I Still Use Plain Text for Everything and I Love It

Plain text has long been a favorite on Lifehacker , but over the years, most people have moved away from it in favor of specialized to-do apps, note-taking apps, writing apps, or whatever. I still use plain text for pretty much everything, but I never really thought about why I was doing it. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that, not to mention attractive features, plain text is still important for portability and simplicity.

We’ve talked about the value of text to-do lists before . The bottom line is simple: any computer can read plain, simple text. The .txt file is completely portable with no bells and whistles, no proprietary software, or any fancy formatting options. It is one of the simplest files a computer can create, and any computer — along with many applications — can read it. Over the years, tons of software to improve performance have tried to replace him, and yet, by caustic applications for the cases to the application for taking notes with a big budget , for me, nothing could compare with the normal text.

Plain text makes me make things easier

I like to organize everything. I love formatting. I love to outline, keywords and list things. This is often a useful character trait, but it is just as often distracting and totally less useable when it comes to writing, setting in dos and taking notes.

Give me an app with tags, color choices, and hierarchy, and I’ll give you an hour of my time to organize something as simple as a grocery list in a store. Give me some notebooks for my notes, and I will give you the days of my life for building an organizational system.

Then I’ll move on to not actually using any of these systems.

Although I love and gravitate towards organization in many aspects of my life, things like basic notes or tasks are not important to me. Simplicity is important. I want to quickly open an application, write down what I need, and then close it without thinking about what tag it should get, what formatting to add, or whatever. Just give me a blank piece of paper and a flashing text icon.

How can I find what I’m looking for without these organizational gimmicks? Remember, this is plain text. It is a simple file format. Control + F, type a word or two into the search bar in the app or in Spotlight on the Mac, and you’ve got exactly what I want. Of course, I have a higher level organization. All my Lifehacker post ideas in one file. The tasks are different. Artistic ideas are different. You get the point. It’s simple, but a little chaotic, which is what I like about it.

I can collect all my creative ideas in one place

One thing that really kept me in plain text – that’s what I use it for everything that I want. I don’t need to divide my brain space into different applications or services. Plain text is as much like a little creative notebook as software can be.

Even when you use an application like ToDo.txt , Sublime Text, or Simplenote to manage your text files, things get messy. Your system will never be as organized as it is with Evernote . And that’s why I like it. I have things to do today next to the idea of ​​a feature film that I will never write. I have notes on how to make a three-year-old writing desk that is pressed against a text file filled with strange dreams. My list of ideas for Lifehacker articles is alongside some structured notes on the novel. All the ideas I had, dumb, smart, crazy and everything else, are collected in one folder, available as one giant chunk of text. Every day I see all this and every day I think about many things, even when I don’t need it.

Because of this, my brain is constantly mixing up good and bad ideas. Abandoned ideas and realized ideas live in the same space. Thanks to this, I can see what is working and what is not, and what I have not yet figured out how to do it. This is great for me. When my silly video game idea ends up next to my shopping list, everything seems doable. Each idea is worth thinking about, and the ideas are worth thinking about several times, even if at first I can’t figure out what to do with them.

Of course, it is not at all necessary to go all-in this way. Most people probably find this type of system overwhelming, but the beauty of plain text is how easy it is to solve such a problem. You can create folders or use an app that supports tags, in which case everything is organized without much hassle.

Plain text will never require a subscription, feature lockout, or going out of business

Plain text is ubiquitous. It works on any operating system and on every mobile device, no matter who is doing it. It can be read by a wide variety of applications. You will never run into file compatibility errors. You can transfer what you have written from one application to another without hesitation.

This is important because the tech industry loves to remind us that nothing lasts forever. We see applications closing all the time . They add a subscription fee . They block whatever feature you want behind a paywall . It’s annoying and if you invest in an app, be it a note-taking app or a to-do app, you often have to pay money for a lot of features you don’t need. Plain text doesn’t suffer from this problem because it is universally readable across all platforms, let alone the basics of good computing as we know it.

Likewise, regular text will never change. Where an application can be updated with new features and a new user interface, plain text is almost always plain text. I will never open an app to find a new design that I hate, or a new user experience that I need to learn. Text editors can change, but there will always be different, and they will never work by subscription only. This is really important to me. I use plain text every day for simple tasks. I don’t need anything to prevent me from writing the text as quickly as possible.

Where I gave up on plain text

Sure, saving everything as plain text even with a decent management app like Simplenote gets a little crazy. I’ve ditched plain text in favor of apps in a couple of places to make things easier.

A big step for me has been taken with recipes. I replaced a ton of randomly chained together ingredients in a semi-organized text file using Paprika’s recipe manager . Recipe management is a plain text chore and the paprika made it enjoyable.

Likewise, any open-ended long texts I write go through Google Docs , Microsoft Word, or Ulysses (which are actually plain text, slightly enhanced), whichever is needed. Even so, I often start with plain text to put words on the page before sending it to another application for formatting and editing. Writing in a format such as Markdown is great for this. You can write plain text, add simple formatting, and then export this plain text file to various RTF formats, including HTML, PDF, or DOC.

There are also tasks that I used to use plain text that have become unnecessary over the years. With services like Spotify , I no longer need to keep a list of music recommendations. Likewise, Amazon’s wishlists allow me to ditch books, comics, games, movies, and any other recommendation I used to store in a single text file in favor of well-organized shopping lists.

So nowadays, all of my plain text files are creative endeavors along with to-do lists. It’s a jumble of things that someone else could probably organize better, but I love that these things live together in the same applications. It seems to me that even my wildest ideas are a little more achievable.


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