A while ago, I thought I’d try an experiment: could I organise all my work, all my personal stuff, all my writing, in one huge text file?
I tried it. It wasn’t easy. While it’s sort-of comforting to know that you have everything you need at your disposal, it’s also a little daunting. “Where did I leave that half-finished snippet of writing about such-and-such? I hope I can find it somewhere in this 4,000-line file…”
Of course, such worries are baseless because any half-decent text editor can find exactly what you need in a file that big, or 10 times that big. You just need to remember what it is you’re looking for.
My experiment ended with me abandoning the idea; I decided it was easier (especially with the advent of Tiger and Spotlight) to use separate text files.
And then, a few weeks ago, I purchased a second computer, and had to change my thinking yet again.
With two computers to work on, the question of managing a bunch of essential files becomes more complex. Which machine should they live on? How should they be kept in sync with each other? I played about with a variety of sync methods and couldn’t find anything that I felt really comfortable with.
So I switched back to one-file-fits-all; now I only have one text file to worry about, to keep synchronized, and that’s much easier.
One thing I learned from the first attempt at using this system: don’t try to scroll around from place to place in the file. You’ll end up scrolling for hours and losing track of what it was you were scrolling to. It’s much, much better to use the find controls. I’ve started getting in the habit of “tagging” parts of my file with keywords that might come in handy when I’m searching. Using a split view in my editor means I can move items around from one chunk of the file to another, just as if I were copying and pasting between two separate ones.
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.
Have you tried the one file approach?