The Derisive Moment :: My overly complicated journey to simplicity.

The Derisive Moment

Todo List Format

October 4th, 2007

I’ve been thinking about making a list-to-HTMLifier lately. An HTML version of my lists could have nice checkboxes and pretty formatting, and when printed out will allow me the satisfaction of physically checking items off–an unnaturally good feeling.

I almost used markdown to maintain my lists, but the lack of checkboxes was a dealbreaker for me. Perhaps I should have tried to extend it. Oh well.

Now I maintain my lists as regular text files, with very little markup. While I’m guilty of faltering, I try to make sure that the majority of what I add are discrete actions. These, being the highest and most noble form of “to do” item, get a pseudo ASCII checkbox, ala:

[ ] Bring clock to work

[ ] Sort pending photos into the next DVD
[ ] ..burn photo DVD

Obviously these will render as HTML checkboxes. Also, note that I nest subtasks that can’t be performed immediately. Until the higher-level tasks are completed, there’s no sense bothering with the lower ones.

One step below an actionable item is a project. GTD defines a project as anything requiring more than one action to complete it. So, we have:

{ } New Menu changes
[ ] Add 'current' class to currently selected item to highlight it
[ ] Make newly created items populate in 'current' directory, not default directory
[ ] Clean up class names--make a default

Those three tasks belong to the “New Menu changes” project. Note the squiggly braces. This could render as a radio button, perhaps. Or a larger checkbox.

To complicate things, I’m guilty of using my inbox.txt list to just hold random notes and thoughts, as well as specific actions and projects. I eventually filter these out into the appropriate list, but if some program is going to process and render ANY list, it needs to be able to process EVERY list–including the inbox. So, here are a few more formatting rules I try to apply across the board;

  • Lines starting with an asterisk are bullet-point items. Render as <li>.
  • Lines starting with dashes are section breaks. They could render as <hr />
  • Subsequent lines are to be grouped together if there is no blank line between them. This applies to bullet points, tasks, and projects.
  • An ‘x’ in the braces ( like [x] ) indicates that the task/project has been completed. Render this as a checked checkbox.

And, since I’m lazy and end up just typing unformatted junk at the end of my inbox half the time, the magic rule that saves me:

  • Lines with no special character at the beginning are free-form text. Render these as <p>text</p>

Now, armed with a very loose grammar, I can begin really thinking about a rendering engine for this.

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