For the first time, I’m writing a post in Markdown, a relatively readable markup language. What’s more, I’m doing so on my iPad, using an app that particularly suits writing. It feels like finally, the promise of a tablet as a device beyond idly playing games and reading The Economist has arrived.
In this post, I describe how I got here, and how I use Markdown, Editorial, and a sprinkling of Python to help me along.
Markdown makes it easy to write a document with the normal structure you’re familiar. For example:
#Heading One ##Heading Two Some text - An unordered list - Can have many - Items 1. A sublist, ordered 1. You can leave the finer details 1. To Markdown - And even *italics* and **bold**
This renders as:
- An unordered list
- Can have many
- A sublist, ordered
- You can leave the finer details
- To Markdown
- And even italics and bold
The appeal is in a smart yet simple system designed to expressively document. Images, links, and the other familiar trappings of the modern web are also available; check out the creator’s page for more details .
The Running Sheet
What chiefly interested me in Markdown was my ability to take notes in meetings. I’m a fairly quick typist equipped with a newly acquired iPad, and a fairly poor hand-writer. I can always eventually understand my own notes, but they’re not easily searchable, and the problem of writing down actions from meetings, only to promptly forget them once I left them room, was occurring a little too frequently.
Police officers on patrol often have a ‘running sheet’, which is effectively a record of everything police-y they do. This is usually to help them in court, but when I started in the professional world, this idea of keeping a running record struck me as an effective way of keeping up with what seemed like a barrage of information. The habit stuck, and three years in, almost every phone conversation, informative chat, or more structured meeting I’ve had, is logged in one of now six A4 notepads. This has saved me a few times already, but I had noticed whenever I needed something from a few months ago, I’d struggle to find the right place in the right notebook. Enter, Editorial.
Editorial is an iOS (iPhone and iPad) application for taking notes in either plaintext, Markdown, and taskpaper (a plaintext format for keeping track of tasks). It has good support for ‘snippets’ — shortcuts for writing canned responses — as well as ‘workflows’, beefier scripts which can include any Python you wish to write. In short, you can write text, and manipulate it to your heart’s content.
I started by creating a few snippets to help me log incoming and outgoing calls. They now include:
- ‘cf’: Adds the text “###[24 hour time] Call from ”
- ‘ct’: Adds the text “###[24 hour time] Call to ”
- ‘ipp’: Adds the markdown for an image whose URL is on the iPad’s clipboard.
But my workflows are where things really start to get interesting. I have three main ones that I use over the week. They are, in order of creation:
Uploads an image for hosting onto a server at work (so my VPN needs to be on), so that I can refer to it in my running sheet. This is inestimably helpful when I need my notes to include a diagram someone’s drawn in a meeting.
My running sheet looks like this:
1327 Call from Oldmate
- He wants to froth on
- Also, loved the story about the seagulls on the train at Frankston
- He has no money for froths
- Buy some tinnies
For each item on my running sheet, I’ll have an unordered list of main points, and I’ll bold any actions that come out of the interaction. But, as I found in my paper notes, that’s not really enough for me to follow through on those items. So, I wrote a python script to search for new actions from my last meeting, pull them out, and add them to a file called To Do.taskpaper, under a heading of the meeting name if such an entry already exists. This means that after every meeting, all I have to do is run ‘Action Items’, and I can easily keep track of everything I need to do.
Start of Week
This script consolidates the previous week’s running sheet and files it away for reference, leaving a clean running sheet for the upcoming week. This is the newest of my scripts, and as such I’m not sure I’m completely done with it. I’m thinking of processing the Markdown files into HTML/PDFs and leaving them on a web server for an optimally searchable archive, but for now, having them on my iPad sorted by week beginning is a start.
I have published these three workflows at the Editorial workflow website:Image Upload; Action Items; Start of Week. I highly recommend getting Editorial but if dropping USD$9.99 is a bridge too far for you, I suggest having a look at the Python anyway, as a suggestion for how you can optimally leverage plaintext files for the sake of your productivity.