How To Set Up a Desktop To-Do List with GeekTool in Mac OS X

If you’re one of those people who need to know what you need to do all the time, then putting a todo list on your desktop will help you immensely. Here’s how to create your own as a constant reminder.

Today, we’ll be showing you how to put a todo list on your desktop in OS X, and also a couple of tweaks you can make with our initial setup.

Initial Setup

First, you’ll need GeekTool. It’s a preference pane, so all you need to do to access it once it’s installed is go to System Preferences and click on the GeekTool icon, which should be in the last row in the “Other” section.

But before we do anything with GeekTool, we need to create our todo list file. Open your favorite text editor (I’d suggest something other than TextEdit) and type in some todos. Anything will work here, we just need a basic file. When you’re done, save it as a text file named todo.txt and put it on your desktop for easy access:

Now to configure GeekTool. When you first open GeekTool, it looks like this:

See those three icons labeled File, Image, and Shell? Those are known as Geeklets. You can drag them to the desktop to create a new Geeklet. The one we’ll need for our todo list is Shell, so drag that to the desktop:

When you select the new Geeklet, the options window pops up. This allows you to configure the Geeklet:

We’ll be using a terminal command known as cat to display our todo.txt file. So, to use cat to display our file, all we need to do is type cat ~/Desktop/todo.txt into the command field of our Geeklet options:

Your todo.txt file should be displayed on the desktop:

That’s it for the basic setup. Read on for some helpful tweaks and how to use it with Notational Velocity.


The first thing you’ll want to do with your new Geeklet is to make it pretty. Right now, our Geeklet uses black text and a small font, so to change that we’re going to go back to our Geeklet options and select “Set Font and Color”:

From there, you’ll get a font palette where you can choose which font and size to use. If you click on the white button on the top-right, you’ll get a color palette where you can choose the color:

The next thing you’ll want to do it to set the refresh interval. This will make it so you can just edit your todo.txt file and then have it automatically update on the desktop after a set period of time. To do this, go back to your Geeklet options and put in the number of seconds you want in the “Refresh every” field:

That’s it for basic tweaks, but there’s one more: setting up your todo.txt file in Notational Velocity, a notes application. Read on to see how.

Setup in Notational Velocity

Notational Velocity is one of my favorite applications. I keep all my important ideas and notes in it. So, rather than opening my todo.txt file in a text editor every time I want to change it, I keep it in Notational Velocity.

Of course, first you’ll need Notational Velocity. Once it’s installed, you’ll want to go to Preferences and go to the “Storage” tab. Select “Plain Text Files” from the dropdown menu and you’re good:

Now, you can create a new todo file in Notational Velocity and it’ll create a text file that you can read from with GeekTool. But, since our file is in a different place we’ll have to modify the command we use to read it:

cat ~/Library/Application\ Support/Notational\ Data/todo.txt

One of the huge advantages of having your todo list in Notational Velocity is that it can sync with SimpleNote, so you can use theĀ iOS app and mNote for Android to make your todo list accessible from anywhere.

Alex is a Mac geek and former hackintosher, as well as other stuff.