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

Doug McInnes's picture

The past day I've been...

The past day I've been playing around with Vim's folding functionality for the Big Ass Text File (BATF) and I've been pretty pleased with it. This might be what you're looking for Merin. Type ":h folding" in Vim for more info. I'm using the marker method so I can port the file between work/home/school on my keychain drive and keep the same folding. Here's how I have it set up:

@Home {{{1 Take car in for oil change Fix knob on dresser

@Calls {{{1 Call Karen Call Chad for his Birthday

etc... The {{{1 thingy marks the start of a fold. The number specifies the depth of the fold (I use one for all of them to make it easy). In command mode you can type za to toggle a fold open and closed. It will "fold" the text until the next {{{ thingy of the same level or a close thingy ("}}}" naturally). So if I type za in command mode anywhere under the @Home heading it will look like this:

+-- 4 lines: @Home ---- @Calls {{{1 Call Karen Call Chad for his Birthday

and if I close @Calls:

+-- 4 lines: @Home ---- +-- 3 lines: @Calls

Entire sections can be moved around like they were single lines etc. It's pretty cool. There are commands to open all (zR) and close all (zM) plus many more. Just remember you have to set the fold method:

:set foldmethod=marker




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. »