In the first installment of this series, I explained how to use DropBox to set up a means of jotting down your ideas to be automatically stored in the "cloud" and synchronized with whatever PCs you happen to want to access them on. This time around, I'll explain how I've used free software to place my idea lists on my PCs' desktop backgrounds where they're highly visible and quickly accessible for editing. Note that I'm assuming for purposes of this guide that you're using DropBox as outlined in part 1.
My current setup utilizes three text files in my DropBox folder, called "Notes.txt", "Writing.txt", and "Site Ideas.txt". The first is a catchall for links I want to revisit later, reminders to myself, etc - I'd been using this one before starting on my online earning efforts, and decided to keep it around. The second is for InfoBarrel article ideas, and the third is for brainstorming niche sites and keywords, as I'm considering doing some work in that direction in the not too distant future. The choice of three files is convenient because, as we'll see, the utility I'm going to use defaults to displaying three panels of text.
Rainmeter is Just Awesome
The next step requires Rainmeter, an absolutely amazing desktop customization tool for Windows PCs. It's all about putting information on your desktop - notes, RSS feeds, e-mail notifications, weather, system information, clocks, calendars, galleries, and more, all highly configurable and customizable. A quick Google image search on "Rainmeter desktop" will give you some idea of the possibilities.
A general RainMeter install and setup tutorial is beyond the scope of this article, but you'll find plenty of info on the RM site and other locations, as well as a few video tutorials on YouTube. What's important for purposes of this tutorial is that during the install process when it asks what default skins you want to download, you must choose Enigma. (I recommend choosing all three, but the others aren't strictly necessary.)
Once RainMeter is installed and running, find its icon in the quick launch section of your toolbar (usually on the bottom right in Windows) and right-click on it to open its menu. Choose Skins -> Enigma -> Options.ini.
When the options window opens, click the icon on the left that looks like a gear to go to the "General" tab. Find the lines that say "1st Notes File", "2nd Notes File", and "3rd Notes File". Clicking the text next to them will open a dialog to allow you to choose the text file to display, which you'll point to one or more text files you've created in your DropBox directory; in my case, note files 1 through 3 correspond to the three files I mentioned above.
By default, the notes display will cycle through each of its three panels (i.e. my three text files) at 30 second intervals. I found this effect distracting so I turned it off by setting "Enable Switcher" to "No". Should you choose to leave this on, the "Switcher Time" setting can be used to change the interval between panel cycling.
This options panel will allow some further customization of your idea display, via the "height" setting on the general tab, "Sidebar Width" and "Transparency" on the layout tab, and fonts and colors on the "Format Options" tab. I recommend saving that for after the basic setup is working and placed where you want it onscreen.
Next, right-click the setting window to open the RainMeter menu again, and navigate to Enigma -> Sidebar -> Notes -> Notes.ini. Clicking this should open the notes display on your screen; you should see, somewhere on your background, the title of one of your text files, the file's contents (or just blank space if you haven't added anything yet), and a set of dots () you can click on to toggle between files. You can click and drag anywhere from the title to the dots to move this display around, and when the system restarts RainMeter will open it at the location you've most recently moved it to.
I need to add text to my Writing Ideas and Site Ideas files, which correspond to the second and third selector dots. I'll click the second dot, click the space between it and the title to open notepad, then do the same for the third dot. Now I'll enter my grandiose plans for internet wealth - don't steal these ideas!
Once I save these changes and close the Enigma Options window, my idea tracker is alive! Now I can jot down the ideas that occur to me whenever they hit while I'm at work or home, even when I don't have time to act on them; and best of all, thanks to the magic of DropBox, my idea lists will follow me around!
NOTE: For Mac users there is a similar program called "GeekTool", and for Linux there's a tool called "Conky" which appears to have the same kind of functionality. I have no experience with either of these, but I suspect they'll be able to do something similar to what I'm doing with Rainmeter.
Next up: Ideas on the Go
In the third and final installment of this series, I will attempt to make my idea tracker truly mobile by extending it onto my phone. When I see a product or event I might want to write about, I want to add it to my idea list right away and have it show up on my desktop when I get home!