you need to do the job, but each tool you use needs to be simple enough, but broad enough to do that job effectively.

Then there is the complexity of the tool. A tool like Microsoft Word can do a heck of a lot, but it also can be cumbersome to use, maintain, and because it isn’t focused on a specific task, it can be awkward for some things. On the hand, a basic text editor, like Notepad or TextEdit may be too barebones. Where is the balance?

Automation is another consideration. On a computer, at least, it should be possible to automate any repeatable task. But operating systems tend to muddy the waters. They abstract the interfaces to the point where automation can become difficult, or require intermediary tools that complicate the process. For the best possible automation, it seems to me that the simplest possible tools are required.

I’ve been thinking about these things quite a bit lately, in part because I am trying to simply and automate as much as I can. Automation has the benefit of freeing up time to pursue passions, time that might otherwise be occupied by drudgery, and repeated tasks. Going paperless allows for some automation that I would not have otherwise had. But I think there is more than can be done.

So, I’ll be writing more here about my pursuit at technological simplicity and increased automation, two things that might seem mutually exclusive, but which I think can lead to less time spent in drudgery and more time spent doing the things I really enjoy. Like any experiment, I may end up proving myself wrong. But knowing what I know today, I don’t think so. So if you’re interested in this type of thing, stick around. I’ll be writing more. I don’t have a set schedule right now because I’m still coming up with a framework of how simplicity and automation might work for me. But as I try things out, as I experiment, I’ll write about it, and I encourage and look forward to discussion on what works and what doesn’t.

My Requirements for a To-Do List App

For most of the year, I have been trying out different to-do list apps to see if there is any that fits me well. So far, the search has been a little disheartening. The closest match is still Gina Trapani’s Todo.txt, but even there, I’ve modified my behavior somewhat in order to meet my own quirk requirements for a to-do list app. Meanwhile, I have tried just about every other to-do list application out there, from Todoist, to Remember the Milk, to Toodledo, to Clear, and everything in between. Nothing quite fits. My problem with most of these applications is that do a few too many things and those extra things impede my ability to manage my to-do lists.

Since I may not be the only one experiencing these issues, I figured I’d list out my requirements for a to-do list application, and then describe how I’ve modified my current system to support these requirements.

My requirements

1. The list be stored in an open format. Todo.txt uses a plain text file, which is stored on Dropbox. That is about as open a format as you can get. Many apps have APIs and I’d count that as an open format, but even APIs require additional time to write the code needed to extract data. Plain text is plain text.

2. Priority is by list order.  A lot of apps allow you to add a priority to a to-do item. Adding these has always seemed like an extra step to me, and a difficult one because you can’t always see everything on your list when setting priority. It also doesn’t work nearly as well for reactive work. As some of what I do is reactive and some is proactive, my priority system is simple: The thing at the top of the list is the the highest priority, and as you go down the list, you get to lower and lower priority. Changing priority should be as easy as changing the order of the list.

3. One list to rule them all. Many to-do apps allow you to manage multiple lists, perhaps one for home and one for work. Or one for each project. This works against me. My time is one continuous flow that is not broken into projects. The very next thing I will be working on may be in a completely different project or context for what I am working on now. I only one list and I want everything to show up on that list. Having to change lists when I change projects just slows me down.

4. Easy archiving. When I finish something, I want it to drop off my list, but I also want it stored somewhere so that I can see everything I’ve completed. That “done” list can be pretty helpful at time.

5. Accessible anywhere. I need to be able to access my to-do list from anywhere.

Continue reading

6 Tips and Tricks for How I Stay at Inbox Zero

Recently, I’ve gotten pretty good about keeping my inbox down to zero. I found that, for me, it takes a pinch of discipline and a couple of good tools. I figured I’d share my tips in case anyone else found them handy.

2 minute rule with Boomerang/Mailbox

For almost 2 years now, I’ve used the Boomerang plugin for Gmail and that plugin has been a game-changer. Boomerang does 3 things that I find really useful:

  • It allows you to “boomerang” a message until later. That it, it moves the message out of your inbox and returns it there at a designated time, tomorrow morning, two days from now, on the weekend, next week, or whenever you specific.
  • It allows you to send a message, and then boomerangs your message back into your inbox if you haven’t gotten a response after a certain time interval. So I don’t have remember to follow up with someone.
  • It allows me to schedule email messages.

I use Boomerang in conjunction with the “2-minute” rule. When an email comes in, if I can answer it in less than 2 minutes, I do it right away. If it will take longer, I’ll boomerang the message to a later time, either later in the evening, the next day, or the weekend, depending on the urgency.

To aid in this, Boomerang has an intelligent feature that looks for dates in the message. So if the message says, “RSVP by 10/15/2014″ Boomerang will automatically suggest that (or a week before that date) to return the message to my inbox, which saves me a step.

When I’m working on my iPhone, I manage my email using an app called Mailbox, which has much of the same functionality as Boomerang, but is conveniently available on the phone, so I can manage my inbox the same way there.

Gmail canned responses

I’ve been able to reply to a lot more message in under 2 minutes by taking advantage of Gmail’s “Canned Response” feature. This feature allows you to write canned responses that you can quickly insert into email messages. I’d say that about 10% of the email I send are canned responses. By far the two most common are inquiries for people wanting to do guest posts on my blog, or advertise on my blog.

For these, all I have to do is select the appropriate canned response template in Gmail and click send.

Canned Responses

TextExpander expansions

I am a big fan of TextExpander and I use it all over the place. (On Windows, I use a similar tool called Phrase Express.) TextExpander allows you to create shortcuts to text snippets and other things. This can be formatted text, and can include some cool functionality like inserting dates, and other things.

For email, I tend to you TextExpander to speed up replies, and to prevent myself from having to lookup information. For instance, if I am referring someone to a common link on my website (say, my Going Paperless posts), rather than having to remember the link and type it in (and worry about making a typo) all I do is type

xpaperless

which automatically turns into

http://www.jamierubin.net/going-paperless/

I can never remember my home phone number, so if I’m sending that via email I have a shortcut for that. I have shortcuts for all kinds of common information like my address, or website, or bibliography page. I usually create a shortcut that links to the most recent article I’ve published.

All of these speed up the process of replying to email, and help make it possible to respond in under 2 minutes.

Turn off social media notifications

One thing I did that helped a lot was to turn off all social media email notifications. Rather than have that information pushed to me via email, I pull it when I need it by checking Twitter or Facebook periodically. This eliminated a ton of email from my inbox, and for each message, eliminated the step of having to delete the email.

Filter receipts and confirmations

I make heavy use to Gmail’s filtering to deal with a lot of email. Regular bill notification and automatic payment notifications are automatically filtered without ever going into my inbox.

Receipts and confirmation emails are also filtered without ever seeing my inbox. For these, I go one step further and have them sent to my Evernote email account so that I have the receipt and confirmations in Evernote. This is automated, so not only do these messages not clutter my email inbox, but they also get into Evernote automatically.

Unsubscribing

I’ve become a big unsubscriber lately, and while it took a while for me to see the overall result, I can see now that it prevents a lot of email that would go unread or get deleted from ever coming into my inbox.


Do you tips for how you stay at inbox zero? Leave them in the comments.

Practical Statistical Modeling: The Dreaded After-School Carpool Pickup

The Little Man started kindergarten this week. It meant a new school, and the new school has one of these well-organized systems of picking up your kids at the end of the day. But it can be a bit intimidating the first time. Basically, it works like this:

You arrive at the school and pull around to a side parking area. Four lanes are set up. Each lane holds about 10 cars, and the lanes are filled in order, first lane first, then the second, and so on. When all lanes are filled, the area is closed. Cars that don’t make the first round, line up in the upper parking areas for the second round. The students are released, the go to their cars. When all students are in the cars, the lanes are released in order. This is then repeated for the second round.

It’s very organized and efficient, but there if you want to be in that first round, or that first lane, you have to get there pretty early. As someone who doesn’t really want to sit in the car for half an hour, I decided I’d get there early on the first two days to capture data about when cars arrive, and build a statistical model based on that. Which is exactly what I did. I arrived early, getting into the first half of the first lane, and then noted the arrival times, and lane positions of the other cars in the first round. I did this for two days, and then built my model.

Constructing the model

The  model was fairly simple. I used a negative number to represent the number of minutes before dismissal (a kind of t-minus 10 minutes) that a car arrived. With that number, I gave the number of the car. So at t-21 minutes, car 16 and 17 arrived. Since each lanes holds 10 cars, it’s pretty easy to determine which lane (and which slot in a lane) the car is in. I ran a correlation on my data and got a very strong correlation: 0.951. The r-squared came to 0.905. I then plotted the data in a scatterplot, and annotated it to better illustrate the lanes. Here is what the results look like:

Carpool Model
Click to enlarge

As you can see, the data makes it clear that in order to make the first round, I’d need to arrive no later than 7 minutes before dismissal. If I want to be in the first lane, I need to arrive no later than 24 minutes before dismissal.

Adding practicality

Of course, it would be a little more practical if the model told me when to leave the house. I hadn’t thought to note the time I left the house and arrived at the school each day, but it didn’t matter. I grabbed the data from my Automatic Link device, and was able to determine that it took, on average, 6 minutes to drive from the house to the school. To be safe, I added 1 minute to this number, and then came up with the following table:

Departure Times

So now, I know that if I want to be in that first round of pickups, I need to leave the house no later than 14 minutes before the students are dismissed. That information could end up saving quite a bit of time over the course of the year. I tend to like to get places early, but I have to balance that against other things I need to get done. Knowing that I don’t have to leave the house half an hour early buys me an extra 15 minutes/day. That doesn’t sound like much, but, I can write a page and a half in 15 minutes. So it’s something.

How Much Time I Spend Writing, Automated and Revisited

About a month ago, I automated the process of capturing how much time I spend writing each day, and incorporated that data into my Google Doc Writing Scripts. Here is how this work:

  • I use RescueTime on all of my computers, home and work.
  • RescueTime tracks how much time I spend in various applications, including specific documents.
  • Using the RescueTime API, I wrote a script that captures how much time I spend in Google Docs each day.
  • That number gets recorded in my writing spreadsheet automatically each night.

This means I no longer have to “clock in” or “clock out” to track my writing time. I just start writing, stop writing, continue later, etc. and all of it captured automatically by my script. With almost a month of this type of data on the books, it’s interesting to look at how my guesses match reality.

Generally, when I’m firing on all cylinders, I can write 6 pages (1,500 word) per hour. Put another way that is about a page every ten minutes. Of course, I don’t always reach this apogee of output. It turns out (with about 30 days worth of data to go on) that the correlation between the time I spend writing and how much I write is pretty strong (0.59). I took the data and ran a scatter plot, with a trendline using that correlation, and here is the results:

Writing Time

It is clear that the more time I spend, the more I write, but it’s not as strong a correlation as you might think. Part of the reason is that sometimes, it takes a while to get things out of my head. Here is what that same set of data looks like plotted individually over time. First the word counts…

30 Days Words

and then the time spent…

30 Days Time

These two charts illustrate that while the correlation is pretty strong, there are times when I clearly get bogged down. August 5 is a good example. I wrote just about 1,200 words, but it took me 79 minutes. And yet on August 7, I wrote 1,600 words and it took me under an hour. This variability is caused by two things:

  1. Concentration. Sometimes, in difficult scenes, I slow way down to think things through and work them out. Remember, I generally don’t plot ahead, so especially in first draft, I’m working out things on the fly.
  2. Interruptions. I’ve talked about how in order to write every day, I’ve had to learn to write with distraction. Sometimes, the kids will need me for something, I’ll step away for 5 or 10 minutes with no progress on the document, and then return and write more. That clearly shows up as slower.

But that red trendline in the first chart is pretty accurate, and comes close to my intuitive guesses. I have said that I wrote about 500 words in 20 minutes. That’s 1,000 words in 40 minutes. If you look at the 1,000 word-mark on that first chart, and then go up to where the red trendline crosses the 1,000 word-mark, it’s right about the 40-45 minute mark. My intuition is pretty accurate! You’ll also note that 1,500 words crosses at right about the 60 minute mark.

I have less than 30 days of the time data, but as this volume of data increases, I expect the trendline to become more accurate. One thing that is particularly useful about a chart like this is that it can tell you for a given amount of time you have available, how much you can accomplish. Or, flipping it around, if you want to write 1,000 words, how much time will you need to set aside?

Entirely automated

I wanted to call this out one more time. All of the data above is generated automatically. I don’t spend a single instant of my time collecting it. That is perhaps the biggest value. Once I wrote the scripts (which I did spent time on) I get the data without any effort, and this can be used to help me make adjustments down the road.

You can see my realtime data, including how much writing I’ve done at various intervals (my ongoing writing streak, for example) and how much time I’ve spent writing. Head on over to open.jamierubin.net to check it out.

The Best Way to Contact Me

Last summer I retired my voicemail. Voicemail is an antiquated communication mechanism and does not lend itself toward automation or speedy responses. Recently, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of calls I get from phone numbers that I don’t recognize. About 90% of the time, when I answer these calls, they are solicitations of one kind or another. I’m tired of them. I don’t mind saying “no” to these solicitations, but it does grate on me when they don’t take no for an answer.

So, going forward, I’m not answering calls from numbers that I don’t recognize. That means that going forward, the best way to contact me, especially if I don’t know, is though email. The email address to use is:

jamie [at] jamietoddrubin [dot] com

In order to encourage this as my preferred form of contact, I am going to attempt to answer most messages within 24 hours.  To keep me honest, I’m making my real-time email response stats available for folks to look at1  As of July, those numbers look as follows:

July 2014 Response

You can see that right now, I answer about 30% of my email within 24 hours. Over the next month or two, I will try to bring this up above 75-80%.

When in doubt, send me an email. It is always the best bet for the quickest response.

Social media

I’m usually pretty responsive on social media, almost always responding within the same day, although the time within the day can vary depending on how busy I am. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter, Facebook, or Google Plus for things that don’t require a private email message.

Blog comments

I really try to stay on top of blog comments, but I also like the thread to stay on topic. For things that aren’t related to the post at hand, you are better off sending me email, or getting in touch with me on social media.

Chats, Hangouts, Skype, etc.

I’m perfectly fine doing Google Chats, Facebook Chats, Google Hangouts or Skype, but again, these depend on my ability to be fully engaged. If the question or request is fairly simple, email is almost always your best bet.


Of course, if your number is in my contacts, or we’ve pre-arranged a phone call, we’re good. I’m just drawing the line on unrecognized numbers because they turn out to be a steady drain on my very limited time.

Have questions? Drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Notes

  1. Not quite real-time yet, but they will be in they will be within the next few days. Right now, it is displaying my static aggregate numbers from July 2014.

Introducing open.jamierubin.net

With all of the data I collect about myself, I’ve been wanting to put together a kind of open dashboard that provides a window into the data through interesting visualizations. While my short term plans are nothing like the amazing things happening over at Aprilzero, I have put a very early prototype together of what I am calling open.jamierubin.net.

open.jamierubin.net

Right now, all the site does is make a live query to my Google Doc Writing Tracker spreadsheet, and renders the data in a chart on the site. Clicking on the links above the chart, you can see either the last 30 days of my writing data plotted out, or go back to the beginning of time (over 500 days).

For each visualization I publish, I plan to include a link to the “HOWTO” which will include the code I used and how I pulled the data I needed to make the visualization. That way, if others want to give it a try, there will be at least some documentation.

Eventually, I will come up with a framework for the site, and begin pulling in other data as well. For now, this is a quick-and-dirty prototype of what is possible with just a little bit of code. Take a peek at it and let me know what you think.

Open Beta of My Google Docs Writing Tracker Version 2

I have done a major refactoring of my Google Doc Writing Tracker. Several new features have been added, but the biggest change is that the scripts are not data-driven, making them much easier to setup and configure. If you are using the scripts today, or have been wanting to try them out, you are welcome to install the new beta version.

You can get the files from the beta-version-2 branch on GitHub.

Be sure to read the README as that has been updated to reflect the changes in the system.

New features

  • NEW: A new spreadsheet is available with all of the configuration information built into it. You just fill in the blanks on the Config tab, and the script takes care of the rest. This makes it easier to configure and customize without the need to go into the code.
  • NEW: Option to break down daily word counts into fiction/nonfiction.
  • NEW: Ability to run the scripts in test mode. Allows you to see the results of your configuration in the log without the changes being applied to your spreadsheet.
  • NEW: Ability to customize the order of the columns on the Writing tab.
  • NEW: Ability to customize the names of the tabs in the spreadsheet.
  • NEW: Ability to customize the location and names of the Sandbox and Snapshot (formerly “Earlier”) folders.
  • NEW: Ability to capture time spent writing by integrating with the RescueTime API (experimental).
  • NEW: Ability to generate Daily Almanac summary email that lists stats for the day, and identifies trends and records.
  • NEW: Improved logging in test mode.
  • NEW: Validation of configuration settings.

What I hope to accomplish with the beta

So far, these changes are working very well for me. But I can only really test in my own environment, and because I initially wrote the scripts for me, they may be inadvertently tailored to my environment. In this version, I’ve tried to generalize a lot of the code and make it more flexible and easier to use in other environments.

What I am looking for in this beta is to have people test the scripts in many environments in order to identify any problems, and iron them out before merging this code back into the master branch.

To that end, if you use the scripts I ask that you do 2 things:

  1. Log an issue if you find a problem. Understand that I don’t have a lot of time to work on these scripts. I set aside a chunk of time once a year or so to do a major refactoring like this, but that’s about all I can do. So while I will try to address all of the issues, it may take a while.
  2. If you see a way in which the documentation can be clarified, by all means let me know.

If I do have time, I will try to address the issues as quickly as I can, but that time isn’t guaranteed, and as I say in the README, while I’m making these scripts available to anyone who wants to use them, I don’t have time to support them. You use them at your own risk, so be sure to read the README.

The initial setup can be a little cumbersome and I’ve tried to clarify it in the documentation. Once it is setup, if all goes well, it should just run silently in the background and add to your spreadsheet each day.

If you use the scripts, let me know how they work for you. They work great for me, but of course, they were designed for me and my environment. With this revision, I’m hoping that they work equally well for anyone who chooses to use them.

The Daily Almanac Has Been Added to My Google Writing Tracker

One of the most frequent requests I get regarding my Google Writing Tracker is to make my Daily Almanac available as part of those scripts. The wait is over. Today, I pushed out the Daily Almanac the Google Writing Tracker project on GitHub.

For those who don’t know, my Google Writing Tracker is a set of script that automate the process of tracking what I write every day. Since I do all of my writing in Google Docs, these scripts run automatically each night, look at what I wrote, tally up the stats and record them in a spreadsheet. They also email me a copy of all of my writing for that day, including differences from the previous day.

Along with those scripts, I built another script that I call my Daily Almanac. This script culls that spreadsheet that is populated by my Writing Tracker scripts and gives me a summary report each night. The report tells me how much I wrote that day, and breaks it down for me. It also identifies any streaks I may have set (369 consecutive days of writing as of today) and any records I may have set. (The most words I’ve written in a day, etc.) I set up my Daily Almanac to send the nightly email to Evernote so that I have a nice record there of my day-to-day writing activity. Here is what a typical Daily Almanac entry looks like:

Daily Almanac July 23

The Daily Almanac is now available for anyone who wants to use it with the Google Writing Tracker. I have checked it in to the project on GitHub, and I’ve updated the README file with detailed steps for setting it up.

As always, this is a use-at-your-own-risk thing. I just don’t have the time to support these scripts. The best I can do is make them available for others who want to give them a try, and encourage folks to add to improve upon them. Be sure to read the instructions carefully, and if you do find any bugs, feel free to open up an issue in the GitHub project. I may not fix it any time soon, but at least it will get tracked.

Alpha Testing an Update to My Google Writing Tracker

Beginning today, I am doing some alpha testing of the first significant update to my Google Writing Tracker scripts in more than a year. I will be testing these out myself over a period of a week or two before pushing the changes to GitHub.

The newest feature is that the writing scripts now track both fiction and nonfiction writing. This may not seem like much, but it is a big deal for me, as I have been writing a lot more of the latter lately and want to be able to look at the data to see how much of what I write each day is fiction, and now much is nonfiction. Fiction and nonfiction columns are captured separately in the Writing spreadsheet, and a third column keeps track of the total writing, fiction and nonfiction.

My Daily Almanac has been modified to report on this. Here is what a new version of my Daily Almanac email looks like when it is sent to my Evernote account:

DailyAlmanacNew

The script distinguishes between fiction and nonfiction by looking for a tag I include at the end of my template document:

  • {{Fiction}} = Fiction
  • {{Nonfiction} = Nonfiction

I am also working on a few other changes:

  • I’ve added the ability to run the script in a test mode, that sends the email containing what you wrote that day, but does not actually update any values.
  • I’ve added a check to make sure that the script only looks for Google Doc files in the sandbox.
  • I’m working on simplifying the setup process.

It will probably be 2 weeks before I push these changes to GitHub. However…

I have added my Daily Almanac script to the GitHub project today because I know a lot of people were asking for that. Stay-tuned for the next post for more details.

Reminder: My Google Writing Scripts are Available on GitHub

After my inaugural post for The Daily Beast appeared, I’ve been asked almost daily if the scripts I mentioned in the post are available. They are available on GitHub. I put them there last July. I hesitated to mention them in the post on TDB because I didn’t want to come across as promoting my own stuff. But since I’ve been asked almost daily since the post appeared, I’m thinking that maybe I should have. Ah, well. If folks are interested in trying out the scripts, or improving upon them, you can access the code on GitHub. Be sure to read all of the instructions there to get them working correctly.

All About My To-Do List System

I get asked from time-to-time about what system I use for my to-do list. I use a plain-text, command-line system developed by Gina Trapani called todo.txt. In concept the system is very simple. There is a text file containing all of my todo items, one item per line. There is another text file containing all of the things I’ve done, one item per line. There are commands that I can run to add, complete, and otherwise manipulate my to-do list. Over the years I’ve tried most of the apps and services out there, but I like todo.txt for 4 reasons:

  1. It is surprisingly simple. It’s just text files.
  2. You can do complex things with text files.
  3. Text files are compatible with just about everything.
  4. I can integrate the system with just about anything.

I thought I’d give a walk through of how I use todo.txt to manage my to-do list in order to illustrate some of these points. I’m not going to go into the details on installing the system, as there are already clear instructions for doing this.

What goes on my to-do list

I put 2 kinds of things on my to-do list:

  1. Anything that I need to do that I don’t want to have to remember.
  2. Anything I’ve completed and want to track after the fact.

The second thing may not be obvious, but often times I’ll add something to my to-do list right after I’ve done it, and then immediately mark it as done, so that I have a record of it that I can look up later.

Todo.txt allows you to mark up your list in certain useful ways. A + sign in front of a term represents a project. We are remodeling our kitchen so things related to that on my to-do list have a +KitchenRemodel as part of the to-do item. For example:

Todo Project

You can also include a “context” for the to-do item. This concept is derived (I believe) from Dave Allen’s GTD methodology where to-do lists are broken down into their proper contexts (@home, @work, @phone, etc.). In the example above, you can see I use contexts like @home and @errands. In fact, I only have a handful of contexts that I use with my to-do items: @home, @work, @errands, @freelance, @blog, and @mit. I’ll explain @mit shortly.

Finally, Todo.txt lets you set a priority for a to-do item. These are completely arbitrary, but are lettered, like (A), (B), (C), etc. I only use A, B, and C, and I use them as follows:

A = Today. This is something that I want to get done today.

B = This week. Something that I want to get done this week.

C = Someday. Something that I want to get done eventually. Mostly it’s on the list so that I don’t forget about it.

When using Todo.txt on the command line, it will sort and color-code your list by priority. So if I look at all of the items I want to get done this week, this is what I see:

Todo this week

Notice that they are sorted and color-coded by priority. The number at the very beginning of each line is the “task number” and the date is the date on which the item was added to my list. Todo.txt adds both of those automatically.

Adding items to my to-do list

I always have a console window open on the computer that I’m working on, so adding an item to my to-do list is very easy. Suppose I wanted to add an item to write a post on todo.txt. This is what I’d type at my command prompt:

t add "Write post on using Todo.txt @blog"

That item would be given a task number and date and added to my to-do list:

Todo Add

That’s all there is to it. I could have given it a priority or project as well simply by typing something like this instead:

t add "(A) Write post on using Todo.txt for +GP @blog"

If I decided I wanted to add or change the priority later, I could do that easily as well with something like:

t pri 60 B

which tells Todo.txt to change the priority of task #60 to B.

Todo.txt has iPhone and Android apps as well. I prefer the command line but sometimes the iPhone app can be handy if I am away from the computer. Here’s what my to-do list looks like on the iPhone app:

Todo iPhone
Todo iPhone

I store my todo.txt files in Dropbox and so they are accessible from any device to which I sync Dropbox, including my iPhone. That means I’m always working from a current version of my list, no matter where I am.

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