Friday, January 7, 2011

The Support Ninjas of Taskwarrior

It sounds like a 1950s adventure pulp/ era office comedy mash-up. Trust me, it is so much awesomer than that.

But let me start at the beginning.

I decided, secretly and to myself, that 2011 is going to be the year I get serious about writing. No more wishy-washy creativity-as-the-spirit-moves-me bunk. I'm going to attack the motherfucker head-on. I will crush my dilettantism -- See it driven before me, and hear the lamentation of its adverbs!


So as part of my new, improved, serious writer lifestyle, I decided I'm going to send way more shit out to the magazines I love and the projects I think are awesome.

One hitch.

I might as well set out to diagram every sentence of Gravity's Rainbow by hand as try to organize and track opening and closing submission periods, themed issue deadlines, and special project deadlines with my woefully inadequate spreadsheet.

I decided I must have one of these calender task project management thingies that tells me where I should be focusing my energy. Not least because I feel like I have a head full of cotton balls these days. Did you know stress fucks with your memory? Neither did I.

As an aside, I use Ubuntu Linux. I will thank you to keep your opinions about my geekery or lack thereof to yourself.

So my good friend Google spit out a bunch of suggestions for software that will manage tasks and projects. I installed them all. I've got wide open gigabytes of hard drive and they were all free, so why the hell not?

There were bells and whistles and shiny GTK UIs. There were sound alerts and blinking alerts and a veritable smörgåsbord of tagging and categorizing and projecting systems. I think one of them could generate reports in seventeen different languages.

But what I really wanted was simplicity. Back in my cyberpunk youth, I used get wet for the flash. (Not Flash. Adobe products don't get anyone hot.) Now I want it to just work. I don't want to spend thirty-seven hours editing config files to set all the options. I want that shit to work, intuitively, out of the box.

Which, counter-intuitively, means I've started a whole new love affair with command line software.

Amongst all these rapaciously expanding project management systems, there's this little thing called Taskwarrior[1]. It's pretty fucking zen. Just a package to install, and then it's you, the command line, and a tutorial. It's a good tutorial, plain English. You can follow it at four in the morning with sand in your eyes after the caffeine has worn off.

And it's got these layers. You've got the basics within a few minutes, adding and deleting tasks, setting due dates. You know, the stuff you want one of those life organizing solutions to do. And then, it's got this glorious complexity: interdependent tasks, linked together like paper-clips; waiting tasks, invisible until it's their time, or you summon them; charts, reports, filters, and schedules.

I compared it to chess on Twitter.

After studying the docs, I pulled up my command line, checked the tutorial, typed in my terminal, and lo, it did exactly what I wanted. I felt like a god.

I said so on Twitter.

Again, comments on my geekiness not needed. Trust me, I already know. So does the cat, who was a little disturbed when I sat bolt upright in bed, said "Booyah!" and pumped air.

I decided I'd add a daily writing task. Sometimes when the inspiration doesn't come calling, you gotta go and dig it up. (See my previous post.) At least it would be one thing I could cross off every day.

Ungodly hour of the morning, half cross-eyed from LCD glare, and I just can't figure out how to make it happen every day.

I say on Twitter, "My godhood is feeling slightly tarnished by my inability to figure out how to add one little daily repeating task to @taskwarrior."

I decided to call it a night. I know what I'm like, and no matter how good the documentation, at four thirty in the morning, I'm just setting myself up for frustration. So I stuck the laptop under the bed and read some of the Metazen Christmas E-book[2] on the Nook. (Excellent, by the way, and perfect for that time of morning. Lots of short, tasty pieces of literary delectableness.)

This morning, I pop into my email quick before breakfast. By "morning" I mean sometime around noon.

There's an email waiting in my inbox. I don't know the name, but I don't exactly hide my email address. It's only kind of strange because I don't get much unexpected email.

It's from a guy named Paul and the subject is "Taskwarrior recurring task." Inside, it says:

Frankie, try:

task add Do this and that due:today recur:daily

I know exactly what must have happened: Paul saw me talking about Taskwarrior on Twitter and went to the effort of clicking several links just to contact me with the solution to my problem. That may not sound like much, but in internet effort, that's like digging the Suez canal. By hand. Using a sippy cup for a shovel.

So I do what Paul says, and it works. I now have my daily recurring task. Booyah.

I write back, and say:

Hey Paul,

Thanks. That worked good. Internet magic, I say on Twitter and total
strangers email me the answer. That it so awesome.

Paul says back:

Hi Frankie,

Glad it worked. I may be a total stranger, but I still want taskwarrior to work for you.

Taskwarrior Support: We track you down and fix your problem.

Hear that? Taskwarrior has motherfucking support ninjas and a sense of humor.

(And some of the most comprehensive, comprehensible documentation I've seen. My inability to solve the recurring task thing was a function of my brain being fried, not their docs. I just feel I should add that. Full disclosure.)


[2]A Metazen Christmas E-book