Plain Text as a Force Multiplier

In military science, there’s a concept called force multiplication. That concept:

refers to a factor or a combination of factors that gives personnel or weapons (or other hardware) the ability to accomplish greater feats than without it

When it comes to personal and professional productivity, plain text can act as your force multiplier. Because of its flexibility, plain text enables you to do more.

Plain text enables you to work anywhere, with any operating system and with any application that can handle plain text. You’re not limited to a desktop or laptop computer, either. You can easily take plain text mobile or to the web.

With plain text, you don’t need to worry about having the same software across the board. You don’t need to worry about losing formatting or fonts. I wrote the initial draft of this article on my phone using the Standard Notes mobile app and a folding Bluetooth keyboard. I then finished writing the article, and converted it to HTML, on my laptop.

You don’t need complex tools or workflows to us plain text. All you really need is a simple text editor and, if you work on multiple computers and devices, a way to synchronize files between those computers and devices. That’s not to say you can’t use more complex tools and workflows when you need to. At its core, though, plain text is about minimalism and simplicity.

Plain text resists entropy and lock in to apps and file formats. If your favourite tool ceases to exist one day, you can continue working on your plain text files by shifting to another tool. That shift should be fairly seamless. You’ll just need to take a little time to adapt to that new tool.

By embracing plain text, you can just work. You can stay on top of whatever need to stay on top of — notes and tasks, your schedule or journal, an article or blog post or book chapter. Mating plain text with a markup language can give you even more flexibility. You work in the editor of your choice and, when the time comes, convert your files to other formats. You can, for example, format a document using LaTeX and convert it to a PDF using the tools in the LaTeX toolchain. Or you could work in Markdown and convert your files to the word processor format of your choice using Pandoc.

I won’t say that plain text is the ultimate productivity tool. For some, it isn’t. And that’s OK. For those of us who embrace plain text, it truly can be a force multiplier. One that removes the friction from our work, and which helps us become and stay productive.