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Life inside one big text file

O’Reilly Network Weblogs: Living in text files

Giles takes one of the biggest, geekiest leaps you can—moving all of his stuff into a single big-ass plain text file.

As Danny O’Brien discovered during his research into effective organizational habits of geeks, text is the simplest, most platform-independent, fastest-to-search format we have for storing information. So everything I need - from todos, blog posts in progress, article ideas, addresses, my list of books to read, the shopping list, and much more besides, lives in just the one file. In effect, I live in that file. When I’m sitting in front of my computer, it feels like home.

This ambitious strategy—usually only whispered about among the lower geek echelons in which I dwell—seems to require a lot of confidence, planning, and familiarity with your favorite flavor of text editor. Mine’s currently TextMate, but, given what I’ve seen people like Danny do with Vim (and its incremental search-on-steroids, scripting functions, and endless shortcuts and configurability), this really reignites my resolve to hit the book and thumb through all my bookmarks again.

So. Questions for people who are already living in one text file:

  • What tips do you have for people considering the big move?
  • What tricks do you use to organize, automate, and move around in your huge-ass text file?
  • How do you decide where new stuff goes within a mutli-thousand line document?
  • Are you using section and sub-section headings to jump around?
  • How do you handle versions and multiple drafts of subsections (like, say, blog posts)
  • Got any sweet Vim tricks to share?
  • Any point where this approach starts to fall apart?
  • Have you found you think about your work differently when you work inside only one file?

Spill whatever you like about your one-file system (and, curious folks, feel free to ask questions).

Related Stuff

Jason's picture

I'm surprised no one else...

I'm surprised no one else has said that this sounds like a really bad idea. I guess you should work in whatever way you feel comfortable, but I don't see how this could work for any length of time. First of all my programmer mind says (or should I say object oriented mind), keep dependencies to a minimum. This approach sounds like having your entire application in one big .cpp file. That was one of the first wow moments for me when I was learning C++, having small little classes with 2 or 3 functions in their own little 20 line file. It's no accident that well written C++ applications have thousands of files. It is so much easier to modify a program when the one task (or several related tasks) you are working on is separated into one logical file. I've worked on projects where there was one huge file with 100,000 lines of code and functions that go on and on for pages. What a nightmare!

I don't think the organization of your tasks and projects is that different from a well designed program. How can you stay organized when everything in your life is staring you in the face all day long? It must be so distracting to have your Work to do list right next to your Errand list, which you can't do anything about at the moment. That's one of the nice things about GTD contexts, you have the list of things you can work on in front of you, the other tasks are in their own file to be opened at the appropriate time.

Computers have no problem with everything being in one big file, it's all just 1s and 0s, but the whole file and folder idiom was introduced to computers for a reason. The human mind does not work like a computer. It needs to have things organized and separated into it's own little slots.




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