Notational Velocity Naming Conventions

In last weekend’s episode of the Mac Power Users, I spoke at some length about how I name files in Notational Velocity.

So how do I name files? I preface the note name with some pre-designed codes (which I hesitate to call “tags”). The text screen is always unique so typing the name lets me quickly filter my 700 notes down to something more manageable. As I type this note right now from my iPad, the note is titled “ms:post - NV Naming” The first bit is the important part. You could call these a sort of tag but they really aren’t. Everything related to MacSparky starts with “ms:” I can further narrow it down by categorization. For instance “ms:post” is a working post where “ms:idea” is some random thought for site improvement. Either way, if I type just “ms:”, I get all the MacSparky related notes.

I do the same for the day job with “law:am” (active matters), “law:cm” (closed matters), and “law:form” (text forms). You get the idea. If you are going to use a system like mine, here are a few tips:

  • No uppercase. Keep it simple so you can type it quickly on an iPhone or iPad;
  • Keep the list as short as possible. I’ve memorized my codes but I also have a note with a list of them.
  • If you use dashes after the code (i.e. ms:post – Bill Gates’ new iPad), keep the spacing uniform so when you organize alphabetically, things work out.

A couple of things I don’t do in the names are dates and Merlin’s Q trick. Ben Brooks makes a good case for using dates in Notational Velocity notes but I’ve never found a need for it. Perhaps it has something to do with the way I use Notational Velocity. I do frequently drop date strings in notes, however. For instance if I talk to someone, I may note it with a date string in a matter note.

Likewise, I don’t use Merlin’s ingenious Q trick because for me, things are always changing and I don’t like going back to rename. Again, it is a good idea but one I fortunately don’t need.

Also absent from my system is tags. You could create tags in the notes with a symbol, like “@law, @form.” Also, Simplenote now has a tagging system but tagging has always struck me as more fidgety than useful. Brett Terpstra explains why I may be wrong about tagging in the the last MPU episode.

The Simplenote – Notational Velocity Tango

I write, a lot. I write for the day job (lawyer). I write for the night job (blogger). I’ve now even added a weekend writing gig. Needless to say, I’m always looking for a way to write better and faster.

I’ve been aware of Notational Velocity for some time but wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it. Notational Velocity is an open-source project for text junkies. It just holds text but it does it with Panache.

There is no interface to speak of, just a search bar and a list of text files. To make a new entry, you type a unique name in the search bar and press enter. Nothing more. You then have a text field and nothing but your own willingness to procrastinate to hold you back.

After you collect a few (or a lot) of notes you can find them just as easily as you make them. Type a few keywords in the search bar, tab to the one that matches your search, and press return. For years I’ve kept folders full of small text files. Notational Velocity allows me to keep them all in one place and makes them searchable. It is simple, obvious, and mind bending all at once.

Anyway, a few months ago two people from Notational Velocity and the iPhone Simplenote App talked and had one of those “your chocolate in my peanut butter” moments. Put simply, Notational Velocity syncs flawlessly with Simplenote on your phone. This changed everything.

Now I can not only have this unified list of text files, they are in my pocket and editable at any time. Since the syncing function was turned on, I’ve been moving nearly all of my data over to Notational Velocity for this Simplenote sync. I’ve moved data out of Yojimbo and Bento where possible. As just a small taste, Notational Velocity has:

  • My list of notes about judges I appear before;
  • All of the essential data for any active cases I’m working on;
  • A list of trial dates and commitments out through the next two years;
  • Contract form text I may want to re-use;
  • Information concerning my childrens’ schools and activities;
  • Ideas for future blog posts;
  • Half written blog posts;
  • A list of seeds for a garden I am planting with my daughter;
  • A list of dumb mistakes I have made which I will never again repeat;
  • A list of useful Mac terminal commands …

The list goes on.

Last night, this got even better.

Simplenote released its iPad version. So now I can hack at this stuff on my precious iPad and leave the Mac at home a lot more often. I’ve been playing with the iPad version. Indeed I am tapping this post out over my tortilla soup on my iPad.

My biggest gripe with the iPad is file management. Simplenote fixes this problem for text today. All of my text is always in sync over all of my devices. If you work in text, learn the Simplenote – Notational Velocity tango.