What’s the Bare Minimum You Need to Be Productive with Plain Text?

by: Scott Nesbitt | 19 March 2019

That’s a simple question. But it can also be a loaded question.

Why? While I believe that plain text, and the tools around it, should be as simple as possible, some people create complex toolchains and workflows. If that works for them, great. It’s not for everyone, though.

Having said that, I’d like to spend a few hundred words looking at the bare minimum of what you need to be productive with plain text.

A Text Editor

The only tool that most people need to work in plain text is a text editor. It doesn’t have to be a high-powered one, either. That editor could be the default text editor that comes with your operating system — yes, I’m talking about Notepad, TextEdit, or gedit.

Believe it or not, everyone has different needs when it comes to a text editor. Some people need one like Emacs or Vim or BBEdit or Atom or Notepad++. Others don’t. It’s a matter of what’s right for what you want and need to do.

A basic text editor isn’t useless. Not in the least. You can use one to write, take notes, create task lists and journals and schedules. And a lot more. I’m speaking from experience, in case you’re wondering.


Just as important as having the editor that’s right for you is having templates for what you need to do. Templates aren’t essential, but they can make certain jobs easier.

How? By providing structure and consistency. You don’t have to wing it every time you start a new text file. You can, at a glance, understand what you need to put into that. Templates can make you a little more efficient and productive.


Some people only work in a single laptop or desktop computer. Others don’t — they also work on other computers, on tablets, and on their phones. Copying files between devices or emailing them to yourself is fraught with problems.

Instead, it’s better to sync your files. There are a number of no-cost, low-cost, and free/open source tools and services for doing that. It’s just a matter of choosing the one that best suits your needs.

Anything Else?

That depends on you. You might want to use a plain text note-taking application like Standard Notes or Simplenote. You might want to use a plain text to-do list tool. You might need to employ the services of Pandoc every so often.

Just remember to tailor your plain text workflow and tool chain to your needs. Keep it as simple as it needs to be. Don’t adopt a plain text tool because some productivity guru or writer or blogger tells you that you need to. Use what you need to. If you find you need something more, than broaden your horizons. Otherwise, stick with what you have. Chances are it’s more than enough for what you need to do.

I’ll be talking more about keeping things simple in a future article.