Managing Your Life with a Simple Text File

Managing Your Life with a Simple Text File

Range Govindan
Aug 9, 2011

There's one thing that almost everyone needs to do, it's getting more organized. Many people, including ourselves, are messy by nature, and getting organized isn't a simple task, which is why for years we've been using an easy way of managing most of the important things that we need to get done with a simple open text file. Here's how you can do it too.

There are many different ways of managing your tasks and lists, but somehow nothing beats the overall simplicity of using a simple text file to get this done. On a Mac, you can use TextEdit. On Windows, there's Notepad. We've been using this type of format for years, and it works well. Naturally, it's non-specific, but the fact that you can easily store information, paste it in, write quick lists, etc, makes it good for our own use.

For OS X, there's iAWriter that we like to use, as well as TextMate. We tend to use iAWriter for most of our note-taking tasks on the Mac. It's partially replaced Microsoft Word, which is saying a lot since we love Word. The minimal and low noise setup of iAWriter does wonders for our creativity.

1. Position on your screen: Our main monitor is a 22" ViewSonic on our PC, so we like to alway use the same size. We position it on the right of our screen. It's about the width of an index finger, but spans the whole height of the monitor.

2. Saving your file: We keep the file saved in our document folder, but it can easily be placed on the desktop. Instead of looking for it, we simply search for it in the Start menu.

3. Format of the file: We use the Word Wrap option, to keep things tidy, and a font that's 12pts. By default, a 10pts font was used, but that was a bit too small. If possible, we like to use Markdown with Unicode (UTF -8).

4. Basic Organization of the file:
We basically use the LIFO (Last In, First Out) system, albeit manually in the case of this file. This means that you can quickly scan the file to find what you are looking for.

  • Keep the items that will stay in the file the longest at the top
  • Keep the daily lists, text, and information that will get quickly erased at the bottom

5. Sections:


  • Price lists

  • Diet

  • Quotes

  • Book lists: books we've read, want to read, want to order, etc


  • Grocery lists

  • New contacts, addresses, emails

  • Tasks to complete this week, this month, this year

  • Ideas for blog posts, writing, research

5. Don't forget to save often: Notepad doesn't have an auto-save feature, so we've lost some information from time to time when our computer rebooted after an update (while we were away from the computer), but the nature of this file usually ensures that you never lose anything important. If you're using iAWriter, then you don't have to worry, as it has auto-save.

6. Transferring to written lists: We keep a stash of used paper on the side of our monitor, to jot down anything that we need. This makes it very simple when we make a grocery list or to-do list that we want to take with us when we run errands.

7. Managing/Erasing information: Whenever we add something to the list, we make a cursory glance on the file, or what's near the place where we are writing something. If there's something that you have accomplished, that can be erased, then erase it! That's half the fun of using a format like this.

8. Don't be afraid to cut & paste: Another benefit of using a simple text file, is that you can easily paste information in, from emails, documents, or memos, and erase it when you're done.

9. Size of file: If you file gets too long, you might have to archive it and start another, but that kind of beats the use of this type of file. If you are diligent in getting things done, erasing and managing the list, just a little bit, whenever you add something to it, you'll never end up with an extremely large file.

10. Instead of formatting text: We tend to waste time on formatting documents in Word, so when we use text files, it's a lot simpler. We use simple characters to highlight certain information. For example, each subsection will be underlined using dashes while each section will have dashes that go the whole width of the text file.



The star (*), plus (+), equal (=), pound (#), underscore (_) and tilde (~) characters are used to accentuate certain important sections, making them easy to find by simply looking at the file.

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(images by Leaf Raker, Range, and iAWriter)

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