Helpful tools for organization

Fri June 03 2022 by Christopher Aedo

Lately I've been feeling really good about the tools I'm using to keep my work (and occasionally personal) information and tasks organized. As both a reminder to myself if I ever need to recreate everything from scratch, and something I can share with others who might find this useful, I thought I should write about it.

First off is using a calendar religiously. We use gmail at work, and I try to be really good about putting in ALL appointments and time-specific reminders, not just work meetings. For instance on the home front, I have a recurring entry every year that reminds me to call the roof cleaner (we live in the PNW and it's pretty important to keep your roof healthy if you don't want it to need an early replacement). I'm also careful to put in the location for any appointments I've got so when I get in the car the directions will automatically pop up on CarPlay when the time for the appointment nears.

The second most useful tool I've been using for a while is TaskWarrior. It has become absolutely invaluable for me both for keeping track of the things I need to do, and for keeping a record of the things I've been up to. To make it easier I've got a few aliases set up:

alias ta="task add"
alias taw="task add +work "
alias td="task done"
alias tl="task list"
alias tlw="clear;task list +work"
alias ts="task sync"

I tag anything work-specific with "+work" so my "tlw" alias shows me all the outstanding work tasks I have. I don't even use a tiny fraction of the capabilities of this tool to be honest. You can use it as a full featured project management tool with sub-tasks, dependencies, due dates, prioritization, etc. For me I just use it as a place to hold relatively short term reminders like "Check in with Joe re repo access" or "Follow up with HR re bonuses".

When I want to remind myself of what I've done in the past I just use "task completed +work" and I get a detailed list of what I marked as done and when it was completed.

Since I occasionally switch between two computers, I wanted to keep the task list synchronized, that's the alias "task sync". For that I set up a Taskserver with docker-compose. The Taskserver Setup Guide was super helpful for this.

The last thing I've been doing that has been incredibly valuable is making it really easy to keep notes and search my notes for keywords or phrases. I know there are a TON of fancy approaches to this, for instance SaS options like Evernote and several open source self-hosted note-taking apps that are similar. The thing is I just don't need to create or check notes from my phone or an iPad or some random computer. I just want to be able to quickly jump into a note from my terminal when I'm in a meeting or need to write out something too long for a TaskWarrior task. To that end I've got the following functions in my .zshrc:

function note {
        DATE=`date +"%Y%m%d"`
        TS=`date +"%Y%m%d %H:%M:%S"`
        FILENAME=$HOME/Documents/notes/$DATE.txt
        echo $TS >> $FILENAME
        vi $FILENAME
        pushd $HOME/Documents/notes
        git add *
        git commit -m "Autocommit due to edit of $FILENAME"
        #do lame check to see if we are online before git push
        if ping -c 1 gitlab.com &>/dev/null
        then git push
        else echo "Offline, not pushing changes up"
        fi
        popd
}

function search {
    egrep -i $1 ~/Documents/notes/*
    task list +work | egrep -i $1
    echo "(e)dit with vim, (l)f, or (q): "
    read -k x
    if [[ $x == 'e' ]]
    then
      vi `egrep -il $1 ~/Documents/notes/*`
    elif [[ $x == 'l' ]]
    then
      lf ~/Documents/notes
    else
    fi
}

Typing "note" jumps me into a new note with the filename of today's date, with a date and time-stamp line inserted at the bottom. Then I can start typing immediately below that and take down whatever I need to. When I exit the file it's automatically committed to git and pushed to a private repo. Any time I switch between computers I just have to "git pull" to synchronize my notes.

The alias "search" lets me search for a word or phrase and see which files or open tasks contain what I'm looking for. That's been really helpful so many times when I have a vague recollection of something and I want to find more details.

Using these three tools (google calendar, TaskWarrior and a simple function for creating notes with vim) has made it really easy for me to stay on top of the things I need to do, and occasionally look back and see what I've done. If you ever have trouble staying organized, give it a try!