I am BARRY HESS > Blog

Taking Notes and Checking Them Twice

For a long while I have struggled with how to take notes on my work and personal activities. Working in the world of the web, I find it a requirement to keep track of programming code snippets, step-by-step processes, or various ideas that pop into my head. I also struggle with detailed household tasks, like setting up financial things and researching the best options for various projects.

Initially, I simply did not take notes. I didn’t feel there was a lot of benefit in it, and I may have been right at the time. Over the past year, I have used a hidden WordPress blog to keep notes around for future reference. It is referenced semi-frequently, but it certainly isn’t the most convenient method of writing, TextMate blogging-fu aside. Honestly, tracking this stuff in a blog is not that hard, but I still wonder how many things I didn’t write down due to inconvenience factors?

Automator, with a dash of Quicksilver, to the rescue! My plan of attack was to find a way to, at the press of a key, create a text file by specifying a name and then save the file in the appropriate location. I ended up with a bit more than I planned for, not that I’m complaining!

Automator creating a text file

Above is one example of an Automator script to generate a text file. I created six of these scripts, for things like code, career, household and financial notes. The biggest bonus I did not expect was renaming the file with a categorical tag, like “prog” or “idea,” in parentheses. Ultimately, I also include the .txt extension on the renaming rule so that I could enter things very Mac-like in the new file dialog box - without an extension.

I added OS X labeling (coloring) simply because I could. I considered adding half-baked tagging, but I don’t see any benefit in my case. I’d like to be able to order things by tags to help in discovery. (Not that I don’t appreciate something better than unbaked tagging.) Each script is then tied to a Quicksilver trigger so I get that “press of a key” thing I was going for. New notes are placed in one of two folders in my Documents area: coding or personal.

There are a couple hitches in this process. First, if I happen to name a file identically to a previous note, and if it is placed in the same category, the prior note will be nuked. Not very excellent. Also, spotlight content search should be reasonably sufficient, but I do like seeing some context in my search results. Google Desktop may be the answer to this problem. Oh, and there’s the whole matter of getting those blog notes into my new format…