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My txt setup
Merlin Mann | Dec 12 2005
The explications continue.
It's been a while since I talked about how I'm using text files, and my post a while ago on Quicksilver appending reminded me of a few little changes I've made over the past year or so that my fellow text geeks might find interesting.
Reviewing: Why text?
Like a lot of geeks and aspirational geeks, I do as many things as possible in plain text files. I've endlessly sung the praises of text on 43F, but in a nutshell, they're portable, efficient, tiny, and almost endlessly mungible. They're the lingua franca of Unix and most of the civilized world.
As you'll see, I use text files for any variety of things, although my favorite use is for making and maintaining lists. The aforementioned append functionality lets me quickly add items to any file with nothing but muscle memory and a few keystrokes. Best thing ever.
I also write in text files as well as store large amounts of reference information. Text is very easy to swap into HTML (I keep almost everything in Markdown format), and text is wonderfully searchable, whether using Spotlight, Find & Replace, or just via incremental search from within the editor.
Point being: I use applications like OmniOutliner, iCal, and (formerly) Entourage to organize the relationships between silos in my life; but text files are the living repositories for as much of the actual information as I can manage.
Getting a system
Like everything, this text system benefits from a loose organizational framework that lets me quickly create and change files without having to worry too much about what it's called, where it goes, and how I'll find it again. So here's a few high points from my text world.
One and only one place
I've whittled down to a single folder for all my active text files with just two sub-directories, "Archives" and "Old."
"Old" is simply where I dragged every text file I was pretty sure was dead or obviated (but you never know), and "Archives" is where I put the dearly-departed since making the move to the one folder to rule them all. Archiving is done...well...whenever I feel like it or notice that the top txt directory is starting to seem a little wooly.
Everything else sits in one directory. I use a little system of "meta symbols" and intuitive naming to keep things organized in the one big folder.
A smart name
Nearly all my files are named according to this structure:
I've discovered I have three basic kinds of text files, and chose a simple method for marking the type of files they are for quick visual cueing.
This is super helpful for winnowing file names in Quicksilver: I start by typing one of these unusual (non-alpha-numeric) characters, and I can instantly pop to just a list of the types of files I want to see.
Running lists are the majority of my files. They're the kinds of lists that I mentioned in the appending article -- ongoing places to park ideas of any kind over time. They begin with a ">". This is, as with all these, purely my own convention, so you should feel free to pick symbols that make sense for you. This yields file names like:
Reference items are evergreen and reusable content that I update fairly infrequently and refer to as needed.
These are things like blog posts, articles, and any kind of nonce content that will be used once, and then probably not needed again (making them very quick to archive every month or so).
So that's my current system. It's actually not as byzantine as it sounds. It really comes down to:
Your mileage will certainly vary, but I hope this stuff helps if you've been working to tame your own text beast.
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