Unhappy with mandatory taskpaper pasteboard format [Solved: no longer mandatory in 2.7]

I am unhappy with Omnifocus using Taskpaper as a mandatory pasteboard format in iOS and now in the Mac 2.7 build. This is not helpful to me, and I suspect it is not helpful to the majority of users. I spend a lot more time communicating with people than with programs, and a simple text format is what I need. (Yes, I sent this in as a feature request: please make pasting readable by average humans.)

I am particularly concerned that this may indicate that the OF dev team is out of touch with average users. This feeling is reinforced by the feeble support for themes, which requires a level of skill (and patience) far beyond a typical user.

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Interesting comment. Maybe @SupportHumans could register a feature request to make it configurable?

He, not sure how something as complex as entering entries in a database can be made “simple” without. Imposing structure I guess in the end OF gives you plenty of ways to enter data Taskpaper is just another (pretty much I think to allow templating in iOS). It’s just a matter of choice.

As for theming, again it’s there, your not forced to use it, same applies to writing apple scripts for automation. These are just add ons for the more technically inclined. Does the “average user” if there is such a thing need half of what most modern software can do?

What would a “simple text format” look like? I have always thought of Taskpaper format as exactly that.

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I’m guessing it would be a tab-delimited format that is easily pasted into a spreadsheet?

how about a “pro feature” that allows to specify the format directly? (though this might be too advanced for many)

  • [x] taskpaper
  • [ ] classic
  • [ ] custom

when picking custom, the user can add his own specification for each row in the form of “- @title: @context (@completed_date)” which would then render

- task1: home (10.12.2016 3:21pm)
- task2: office (10.12.2016 3:22pm)

@dvcrn umm…you want Omni to spend developer time writing a new parser that can handle the edge cases of a tiny percentage of users who want to use an arbitrary text format? I’d expect that any user who can come up with a new specification and produce files in that format can also pipe those files into sed & put them into TaskPaper format.

And…there are a ton of resources out there for working with TP files - see http://www.macdrifter.com/2014/02/the-taskpaper-rd-notebook.html . Since that post, Editorial support for TP has been built in natively, and users have produced a few dozen workflows, and TP 3 for the Mac has been released and is under very active development.


- task1 @context("home") @completed(10.12.2016 3:21pm)

more human-readable anyway?

Simple text can be read by simple humans. Suppose I have an errand called Groceries that I need to do. In Things, the iOS share sheet produces


Due: 9/7/16

Now I would argue that you could include information like the project and tag, but as it stands, if you send that to Fantastical, you get just what you want. If you email something to someone, you get something that is immediately useful.

In Omnifocus, you get something like

  • Groceries @flagged @context(Out : Groceries : Schnucks)

perhaps with omnifocus:///task… appended.

This requires processing by Workflow or by hand to make it useful to other programs or to other humans. This is not smart behavior. It’s like requiring everyone to read the raw source of email for every email they receive.

Of course, if you do use the share sheet to produce email in iOS OF, it produces a slick looking thing that lets recipients add the task to OF. However, approximately 0 of the people I work with have ever heard of Omnifocus, and they don’t know what to make of it. A few use Mail, the BSD mail client, so that’s fun and helpful for everyone. I can live with it, though.

I would like to say something about the future of the Taskpaper format: I think it’s not going anywhere. Hog Bay has withdrawn from the iOS market (and yes, there are at least two clones based on the iOS source code). I don’t really need Taskpaper if I’m using Omnifocus, and I think the user base will just dwindle away. When was the last time you heard something new about todo.txt? If people with more time than I have want pasting Taskpaper format as an option, that’s fine. It’s the “mandatory option” that’s not fine.

Hang on… OF shows due tasks in a calendar app (if you turn that function on) and reminders have an alarm, and should not go into a calendar anyway so not sure where your issue is? Plus of course you can share calendars. If your trying to use OF to collaborate on projects its the wrong app!

Taskpaper is not dead, just mature, it basically works as is, and its a “language” (in a very basic sense) not a proprietary format like OF or Word, will it die? Possibly nearly everything does, and that includes OF, Wunderlist Things (if not already dead), 2Do etc etc.

No one forces TP format on anyone, there is a perfectly good UI built into OF for entering tasks in a natural language way, and I can send mail, URL’s text clippings etc to OF via the share sheet perfectly. OF tends to be one way though, get it in, do it, not sure what you want to “share”, as I said its not a collaboration tool.

Natural language in OF is a completely different thing than natural language in fantastical, but I am not sure if your talking about natural language in or out? Out could be done if its not already I am sure, in is very different. A quick scenario, two lists called finance, one in a personal folder, one in Business, trying to cover all bases would very quickly subvert any attempt at natural language, unless it was at a very basic level, and then people would be shouting for details, tags, due dates etc.

Basically Devs can never win, (some) users are never satisfied, a simple fact of life

Calendars are just representative. However, I might want (and do want) to have manual control over what goes on my calendar, not just everything in OF that’s due, which is what a feed does. I might, for example, want to schedule time to work on a particular task. I do agree that OF is not a collaboration app. I don’t need or want one. Nor do I care particularly about natural language.

I agree that OF tends to be one way: in. I think that’s wrong. Unix taught us (ok, some of us- I go back to version 7) that there is value in easy, human-readable communication between programs. I want to easily pull small bits of information out of OF and put it somewhere else: Day One, Ever Note, email, a group calendar I have to use, some app that doesn’t exist yet. Once it’s there, I want to easily modify it. Plain text makes sense for this, not Taskpaper and not XML. Taskpaper is a forced choice that makes no sense for 99% of what I do.

Cut and paste? Its what it was designed for :)

Share sheets are easier and faster than cut and paste. It’s what they are designed for. Suppose you wanted to grab title, due date and notes. Three cut-n-paste’s plus app switches versus two touches.

You realize that TaskPaper is a plain-text format right? Just one that specifies a semantic structure rather than relying on whitespace. And that you don’t need the Mac or iOS TaskPaper programs to read or generate tp files?

I’ve been using TP for close to ten years and use the format pretty much anywhere I need to outline or structure a list, regardless of what program I’m writing in at the moment.

Anyway here’s how I solved the TP->Fantastical issue a few years ago:

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The thing I like about taskpaper is that it’s simple plain text, easy to parse by a human or shell script, and well-documented and capable of handling what OmniFocus can give it.

Just to be clear: Yes, I know Taskpaper format is plain text; I’ve known about Taskpaper for as long as it has been around. No, my secretary is never going to learn to read it. Yes, I can write a script to turn it into something readable by her. No, I really don’t want to. I gave that sort of thing up a long time ago: my systems have to work when I’m sick or sleep-deprived or traveling through the desert with no internet, and need to be as simple and reliable as possible.

I don’t think I am being unreasonable: I think the default behavior should be clear and easily readable by someone with few technical skills. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

I have the perfect solution, pen and paper.

Joking aside, sometimes you just have to say “it is what it is” accept the compromises or move on. If the pluses outweigh the minuses fine carry on, but sometimes something is just a deal breaker, which for you this would seem to be.

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Thank you for the feedback about this. We’re adding a preference which will let you control this behavior by opening the following links on a device:

This preference will be available in this evening’s test build of 2.7 for Mac (r269068, which should be posted within the hour), and will also be coming to iOS in v2.18.


Well there you go.

To continue off-topic, when I was living (for nearly two years) in a part of rural Africa where I only had access to electricity every 6-8 weeks or so, I used a purely pen-and-paper task tracking system, complete with weekly reviews (based on that in ch. 14 of the canonical anthropology methods text - https://www.amazon.com/Research-Methods-Anthropology-Qualitative-Quantitative/dp/0759108684 ). It worked great.

The wonderful irony is that the best format I’ve found for transcribing the 2800 or so pages of hand-written notes that I collected is TaskPaper format. Every tag that I had written in the margins in red ink becomes a TaskPaper tag in the transcription, then I can filter and search my transcriptions in ways that otherwise require qualitative data analysis software (NVivo, MaxQDA etc.) costing 10x as much.

Thanks so much!

A post was merged into an existing topic: Automation in OmniFocus 2.14 (released 2016-04-26)