Weekend assignment: how do you manage ideas on your Mac?

by Giles Turnbull

For your weekend homework, I’d like you to think about how you manage ideas on your Mac.

Ideas might start off as all kinds of input: a chunk of text, a URL, a document, a song. How do you store ideas? Sort them? Keep a close eye on those that change rapidly, whilst not forgetting the ones that lie dormant for a long time?

What software do you recommend for managing ideas? Are there any clever Finder techniques that can be used to manage them?

Any and all ideas about idea management are welcomed; please share your thoughts in the comments.


2007-06-01 16:03:15
First: MacJournal. It's a swiss army knife of note-taking and documentation. You can try it for free, or read about it at their website. (http://www.marinersoftware.com)

A lot can be done using Apple Finder's color labels to help organize both files and folders. I use labels inside of smart folders frequently to denote process states for manual updates. You can easily reshuffle the smart folder to display only files not yet updated, or switch back and mark files just edited as "done". More interesting, and hopefully easier to use with Leopard, is the ability to store custom meta-data on files of certain types, or various files within a certain project folder. Combine it with folder actions(again I hope Leopard makes this easier) and it may be possible to fully integrate GTD into your desktop.

Firefox/Thunderbird/iGoogle/Gmail/Gcal are indispensable.

For online reference notes Google Notebook is very handy. I also use a freeware program simply called "Books" that stores complete bibliographic information on books that I own and books that I want. The coolest feature is that I only have to enter the ISBN number and it will retrieve all the meta-data and a cover image of the book for me from sources such as Amazon.com and the Library of Congress.
"Books" can be found here: (http://books.aetherial.net/wordpress)

Bruce Stewart
2007-06-01 17:04:51

2007-06-01 17:20:53
iGTD - http://bargiel.home.pl/iGTD/
and a good wiki
B.J. Ray
2007-06-01 17:24:25
VoodooPad is cool
2007-06-01 17:33:18
2007-06-01 17:48:05
I use stickies to organize my ideas (ideas for webcomics, that is)
2007-06-01 17:52:39
Backpack: My todos are accessable anywhere with a computer
Journler: For my blog posts and pieces of my novella
Delicious Library: For organizing what books I want
FileMerge: located in "/Developer/Applications/Utilities/FileMerge.app", this helps me compare documents easily
2007-06-01 18:58:15
I found Yojimbo a bit too paternal. The ton of similar 3-pane applications seem too rigid - that is, the interface was driven by what is possible, not what the data may require. VoodooPad is interesting, but does not to seem to fit my methods of using data that well (yet). Bookpedia is fine for books - and nothing else. OmniOutliner is very good, but I can store everything (and find again) in NoteBook.
Chris Johnston
2007-06-01 18:58:58
I am right now trying to figure out the same thing. This is what I am trying right now:

* Backpack - for all my To-do lists. This way they are accessible from anywhere
* Journler - for organizing files. The nice thing about Journler is that you can stick just about kind of file into it and group them together in numerous ways. This allows a single file to belong to different folders/projects/tags, etc.

A few other suggestions:

* Plain Text Wiki bundle for TextMate
* Voodoo Pad

Charles Brown
2007-06-01 19:24:42
I'm a recent convert to Midnight Inbox, which uses the GTD model. It's still 1.1, so it's a work in progress,and does not have support for Entourage, Firefox, or Quicksilver. But in combination with those three programs, I'm able to pretty much manage any and all work. In terms of ideas, I use Midnight Inbox's quick notes feature, which then converts the note into an item to process. Frankly I wish I didn't have to use Entourage -- I'd rather use Mail, which integrates with both Inbox and QS, but I operate in a PC office environment with an Entourage server. In terms of retreval, I can use either Inbox or QS.
2007-06-01 19:39:23
I use iPod + Belkin's TuneTalk to record my thoughts => iTunes to organize and add comments to the voice memos => use playlists in iTunes to organize the ideas based on priority

Sometimes I use garageband to record my voice memos. Garageband is especially cool cos I can add bookmarks within the recordings for easy referencing later.

Ian Thomas
2007-06-01 19:50:04
DevonThink Pro Office. Not only is it a great app for single projects, but it can handle a complete GTD workflow w/o issue. The scan coupling is great and the ability to archive e-mail keeps all my info in one spot. Lots of scripts that hook into various apps and the service menu allow you to add data very easily. There is a full demo version to try out.
2007-06-01 19:52:00
2007-06-01 20:25:29
Journler is perhaps the one application on the Mac that has truly changed my life. Similar to Yojimbo - but it just works the way I think.
2007-06-01 20:52:13
VoodooPad (http://flyingmeat.com/voodoopad/) - keeping it live and constantly updated with links, thoughts, notes, etc.
2007-06-01 21:19:10
2007-06-01 22:16:56
I use different tools for different tasks. I use del.icio.us to manage my bookmarks (so I can use the same bookmarks on any computer). I use Mori for clippings - it's lightweight and functional. But for "ideas," I use TextMate. It is incredibly functional - I developed a GTD bundle for it, and it now also has a plain text wiki bundle!
2007-06-02 01:20:43
Journler - for notes and drafts
iGTD - amazingly easy to use
Booxter - for tracking books
2007-06-02 02:44:25
Yojimbo + TextMate
2007-06-02 04:13:16
yojimbo + tinderbox
2007-06-02 04:44:19

It is just great for collecting a bunch of notes and links. I use it for almost everything from a simple To-Do list or shopping list to a first outline of a new essay/paper or presentation I'm working on.

Another tool I use daily is Yojimbo. I use this mainly to collect stuff from the web for reference.

2007-06-02 05:11:16
Freemind (freemind.sourceforge.net). Unfortunately I still work with Windows machines at work and I need a cross-platform solution. I like freemind because I can ignore the mouse and leave my hands on the keyboard.
Jim Menard
2007-06-02 05:48:36
I use emacs-wiki-mode (http://www.emacswiki.org/cgi-bin/wiki/RealEmacsWikiMode). It's cross-platform and text-based, two big plusses for me. Also, I'm a heavy Emacs user so it's right there whenever I need it.
Mark Bernsteiun
2007-06-02 07:07:56
Tinderbox, of course
2007-06-02 08:42:10
I dump stuff into a big disorganised text file, ususally via Quicksilver. Then, when one of those little one-line ideas needs expanding, I turn to OmniOutliner for fleshing out, before exporting to a plain text file (rather than saving with OmniOutliner).

Finder-wise, all these files live in a folder called, cleverly, Ideas, then I have a few Smart Folders - one that looks for text files created in the last week and tagged with &ideas in the Spotlight comments, another that looks for text files tagged &ideas and &work, and so on.

Since these little files are temporary in nature, I really need to come up with a good way of getting rid of them automatically, but at the moment I just go through them on the first of each month, trashing almost all, archiving one or two.

Gordon Meyer
2007-06-02 08:55:29
Some other folks have mentioned apps that I use for storing data (MacJournal) and documents (Yojimbo), but when it comes to the core topic of this post, *ideas,* nothing beats Tinderbox in my estimation. See http://www.eastgate.com/tinderbox/
dinis correia
2007-06-02 09:48:35
Yojimbo + Backpack (better than Yojimbo for managing ToDo lists).
2007-06-02 10:02:50
Journler, the best, hands down.
1Passwd, for all my credentials
Stefan Keydel
2007-06-02 12:21:25
I'm constantly toying with new solutions, just because it's in my nature to do so, but I always come back to Tinderbox.
Tony Williams
2007-06-02 17:47:50
I use text files to collect my ideas. These are sorted into various folders, "Reviews", "snippets", "Posts" and so on. I have a TextMate project that includes all the folders and from there I can add a new file, move a file or delete a file. TextMate also allows me to search across the multiple files, use Subversion for versioning and all sorts of neat tricks.
2007-06-03 04:57:25
I see a lot of posts praising the merits of Tinderbox... well I don't know the software, and I have to say that the presentation on the website IS appealing... but guys : 198 USD !!! It oughta be good !
For the record Yojimbo is worth 39 USD...
2007-06-03 05:14:43
Stickies. They can be all brought up instantly and then dismissed....as if they were a totally seperate desktop (a "spaces" precursor!!) Of course, this only works with a limited # of ideas...
2007-06-03 09:30:20
I use Yojimbo to gather thoughts and store ideas. iCal for reminders, todo list - published to iMac for access from anywhere and synced to my P990i via Thierry Girard's p990iCal.
I also use MailTags 2.0 to track email in iCal
Freemind to organise thoughts
I also use human memory (allow plenty of sleep for full functionality) , Postit Notes on the mirror and an analogue notepad and pen.
2007-06-03 09:33:53
forgot delicious for bookmarks and YEP for .pdf files
Dave Frank
2007-06-03 10:19:03
Does anyone else miss MORE, aka ThinkTank? One of the first outliner apps for the early Mac, and still one of the best Mac applications ever written. This program was a rocket, had a small RAM footprint, and allowed almost any kind of data to be embedded into an outline. Until I retired a TiBook in favor of a MacBook Pro, I kept Classic around mostly to run MORE. Now I just feel disorganized. Heh heh.

BTW, MORE was written by Dave Winer (and perhaps others), who is well known in discussions of MacOS, blogging and scripting.

2007-06-03 10:36:15
+1 for DevonThink Pro Office. Lots of benefits for managing ideas: There are lots of ways to get data in - tis GUI, scanning paper and converting it to text, via applescript (so also from Quicksilver), Contextual menus, others..so there are no obstacles to getting the ideas in. Second, it really helps with organizing the ideas - categorizing, incorporating the into web pages or RFT docs, linking them to other ideas etc. Finally, its automatic categorizing and concordance features may show you connections to your other ideas you hadn't thought of yet.
David Battino
2007-06-04 01:27:06
Sidenote, “the Stickies spirit but in the form of a multi-document drawer that will hide in the corner of your screen.” Also Palm Desktop memos and unsent Eudora documents. And browser bookmarks. Hmm...I can see the need for a central repository of ideas.
2007-06-04 03:12:56
I use:
Thinkingrock for GTD
EagleFiler for organizing documents, email archive and misc.
Jers Novel Writer, Journler, Scrivner and a few other apps for my Writing needs.
Omnioutliner for any Project start outlining needs
NovaMind for mind mapping
Gen Kanai
2007-06-04 03:53:21
Thebrain.com's software has recently gone into beta-testing for the Mac. It's an amazing idea management tool...
Philip Regan
2007-06-04 06:10:16
I run PMWiki (http://www.pmwiki.org, PHP-only (no MySQL nonsense), easy to setup and manage, very low overhead) on my laptop that I backup to my server. I love it. I have all my "stuff" in one place, including change histories, and I don't need another app (like .Mac) to sync anything. And it's all free (except for the server space).

I have a fear of a "personal content management" application storing all of my data in a possibly proprietary binary format and having either the company go bust or the data getting corrupted. At least this way, if I ever want to migrate to something else, it's all tagged and some quick work in BBEdit will convert the tags to the new format. I keep everything in there, code snippets, text from articles, project management, etc.

Shashwat Parhi
2007-06-04 06:40:49
I use LooseStitch, a free online outliner that we have been developing, to jot down ideas and organise my thoughts. I can then invite others to contribute, edit my list or leave comments behind. It's great fun to use and really simple and intuitive. I can even import and export to and from Omni Outliner (via OPML) so it's really cool. It's still in beta so a few issues might still be around. Do check it out and let me know what you think. :) Not yet tested on IE.
Shashwat Parhi
2007-06-04 06:56:21
Sorry that link came out wrong. Here is another attempt. http://www.loosestitch.com/
2007-06-04 08:36:24
Thanks for the iGTD tip. I've been waiting to get on the Omnifocus beta tester list, but this app may fill the gap just fine (and it's Donationware too!)

2007-06-04 10:04:46
I use SOHO Organizer for most of my data organization, and Smultron for text files.
2007-06-04 11:00:26
DevonThink Personal for clippings, notes, etc.
Backpack for notes I need to save when I'm not at my personal computer. I can easily email quick notes to it from my cell phone. I also email notes to Mail.
I've become a big fan of TextMate for all my text file uses, including creative writing. And I backup my stuff with .Mac Backup.
2007-06-04 11:40:44
> "It's still 1.1, so it's a work in progress"

Man. We've got to get out of this mentality. I know software is never finished, and never bug-free, but I'm tired of excuses. We have better things to do than work around rubbish software.

> "I like freemind because I can ignore the mouse and leave my hands on the keyboard."

Amen. Proper, full keyboard access.

2007-06-04 14:05:06
I use Caboodle:
2007-06-04 14:58:06
I use SOHO Notes. It's database is searchable through spotlight which I find useful and a deal-breaker if I don't find it in other programs.
2007-06-04 15:11:30
I've tried a whole bunch of different applications for idea management, but I keep coming back to Curio. Can't believe nobdy else has mentioned it. I think the thing I like most about it is that it's very graphically oriented, which suitds my thought process.

If I come across a web page that has information I know I will find useful, but don't want to risk losing it in the mass of bookmarks I already have or have it vanish when someone updates their web site, I create a webarchive from Safari and then import into Curio. It creates a nice readable thumbnail that I can then add notes too and add more graphics if I want. Might sound dumb, but I really like the Align and Distribute features on the context menu. Helps to keep any notes looking nice and tidy, so when I come back to them I don't just have a jumbled mess to interpret before taking the next step in the project.

I also use FlySketch from FlyingMeat to grab images from web pages and PDFs and then bring those into Curio.

Curio is also good for creating quick moc-up diagrams if I don't want to bring up my regular vector drawing application - Intaglio. I've used it to moc-up web pages, visualize additions to my deck, and design halloween costumes for my kids!

Charles Brown
2007-06-04 17:12:51
Re "rubbish software" -- my point was that it doesn't yet have all the interfaces I like. That's a work in progress. If it was rubbish, well I wouldn't be using it would I? So I suggest that you not jump to conclusions without trying Midnight Inbox out.

Have to say I'm not even remotely as impressed with iGTD as others on this list. Tried it and found it wanting both as a GTD solution as a simple list manager. Midnight Inbox is a far more elegant and effective solution.

Finally, I find this discussion kind of beside the point -- kind of like asking "what God do you worship?" Ultimately it's pretty subjective. Use what works for you. If that's iGTD, more power to you. Something else, cool.