Why I use text files to organize myself

There are so many tools out there to keep yourself organized and store information — like Evernote, Google Keep, Simplenote, OneNote, etc. I tried some of them, Evernote for a longer time. But it always bugged me to be dependent on the client. Somehow the client always had some overhead that I didn’t need and making things more complicated than necessary.

Today I am using simple text files, stored in a folder structure, saved in my Dropbox and Sublime as an editor. I have two documents on the main level:

work.txt — which is a simple copy+paste storage that I use for my work as a developer. As a developer you are always dealing with snippets of information from different sources, mostly some data structures, database queries, stuff like that. The text format has the advantage that it directly removes all the formatting which will normally get in your way when dealing with code. If I have bigger projects I’m creating a folder to put more information in it, as well as associated files.

private.txt — an information storage for my normal life. Here I’m storing information like phone numbers and data for appointments I have to make, ideas for birthday presents, a small list of things to pack when I’m going on a trip and such things. Again I create folders for bigger projects like furniture ideas or DIY projects. For every idea I have — for example startup ideas — I’m creating a new text file in a matching subfolder.

Other files keep a todo and shopping list, as well as my favorite movies and wines lists.

The text files and folders are the base of my information management. I’m currently storing them in my Dropbox so that they are accessible on all my devices. As an editor on my laptop I am using Sublime Text. It can show the whole directory structure as a tree-view in the navigation bar, can handle large files very well and has a fast search functionality. But for sure I can quickly change any of these tools without touching the basic information in the text files whenever needed.

It’s easy to find information in the text files by just searching for specific terms. Additionally, I use hashtags now an then — searching for “#trip” will directly take me to my packing list and “#christmas” will cycle me through the lists of past christmas presents and ideas for my family.

Let me quickly summarize the most important advantages of this setup:

  • The text format is compatible with basically every operating system — file system, sync tools, backup and transfer — no problem. You can read text files on your computer, phone, tablet, smart watch, … independently from a proprietary client and normally directly built into the operating system
  • It’s quick and easy to copy out any information without bugging you with formatting and also forces you to keep your information in a simple and readable structure
  • It’s easy to search because basically any operating system and client supports searching through text files. You can build your own folder structure as complex as you like and still find any snippet of information when you use a simple hashtag format

I hope I was able to give you an insight on this alternative — and probably rudimentary way of storing information. I’m happy with it now for many years, seeing new tools coming and going, but my text files will outlive them all — :D