Putting the paper in TaskPaper

Lately my RSS and Twitter streams have been loaded with talk of to-do apps and services. When I haven’t fallen off the list-making wagon (which happens far too often), I still use TaskPaper to make my lists and this old set of scripts and config files to print them out onto paper, which I then insert into a notebook I keep open on my desk. Unlike to-do apps, which tend to get hidden behind other windows on my computer and superseded by other apps on my phone, the paper to-do list is always in front of me, reminding me of the tasks I think I’ll never forget but always do. Also, I find the physical act of checking a box with a pen or pencil more satisfying than tapping or clicking.

Daily planner with TaskPaper list

I wrote about this setup five years ago, and I’ve changed only a few things since then:

The various scripts and config files are in this GitHub repository, which I just updated today to reflect what I’ve had running locally for some time. Sometimes I fall off the GitHub wagon, too. The system relies on a Markdown processor (I use Fletcher Penney’s MultiMarkdown), Jan Kärrman’s venerable html2ps script, and the ps2pdf utility that’s bundled with Ghostscript.

Because the TaskPaper format is very close to Markdown, it’s easy to make a few changes to turn it into a valid Markdown document. From there, MultiMarkdown turns it into HTML, html2ps turns that into PostScript, and ps2pdf turns that into a PDF. Through the magic of Unix pipelines, it’s easier than it sounds. The Keyboard Maestro macro that starts it all off looks like this:

TaskPaper printing macro for Keyboard Maestro

During the course of a normal workday, the notebook sits open on my desk, I use it mostly for taking notes when I’m on the phone, but almost anything can go in it. Every morning I start on a new recto page and insert the to-list in front of it, covering the last verso page of the previous day. If you’re wondering where my Daily Notes paper comes from, it’s here.

As the day goes on, I tick off the tasks I complete and write in new ones that arise. At the end of the day, I switch to TaskPaper (which is usually buried behind Calendar and Messages) and bring it up to date, ready to print out the list for the next day. To me, this is the best of both worlds: the paper is always visible in front of me, but I don’t have to rewrite undone tasks from the previous day because they’re saved on the computer. Also, a list printed from a computer always looks so neat and official.

Screens are nice, but most of us don’t have anywhere near as much screen space as we have desk space, which is why paper still has its place.