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how do you organize your notes?

by Anonymous Monk
on Oct 15, 2008 at 01:47 UTC ( #717128=perlquestion: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??
Anonymous Monk has asked for the wisdom of the Perl Monks concerning the following question:

How do you organize your notes? For projects, things that interest you... Do you use special software, or just a bunch of txt files? Special formatting? Do you use bookmark managers? Private wiki? Offline wiki?

I find that I prefer a directory full of note-*.txt files, and I don't like bookmark managers/browser integration (privacy concerns), so it's always cut/paste, save-webpage-as in an ever growing list of art00 directories with no attempt at organization. Its just messy, and I'm looking for some good ideas.

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: how do you organize your notes?
by dHarry (Abbot) on Oct 15, 2008 at 08:43 UTC

    Bless you brother we share the same misery! I myself have to keep track of:

    • An obscene amount of email
    • Tons of documentation in various formats
    • SW
    • And most of all DATA

    This is spread over multiple computers like document servers, repositories, archives and my laptop.

    On my laptop I typically end up with a directory for each major subject and many subdirectories per subject. The "save-webpage-as" sounds too familiar... If I canít remember where I put it itís basically a CTRL-F under Windows (accompanied by an ejaculatory prayer).

    I have experimented with tools in the past to manage the mess but the tools (or I) lacked the flexibility needed. I would not dare to recommend one.

    In the end I use paper to keep track of things. One A4 with the high priority stuff for the day:

    • phone calls to make
    • mails to send
    • things to fix
    • documents to review

    I like to think this works for me.

      Seconded. Paper is underrated and a good bump off letting the monitor direct your every action which lets one disengage too much sometimes. Some, like me, learn/memorize much better from writing things down than from just reading them or even typing them. Paper is easier to work with off-line too. It has no battery and you can drop it without ruining your quarter. I hang docs and specs behind my monitor; binder-clips and tacks. I put "Post-it"s on my monitor frame or on the glass if it's something I must not put off. They're supposed to be gone by the end of each day.

Re: how do you organize your notes?
by pjf (Curate) on Oct 15, 2008 at 09:37 UTC

    If it's something I can delegate to another person, I delegate. If it's something I can publish and other people will organise it or fix my problems for me, I publish it. A lot of things end up on my blog and Perl Tips.

    If it's something that needs to be done, and it's personal, it goes into hiveminder

    If it's something that needs to be done, and it's business related, it goes into our RT ticket system.

    If it's something that needs to be done, and it's related to a project, it goes into the project's RT system or TODO file, as appropriate.

    If it's documentation on a project, part of a, part of a course manual, or otherwise project related, it goes into the appropriate .pm file. Pure-documentation projects go into .pod files. These get sorted by project, book, or project, and are generally managed using git, and transformed with a Pod::2::DocBook variant.

    If it's a password it goes into a password safe.

    If it's a financial event, it goes into gnucash.

    If it's a bookmark, it usually goes into delicious.

    If it's a feed, or something that has a feed, it goes into a folder to be read by Sage. Feeds are sorted by type (news/blog/tools/etc) and sometimes by interestingness.

    Physical papers go into the filing cabinet. The second drawer is business, the third is common personal, the fourth is uncommon personal, the top is archive.

    Transient information that I don't need for very long goes into a vim window, which I close when it's done.

    Electronic information that needs to be retained and doesn't fall into any of the above goes into a wiki. Our internal wiki for personal and business, the project wiki if it's got one.

    Everything else goes on my desk. If that's full, the desk to my left. If that's full, on jarich's desk to my right (and I hope she doesn't notice). If that's full, the floor. If that's full, I have serious information management issues.

    The biggest improvements I can make to my information management is to auto-expire information and tasks. If something doesn't get done for a long period of time, it doesn't matter, and should be thrown onto an unimportant list somewhere that I never look at (but can search if I need it).

Re: how do you organize your notes?
by ggvaidya (Pilgrim) on Oct 15, 2008 at 04:02 UTC

    Actually, Opera's bookmark syncing really does help me keep lists of websites in order. I can organize it into articles-to-read-later, grad-schools-to-look-up and whatnot, and it's kept in sync between my work and home computers. Any leaks won't really reveal anything Google's web history doesn't know already.

    I'm also guilty of using my e-mail account as a TODO list and document store: I write myself a note of something which needs to be done, and delete it from your inbox once it's done.

    For private notes, I usually just write it into a text file and leave it on my desktop or documents, and trust in Spotlight to find it again, but this is really extremely rare - I can't remember the last time I did this. If it's that important, I'll e-mail it to myself, so both Gmail and my home computer get copies of it which go into the appropriate folder, for registration numbers, orders, etc.

    My getting-my-act-together five cents for today :-)

Re: how do you organize your notes?
by Memeticd (Sexton) on Oct 15, 2008 at 05:17 UTC
    Recently, for quick notes I've been using a TiddlyWiki.
    It's a self contained javascript wiki stored in a html page.
Re: how do you organize your notes?
by AZed (Monk) on Oct 15, 2008 at 04:16 UTC

    For projects, notes in various categories go into the flat text files README, TODO, BUGS, or QUIRKS (or go into the main documentation structure in other ways), and get version-controlled along with the code.

    For things that interest me, I have a few different things that overlap each other.

Re: how do you organize your notes?
by Limbic~Region (Chancellor) on Oct 15, 2008 at 13:48 UTC
    Anonymous Monk,
    See Work practices: log books, notes files... for a similar meditation.

    There, I responded I indicated that I rely on my brain to "just remember" or that I use email because it allows me to slice and dice on the 5 Ws.

    Thinking about it now, I also use the /msg system here at PerlMonks. I almost never use bookmarks as a way of remembering something - rather, I email myself the link with an appropriate subject line. When I am working on a project, I usually have a todo.txt file that I throw in anything that I can't address immediately and I review it periodically. More often than not, I find that I remembered just fine without it but sometimes I find I completely spaced on something.

    I am not delusional - I know my memory is far from perfect and I forget stuff all the time. It is just that my system works and more than satisfies the requirements. I remember when I was in school and I would get a 92 on a test and another student would get a 96. The question of studying would come up. They may have spent 3 hours the night before studying while I went to a party. It just never seemed worth the effort for 4 lousy points. Same thing with memory, I know if I worked harder I could remember more but I seldom suffer as result so why bother?

    Cheers - L~R

Re: how do you organize your notes?
by wfsp (Abbot) on Oct 15, 2008 at 10:44 UTC
    I have an A4 page a day hardback diary but I don't use it as a diary. Inside the front cover is year planner with a box for each day. This is used as an index, anything I'm supposed to remember/know about gets a day and that's the page I write my notes in.

    Far more importantly, I get to stroll around the building with a big black book. It's handy for slapping down on someone's desk to announce your presence. If you're being hassled for something you've forgotten to do you leaf through, slam it shut and deny all knowledge.

    I wouldn't be without it. :-)

Re: how do you organize your notes?
by missingthepoint (Friar) on Oct 15, 2008 at 06:29 UTC

    I'm using Rainlendar to organise a some of my perl projects (mainly stuff to learn). It's a neat little desktop calendar. I find it handy for dividing a project up into chunks (you can repeat a task for X days), so I have a rough schedule.

    email: perl -e 'print reverse map { chr( ord($_)-1 ) } split //, "\x0bufo/hojsfufqAofc";'
    'Under no circumstances should you program the way I say to because I say to; program the way you think expresses best what you're trying to accomplish in the program. And do so consistently and ruthlessly.' --Rob Pike
Re: how do you organize your notes?
by psini (Deacon) on Oct 15, 2008 at 08:28 UTC

    For notes relating to project development, I must admit I've become addicted to Trac: I often open tickets to myself, change priority, add comments, etc.

    Rule One: "Do not act incautiously when confronting a little bald wrinkly smiling man."

Re: how do you organize your notes?
by repellent (Priest) on Oct 15, 2008 at 18:23 UTC
    For me, "just a bunch of txt files" here. They're as electronically portable as it gets, easily grep-ed, and easy to deal with using Perl ;-)

    If you're having organizational issues with txt files, spend some time at creating a directory structure that is mnemonically accessible to you. A two-level directory structure (organizing the txt files by topic keyword) can do wonders for your txt files.

    You can use minimal markup to power your txt files into different formats using reStructuredText. There is a Vim script that could help.
Re: how do you organize your notes?
by jplindstrom (Monsignor) on Oct 15, 2008 at 12:51 UTC

    For keeping track of day to day programming, I used to just keep a todo.txt file open and write down everything I needed to remember, like what to do next, and what command line details I used for various things.

    A plain text file is quite enough for this.

    Nowadays I use Emacs org-mode and keep the same things in an outline structure instead. Highly recommended if you alreay use Emacs. Also, make sure you try out the fantastic table edit mode.


Re: how do you organize your notes?
by ruoso (Curate) on Oct 15, 2008 at 19:33 UTC

    I've recently discovered a nice piece of Perl called ZIM -- Desktop Wiki. It's a Desktop application that provides a wiki interface, and even provides isolated "webs" so you can work on different projects/mindsets...

    UPDATE: As blazar requested, here's the link!

Re: how do you organize your notes?
by frayoyo (Monk) on Oct 16, 2008 at 09:25 UTC
    For notes relating to project development and everyday tasks, I use org-mode that is included in recent versions (> #22.2) of emacs:
    I enjoy the outline-features to sort items into categories and fold or unfold them, flag ToDo Items, use spreadsheet-support, produce structured ASCII file, HTML, and LaTeX, agendas, etc. with one shortcut each.
Re: how do you organize your notes?
by blazar (Canon) on Oct 16, 2008 at 17:04 UTC

    I personally believe, after having read all of the replies thus far, that I can safely claim to either do or have done each and every thing some particular individual suggested or a close equivalent: except for the wiki(-like) approach. Thinking of it, it seems a valuable one, and indeed I'm already playing with TiddlyWiki. (Which I cherish for the extreme KISSiness) In this sense, I was searching an appropriate link for ruoso-suggested ZIM when I stumbled upon Wikipedia's personal wiki page which lists quite a lot of similar projects and may be of interest here...

    Basically, I need a PIM/Calendar app: and I have tried many, but none of them did really suit my needs; one may think that I have bizarre or exaggerate requirements, but that's not the case. On the contrary, I have the impression they tend to have far too many features and they get confusing for me. Here, everybody may start listing his/her own favourite tool... As far as I'm concerned, I've recently found a simple enough FireFox extension called ReminderFox that may be "the one" I am after, or close to it. It does make sense because I'm "always on FF" although occasionally I would also like a cli based interface.

    To be fair, all of the approaches thus far have been either a failure or not completely satisfactory:

    WRT the last point, I have some recent anecdotal evidence: the other day moritz told me about a very interesting tool that I could not use at first, but that got me strongly intrigued. Part of the discussion went from the original thread to a series of /msg's and eventually I asked whether he recorded his findings say in a (public) journal - because in that case I would happily subscribe the feed! Now, the point is that when you learn that particular something, you think: hey, now I know and time is so little anyway - why should I waste it by writing it down too? And then you forget that you may

    • help others by publicly writing about it;
    • forget about the damned thing altogether in a few months if for whatever reason you don't actively use it, and it will hit on your nerves again!

    WRT both points it has to be said that at least as far as I am concerned, I like to write about my findings, but only when they're ambitious and supposedly "important" (here hubris plays a role!) while I realize that even the "small things" should deserve being given the same attention, and perhaps even more so...)

    If you can't understand the incipit, then please check the IPB Campaign.

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