My Workflow. Notes with Vim, Archives in Evernote.

Vim, the best text editor in the entire universe.There are several schools of thought when it comes to digital note taking and productivity.  One school advocates powerful tools such as Evernote, which allows you to take notes, clip articles and images, and save documents into a note.  Evernote also has some pretty powerful search functionality that lets you find that data again.  The other school advocates simple text.  Using the file system, and a plain text editor like Vim or TextMate, or what have you.  There are powerful arguments both ways, and I find myself coming down somewhere in the middle.  On the one hand, I like Evernote’s ubiquity.  It’s on my phone, my laptop and my tablet, and I can save everything from quick shopping lists to clipped articles from the web, to pdf documents.  In the case of those pdf’s Evernote will even scan them and make the text searchable.  That’s extrememly cool.  However, it’s too heavy for actual “notes” and Evernote’s interface is notorious for not being “note friendly”.  Things are complicated by the fact that I run Linux on my laptop, and there’s not a good Linux client for Evernote.

So, I’ve come up with a workflow that works for me.  It might not work for you, but hey, it’s another tool in the battle for ultimate productivity, right?  First of all, I use Evernote as my basic “Archiving” tool.  It’s where I clip articles to read later, my wishlist, images, receipts, etc…  I’ve even started using Evernote as my main bookmark manager.  Evernote works well for me as a digital filing cabinet, since that’s really what it’s designed to do.  However, there are two things that I do NOT do in Evernote.  To-do lists, and my notes.

Evernote has some basic to-do list functionality, but it’s not built for it, and it doesn’t do a great job.  That’s beside the point, though, as that’s not what I wanted to talk about.  I take a lot of notes, notes on what I’m working on, ideas for blog posts, meetings, code snippets, etc…  And I do it in Vim.  I also believe that the file system is the perfect medium for storing and managing text notes.  Seriously, a lot of very smart people came up with the organization of your laptops file system, and it’s hard to beat.  You can create an hierarchical layout for your notes with subfolders, links to other files and folders, and it already has time and date information integrated.  Add in tools like Dropbox which allow you to sync your files and folders and you’ve got it made.  Essentially, I have a directory in my Dropbox folder called “Notes”.  Inside there I have a few subdirectories like “CurrentSprint”, “Inbox”, “Personal”, “Journal” to help me organize things.  So, text notes just go into one of those directories, Dropbox syncs them up, and I can get to them from anywhere.

But wait, there’s more.  One thing that I miss with this system is Evernote’s ability to just search for something and show me those notes.  There’s no overarching note management ability.  So I created Tiro.   Tiro is pretty simple, but I’m very happy with it so far.  Tiro is a note manager for the command line.  Right now it’s definitely beta, but it’s very usable.  Basically, Tiro creates and searches your file system based notes.  To create a new note for a meeting on Tuesday, you’d just do this:

tiro note Meeting on Tuesday

That by default goes into your Inbox directory in whatever directory you’ve set as Tiro’s Home folder.  Tiro doesn’t keep track of specific files, so you can go in later and move that note to another directory, “Meetings”.  A couple of the cool things about Tiro, are that first off, you can define a template for a note type.  Right now, I have a separate template for standard notes and for Journal entries.  You could define any number of templates for your notes.   You can also do a text search for your notes.  Running this command:

tiro search Tuesday

will return a list of notes that contain the search term, Tuesday.  You can then choose one of the results for Tiro to open.  Tiro is still a work in progress.  I have plans to turn it into a Vim plugin, and there are still some rough edges to work out, but it’s a very usable tool for managing my Vim note taking, and it works nicely with my Dropbox synced notes.

NOTE: For viewing and editing notes on my phone or tablet I love Draft.  It syncs with Dropbox, and more importantly, it supports MarkDown for editing.  Tiro, Draft and Dropbox are a complete note taking solution.