Using Geektool to keep things bubbling in the back of your mind

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 20.30.22

Everyone has things they need to do, things that belong on a todo list. But how do you remember the other things - not the things you have to do, but the less urgent, less coherent, less defined things? The things you just to have a bit of a think about?

You might need to do something about them one day. There might end up being a list of actions to take.

But for now, for the foreseeable future at any rate, you just need to ponder them. Not to any sort of timetable or deadline, just - whenever you get time.

They are, in short, the things you need to keep bubbling at the back of your mind.

There's no app for those things.

A list that doesn't get in the way

I've known for a while that I have a sort-of mental list of these things. The problem with it being a mental list is that I tend to forget what's on it. Things that should have been bubbling get ignored, until suddenly they become more urgent todos. Then they go on the todo list without having been thought about.

What I've been looking for is a gentle, non-urgent way to keep them at the periphery of my attention. Not so much a "things to remember" list, but a "things not to forget" list. You appreciate the difference, don't you? Of course you do.

So I wanted a list that I wouldn't have to remember to check. A list I'd see often, but not by intent. A list that I'd stumble over during the course of doing other stuff, and I'd notice it and think "Oh yes, I mustn't overlook those. I'll have a think about them when I pop out for lunch."

I wanted a list that did the reminding without the nagging. A list that didn't get in the way.

GeekTool is the answer

GeekTool is a thing that's been around for years, and although I've been aware of it, I've never thought I had a need for it. Until now, because it turns out to be ideal for managing a things-to-think-about list.

It has a clever feature that allows you to add text to your Mac desktop. It's not editable with a double-click, but it's always there. You can configure GeekTool to do all sorts of ingenious things, but I just wanted it to display the contents of a simple text file.

So I followed the instructions on this page to get GeekTool doing just that. (In summary: you create a "Shell" action in GeekTool, and tell it to run cat some/text/file.txt.)

Now I have a text file called "thinkabout.txt", and its contents is always visible in the top-left corner of my desktop. It's not a todo list - I have one of those, and I use it differently. It's not a calendar, it doesn't proactively remind me to do stuff. I can edit the file and close it, and don't need to remember to keep checking it, because it's always there on my desktop.

It's a nudge. It nudges me about things I want to keep bubbling in my brain. Not things I want to remember, but things I just don't want to forget.

I see it at unexpected moments; when I hide an app, or close a window, or move one around. At busy times, I might go for days without seeing at all, but sooner or later it will pop back into view again.

(11th September 2013)