In the past few years, plain text has come back as a popular format. Instead of using full-featured word processing and notes apps, many of us are sticking to plain text for everything. It’s simple, works everywhere, and an increasing number of new apps are using plain text instead of their own proprietary formats, which makes it even easier to keep your data in sync.
From note-taking to task managers, most of the writing in our lives can be easily formatted from plain text files, with a system of simple syntax instead of proprietary formatting. TaskAgent for Dropbox enters the plain-text app market as a new way to manage your tasks in plain text.
Where does it fit?
Plain text files can be created anywhere, even in the built-in TextEdit app that comes free with your Mac. As long as you create a system for yourself, nothing stops you from creating lists in plain text, just like you can write notes in plain text. You don’t have to have a special app for using plain text for your todos, but one can be a nice addition to your workflow. TaskAgent – and other similar apps – keep the formatting and syncing out of the way, though, so you can really just focus on your tasks and nothing else, while the app keeps your plain-text to-do lists formatted and in-sync.
The first time you open TaskAgent, you’re introduced to all its features in a default list. It’s straightforward.
There are only three buttons in the app: create a new list, a new task and force synchronization with Dropbox if you have linked it. Every task comes with a checkbox for whenever you’re done with it and you can easily edit or delete your entries. Comments may be included to each task.
What else can be done?
Tasks can be easily included within a list as the New Task window won’t disappear as you add an item by hitting Return. As you right-click on a task, you may copy or move it to a different list. Copying will include the application-specific syntax and the latter is the only way to move your items to a different list as it seems unable to drag and drop tasks.
You may archive your lists instead of deleting them from your sidebar. This will keep the text files in your Dropbox folder, but not in your TaskAgent sidebar. You can restore archived lists by navigating in the Archived Lists window.
In the Preferences, you can apply different behaviors to your tasks as they’re created, as moving done tasks to the bottom and adding completion time as you check them off. You may also attach date and time of creation in the comments of the notes you create. If you choose to link your Dropbox account, you can control its details and synchronization intervals in this menu as well.
Learning the Syntax
What makes these applications accessible is an easy to grasp language. TaskAgent itself won’t require you to learn its parlance, but if you intent to expand its portability, then you won’t have much trouble. A hyphen preceding a sentence will create a task. A ‘x’ can be used instead to declare a task as done. Type your task normally and if you have any comment to add, write them inside parenthesis. If you have any trouble, check the app’s Help.
This knowledge doesn’t come in handy only when you’re at foreign destinations, away from your regular tools. You can add tasks to the plain-text file, even when you’re not using TaskAgent itself. It is also interesting to automatize your workflow. Applications like Launchbar allow you to quickly append text into a file readable by TaskAgent. Then, of course, the access given by the Dropbox integration permits you to modify your lists via the triggers available on IFTTT.
As aforementioned, in a world where portability has become essential, exportability has become an issue that plain text easily solves. By using a simple format you’re allowed to send your lists to your work mates or store them anywhere. You’re never trapped by your own tools. If you prefer to keep it simple, there’s also a version of TaskAgent for iOS.
Where it falls short?
Probably the main concern towards TaskAgent are its sorting options. Lists can only be organized alphabetically and it lacks viable sharing options to manage them, as we’re talking about plain text, it should be easy to include the content of a list in the body of an email or even tweet your tasks. A checkbox for each list in case you plan to use them as projects would also be a welcome feature.
In the age of iCloud, it is strange to find an application that doesn’t give you the option to store your files in the Apple echosystem, however, that is understandable as iCloud doesn’t support much of the accessibility that plain text provides.
What are the other options?
If plain text doesn’t fit you and your need of list management requires a better looking application, Clear by Realmac Software might work better for you. It also features a way to create a priority among your items, a feature missed at the moment in TaskAgent. If you’re looking for a more robust method to deal with your lists, you should take a look at TaskPaper, by Hog Bay Software, which lets you attach tags, set a priority for your items and customize its looks.
As apps that deal with plain text become more common, TaskAgent joins the crowd by offering a simple function: it manages your lists. Thanks to its easy syntax and Dropbox storage, you can easily edit your tasks from many different tools. But even keeping enough features to handle your lists effortlessly, it still lacks some essential traits to deliver a better experience overall.