Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Best To-Do List: A Private Gist (carlsednaoui.com)
146 points by Ashuu on Jan 2, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 90 comments

All the manual creation of checkboxes, deletion, and moving of tasks to me makes Gist far from "The Best" to-do list. Personally, I find the lighweight Google Tasks just fine, especially since there are many excellent mobile apps that sync with it and builtin support for multiple lists. I wish the URL for it was a bit more memorable though (https://mail.google.com/tasks/canvas?pli=1). The only thing missing is date completed, which I personally don't find very useful, but a calendar would probably be better if you want to keep track of that.

Edit: Nevermind, it does save date completed.


The Best To-Do List: Org-Mode


Combined with dropbox or some other remote storage and sync tool across multiple devices, this works wonders. There is an org-mode app for mobile devices as well. Of course people who dislike emacs might have a problem but it's quite hackable and there is nothing to keep one from associated .org files with emacs and using emacs just for todo lists (theres only about 5 or 8 commands in org-mode that you really have to know to be effective).

I have always fancied learning org-mode, but I have had trouble finding a guide which doesn't assume I already know emacs. Do you have any suggestions?

There are a couple links below but http://orgmode.org/worg/org-tutorials/org4beginners.html is also pretty good.

I had problems with conflicting files in dropbox / google drive so I just have a single directory with all of my org files in it versioned with a private Github repo.

For private stuff I just use the :crypt: keyword org extension to encrypt that entry with my GPG key...

What's the accepted most mature Vim equivalent or clone for org mode? Is there any?

To make use of org-mode but use the familiar vim keybindings, I just use emacs with evil-mode, the vim emulation mode. It works great. I've searched for a vim-centered alternative to org-mode for a long time; this is the best way I've found.

Thanks, so much. I might be in touch with you about this when I get around to trying it out.

I've used https://github.com/jceb/vim-orgmode for a while now for managing documentation written with org-mode. It gets the job done, but if my project's docs weren't written in org-mode already, I'd just use markdown.

vimoutliner (https://github.com/vimoutliner/vimoutliner) is also terribly mature and appropriate for a lot of tasks one might use Org mode for - certainly worth a look.

I was an org-mode user. Then I lost emacs config file, and started using Sublime Text. I'm now a happy user of the PlainTasks plug-in.


There's also an org-mode plugin for Sublime Text: https://github.com/danielmagnussons/orgmode

this is the nicest looking task manager ever!

There was a reddit thread asking to share org-mode workflow, maybe you can give some details on your ways.


I don't have an reddit account at the moment, but http://doc.norang.ca/org-mode.html influenced my org-mode workflow heavily.

This was mentioned already, and probably one of the most famous and exhaustive org-mode practical tutorial.

I have a hard time using Org mode , more than I used to, because I've realised that it encourages a lot of subdivisions, and deep trees only serve to confuse my mind ( see http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2005/03/trees-treeviews-and...)

What are you using instead?

I just use a markdown file now, with lists and headers/subheaders. I've found that when restricted to three levels, you don't really need more.

What's the most compatible or highest parity implementation for Vim?

Don't be afraid to use emacs just for orgmode. It's worth it.

I think I'll really consider this. Which EMacs should I install for this purpose?

On Windows I'm using emacs from http://gnu.mirror.vexxhost.com/emacs/windows/

On Ubuntu I'm using this ppa : https://launchpad.net/~cassou/+archive/emacs

To have the latest orgmode version I use the `org-plus-contrib` package from : http://orgmode.org/elpa.html I'm not sure if you need to delete `lisp\org` first (orgmode is included with emacs).

I think you can also use git to keep orgmode up-to-date.

How about with Arch?

I don't know much about Arch.

Latest emacs version is 24.3 so maybe https://www.archlinux.org/packages/extra/x86_64/emacs/

Also, are the keybindings configurable so as to be coherent with Vim's?

I have no idea but maybe you could use one of the following package:



Do these affect the commands used by orgmode?

I'm also a huge fan of todo lists. I like the simplicity of this approach. I still feel like Trello is better though. Trello is almost perfect. It's heavier for sure, but you gain a ton of flexibility and power.

My wife and I put an old iPad up on our fridge and use Trello to maintain needed groceries, chores, household repairs, and upcoming events. Even better, these lists automatically sync to our phones and PCs. I can just head to the grocery store whenever I have a free moment and my grocery list is always up to date and ready for me.

What do you use to keep the iPad on the fridge? We’ve been looking for a way to repurpose an old one of ours and this may be perfect.

We bought this: -- http://www.ebay.com/itm/Combo-Magnetic-Refrigerator-Fridge-W...

but, the brackets are a bit too small, so the iPad doesn't fully sit well. The iPad does stay put and hasn't fallen yet, but I'd recommend trying another brand.

Any old iPad mount you have, combined with good rare-earth magnets and a hot-glue gun.

I just saved a bunch of Trello/GTD articles to my Evernote for reading on the train in a desperate attempt to have a decent to-do list for both personal, but mainly collaborative business use in 2014. Any tips?

Focus on yourself first (personal and business aspects). That has more long term value, will contribute to your side of the collaboration improving, and puts you in a better position to scale to-dos.

Read GTD. It will inspire you and provide a path to success, walking you through creating meaningful todo lists. Many become devout followers, but for me just the basics and patterns were great to build on. There are concepts similar to the 'backlog' from scrum/XP, where you add a placeholder for every idea or task even very large ones, but only flesh out and break down into actionable items the near term / high value items.

Don't focus on tools, pen and paper are adequate, anything else is gravy. I use a location aware reminder app for short term/scheduled to-dos (iOS reminders, but before that Remember the Milk for years). The rest of the backlog and all details are in Evernote. Both are synced to all my devices (phone, ipad, laptop, etc) and available offline.

If I were trying to achieve your goal I would set a recurring weekday reminder when I arrived at the train station in the morning called "GTD". Just enough to remind me what I need to do. In evernote I'd have a folder with a todo list, plus all the notes/articles. Every day I would get on the train, review my todo app, see GTD at the top, open evernote to that todo, review/prioritize it and make as many happen as possible. The todo list I'd start with would be: Buy GTD Read GTD Create todo for reading/implementing GTD Read / delete pointless articles Find todo apps Create more todo lists

1. Read Getting Things Done. It will change the way you look at approaching tasks.

2. Clear, approachable goals. "Ship the website" isn't something you can just do, "write unit tests for deletion of users" is. One of my favorite features of Trello is a checklist on a card, it allows you to break down actions into very defined actionable items.

3. Have a list of things you're going to take an action on today.

For me, it's still paper. Specifically, this paper:


The spiral bound means it can be left open to the right page, and the thick paper is great. Version control (new pages) is built in. And the best part is that it's always right there in front of me, and I can glance down.

I agree - I've spent a lifetime trying to find the best to do solution (Microwriter Agenda, Psion 3, Palm, GTD, One Big Text File, David Seah's productivity tools, Superfocus, etc. etc.).

Paper in the form of a hardbacked A4 notepad with context specific todo lists and a 2-week calendar seem to work well (inspired by GTD (for contexts), David Seah (for his obsession with functional paper) [1])

I'm also reliant on ZIM Desktop wiki [2] for the 'trusted system' for weekly review - of course, ZIM has a weird bug somewhere in the To Do list functionality that I've had to code around - so it's (not devastatingly) not as trustworthy... but that's life I guess

Just trying out ActiveInbox [3] for managing Gmail better and seems to be working out nicely

[1] http://davidseah.com/productivity-tools/ [2] http://zim-wiki.org/ [3] http://www.activeinboxhq.com/index.php

I'd be interested in more detail about the workflow you've settled on, if you're inspired to share more.

Currently, I use a bunch of index cards, one per TODO item. Easy to reorder and rearrange things. For items that aren't doable yet can be hidden behind ones that are, and it's quite satisfying to tear up the card when an annoying task is finished.

Pen and paper are the less disruptive outlet I know too. I wonder how "smartpens", those who stream your strokes to some kind of OCR software to be parsed, fare. It might be cool to have natural handwriting system with searchable data at the same time.

Is it just an empty pad? Or is there something printed on the pages to give some structure?

Empty pad -- I like it better that way. Sometimes my "TODO List" involves mockups or doodles, sometimes it involves sub-todo lists, etc. I like the flexibility.

I also only use a red pen for checking things off. Not sure why; it just feels better.

Seems to 'just' thick paper that you can write on, paint on, stick things to - like a scrapbook (http://www.strathmoreartist.com/visual-journals.html)

For me it's just empty lined paper. I much prefer that to all these fancy solutions.

Here's the thing ... the BEST to-do list is the one you use. Its that simple. For me, that's Workflowy.

I've forgot about this one, thanks for pointing it out!

None of the complaints in this thread consider the utility of creating sharable checklists.

The ability to quickly slam a checklist into a gist and share it with others is very handy.

I just use a file in Dropbox. That is devastatingly effective for me - available across devices and offline.

Agreed, this works great for notes, lists, etc.

I keep notes in text files in my Dropbox -- on desktop, I use vim or SciTE, and on iOS I use the PlainText app to read/edit them.

I like this approach, will definitely give it a try.

How do you structure your dropbox file? Is it a simple running list of tasks? (.txt)

Yup - i have two files: work and personal and that's it.

Just two files forces me to prioritize within these two spheres.

Interesting, I'll give this a go with my personal to-do (for that one I currently use a gdoc).

Thanks for sharing!

I think wunderlist is pretty much what stayed with me for longest. Everything else kind of falls away. And paper of course :)

I appreciate innovations in this space, however I stopped even trying new things as experience shows they don't bring much once novelty wears off.

I keep on thinking about writing one that actually mirrors the way I think of tasks.

I don't think of all tasks equally. I have long term things, that usually get put off until they are not so long term. Big things that can be subtasked. Small things. Important things. Things that need done by lunchtime. So far I have not seen one that does anything like this. Does anyone know of one?

Anyway, writing it will be on my todo list.

I like Wunderlist. Cross platform, syncs and all kinds of other goodies. Can send to-do items to other people via their email addresses also.


I like that this is an option, and it's certainly a great option for some people, but calling it the "best" based on "it turns brackets into checkboxes!" is a bit of a stretch.

I do think that gists could be an ideal platform for a more robust todo list, though. It could easily serve as a backend for todotxt [1], for example.

[1] http://todotxt.com/

Hi Zikes, author here: This is the best to-do list for me —given my current workflow. I'm in front of my browser with GitHub open 90% of the day and this option fits nicely with my day-to-day activities.

That being said, I definitely think that the best to-do list depends on each person's workflow (the gist approach would be terrible for a real estate person that's always on the run, for example).

Do you use http://todotxt.com/? I hadn't heard of it before, maybe it's worth giving it a shot :)

Hi Carl! I think we're in agreement, I can see gists being ideal for many people, I just didn't plug in that mental "for me" in the title.

I have used todotxt in the past and it served me very well. It was originally developed as a simple bash script by Gina Trapani (of Lifehacker fame) and became such a hit that a strong community of developers formed around it, creating interfaces into the todotxt format in a variety of languages and environments.

The fact that it stores all of its data in a single (or series of) simple text file(s) is what makes it really great, as it becomes portable, human-readable, and modifiable if you should find yourself needing to interact with your todo list without any of the tools or scripts handy.

Unfortunately I haven't had a very good track record of keeping up with any of the many todo list applications or variations that I've tried, but every time I decide to try again I start with todotxt.

I use the todo.txt cli and it is awesome.

    t add "complete the pricing mocks"
    t 1 pri A
    t do 1
Nice and simple, and I can always open it up in a text editor if I need to. I might write something similar at some point though that would work with csv instead of txt. It would be a bit easier to use with a text editor (since there is no special syntax other than the csv standard), and could be passed around to excel users.

I've been using my own minamilist todo-list manager for the last couple of year: https://github.com/asb/sh-todo

However I've recently found I want to have some sort of task hierarchy, and to associate notes with tasks. I was going to just extend my text-based file format but luckily came across taskpaper which is pretty much exactly what I was aiming for. I'm now playing with taskpaper.vim and finding it promising: <https://github.com/davidoc/taskpaper.vim>. I just need to reconfigure vim's display of folded blocks so having all task comments folded is less painful.

This is a nice idea. Gists are also cloneable, giving you the the power of git and any tooling that you want to use to update your list.

Also, come on people, you all know that "Best" is subjective. This is the best tool for this guy, so there's no need to shoot it down.

If the Android Github app were updated such that the Gist support was a little richer for things like Markdown and those checkboxes, then I really think this might be the best.

The hardest bit I have with todo lists is keeping them current and accessible, meaning syncing across all devices and work-stations/laptops. Git is perfect for this, and this use of Github Flavored Markdown is pretty neat... the only missing thing is a mobile way to manage them efficiently.

I've also found that the gist support on Android GitHub is poor. Hopefully this will improve in the future. The nice thing about GitHub is that they listen to feedback. Most likely someone there is reading these comments.

I'm continually astonished by the number of HN posts on what the best tool to do something is. The reality is that there are often different tools for different needs and there need NOT be just one tool to rule them all.

I find that I keep short-term notes--need to know in in the next hour--in a notepad on my desktop. Tasks that need to be accomplished in the next day+ go into Google Tasks. Things that need elaboration, depth, detail go into Workflowy [0].

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSmbnaPZVHE

The best to-do list: a raw text file

A line = a task

Deleting a line = task finished

A text file = a list of tasks related to some context

The best and fastest editor for this on a Mac: NValt

This is the most efficient and simple solution for managing plenty of todos, no cumbersome rules, check boxes, markdown, web interfaces.

Great! But I need: 1) to access it from my linux home PC; 2) access it from my windows work PC (I can't sync it using a version control since I can't store my proxy password in a cleartext file) 3) access it from my android tablet 4) Everything must be synched.

Just put the text file on Dropbox and use any available text editor on mentioned clients. Regarding pwds: I separate pwds and todos.

You should try todoist - www.todoist.com. Todoist really is the best to-do list manager.

I've tried a lot of programs but always come back to using a low-tech Gmail draft.

In this particular case, the advantage over gist is that you can edit it offline on mobile (I ride the subway) and it syncs automatically

I haven't used it in years but this reminded me of TiddlyWiki [0], which will work whether you have Internet access or not.

[0]: http://tiddlywiki.org/

Tiddlywiki used to be my favorite thing for keeping todo lists and notes about whatever I am working on. It has not aged gracefully though. There have been several issues as web browsers have tightened permissions surrounding file:// URIs. It works on mobile but its very clunky. I wrote a simple http back end for it but every time I request the file ornsave I am sending 1MB+ of data across the network. The author of Tiddlywiki is working on a next gen version but its still lacking some things I want too see like offline use via indexeddb.

All that being said I have been doing something similar to the OP but using Google Keep. It works offline, on mobile, or on the desktop.

I recommend using gistbox [0]. It allows tagging and other features that make gist convenient as a todo list.

[0]- http://www.gistboxapp.com/

This is great, simple and easy. I wish that it didn't save a revision every time you checked an item. I'm more interested in keeping revisions on how my list items change. Granted, there could be some value in knowing when I completed items, but that being said, when you check an item is not necessarily when it was completed.

I prefer a pen and paper.

1. Doesn't require a login

2. Is always visible on my desk and not lost behind a window.

3. Supports crude drawings.

4. Doesn't require power or an internet connection.

I have yet to find an online equivilant which comes close to being as fast or useful as pen and paper for creating and maintaining a personal list of to-do's.

I use Evernote to create todo lists while programming. I name the title todo_[date] or note_[date] that way I can go back to dates in the list and see what I have missed. I see it as simple as gist todo lists but with IMO a better UI for better search/organization.


I'm using Cal on Android, made by the same people. I've liked it so far, but I can't help but feel like I'm missing out on its potential integration with Any.do. Are you using Cal and Any.do in conjunction? If so, any glaring benefits?

Shameless plug here, check out my iPhone app Begin: http://beginapp.co/

It's goal is to be an extremely simple to-do list. I'd love to hear what you guys think.

This looks super impressive. Angry I just left my iPhone in a cab :(

Thanks! Sorry about your phone :(

haha. you didn't do it!

I've spent a lot of time thinking about TODO lists and trying different solutions. Eventually, I settled on a very specific means of using good, old, pen-and-paper.

I think probably the most important feature of the TODO list is that it gives you mental clarity. Both the popular book "Getting Things Done" and a career couch I worked with for several months talk about the importance of clearing the mind before being able to begin work in earnest. If you have "do the laundry" stuck in your head, it's going to be a major hurdle for getting through work. So, having some sort of system to capture everything that needs to be done is essential for staying on task with work.

So that means that the most important feature of TODO is capture. Any system that imposes overhead on capturing items for your TODO list will eventually fall out of habit. You'll start to mentally prioritize which things go on the list and which things do not. That ultimately defeats the purpose of the TODO list, to get things out of mind, squirreled away in a safe place.

Thus, very formal issue trackers like BugZilla or Redmine (or anything else that has a separate "issue entry page") are far too cumbersome for capture.

But being streamlined on capture is not the whole solution. Having used sites like PivotalTracker or Trello, I've fallen into traps of recording TOO much. Certain pie-in-the-sky tasks will sit in the list for months on end, getting no closer to ever getting worked on. It then becomes its own mental burden, worrying about whether or not certain TODO items will end up in that moribund pile. I even tried writing my own that had an arbitrary limit to the number of items I could enter. It just didn't feel right. It was always too easy to just bump up the limit and keep adding items.

So with all of my experience with various activity and issue tracking systems, I went straight back to pen and paper. My system is very simple, but it is not from lack of design. Its simplicity is the design.

I use an ink pen on a yellow legal pad. The pads are cheap and readily available. The ink requires strike-throughs for error corrections. I write in two columns, but only to be able to use all of the paper. There is no semantic difference between the two columns.

I do not number things, unless I'm in crunch mode and am working very fast through a series of items. I am more likely to underline the high priority items, rather than number them. I don't think it's really possible to prioritize things any more than "things I'm working on in the next few hours" versus "things I'm not working on soon." Anything more than that really calls into question the entire concept of priority for me. It's easy enough to scan the list and figure out priority as I work. I can also rewrite the list with higher priority items at the top if necessary. Usually it's not necessary.

Completed items get scratched out, fairly heavily. The goal is then to fill the page with ink. It becomes a motivating factor to finish the last few items on the list.

The list is limited to 2 columns only and is not allowed to spill on to a second page. I rewrite the list either once a week or (more often) when the page is full to remove the completed items. I did three columns for a while, but it started to develop a deadpool at the bottom right end of the page, so I went back to two columns. Multiple pages would be even worse, and would make it harder to scan the total list. That basically means I'm limited to a max of 50 or so active items on my TODO list. I've found that, if I need much more than 50, then I've failed to manage my work correctly. The desire to record more is a signal that I'm procrastinating things and taking on too many commitments.

And that's it. Any other feature of TODO list tracking is either too restricting on capture or too enabling on over capture. Pen and paper is it for me.

That reminds me of another paper system I used for a while. Add new tasks to the page. When it fills, write all unfinished tasks on the next page, and mark them with a star to show they've been moved. Next time you move tasks, do NOT move tasks that were starred.

Basically, it's a tacit admission that you're not going to get around to it. This is good, because for most of us, our true to-do list is deeper than our ability or will to finish it. Deleting the backburner things helps reduce guilt.

Yes, it's very important to delete backburner stuff. I've failed those projects whether or not I admit it. Admitting it is the only way to move forward. It's better both for me and the thing that needs to be done.

I forgot to mention, I don't keep a separate work and personal TODO list. Again, I think it ends up harming the piece of mind aspect because it creates more than one place for keeping track of the things you have to do. Also, it's far to easy for me to ignore the personal items for the work items, which again defeats the purpose of keeping the list. So, if personal items are starting to crowd out my work items on the list, it's a signal that I'm working too much and need to focus on balance.

it is pretty cool how you use the revision history for something unique, but this needs to be simplified greatly. It seems like if you made an app that automatically changes the list and updates git, it would be extremely efficient. I would put a create today's list link in that gives you a popup that you can fill out with just a task per line that turns into a checklist.

There isn't a decent client for Android that can edit a Gist very easily. I keep my to-do list either on Google Tasks or as Gmail draft.

I use workflowy and it works pretty nice

I'm still a huge fan of Vesper. It's the perfect TODO list. It just works.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact