HACK / MAKE

Text File Notes in Things.app Repeating Task and Projects

Cultured Code’s Things has been my go to to-do app for years. It has the simplicity I want while having a full feature set. Recently, I’ve been working more with repeating scheduled tasks and projects and have found that the notes system for it isn’t as robust as I need.

I’ve created a multi-step project called “QA & Deploy” that repeats on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Throughout the week, we will have git branches that need to be QA’d, merged, and deployed to production and I’ve been keeping track of these in Things project notes. The problem is that if it’s not the day that the project has moved from scheduled into today, any notes I add to the project are actually made in the project template rather than Tuesday’s instance. Ideally, Things would create instances for this weeks recurring projects in Next which are separate from the template, but knowing Cultured Code’s history with updates, I’m not holding my breath.

I created a workaround using flat text files and Alfred. I used a really basic shell script to create a new .txt file in an arbitrary directory (~/Dropbox/Library/Things/documents) with the filename being the query in Alfred.

This makes it simple to pop open Alfred, hit the command to create a new Things document, and type in the filename I want. This document will then open in whatever application you set in the script, for me BBEdit, and you’re ready to add your notes, save, and drag the file thumb from the title bar into the Things project note area. You’ve always been able to add file references to Things tasks but this system makes it simple to create and puts the file in a place that won’t ever get deleted or moved, so the reference is always active.

What you gain from this is being able to have better project templates where you have more control over the notes. Your repeating tasks and projects will always reference this file so you can have consistent notes if you want or if you don’t, still have a better way to manage them. You get to have your notes in your favorite text editor, with all of the advantages that has rather than the simple text field in Things.app. The downside to this method is that you won’t be able to edit your project and task notes directly in Things for iPhone and iPad, but if you put these documents in Dropbox—which you should—you can edit them in a better text editor there too.

I use this script for Things notes, but all the script does is create a file with whatever extension you designate in the script, in a specified directory with the filename you give it in the Alfred query, so you can let your flat-text-file-imagination run wild and use the script for whatever .txt needs you have.

Download the Alfred extension

Bonus: With both this system, and the one I created for scratchpads, I wanted the new text files I created to open with Markdown syntax highlighting. To do this in BBEdit, go Preferences > Languages > Custom Extension Mappings and add a new mapping for .txt to the Markdown language.

Markdown Language Setting for New BBEdit Documents

Here’s a great defaults write option for setting Markdown as the default language for any newly created BBEdit documents.

defaults write com.barebones.bbedit DefaultLanguageNameForNewDocuments -string "Markdown"

Whether you go File > New > Text Document, or have a scripted hotkey, by setting this you won’t have to change the language manually to get pretty syntax highlighting for you Markdown files.

You can find more of these options in BBEdit by going to Help > BBEdit Help > Expert Preferences.

Rain or Shine

We set ourselves up for success or failure by the commitments we make and follow through on. Failure is always an option but not always a choice—sometimes it’s inevitable. The choice you have is to show up, rain or shine.

Do you love baseball so much that you would keep playing in the rain if you could? Would you commit to running in the morning or biking to work everyday, rain or shine? Would you stick by your girlfriend, best friend, wife, coworker when everyone else has given up on them?

Some people commit to the wrong things and they’ll be greedy and hurtful all the time. They’ve trained themselves to do this by being that way on the best and worst of days.

Train yourself to behave, do, create, meet, and explore the way you want to by doing it no matter what. Being committed means showing up regardless of how tired you are, how messed up things are, or how little you feel you have to offer. You can’t just say you’ll be a good leader, husband, friend, father, boss, and then pull it off when the time comes. You have to practice and commit to the lifestyle, attitude, and behavior, rain or shine, so that when the hard parts of it comes along, you’re better prepared to ride out the storm.

What is it you will do rain or shine?

Living Declaration

There’s no room for indecision in a declaration. It’s not, “let’s give this a shot” or “I’ll try.” A declaration is a stance—a strong one. It’s standing your ground to opposition, stating your failure, or defining truths. Declare war. Declare bankruptcy. Declare one’s love.

It’s also public. Declarations aren’t fruitful if they happen in your notebook or as a quiet thought. They are meant to be told from the mountain tops, shared with people, and understood together. Declarations are made so that people can be accountable to the beliefs that are declared.

Too often we won’t declare anything. We stay quiet about our beliefs, our work, our values, our goals, our vision because people will say they are stupid. They’ll say we are wasting our time.

Make more declarations. Make everything you are a declaration and with everything you do, support that purpose.

Fear and Writing

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for almost a year:

Talking about fear has gone from being an oppressed topic to being overwhelming in productivity chat like 5by5’s Back to Work.

Writing is something I want to do. Writing is something I want to do well. I understand that the latter is dependant on the former and that my fear of publishing is stopping me from doing this. Long ago, I was able to acknowledge this fear — however significant or invalid it may be — yet, I still don’t write regularly.

I’ve put great effort into simplifying my life. Removing distractions, dependancies, and undesirables has allowed me to focus on what I’m good at and what I enjoy doing. Yet, writing hasn’t become one of these things. I’m not even sure why I’m writing this, as a piece regarding my inability to write consistently is much less productive than just starting to write.

When I finished that last sentence I came to a realization and closed the window then wrote—and published—something real. It wasn’t something great but it was a start.

I could write a long, fancy thing about getting over fear and starting on something you’ve always wanted to do but the reality is that your fear is unfounded. It’s not that complicated. Stop talking about how you want to do this thing and stop spending your creativity on excuses.

Just start doing that thing. Start small but start. For a while it won’t be as great as imagined but it won’t be as bad as you’re afraid of.

Go talk to that girl. Click publish on that blog post. Ask your boss for a raise.

Don’t be afraid of something that doesn’t exist.