TaskPaper: Your Subtly Powerful Task Manager

There are easily hundreds of apps in the App Store, all wanting to manage your to do list for you; even once you filter out the less polished ones, you still have a lot to choose from. We’ve covered a few of these before, but there’s an new kid on the block.

A few weeks ago, I was looking for “the perfect to do list app,” and I think I’ve found it: it’s called TaskPaper, from Hog Bay Software. Before writing it off as “just another task manager”, be sure to give our review a read.

Getting Started

When you open TaskPaper, you’re met by the home screen. Front and center is your documents list; This isn’t necessarily your list list; more on that later. If you pull the document list down, you’ll uncover a search bar, whose purpose is clear.

Moving upward; you’ll see the toolbar; the “+” button on the right predictably creates a new document. In the middle, you’ll see the currently viewed tag; tap that tag to choose a different one, or show all your documents.

TaskPaper Basics

TaskPaper Basics

Finally, on the left, we have the menu; menus within TaskPaper are unlike those in any other app I’ve seen, and I like them much better. From within this menu, you can sync your documents with simpletext.ws, lock the orientation of the screen (you can use almost every area of TaskPaper in vertical or horizontal orientation), start Wi-Fi sharing, access the settings, and read the help.

Working With Your Tasks

When you tap the “create document” button, you’ll be whisked away to a blank document. Your cursor will be blinking at the top, waiting for you to enter a name for your project. Every entry within a document is either a project, a task, or a note. Projects are the headings, the parents of your tasks and notes.

Once you enter a project title and hit ‘return,’ you can start entering tasks. Just hit the return key at the end of each task to move to the next one.

You can tag tasks by using the ‘@’ symbol followed by the tag name: @work. You can also give tags values, such as @priority(1).

Tagging & Editing

Tagging & Editing

Taskpaper is right at home with sub-projects. When your cursor is blinking at the beginning of an empty task, hit the ‘return’ key; instead of moving to the next line, TaskPaper will cycle you through your options: task, note, or project. Also, at any point within the document, before typing in a task, note, or project, you can use the ‘space’ and ‘delete’ keys to indent or un-indent your item. These nifty features make it easy to quickly fill out a complex hierarchy of todos.

That’s not all in the way of list managing goodness: it’s incredibly easy to re-order your items. Just tap and hold an item; it and all its sub-items will collapse. Drag that blue line wherever you want it. You have two-dimensional organization, so you can use this method to (un)indent items.

Once you finish playing with these neat list-making features and actually get something done, you’ll want to mark it as done. To do so, simply swipe to the right over the item to mark it complete. This simply adds a tag of @done to the item.

Marking Done & Sub Projects

Marking Done & Sub Projects

At the top of the document editor (above even the search bar) you can tap the “+” button to add a new item to your list. You can also tap the name of the document (taken from the first project name within the document) to perform a few administrative tasks. You can sync the document to simpletext, send the document as an email, and archive all the tasks marked done (to archive tasks is to move them to a project named archive at the bottom of the document). You can also tag, rename, or delete a document.

The Bottom Toolbar

Let’s move on to the bottom toolbar. On the left, you’ve got the “go to project” button. Tap it, and then tap the project name you’d like to focus on. Taskpaper will filter the document and only show you the items that are in that project. Notice that the search bar now says [project = "project_name"]. The button is just a shortcut to searching.

Next up is the “go to tag” button. This menu lists all the tags in the current document, as well as the tags @done and @today. Just like the project button, tap a tag name to filter your list. Again, notice the search box has been filled with the correct query.

The next button is the search button. If you’re already viewing the results of a search, the magnifying glass will have a dot in the circle. Tap it to return to viewing the whole document. Tap the button to focus on the search box and bring up the keyboard (we’ll look at some search queries in a bit).

The final button on bottom toolbar is for editing items; you can tap an item to select it and then tap the menu. From here, you can edit the item, cut/copy/paste the item, move it to a different project (within the same document), tag it, or change the item’s type.

Searching Your Tasks

Of course, you can type any term you’d like into the search box to filter your tasks by that term. There are also several keywords you can take advantage of.

  • You can use the keywords type, level, parent, project and others to refer to specific list details. For example, [type = note] will show all notes, and [level = 0] will show all items with no indentation.
  • If you’ve given tags values (using parentheses), you can search for those values: [@waiting = Joe].
  • You can use logical “and,” “or,” and “not” operators; the docs give this example: [project Inbox and not @done and (@priority > 1 or @today)]

There’s more you can do with the search box; check out the “Query Language” chapter in the help section.

Searching Tasks

Searching Tasks

Moving Lists Between iPhone and Mac

The main reason I decided to use TaskPaper as my task managing app is that it stores your documents as text files. Within your setting, you can add your Google ID to let TaskPaper sync with SimpleText.ws. Then, you can go to the SimpleText website to edit your document.

If you’re on a Mac, you can install the SimpleText app, which will sync your documents to a folder, similar to Dropbox, I understand. For those of us without a Mac (myself included), there’s no current way to sync the files to your computer; Jesse Grosjean, the sole genius at Hog Bay Software, has promised a python script to do the job very soon.

If you don’t want your documents going out to a public server like SimpleText.ws, you have two options. In that top-left menu on the home screen, tap “Start Wi-Fi Sharing.” Type the URL you’re given into your desktop web browser and you’ll be able to edit your notes directly on your iPhone. If you’re a bit more adventurous, you can install the SimpleText software on your own server and sync through that.

Settings

In the settings menu, you can choose the sort order for your documents list and choose whether or not summaries of your documents should show in the document list.

You can also lock the screen orientation, enable Text Expander support, and set a password for TaskPaper. And don’t forget to set your syncing options!

Conclusion

TaskPaper is a great app; there are so many little nuances that make it so easy to use. It’s probably the closest you can get to a pen-and-paper experience on the iPhone. One thing I haven’t figured out yet is when to put multiple projects in one document, and when to put them in their own doc.

Up to now, I’ve been using a document per project, but it’s obvious TextPaper is built for more. What’s your solution?

TaskPaper has a price tag of $4.99; I think it’s well worth that amount; the companion Mac app is $29.99.


Summary

For iPhone users to make lists and stay organized, TaskPaper is a simple to-do list that’s surprisingly adept.

9
  • http://www.ikreateit.com Julia Altermann

    Thanks for the review! It looks like it’s a very simple GUI with some serious power behind it. I’m gonna check out the Mac app too to see if I can work with it. If yes, this might as well replace Things on both my desktop and iPhone since I find it pretty tedious to navigate (the iPhone app, that is).

  • http://www.aaronmclay.com Aaron M. Clay

    I prefer just have 2 documents. One is my someday/maybe list that I only look at during my weekly review and the other is my actual task list. It makes syncing a bit faster on the mac and you don’t have to toggle between actual projects. I hope apple opens up search on the iphone. I would love to get a task w/o even opening task paper. *sigh* Someday.

    I started using it after 6 months of ignoring OmniFocus. I have filled it up with so many projects that constantly not getting any of them done started to wear (sp?) on me. I just stopped opening it. It kills me that I’m not using OmniFocus but I end up just using basic text list all over my computer.

    With Task paper I keep it as simple as possible. Only making a handful of projects active on my main list with clear next actions and the rest goes to a someday maybe project that I can forget about until the weekly review.

    However, I don’t feel that it’s a good capture app and I’m still trying to figure out how to best capture thoughts in the moment & really fast on my iphone. It has to be as fast and error free as using a pen and paper.

    (Longwinded yes?) It’s a great app for the Mac and the iPhone.

    • http://andrewburgess.posterous.com Andre Burgess

      Thanks for sharing your solution, Aaron. I really like the idea of only two document. I think I’ll give it a try. The ability to zero in on projects and tags will make dealing with several projects one file manageable.

      I hear you about capturing, too. Don’t have a solution, but I’ll post back here if I come up with one.

    • Darrell Stokes

      I’m with you on the capture issue, Aaron. I created a TaskPaper file called “Inbox”, but that doesn’t do me a lot of good when I’m walking down the street.

      My first attempt at a solution was to use the Jott app to send myself an email. I wrote an Applescript that gets triggered by a Mail rule on my home machine, parses the email, adds it to my Inbox file (via TaskPaper Mac), and saves the Inbox file. SimpleText takes over, and I should have it in TaskPaper on my iPhone within a few moments.

      Unfortunately, there seems to be just enough variation in the Jott emails to make it unreliable. Still looking for a better way…

      • Adam

        I work in a similar way.

        I have file called Globalinbox that I just thrown stuff at using taskpaper desktop via quick entry and via iPhone app.

        I then drag and drop into other taskpaper docs on desktop.

        I have a homeTask file which has a number of projects and I have a workTask file too.

        If a task demands it, I will create a new file and use the projects feature to break it up into logical groupings.

        A taskpaper file for Reference information is pretty useful

        most of my files always contain an inbox and archive project.

        All syncd via simpletext.ws its by fair the best !
        I am just waiting for the option to share tasks with others then I am laughing.

  • jack

    Up to now, I’ve been using a document per project

    That’s hard to believe. I’d recommend reading GTD. You don’t have to follow it, but it would give you some pointers. I can’t think of anything less efficient than the system your using now.

    • http://andrewburgess.posterous.com Andrew Burgess

      While I haven’t read GTD, I’ve read a lot about it and how to implement it. I agree that my current system isn’t the best; actually, I’ve only been doing that while moving out of Remember the Milk and into TaskPaper.

      However, I’m really curious to know why you think a doc per project is so inefficient. It seems to me that the only other option is all projects in one document. For example, you couldn’t separate by context, unless an entire project has one context.

  • http://www.iKreateIt.com Julia Altermann

    Alright, Andrew, it’s your fault because you wrote the review and David’s fault because he’s published it: I just bought both the iPhone and the Mac app because I am sold just after one hour of playing around with it.

    The simplicity of entering information is astonishing and by using @ (contexts) I can simply have all my projects in one single file. I start off with an INBOX (on the project level) for all the stuff that can’t be sorted somewhere right away.

    Then I just separate my tasks into projects by web design project and as the context I use if those are my clients or if I work for them via a design agency (@ikreateit vs @designagency).

    This is soooooo simple, so fast … how could I have missed it all this time? :)

    • http://andrewburgess.posterous.com Andrew Burgess

      Glad you’re liking it! Actually, you haven’t missed it for too long; the iPhone version has been out for less than a month, I believe.

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  • Emily

    quite good app. I’m using ,,Plan”. It Sync my tasks on the go to Cloud. It’s very important thing.
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/plan/id428005487?mt=8&ls=1

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