Todo.txt is a bash script for managing a todo list in a plain text todo.txt file:

$ add Go grocery shopping
1 Go grocery shopping
TODO: 1 added.
$ add Feed the cat
2 Feed the cat
TODO: 2 added.
$ add Feed the dog
3 Feed the dog
TODO: 3 added.
$ ls
1 Go grocery shopping
2 Feed the cat
3 Feed the dog
TODO: 3 of 3 tasks shown

I find that I can never make the habit of using any other todo app stick, but todo.txt works because it puts my todo list right at my fingertips very immediately whether I’m in a shell or in vim (since you can just open the todo.txt file and edit it directly).

If you put the todo.txt file in Dropbox then you also get continuous cloud backup and syncing between devices and you can read and edit the file on your phone. I don’t use any particular todo.txt app on my phone, I just use the Dropbox app’s built-in ability to view and edit plain text files.

Todo.txt doesn’t give you much that you wouldn’t get by just having a todo.txt file that you open in a text editor. It just provides a simple file format to follow and a script with some convenient commands for working with the todo.txt file. There are actually desktop and mobile todo.txt apps but I don’t use any of those.

There’s no due dates or scheduled or recurring reminders, at least not without add-ons. I use the Reminders app on my phone for a lot of life-admin reminders and use that app’s scheduled and recurring reminders. I use todo.txt for keeping track of my while-at-the-computer work tasks, and I don’t need scheduled or recurring reminders for that.

This post is my quick-start guide to installing, configuring and using todo.txt.


You can install todo.txt with Homebrew, apt, pacman or make, but it’s just a single-file bash script so the easiest way to install todo.txt is just to download a tarball of the latest release and extract the and todo.cfg files into a directory.

I place both files in a TODO.txt folder in my Dropbox folder and add that TODO.txt dir to my shell’s PATH (for fish just add fish_add_path ~/Dropbox/TODO.txt to your file). This way todo.txt gets automatically “installed” on any computer that I have Dropbox installed on. Just make sure the script is marked as executable: chmod u+x ~/Dropbox/TODO.txt/

The downside of this approach is you won’t automatically get upgraded if they release a new version. But new versions of todo.txt are rarely released, and you can subscribe to their GitHub releases feed and manually update your file if they do release one.


The todo.cfg file that you placed in your Dropbox/TODO.txt folder is todo.txt’s config file. According to help this file is supposed to be located at ~/.todo/config but actually looks for the config file in a number of locations including a todo.cfg file in the same directory as the script, so placing todo.cfg alongside in Dropbox/TODO.txt works.

The default config file documents many of the settings that you can use in todo.cfg and there’s also some more listed in

Here are the settings that I use:

export TODO_DIR=$(dirname "$0")

export TODO_FILE="$TODO_DIR/todo.txt"
export DONE_FILE="$TODO_DIR/done.txt"
export REPORT_FILE="$TODO_DIR/report.txt"
export TODO_ACTIONS_DIR="$TODO_DIR/actions"


The export TODO_DIR=$(dirname "$0"), which comes from the default todo.cfg file, sets $TODO_DIR to the directory containing the script, i.e. the Dropbox/TODO.txt folder. So the four lines that follow configure to look for its todo.txt file, done.txt file, report.txt file and actions folder all in the Dropbox/TODO.txt folder.

export TODOTXT_SORT_COMMAND='sort' makes print out todo list items in the same line order as they appear in the todo.txt file. By default it seems to print them rearranged into alphabetical order which I thought was a bit odd, especially because I like to manually arrange the tasks in the file into the order that I intend to do them in.

export TODOTXT_DEFAULT_ACTION=ls means that just running with no action will list all tasks instead of printing the help.

export TODOTXT_AUTO_ARCHIVE=0 and export TODOTXT_PRESERVE_LINE_NUMBERS=1 prevent the do and rm commands from changing the line numbers of the remaining uncompleted tasks, which can be confusing and lead to mistakes.


Adding tasks

Use add <task> to add a task to your todo list:

$ add Go grocery shopping
1 Go grocery shopping
TODO: 1 added.

This can also be shortened to a <task>:

$ a Take out the trash
2 Take out the trash
TODO: 2 added

There’s also an addm command for adding multiple tasks at once. You have to start and end the multiline argument with quotes:

$ addm "Go grocery shopping
       Take out the trash
       Feed the dog"
3 Go grocery shopping
TODO: 3 added.
4 Take out the trash
TODO: 4 added.
5 Feed the dog
TODO: 5 added.

You can use -t to prepend the creation date to a task when adding it:

$ -t add Feed the dog
4 2022-11-04 Feed the dog
TODO: 4 added.

Or put export TODOTXT_DATE_ON_ADD=1 in your todo.cfg to have it always prepend the date when adding tasks.

Listing tasks

Use list or ls to print out your todo list:

$ ls
1 Go grocery shopping
2 Take out the trash
TODO: 2 of 2 tasks shown

The ls command takes an optional list of filter terms that can be used to filter which tasks are printed:

$ ls grocery
1 Go grocery shopping
TODO: 1 of 2 tasks shown

If multiple filter terms are given then only tasks that match all the terms are printed. You can print tasks that contain either TERM1 or TERM2 with ls TERM1\\|TERM2. You can print tasks that don’t contain TERM with ls -TERM.

The todo.txt file

The todo list is stored in a plain text file that you can can read or edit in any text editor. The location of the file is determined by the TODO_FILE setting in todo.cfg. The file format is simply one task per line:

$ cat ~/Dropbox/TODO.txt/todo.txt
Go grocery shopping
Take out the trash

Completed tasks are lines that begin with x. Task lines can also contain optional priorities, completed dates, creation dates, projects, contexts, and key:value tags. The rest of this post explains what all these features are and how to use them. Here’s an example task line from the TODO.txt docs showing all the features:

x (A) 2016-05-20 2016-04-30 measure space for +chapelShelving @chapel due:2016-05-30

From left to right:

  1. An optional leading x marks a task as completed.
  2. If a task is not completed then it may optionally start with a parenthesised capital letter to assign a priority to a task from (A) (highest) to (Z) (lowest). Completed tasks can’t have priorities, the t do command removes any priority from the task’s line.
  3. For completed tasks, after the leading x a date in YYYY-MM-DD format specifies the task’s completion date.
  4. For uncompleted tasks, after any optional priority a date in YYYY-MM-DD format specifies the task’s creation date. A completed task can have both a completed date and a creation date by having two dates one after another (completed date first).
  5. One or more project tags like +chapelShelving can appear anywhere in the task’s description.
  6. One or more context tags like @chapel can appear anywhere in the task’s description.
  7. One or more key:value tags like due:2016-05-30 can appear anywhere in the task’s description. doesn’t do anything special with key:value tags but custom actions can use them to add new features.

See todo.txt’s docs for full documentation of the file format.

Completing and archiving tasks, and the done.txt file

Use done or do to mark a task as done, using the line number to identify the task to mark:

$ do 2
2 x 2022-11-04 Take out the trash
TODO: 2 marked as done

You can give multiple space-separated numbers to complete multiple tasks at once. As well as marking the task as completed by prepending a leading x, do will also remove any priority and insert the completion date.

By default completing a task also archives it: moves the task from todo.txt into done.txt, which means it’ll no longer show up in the output of ls. I don’t like auto-archiving because it can change the line numbers of the remaining tasks. This can be confusing because line numbers shown in any previous ls output in your terminal session may no longer be correct. For example if you type another do <NUMBER> command based on a line number that you can still see in the output from a previous ls command then you might complete the wrong task. You can disable auto-archiving with with the -a argument: -a do <NUMBER>, or with export TODOTXT_AUTO_ARCHIVE=0 in your todo.cfg file.

With auto-archiving disabled completed tasks will still be in todo.txt but just marked as done. They’ll still show in the output of ls:

1 Go grocery shopping
2 x 2022-11-04 Take out the trash
TODO: 2 of 2 tasks shown

To get rid of them you can use the archive command, which moves completed tasks from todo.txt into done.txt (and does change the line numbers of the remaining tasks in todo.txt):

$ archive
x 2022-11-04 Take out the trash
TODO: /Users/seanh/Dropbox/TODO.txt/todo.txt archived.
$ ls
1 Go grocery shopping
TODO: 1 of 1 tasks shown

The listall or lsa command list all tasks from both todo.txt and done.txt. lsa takes the same filter term arguments as ls does. listfile done.txt or lf done.txt will list only the tasks from your done.txt file and again accepts filter term arguments.

Deleting tasks

Instead of marking an item as done you can delete it with del or rm. This will simply delete the line from your todo.txt file:

$ rm 2
Delete 'Feed the cat'?  (y/n)
2 Feed the cat
TODO: 2 deleted.

By default rm leaves a blank line where the deleted line was, so that the line numbers of the remaining lines don’t change. A subsequent archive will delete any blank lines from todo.txt as well as moving any done tasks into done.txt. If you don’t want a blank line to be left behind you can pass the -n argument to -n rm <line_number> or put export TODOTXT_PRESERVE_LINE_NUMBERS=0 in your todo.cfg.

Editing tasks

The easiest way to edit existing lines in your todo.txt file is just to open it in a text editor. But does provide some commands for editing tasks:


You can assign a priority to a task with pri or just p. A priority is just a parenthesised capital letter at the beginning of the line, from A (highest) to Z (lowest):

$ pri 3 A
3 (A) Feed the dog
TODO: 3 prioritized (A).

ls prints prioritised items in colour and bold. To change the priority of an item just run pri again with a different priority. To remove the priority from an item run depri or dp:

$ depri 3
3 Feed the dog
TODO: 3 deprioritized.

listpri or lsp lists all prioritised tasks only. Or lsp A to list only priority A tasks, lsp A-C to list priority A, B or C tasks. lsp can also take the same term arguments as ls does to further filter the tasks.

Projects and contexts

You can add one or more projects (e.g. +garage_cleaning) and contexts (the place and situation where you’ll work on a task, e.g, @home) to a task by just using +<project> or @<context> anywhere in the task:

$ add Put away tools +garage_cleaning @home

ls can filter on projects and contexts like any other term, for example: ls +garage_cleaning or ls @home. Or use -+garage_cleaning or -@home to list only tasks that don’t have a project or context.

listproj or lsprj lists all the projects in todo.txt (not to be confused with lsp which lists prioritised tasks). listcon or lsc lists all contexts.

Multiple todo files

You can have multiple todo files in your TODO.txt folder and use addto to add tasks to a file other than todo.txt, for example a somedaymaybe.txt file. You have to create the file yourself first, won’t create the file for you (touch Dropbox/TODO.txt/somedaymaybe.txt). Then:

$ addto somedaymaybe.txt Water the plants
1 Water the plants

To list the contents of a file other than todo.txt use listfile or lf:

$ lf somedaymaybe.txt
1 Water the plants
SOMEDAYMAYBE: 1 of 1 tasks shown

If you run lf with no arguments it’ll list the available files for you.

You can move items between files with move or mv:

$ mv 2 somedaymaybe.txt
Move 'Feed the dog' from Dropbox/TODO.txt/todo.txt to Dropbox/TODO.txt/somedaymaybe.txt? (y/n)
2 Feed the dog
TODO: 2 moved from 'Dropbox/TODO.txt/todo.txt' to 'Dropbox/TODO.txt/somedaymaybe.txt'.

Or pass two filename arguments to mv to move a task from another file back into todo.txt (or to move a task between two arbitrary files):

$ mv 2 todo.txt somedaymaybe.txt
Move 'Feed the dog' from Dropbox/TODO.txt/somedaymaybe.txt to Dropbox/TODO.txt/todo.txt? (y/n)
2 Feed the dog
TODO: 2 moved from 'Dropbox/TODO.txt/somedaymaybe.txt' to 'Dropbox/TODO.txt/todo.txt'.

Confusingly the destination file comes first: mv 2 todo.txt somedaymaybe.txt moves line 2 from somedaymaybe.txt into todo.txt not the other way round.

As far as I can tell commands like do, rm, append, prepend, replace, archive, pri, depri and others only work with todo.txt. There seems to be no way to operate on other files. I think you’re supposed to use lf to list the contents of files and then mv to move tasks into todo.txt before operating on them. Or edit the files directly in a text editor.

Custom actions add-ons can add new commands or override existing commands. Add-ons are just executable files in the TODO_ACTIONS_DIR set in your todo.cfg, written in any language. To install an add-on you just download the script file into your $TODO_ACTIONS_DIR and mark it executable. Then if you run foo it’ll execute the script at $TODO_ACTIONS_DIR/foo, passing any command line args to the script.

See Creating and Installing Add ons in the wiki for how to install add-ons or create your own, and the Add on Directory for a list of add-ons to download.

A few add-ons that I like are:

Notes are stored in a notes subdir in the same directory as your todo.txt files, one note file per task. The note files have short, randomly generated IDs for filenames and when you attach a note to a task a note:<filename>.txt tag is appended to the task’s todo.txt line to record which note belongs to the task.

It’s a good idea but the implementation seems poor: it has to override the built-in archive, del and rm commands which could clash with any other plugin that overrides those commands. And it makes you use separate note add and note edit commands instead of a single command that adds a note to a task or edits the task’s existing note. add <n> adds a note to task n and opens your $EDITOR to let you write the note. edit <n> edits task ns note in your $EDITOR. note show <n> prints out task ns note.

Fish shell integration

You’ll want to add fish_add_path ~/Dropbox/TODO.txt to your file so that you can run the command directly without having to type out the full path every time.

In addition I also add a couple of other todo.txt integrations into my fish config:

  1. I “abbreviate” as t so I can just type t Enter to print my todo list (since I also have export TODOTXT_DEFAULT_ACTION=ls in todo.cfg) or t Space to begin entering a command:

    abbr t
  2. I add the number of uncompleted tasks in my todo.txt file to my fish shell prompt. Here’s the relevant bit of fish script from my file:

    set todo_txt_file ~/Dropbox/TODO.txt/todo.txt
    if test -e $todo_txt_file
      set num_tasks (grep . $todo_txt_file | grep --count --invert-match '^x ')
      if test $num_tasks -gt 0
        set_color --bold yellow
        printf "{%s} " $num_tasks
        set_color normal

    This adds an {n} to my prompt where n is the number of uncompleted tasks in my todo.txt file. If there are no uncompleted tasks it doesn’t add anything to my prompt.

Vim integration

I put this in my vimrc file to bind <leader> t to open my todo.txt file from within vim:

nnoremap <leader>t :e ~/Dropbox/TODO.txt/todo.txt<Enter>

There’s also a couple of todo.txt plugins for vim but they look like they do a lot more than I’d want: lots of keybindings for editing tasks, sorting, etc. Maybe I’ll make a simple vim plugin one day that just does todo.txt syntax highlighting.