Notes from a Floating Life Thoughts about productivity, digital living, and leading a simpler life

Doing It All In Plain Text

And you can do that using a combination of a text editor, Markdown, and Dropbox. Definitely not everything. But you can complete a number of your main tasks using plain text. I do that every day, and don’t miss the overhead and functionality (whatever that is) of the tools that many people claim to not be able to do without.

Transitioning to plain text is easier than you might believe. It’s a matter of setting your expectations, determining what you need to do, and choosing the right tools.

Let’s take a peek at how I approach working in plain text.

Focus On What You Need to Do

Obviously, plain text doesn’t work for all tasks — take dealing with graphics or working with a spreadsheet, for example. But using plain text for other tasks can actually make them easier. In what way? Working in plain text forces you to focus on the task at hand, and nothing else. No fancy formatting. No features you’ll rarely, if ever, use or need. Nothing but you and your work.

For me, the tasks that I’m thinking about boil down to:

  • Writing
  • Journaling
  • Task management
  • Blogging
  • Taking notes

Yes, those tasks revolve around my professional life. But there is definitely a lot of overlap with my personal life as well. Why those tasks? They all involve words, and plain text is perfect for them.

Picking Your Tools

While I use a number of web-based tools to do the tasks I mentioned, you don’t necessarily need to use them. You can take advantage of the tools that you already use — whether on the desktop, on your mobile device, or on the web.

Here are the main tools that I use:

Not only do those tools allow me to do my work quickly and efficiently, I’m not confined to a single device. Plus, they’re all simple enough to quickly learn and shift between when the time comes.

Markdown and Dropbox

While I don’t jump from device to device, computer to computer in the way some people do, there definitely are times when I’m not working at my main laptop. Because of that, Markdown and Dropbox are essential tools for working in plain text.

Why are they essential? Because not all my devices have the same software on them, Markdown enforces consistency in what I write. It’s common format that provides a kind of glue across everything I do in plain text. And if need be, I can easily convert a document formatted in Markdown to a word processor format.

Dropbox, on the other hand, makes sure that all my files are in one place. As you may or may not know, I hate shuffling files around. Using Dropbox, I don’t have to worry about that. An added bonus is that all the tools that I use to work in plain text also let me seamlessly work with Dropbox.

What About Jobs I Can’t Do in Plain Text?

I’m not deluded enough to believe that you can do everything that you need to do in plain text. There are a number of areas in which plain text falls flat. But I don’t let that be a deal breaker. Neither should you. I do what any sensible person would do: I mix my tools. I use what I need to use for the tasks at hand and don’t bother trying to find an all-in-one solution. It doesn’t exist.

And that’s the key to working in plain text: knowing what you need to do, what you can do, and having the tools to do the job. When you set your expectations and have a plan, working in plain text becomes a lot easier.

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