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Markdown and GTD: A Perfect Synergy?

by Kerry Dawson
Many GTD practitioners use Markdown—and vice versa. Alain Latour explains why that’s no coincidence, and describes the best way to embrace both.

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In the world of the productivity-obsessed, Apple fans, and geeks of all stripes, many people end up embracing similar tools.

Markdown and GTD are among such tools. I know this because we share a love for both here at the Daily Mac View, as do many of our readers.

Surprising? Only on the surface. Admittedly, GTD was devised as an agnostic organizational method, while Markdown was originally designed to be an easy alternative to HTML. And while some fans of plain text already use Markdown to create simple to-dos, it’s not immediately obvious how or why Markdown should appeal to GTDers.

Feathers of a Same Bird

Yet when you look closer, it becomes obvious that Markdown and GTD have important traits in common—ones that would motivate people to use both of them.

That’s because Markdown and GTD weren’t just created to make people’s lives easier— they were created to help you focus on what really matters.

In fact, in an ideal scenario, neither Markdown nor GTD should be on the top of your mind as you go about your day, but should simply fade into the background, only popping back in as needed.

image reading: Am I inventing things to do to avoid the important?
Always a useful reminder.

For example, a writer like myself can use GTD to organize his articles and Markdown to write them. GTD would help me focus on what actually matters—the writing—without worrying about other remembering or organizing other to-dos. As for Markdown, it would help me focus on the writing itself, all while freeing me of formatting issues and other distractions.

Going Too Far?

But it can go further than this. For example, some people have integrated Markdown into their GTD workflow, which liberates them from having to purchase and use any other tools or software like Things or Omnifocus.

Take this blogger who came up with a plain text-based GTD system. Or take Rob Heggen, whose GTD system does away with any GTD-specific software. Instead, it revolves around synced text files and lists of next actions and projects.

Yet neither system is without serious flaws.

The former requires an awful lot of copying and pasting. (Its author ended up developing a syntax of his own, which he calls an “over-simplified markdown syntax”.) The latter system requires third party software, like Marked or nvALT, to parse Markdown’s syntax.

What’s more, although services like Dropbox and iCloud let these users sync across different computers and devices, their systems still lack in features which most GTDers would likely agree are handy, excepts perhaps for those folks who only use pen and paper. For example, among other features, I would miss Things’ Quick Entry feature and its integration with Siri.

An Idea Worth Saving?

screenshot of Cheddar app

A few developers have attempted to eliminate the limitations of using Markdown for GTD purposes.

The Cheddar app is Markdown compatible, pushes to all your devices, and is purportedly simple to use. (However, it lets you have only two lists, so it’s not a great fit for GTD users.)

Share-Brain claims to integrate Markdown with GTD, and MarkDown ToDo, a plugin for Sublime Text, lets you manage to-do lists in Markdown files.

But with the plethora GTD-specific software available, you have to ask yourself: is it really that advantageous to use Markdown for GTD? More importantly, are you overcomplicating things or needlessly optimizing your system?


Both Markdown and GTD will prevent you from wasting time on the unimportant stuff, be it remembering things or spending endless time on formatting. (Markdown has the added benefit of making sure your information is future-proof.)

For these reasons alone, it makes perfect sense to use both GTD and Markdown. But in my opinion, this does not eliminate the need to have a separate, third-party GTD-specific tool like Things.

Photo credit: Steve Blom via Flickr.


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