Where my home wiki fails as an organizer

I have been using the simplests of wikis, Usemod, as a business organizer on my laptop. For every day in the near future I make a link. I link to days from other days, and from month pages, and to month pages from year pages.

The great advantage of the wiki as opposed to proprietary software is that it is fully free-form. I am not limited to the things the makers of commercial organizers want me to do, but instead I can enter new items just by clothing the link text in double square bracket, [[like so]]. This example would create a new page called “Like so.” It’s like building an office by burrowing into a mountain, creating new storage rooms and offices as you go.

But I stumbled upon a very real problem which is that it is much harder to make meaningful todo-lists in a simple wiki like this. A todo list really should always live at the current day; my best method so far is to copy unresolved todos to the current day. Yes, a simple solution would be to keep todo lists separate from the day pages, but 1) that is counter-intuitive, and 2) it still leaves little space for notes and sub-todos if your todo list is limited to the list format.

Todos are living things that sometimes branch into sub-projects (for instance if you underestimated the amount of work involved), sometimes need to be closed when they are not finished (for instance when their blocking more important todos from ever getting done), sometimes need to be re-opened again, sometimes need to have costs attached (when your customer wants an itemized list of expenses) and so on. There are relations between todos that are not always clear beforehand, but that still need to be formalized once they become clear.


Illustration: mock-up of what my current electronic diary looks like.

The current strategy of compounding todos makes all my day pages look busier every time. Also, I don’t prioritize todos much, so that the ‘mathom’ todos (the ones I keep pushing to the future and that aren’t very important to begin with) start to outnumber the important todos. And as a result, I have in the past year forgotten to do some of these important todos in time.

I know this because strictly as a diary the wiki is unparalleled. I can make little stories of what happened on each day, and in this way create a history of my company that allows for much more exposition than a simple paper diary could.

A solution for the diary-meets-agenda problem would be to use more powerful software. For instance, if I used MediaWiki, I could save each todo as its own page, and then attach categories to it that would indicate its priority, status, deadline, starting date, cost attached, et cetera. I could then find all Top Priority jobs on the Top Priority category page, or all jobs that still need to be billed on the appropriate category page, and so on.

Even better would be if database wikis like the slow moving OpenRecord would come along (check out the cool video of what it can do! — start at “3. Editing”), so that I could actually build a relational database the way you build a wiki: by hacking out the tables and relations as if the substance were living rock.

N.B. My back-up strategy for this type of diary includes sucking out the pages in HTML format using wget. The problem with that is that the wiki makes new pages where wget asks for an as yet unfollowed link? Also this takes ages if you forget to tell wget to not bother with all the history pages. My wget recipe for this job so far is: ” –restrict-file-names=windows -E -k -R action=”. “–restrict-file-names=windows” makes sure the filenames don’t have strange characters in them, so that I can view the file on multiple OSes, which is important for a back-up in case you need to restore to a different OS. “-E”: add “.html” to the file names; on lesser OSes this will make the files “clickable,” i.e. it will cause the OS to open the file in a web browser once its icon or name has been (double) clicked. “-k” convert internal links so that they work locally; so far that hasn’t been of much use, because it doesn’t add “.html” to these links, as required per -E. “-R action=”: do not store pages where the URL contains the string “action=”; this filters out things like history pages.)

N.B. 2 There is a much simpler way in which the wiki organizer breaks down, and that is that I have to enter the template for each day by hand. Again, using a more sophisticated wiki would solve this, and it’s not really a problem I am much bothered with: it takes fifteen minutes each week to do this by hand.

2 responses to “Where my home wiki fails as an organizer”

  1. Bill Tozier says:

    ToDoist.com is surprisingly helpful (and free) as a To Do item system. But I recently upgraded to OmniFocus, which does just the sort of connection-finding you mention, and offers some very nice functionality I needed with the new businesses and nonprofits we’re starting. At a certain point, obligations to other people (rather than just me) made simple wikified lists too fragile.

    The other thing we’re using is Redmine (http://redmine.org), which is a great free Rails project management app. Has wikis, issue tracking, repository stuff (for programming, but also for document version control) and some other features. Even for projects where it’s “just me”, I find Redmine helps.

  2. brankl says:

    Thanks for the tips, I’ll look into them. Somehow I knew this entry would draw your attention. :-)

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