How I use plain txt files to manage a great deal of information.

by Cliff Ravenscraft on January 28, 2013

In this video blog post, I wanted to share how I have been managing a great deal of information within a multitude of plain .txt files.

I originally recorded this video back on December 19th, 2012. I was so excited about the setup that I had configured, I simply couldn’t resist creating this tutorial. However, I wanted to wait a few weeks before sharing it to make sure that this was a system that I would actually continue to use.

I’m posting this to my site on January 28th, 2013 and I can tell you that I have used this system EVERY SINGLE DAY for over a month now and I am just as passionate about it today as I was when I first set it up. Have a look at the video here and I’ll post a few brief thoughts below.

As of today, I am now managing more than 50 different .txt files that are available to me everywhere I go. They are always 100% in sync with the latest version whether I’m at my desktop, my iphone, or working from my iPad Mini.

There is simply one thing that I learned after this video had already been created. If you go into the settings and look under “Fonts” the “Default Font Type” was set to “Fixed Width.” If you look at the bottom it says “New notes will default to using this.”

What I found was that my notes created on my desktop, using Notational Velocity, were created with the Helvetica font that I prefer. When I would open such a note that was not created in Notesy, it was seen as a “new note.” As a result, the note would open with a different “fixed width” font and it was messing up the spacing of all my notes.

I solved this by changing the “Default Font Type,” both on my iPhone and my iPad Mini, to “Variable Width” to match my Notational Velocity Helvetica Font selection as seen here:


After I had realized that all the notes that I had created on my desktop had this horrible font, and there seemed to be no way to change it, I simply went to DropBox and moved all my .txt files to my desktop.

I then opened Notesy on my iPad and iPhone and it then showed that there were no files to be opened in the DropBox Folder. I then put all the .txt files back in the DropBox folder and since they were ALL”new documents” when notesy found them again, they all opened with the new default “Helvetica” font this time. Problem solved.

For those who are wondering, I still store a great deal of information inside of a service called WorkFlowy. However, I am spending more time inside of these .txt files. In fact, all my “to do items” now reside in my todo.txt file. ūüėČ

Access My Best Podcasting Advice, Tips & Strategies. FREE!

Every Friday, I send an email sharing my best advice, tips and strategies related to podcasting. Each of these weekly emails contain relevant and actionable information that can help you no matter where you are in your podcasting journey.

Powered by ConvertKit
  • BourneMedia

    Nice setup. Thanks for sharing it.
    I think you and I do many of the same things, except I use Evernote. 
    I use FastEver to runTextExpander since it will not run it within iOS. 
    I assume you¬†have tried¬†Evernote¬†and that this system¬†works better for you. I’m sorry if I missed that in your explanation. The setup of Evernote is much easier, and it’s free for the basic account. As I’m sure you know!
    Peace and thanks again for all the great info you give us,

  • @BourneMedia¬†I’m not a fan of Evernote because the application has to be operational to be able to access and search through all your content. ¬† ¬†¬†
    Is Evernote going to be around in 20 years from now? ¬†My .txt files can be searched, opened, and accessed through very large number of software application and I am very confident that in twenty years from now, I’ll still be able to access all my¬†individual¬†.txt files.¬†
    I know a lot of people who depend on Evernote these days. ¬†I’ve “almost” used it at least ten or fiteen times. ¬†Each time, I made the decision to invest all my data into their system. ¬† ¬†
    Just call me a control freak. ūüėČ

  • BourneMedia

    @Cliff Ravenscraft that is a very valid concern, one that is echoed by many. See this:
    I like your system, and see the advantages.
    I think I’ll start exporting my 4k plus Evernote files thanks to this!

  • Great tutorial! I was going to ask the same question… why not just use Evernote? Your system has most of the benefits of evernote but you retain control of your data. And you can still access it via dropbox from any computer if you don’t have your own device with you. Interesting.
    I just switched from Mac back to PC. I’m wondering if there is a Windows 8 app that can do the same thing… I’ll have to check it out.
    What software did you use to create your video? It looked great.

  • @Andrew McGivern I used ScreenFlow for the Mac tomdomthe video. Camtasia does something similar on the PC.
    I used to display my iPhone and iPad on the screen. I’m not aware of a PC app that does this.

  • Thank you for sharing, Cliff. ¬†Great system, and I’m going to give it a shot.
    If ¬†you create offline text files in Notsey or Notational Velocity, will they automatically sync up w/ DropBox when you go back online? ¬†Working offline is still a necessity (believe it??). ¬† That’s one of the drawbacks of Workflowy.
    You have me re-thinking Evernote.  Although it is nice for graphic things like web clippings, screenshots and and photos. Searchable text in a photo or scan is priceless, especially when it comes to capturing whiteboard or handwritten notes.

  • @Marshall Ponzi¬†if you write a note while Notesy if OFFLINE, it will automatically sync it to DropBox as soon as you open the Notesy Application again when you are online.
    The only thing I use Evernote for is Skitch. ¬†I can see how searching text in pictures and hand written notes can be a huge draw, it’st just not something that appeals to me as a closed system that where I could not access all my data if Evernote were not around in the future.
    I am paperless here in my business.  I use DropBox as my virtual filing cabinet of all my scanned and computer created pdf files.  
    Sorry to make you re-think Evernote. ¬†I know a ton of people who love it. ¬† But I’m just not one of them.

  • Jmunchbach

    How did you set up Notational Velocity? In your video (11:58) you go from “just set up Notational Velocity” and then to: It shows the same files you see in Notesy…
    I have NV set up to look in Dropbox (I’ve tried a dozen different folders) but when I open NV on my Mac-Mini, all I get from NV is the ability to create notes…
    I know I’m missing something but I’m sure I don’t know what it is I don’t know…
    Help? anyone? thanks.

  • @Jmunchbach¬†The settings for Notational Velocity are shown at 20 minutes and 41 seconds. ¬†Direct link to that section here:¬†
    It’s all there, step by step. ūüėČ

  • Jmunchbach

    Hi Cliff,
    I got it!! Nevermind my call for help… Its a long story but I got it.
    If anyone else has trouble like I described in my post Рknow this: you need to create new files in Notesy. I think my problem was that I had tried to import files into Notesy from other editor apps. 
    Anyway – awesome system! Thanks again Cliff!!

  • Jmunchbach

    BTW, yes, Cliff, its all there step by step… But I did watch the rest of the video (after my call for help) and my problem still remained. I had changed every setting possible and I still couldn’t get NV to work on my Mac-Mini. I’m so glad its working now. I need to get to work!!
    Talk soon.JRM

  • Jmunchbach

    Thanks for the direct link. That will help the other folks who watch this tutorial. You never cease to amaze me, Cliff. I have no idea how you send a link to the exact part of the video I needed… I have so much to learn!!
    Thanks again. Sorry to be a slow student ūüėČ
    Tremendously helpful for a new Mac user.

  • @Jmunchbach interesting… If you have plain text files that end in .txt, even pre-existing ones should just show up in both notesy and notational velocity,
    It is essentially important that that any app that is being used to place new files Iin this DropBox folder shared between Notesy and Notational Velocity is creating files with the .txt extension.

  • BourneMedia

    @Cliff Ravenscraft¬† I made some HTML exports from Evernote and it’s pretty clear cut.
    HTML is not as simple as your txt system, but as long as I can export from Evernote (and remember to do so) I too will have a very searchable, future proof system. Thx again.

Previous post:

Next post: