Wrangle your snippets

In addition to organizing our files, most of us have to keep track of innumerable small pieces of information. Some of them, such as to-do items, fit well in a calendar program. Others, such as notes to yourself, shopping lists, serial numbers, seldom-used Terminal commands, and clippings from Web pages, pose more of a challenge.

There’s no shortage of ways to cope with all these random snippets of data. Some are decidedly low-tech—say, a jumble of sticky notes along the edge of your monitor. However, one of the most efficient options is to invest in a snippet keeper, software designed for storing and organizing miscellaneous scraps of data.

There are a number of snippet keepers available for the Mac. But as with any organization effort, you’ll have greater success if you choose a program that mirrors the way you prefer to work. You’ll not only find the process more intuitive but you’ll also be less likely to give up after your initial enthusiasm wears off.

No matter which system you use, keep everything—or at least everything of a given type (notes, text clippings, to-dos, and so on)—in a single place. A basic text file, or even a paper notebook, is better than lots of separate files, Stickies notes, or scraps of paper—which will merely leave you with more clutter to manage.

The organizer’s strategy

NoteBook: Circus Ponies’ $50 NoteBook (   ) can store a wide variety of data, including graphics. NoteBook uses a notebook metaphor (hence the name) to help you organize your data in different categories. This should make it appealing to people who prefer to impose their own structure on the information they store, who rely heavily on outlines, or who are accustomed to keeping a paper notebook and are looking for a good digital equivalent. NoteBook also includes a capable outliner (so it’s especially good for lists) and integrates well with Apple software such as Mail, Address Book, iCal, and iChat.

The searcher’s strategy

Yojimbo: Bare Bones Software’s $39 Yojimbo (   ) lets you store nearly any kind of data, from plain text to photographs, PDF files, and Web pages (see “Just Say ‘Yo’”). It even offers encryption for sensitive data such as passwords. You copy and paste or drag information into Yojimbo, or you can create your own keyboard shortcuts.

Although you can organize snippets in groups (called Collections) in Yojimbo, there isn’t any hierarchical organization; instead, the built-in Spotlight searching rapidly takes you to the information you’re looking for. To make searches more productive, the program lets you create tags that categorize your information. This makes Yojimbo particularly useful if you prefer to keep all your files in just a few folders and all your e-mail in your inbox.

The key to using Yojimbo effectively is to automatically put every interesting or essential piece of information there as soon as you encounter it. As Yojimbo’s store of snippets grows, you’ll get used to looking there first.

Just Say “Yo”: Once you’ve added information to Yojimbo, you can add tags to help you identify it, and search for snippets easily using Spotlight.

The GTD Way

Are you a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) organization methods? Check out one of the many snippet keepers that emphasize the GTD model:

Tracks: This free Web-based implementation of GTD lets you quickly sort tasks and notes according to their context (so you have a handy to-do list ready when you want to focus on errands or on office tasks, for instance). If you apply a due date to an action, its color will change to reflect how much time you have left.

Kinkless GTD: If you use The Omni Group’s $70 OmniOutliner Pro (   ) to manage your snippets, Kinkless GTD, a free set of Apple Scripts, is a way to turn the app into a full-featured GTD-style task manager.

Midnight Inbox: This $35 program by Midnight Beep steps you through the process of putting the GTD system to work. The program collects incoming e-mails, documents, and to-do items and helps you process those items.

[ Joe Kissell is the senior editor of TidBits and the author of Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups (Peachpit Press, 2006). ]

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