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

Tom's picture

I have been using a...

I have been using a single Excel worksheet as a PIM at work for over one year, and I don't think that I could function without it. I recently read GTD for the first time and I have found that many of Excel's built-in features facilitate the GTD structure.

How I use it:

Each item , thought, next action ,waiting, general reference, etc is entered on one line. An Excel worksheet gives you 65,000 lines and I have used about 3,500 lines the first year.

I like to keep the format simple. Left column= date second column = status such as waiting, next action, someday, ... third column= description or headline of the item. this is text and is written to include keywords that can be searched later. this text can be the complete thought or factiod or item , copied text from email or website, or a descriptive reference to a paper document, website, whatever.

Column 4 = reference index this can be a hyperlink to file on harddrive, website,etc or index to a paper file in my file cabinet. I simply label each paper document with a pre-numbered mailing label (document 1,document 2, etc) and date it, stick in the file. I let Excel do the sorting for me.

I have found that Excel has a good text searching function but a very clumsy search interface. As a result I developed two search macros that really make this system work.

1) MessageBox search- enter a keyword (string) , hit go, and the first hit will be displayed in a message box . the way excel works this will display the entire contents of the cell containing the keyword. COOL! If this is what I am looking for, I can stop there. done.I Found it. ha. If not I hit go again and the next occurence is displayed. and on and on . This process works from the bottom up so the most recent items are displayed first.

2) ad-hoc report created in a new worksheet. Enter a keyword, hit go, and each ROW containing the keyword will be pasted onto the report sheet complete with formating and hyperlinks. A search engine type message is included like "124 results for Robert, 1 second" Now this report can be used as the source for another search : the next report will read "4 results for Smith, 0 seconds within 124 results for Robert, 1 second".

So I have nested reports.

This could easily be used by anybody that has ever used Excel at all. it requires zero programming knowledge to use, and I employ my 11 year old daughter as my beta tester when I add a new feature. If she can use it , its good for me.





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. »