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Managing notes and todos

What I've tried so far to manage notes and todolists.

We all write notes while working. There are plenty of software available to maintain your notes or todo lists. Some are fancy desktop decorators like sticky notes, calendars or todo-list in side bar. I’ve been looking for a solution that lets me manage my notes and todo-lists. Many of the items out there does either notes or todo-lists; not both. Ideally, I would prefer just writing notes and todo’s automatically extracted from it. I zeroed in on six main contenders – explained in the order I used them.

  1. Leo Outliner
  2. Abstractspoon Todolist
  3. Wikidpad
  4. Jello Dashboard
  5. MonkeyGTD
  6. TVO – The Vim Outliner

So, what is the pick?

Leo Outliner

Fabulous application that is intended for literal programming, though I never could get to program with it. However, it is great for writing documents using reStructuredText and for maintaining your ideas. New versions are released very often – it is one of the more actively developed applications I’ve seen. It is quite nicely extensible with Python – though I’ve never tried it. It comes with VIM plugin to help you edit text in your favourite editor.
Managing todolists is easy – you can just make some nodes by status and nodes by contexts and projects. Leo has a great feature called cloning – you can make one node and clone it as many times as you want. Move the clones under appropriate status, contexts and projects. Leo supports lot of keyboard navigation short-cuts that makes this very easy. If you make all these nodes under some node that denotes an rst document, you can format content using reStructuredText and with just a double-click generate HTML pages that is your project documentation, or your todolist or your done-list!

It is a little high on memory usage and the Tk drawn UI may not be to everyone’s liking.

Abstractspoon Todolist

This is an excellent application. You can maintain a hierarchy of tasks, set assignments, track time spent and even convert from Microsoft Project. Very nice, easy to install and share and takes very little memory. Data is stored as XML and you can easily process it using your own custom tools. If you are looking for a perfect todo list manager for Windows OS, look no further.

However, primarily this is a todo list; not a note taker. So, for my current purpose, this was not a good match. Also, I need an application that lets me edit quickly. The UI is great for managing lists, but to update data, little too much mousing is required.


Wikidpad is a desktop wiki. It is excellent in maintaining a wiki and has pre-defined queries that can extract your todo-list very nicely. I used this for a year and still use it at times. It is very easily extensible, if you know Python. As a personal wiki, I think this has no match really.

I have to use Trac and MoinMoin regularly and I found that using one more Wiki syntax getting to my nerves. Wikidpad is slightly on the higher side of memory usage.

Two enhancements I would love to have in Wikidpad are:

  1. Ability to edit text using external editor. Unlike web based wikis where I can use Firefox with Mozex plugin to edit text using VIM, Wikidpad forces me to use its own editor.
  2. Plugin to support either Trac or MoinMoin format. I think it should be quite easily possible.

Jello Dashboard

If you use Microsot Outlook a lot, get this guy today. Fantastic application to help you GTD. Among the GTD applications out there, I think this one has the most intuitive user interface.

I find that having Outlook open all the time is an irritation. Mainly because it takes up unnecessary RAM and CPU. Another annoyance is the new e-mail notifications (you can turn this off in Outlook 2003 by right clicking on the system tray icon and unchecking show new mail desktop alert option. Also, I don’t fancy Outlook Notes much.


For sheer brilliance of the idea, TiddlyWiki stands out. MonkeyGTD is an enhancement of this. Works very well for maintaining a wiki and your todolist. All you need is a browser. Editing text is also not a problem with Firefox+Mozex+VIM.

Stuff I would like to see as enhancements in this are:

  1. Better way to upgrade to newer versions
  2. Ability to quickly add a task
  3. Ability to view all tasks (this is there) with project, context and the status information next to it. This makes it easy for me to review the tasks and choose which should be next action.

TVO – The Vim Outliner

Just about the perfect application, if you like VIM editor. For GTD, I just use some tags that highlight the actions. Then I’ve another outline file purely for actions with several headlines that indicate the status (next, wait, later, done, trash). Simply yanking and pasting stuff under different headlines is all it takes – same philosophy as I explained under Leo.

For note taking, simple formatting for bold, italics etc are available. With this Vim tip #306, I can open links directly from VIM.

TVO comes with a collection of scripts that can be used to generate HTML, Trac markup etc. I got couple of other scripts from the Web that generates S5 presentations too.

What I miss in TVO – formatting for tables and code blocks. At least some way I can put some markup that are handled by the format conversion scripts.

I’ve pretty much zeroed in on Leo and TVO.