TaskPaper - Text organization tool with to-do lists and more

I wanted to offer the case for @jessegrosjean to consider the idea of rebranding TaskPaper - just a bit. I am not trying to stir up controversy with those who love it’s ability to make to do lists, use scripts, use calendar dates, or use markup in TaskPaper. Really and truly, I am not trying to start a conflict here.

I think that TaskPaper can do so much more than to-do lists. For some users, certainly for myself, TaskPaper is a unique tool that makes organizing text incredibly powerful and simple. I think that the current byline for advertising Taskpaper; “TaskPaper - Plain text to-do lists for Mac” does not do Taskpaper justice. I suggest something more like; “TaskPaper - Text Organization Tool with to-do lists and more”.

OK, the plain text aficionados might say, nooooo, at least if you are going to say that say, “Plain text” as in, “TaskPaper - Plain text organization tool with to-do lists and more". I don’t have an argument with that. I suggested dropping that part of the description because, honestly, I do wish that Taskpaper allowed for some styled text. But, I am not sure that @jessegrosjean feels the same way or that most of the current users of TaskPaper feel the same way. Just saying …

The reason I am suggesting this here is because, as was recently mentioned in a post here on the forums, some of us really do make great use of TaskPaper for organizing large amounts of text - as writers. I could not do what I do in Taskpaper in almost any other program. I would have to build my own custom database to get such fast searches on tags I can create in TaskPaper to track parts of my document. And I can so easily embed searches to gather similar ideas.

To-do lists are important for sure. I am not knocking a to-do list. But, TaskPapers ability to allow me to write, to collapse sections or to easily focus in on a section, distraction free, is a fantastic benefit to a writer. This is a great way of organizing text. When you are writing a long document, there is nothing to match it.

I offer these suggestions not to change Taskpaper - although as I mentioned I would still love to see the ability to bold a word with styled text here or there and I would still love to see some kind of pagination so I could insert page breaks and print out a draft to put on my desk, pass around for critique, and carry around for editing away from the computer. I offer these suggestions because I want to see @jessegrosjea’s company thrive and to go as far as it can and to last as long as it can in the rapidly changing world of modern Mac software.

I need massive organizational help with my ideas. I tend to write down my ideas. TaskPaper has become an invaluable tool to organize my thoughts and my text.

I am not sure this part of the TaskPaper business model gets as much credit as it deserves.

I think there may be others like myself who might take an interest in TaskPaper if it were advertised as a text organization tool that also includes excellent to-do lists with full calendar integration (with an external calendar). I passed on TaskPaper for many years thinking it was just a to-do list maker. I offer these suggestions because I want others like myself to understand what you can do using TaskPaper. Hopefully, this would expand TaskPapers user base and increase @jessegrosjean’s companies profits so, this could be a win-win situation.

Strictly attending to to-do lists - which Taskpaper is great at doing, also misses the point entirely of how great it also is at the organization of text.

That is the reason I am suggesting changing the byline from “TaskPaper - Plain text to-do lists for Mac” to “TaskPaper - Text organization tool with to-do lists and more”.

Scrivener has stepped into a very large market for writers. I have Scrivener but I am still not making much use of it - yet. At some point I will give it another try. Scrivener, as nice as it is, is still a little on the complicated side. TaskPaper on the other hand is extremely simple - yet extremely powerful. I have worked as a professional writer. I have worked as a technical writer and as a technical editor. I understand how Word works very well. I can understand how the visual layout of a document using styles is important and, I know how to do this.

But, just putting down ideas when you don’t yet understand how they are going to end up, fit together, etc., gets unwieldy fast. Using styling to build a TOC (Table of contents) to track your ideas before you have a clear idea how all that you are writing - and still have to write, is going to fit together, is not the best use of your time.

TaskPaper is so very good for this. Really, I don’t see any apps competing with it in this way. Therefore I am suggesting that @jessegrosjean might consider the size of the writers market out there. Yes I know, HogBay also sells WriteRoom. But WriteRoom seems to me to be primarily based on the single idea of a plain screen “distraction free” writing environment. That concept has no appeal for me.

When I think of what a distraction free writing environment means to me, I much prefer the distraction free writing environment when I can option right arrow on a project title and see nothing but that section that I want to work on. I much prefer the distraction free environment when my eyes, tired of spending weeks or months in a long project, to be able to simply pull up a different style sheet and see a different background color and text color and line spacing.

Of course, the pagination would make printing a hard copy for editing much easier and, there is no easy way to transfer what I am writing in TaskPaper to my iPad.

Coming from a professional layout environment I do miss not being able to color, underline, or bold a specific word here and there without affecting the whole sentence - but then I would be making an argument for styled text and not plain text. I understand that TaskPaper with styled text may never be to others liking - especially if it meant killing markdown which I believe can only happen in a plain text environment (I don’t use markup as I am not attracted to it so I really don’t know). Again, no disrespect to those who love markup. I am simply, respectfully, pointing out that, some like it, and some don’t. And if Taskpaper is already something that markup fans love then please, do not change this on my account.

I wanted to give a clearer idea of what distraction free writing means to me. In the end, I am only offering ideas here. I don’t expect that others are going to agree with me. But if you have read this far and are willing to consider what I have said then, I thank you. I think that TaskPaper is missing a potentially huge writers market. I for one am very happy to have discovered this “plain text to-do list maker for the Mac” and I am so very happy that I have since learned that TaskPaper is so much more than this. I am only wishing that others knew this too.

Thanks to @jessegrosjean as always for providing such an excellent product and for continuing to listen to his customers feedback. I appreciate what this product is, and I appreciate all the hard work that goes into keeping it great. I know I am just one man with one humble opinion. Thanks as always for listening.


“and more” rings a little hollow- how about “Plain Text outliner and to-do lists”?

I agree, the outlining / folding / filtering features have lots of useful applications beyond to-do lists.

Like this : key2txt/tp2k.applescript at master · derickfay/key2txt · GitHub

Sounds good to me. TaskPaper is such a unique and fantastic tool for text outline work. It’s really a shame it isn’t marketed that way (yet).

David, I imagine you have a lot on your stack, but if you ever get the itch to publish some tutorials about your personal use of TaskPaper, I am sure the community would benefit greatly. Learning how folks go beyond the obvious with software is always interesting.

I agree with the basic premise: TaskPaper is much more than plaintext todo lists. I, myself, use it mostly for brainstorming and organizing content for academic writing.

There is something nice about the simple
message of “plaintext tasks”. I worry that other ways of marketing it will narrow the audience to fiddly power users who already know that they want a general purpose plaintext organizer.

It’s not really an ‘outliner’. That’s an already existing kind of app, and TaskPaper is not that. I’d maybe go with “structured notes”?

Thanks for suggesting this. Yes, too much in front of me right now to even think about it, but maybe someday. You can check out some less code that I use, here.

It’s a fair question. I have been thinking about it and that was why I offered this thread idea. I think that you are right, organizer tools are different. Omni, and many others over the years cover that area pretty well. TaskPaper on the other hand, offeres it’s users a very nice and well thought out solution to use plain text as an environment to organize text in. After all, isn’t that what a to-do list is, a task outline? I think so.

What I have come to realize is that with my very first Mac app, FairWitness, back in the day, I used it to write down my ideas fo a workshop or a presentation or … It was also great for having a built in module that it allowed me to set up a time matrix for whatever I was doing. That is I could brainstorm ideas, move them freely in and out of an outline - or use a free form view. Then I could switch the the time matrix view and decide, OK, this is a full day workshop or, this is a half day workshop or, this is a one hour talk. Then I could place my ideas into some sort of useful order.

Even this example is not exactly a standard outlining idea. When I think about Mac software I just can’t help thinking out of the box. With TaskPaper, I can use it to make to-do lists, use calendar dates and all of that. But I can also use it to organize my written thoughts. That is what I use TaskPaper for the most, organizing my text which to me really means, organizing my thoughts and my notes.

Since TaskPaper does not really use styles - but, since TaskPaper also follows what you can do using CSS with LESS files, I can set up customizable line spacing, font weights, font types, font colors and the like. All with tags of course. And tags also help me to search quickly for similar ideas and to cull through large documents and hone in on what I am really trying to say.

I like how it indents and outdents easily. In that way, TaskPaper really is an outlining tool. I like how it is easy to option right arrow to focus on an idea, or option left arrow to get out of a focused idea. This too is a typical outliner function.

In the end, I don’t have a good, solid answer. But I do think that TaskPaper does more than it is advertised to do. As a writer, and as one with some pretty serious organizing deficits, TaskPaper is a great app for text organization - no matter what you want to call it.

If it is just about notes, then as I see it, that puts it into a smaller category of organized text. It’s a good category to be sure, just as to-do lists are a good category. But to me, overall, taskpaper is just very good at text organization with its tag styling, tag searches, and saved searches, it is just very good at helping me to organize text.

Chiming in late here… thanks for your post.

I agree “plain text to-do lists” undersells TaskPaper a bit. But it’s strait forward and simple and I prefer simpler underselling to complicated overselling. I don’t think that I’ll change the tagline for TaskPaper 3.

I do expect things to change (or at least to think about it a lot) when TaskPaper 4 is ready. TaskPaper 4’s addition of a library will be a significant move away from “just” plain text to-do lists. If you remember please do bring this up again in TaskPaper 4 timeframe and link back to this topic if you can.

As far as when TaskPaper 4 timeframe starts, I’m not sure. I’m still working away on this workspace thing for WriteRoom. It’s going, but slowly.

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Maybe since TaskPaper is not necessarily Markdown, you could think about a new Markup language that combines TaskPaper and Markdown. That would be your easiest way to produce something that can be modify through templates or what not while keeping the idea behind TaskPaper working. Right now I just use Markdown markup in my TaskPaper document. I then use the Ruby library to modify TaskPaper into what I think makes sense in MultiMarkdown. I then produce several documents from the MultiMarkdown output using scripts. All of these steps take place with just one command.

  1. Query a document and create another one using the results. Since this is a JavaScript, I use the script found in the link but I added a couple of lines of code that call another Ruby script once it is done.

  2. Using the TaskPaper Ruby library I create a markdown file using Ruby. I modified this library to produce the Markdown I had on mind. It literally took me 40 min to do this and I have not visited nor modified the library again. Thirty of those minutes were spend figuring out what the library did. Five of them was modifying my code. And the last five minutes were spend testing my code. I really forgot the changes I did since I literally did it once and then forgot about it.

  3. The Ruby script then runs MultiMarkdown (MMD) and using one of the MMD templates that I have modified, I create the appropriate XeLaTex file. (I can provide my templates, but it will be better if you see the MMD templates and understand what is going on. Some XeLaTex knowledge is good here.)

  4. The same Ruby script runs XeLaTex prints the PDF, files the output into a backup so that I can have a copy of report produced, cleans up the XeLaTex aux files, and deletes the temporary TaskPaper and MMD files used to create this.

Here is the link to the code for the script I use.

I know there have been a lot of requests for basic stuff - bold, italics, links etc…

@Victor brought up another good point about what TaskPaper can do, scripting. I confess that I know next to nothing about using scripting in TaskPaper so I don’t really value it in my experience of using Taskpaper. Please note, I did not just say that I don’t find scripting to be valuable using Taskaper, I said that “I”, don’t value it. That is, it has no value for me … because it is completely foreign to my understanding of how to use TaskPaper. But in fairness to pointing out the many things that TaskPaper is capable of beyond simple to-do lists, I think he brings up a good point.

I enjoy using scripts when I can understand the concept, the implementation, and the code of the script. In TaskPaper, I haven’t got a clue how to trigger a script, where the scripts reside, what, in a taskpaper document, will react to a script and what won’t, etc.

I used to enjoy using Panorama by Provue for many years. It’s a simple database that is based on it’s own text based (ascii) scripting language the developer came up with many years ago. Everything is stored in ram so it is lightning fast. Because it stored everything in ram, you could build arrays within a script whenever and wherever you wanted to. No messy join tables, no having to establish a variable before using it, nada. It kept the idea of building a useful database, simple.

But, you still had to think about what you were trying to accomplish and how you were going to get there. You had to build your database or tweak your existing database every time in such a way to get the results that you wanted.

Maybe that is why I have not been attracted to understanding scripting with TaskPaper very much. As I slog through yet another 1,000 page document and try to remember parts that I want to review farther, with TaskPaper, all I have to do is leave as many tags as I want to wherever I want to. Then later I can click on a tag when I find it, or more often than not, build a saved search based on a tag.

Panorama became subscription based. I don’t agree with this economic model so I moved on or I would still be using it. Typinator is something that I still use daily. It also uses scripting. As does KeyboardMaestro, another app I use daily. I love using scripting - when I can understand a reason to use it. Again, in TaskPaper I am still not understanding the why, how, when, or where, of a reason to apply scripting.

Then, there is the question of formatting. One of the reasons I am not drawn to markdown is because it uses asterisks to tell a separate viewing module how what you just wrote is going to be viewed. That is OK, I guess … if you are writing something like I am now writing in this posted entry. When I highlight this sentence, and then I click the BOLD button in the forum software header section, then, what I have highlighted is surrounded by double asterisks. When I click save and finish the piece, what I highlighted has now turned bold. But, please notice what I am saying, that this is inherently a two part process.

When I am writing in any sort of way that involves the creative aspect of my brain which is virtually - everything that I write, I want to see it as I write it, now, in this moment. This to me is a more distraction free way of writing because I am not distracted by wondering if what I just wrote had enough asterisks to have made it bold, italicized, etc. I don’t have to wait until later to see if I am writing correctly as I can see it now, in the moment, as I am writing down what I am trying to say.

When I think about scripting in TaskPaper I think that it must be doing something to something that I have already written. Doing this falls into the category of not being in the moment. But then, I really do not understand what scripting can do to my TaskPaper text so I don’t value it. I can see that using scripting with a TaskPaper document could makes sense if I were using TaskPaper as many do, for calendar dates, to-do items that are not done, setting priorities, etc. But, since that is not what I am using TaskPaper for, then perhaps that is why I am not seeing a use for scripting in taskpaper yet (again for my use only)? If scripting has other uses in TaskPaper then I for one am curious to understand it better. Perhaps @Victor or someone else could make a short video showing what sort of things one can do using scripting with TaskPaper? I just haven’t got a clue.

Back to be earlier point raised by @Victor, using scripting with TaskPaper is yet another important reason for rebranding the TaskPaper byline.

This again speaks to the scope of what @jessegrosjean has offered with TaskPaper and it speaks to how much buried treasure TaskPaper has within it. Yes please to thinking about rebranding whenTaskPaper version four comes into active development.

I am glad that @jessegrosjean is willing to mull this over before Taskpaper 4 comes around. After watching FoldingText languish and then get dropped, and after realizing that WriteRoom is not really going to be an option for me in the way that its main selling point is the concept of distraction free writing in the way that WriteRoom presents it, I am hoping to have brought the idea to the front that TaskPaper is really a text organization tool as it does so much for the writer. And has @Victor has well pointed out, it does a lot for the script user too.