Capturing Ideas Revisited – Text Files

July 19, 2010

As I described in the intro to this series, I have split my ideas bucket into two separate systems. It was a decision I didn’t take lightly as it violated my principle that one app is better than two for the sake of reliability and simplicity. In a later post, I’ll explain why Yojimbo is still valuable to me. But this one is really all about…

Text Files.

Notational VelocityThe intro mentions a two headed monster of Simplenote and Notational Velocity as the new addition to my idea capture system. But it’s really not about those apps so much as it is about straight text files. Those just happen to be the best apps, for now anyway, to access the data in my text files.

Here’s why I’ve started using straight text files as part of my capture workflow:

  • Sync and Availability – I have already described the setup in my iPad Writing Workflow post. In short, all of my text files sit in a folder on Dropbox. This folder is connected to Notational Velocity on my Mac which is syncing it with SimpleNote. This means I can access all of this data through the beautiful simplicity of a search in Notational Velocity or SimpleNote on my iPad or iPhone. If somehow I don’t have access to any of those, I can track them down via the Dropbox website in a pinch. And because they are all small text files, sync is instantaneous.
  • Accessibility – Text files are, um, files. I can find data with spotlight, and drag and drop multiple notes at once into Scrivener. And because they are files, they can be seen by more than the apps I’m using. (I’m looking forward to the release of PlainText — since it syncs via Dropbox, I anticipate I will be able to use it with this system as well.) If I wanted to backup all of it to a thumb drive? Easy. And geez, I can even load these files on any basic Mac, Windows, or Linux install without any extra software.
  • Data Processing – Where the accessibility becomes important is when I can start to manipulate the data. All of these files can be sorted and searched with smart folders in the Finder that automatically update as data changes. And they are all visible to Hazel and Automator workflows for crazy possibilities. For example, I drafted this post on my iPad in multimarkdown. When I opened my laptop for final edits, Hazel had processed it into HTML automatically. I just have to open that file, add any images and post. Eddie from Practically Efficient has a helpful post on this.

So what do I use this system for?

  • Drafts – I write a lot of rough drafts on my iPad, like this one. And when I open up my laptop to revise and publish, they are waiting patiently.
  • Incubator – I described my incubator in the original Capture Everything series. Since I’m much more likely to review my incubator during downtime on the go, it’s now in this system. All incubator notes have ppp tagged on the end of them so I can quickly sort down to them or add to the pile.
  • Reading/Book Notes – I’ve also written about my book notes before, and I’ve moved them over to this system as well. I have notes from countless books, and I often search for key terms in those notes when I’m doing research for an article, blog post, or a Bible study
  • Mobile Reference – Any uncategorized notes that would be handy to have on the go get dumped in here. If I need to drop my drill off for repairs (twice already!), the lifetime warranty info is a few taps away.
  • Quick, Temporary Notes – Since these apps sort by most recent, it’s a convenient place to drop a shopping list or other temporary reference. I can make a list at my desk, and it’s waiting on my iPhone when I get to the store.

Two quick tips for setup:

  1. There is one small, but significant step in this setup. Notational Velocity has to be setup to store everything as text notes. This is in the preferences, where you can say where you want to store them. In my case I stored them in Dropbox. But be careful! If you sync to both Dropbox and Simplenote from multiple Macs, your files will endlessly replicate!
  2. If you have notes in Yojimbo, they can be exported as .rtf files. (Again, the accessibility of text files makes this so easy.) I selected my reading notes, incubator notes, etc. and exported them. Once I dragged them into the Notational Velocity folder, they were available everywhere for me.

This might be more than you think you need, but it works great for me. I’ve not gone into detail on the setup here, but most of the links above provide more detailed explanation. And once it’s all setup, you don’t have to think about it. Just open your notes for reference, review, or capture!

Latest Posts