43 Folders

Back to Work

Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

Join us via RSS, iTunes, or at 5by5.tv.

”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

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

kepart's picture

i'm using a few textfiles,...

i'm using a few textfiles, edited with vim:

  • nextActions.txt
  • projects.txt
  • calendar.txt
  • recurringEvents.txt
  • log.txt

I live and breathe out of nextActions.txt, but try to keep it short so there's no distracting long-term ideas there while I'm nose-to-the-grindstone. the file heavily relies on vim's folding mode, customized to work well as an outliner. (i found that the native outlining required some tweaking to allow folds to be collapsed all the way to just a single header line.) nextActions.txt is split into "Today", "Weekend", "Inbox" and a few other sections.

projects.txt has the long-term stuff, and I check it every couple days when nextActions.txt starts looking a little thin. this also relies heavily on outlining.
it's broken into "committed projects", "future projects" and reminders.

calendar.txt has appointments and such. things get copied daily out of here to nextActions.txt. the outline here is according to the calendar year. e.g.,

- january 2005
    - week 1
        - mon jan 1
        - tue jan 2
i wrote a script to generate it for any calendar year.

recurringEvents.txt contains holidays, birthdays, etc. i wrote another script to copy these things into the appropriate places in calendar.txt

log.txt is also generated from the same script that generates calendar.txt

after setting this up i found myself spending a lot of time navigating around files, so there are some vim keybinding to simplify the mapping. e.g., with a single keypress, the current line (or Visually-selected region) in nextActions.txt is copied to the correct day in log.txt, properly indented and prefixed with the time of day. (it feels so good to hit that button, watch the todo item disappear, and know that it's properly logged!) there are other keys to zoom around between common sections.

i actually have this entire setup replicated for home and work. the double-versions is a little bit worrysome, but it seems better to keep things separate. i use unison (awesome file sync tool) to copy my home org/ directory (that contains all these files) to a usb drive so it's available at work. (the work org/ directory stays at work, but there's a section of nextActions.txt in my home setup for work-related things that i remember at home that need to be copied later.)

the whole system is still evolving... please drop me a line if you have questions or suggestions!




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


Subscribe with Google Reader

Subscribe on Netvibes

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe on Pageflakes

Add RSS feed

The Podcast Feed


Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »