08 Aug 2008
Timestamp Everything

I try to be organized, I really do, but it doesn’t come naturally. Having tried several schemes (my favorite being David Allen’s Getting Things Done), you’d think I would eventually get it right, but sooner or later I fail on the follow-through.

However, I have developed a few habits that have stuck. One of those is “timestamping” everything … and regretting it when I don’t. My sense of continuity is like the center line striping of a long stretch of unmaintained highway — the existing gaps are exacerbated by the wear and tear until there’s only an occasional mark to remind you it once existed.

So, when the morass of notes, post-its, documents, spare parts, etc., gets too deep, and I have to take time to get everything handled and filed (or tossed) away, the timestamps are invaluable. Otherwise I stare at some cryptic scribble wondering “WTF is this?” and wracking my brain to figure out when I wrote it, whether it’s been dealt with or should I shift into emergency mode, or if it’s now OBE.

To start the day off right, one of the first things I do when I get to work, right after docking my laptop and often even before getting coffee (gasp), is to put the date and day of week (eg, “2008-08-08, Fri”) on the top sheet of my scratch paper stack. I try to carry that habit over to every piece of paper I use.

Although applications or the file system itself takes care of timestamping all my digital work, I generally embed a timestamp indicating when the actual content was created or changed, because I’m more interested in that rather than when its container was modified — copying, moving, or emailing files across multiple systems tends to play havoc with meta timestamps.

I also have a few pet peeves.

The totally useless “Edited: now()” that I occasionally see in a spreadsheet or document. Just opening it for viewing or printing sets the value to the current date and time. Just what was the author thinking?

Another related stupidity is the “Accessed:” time displayed by MS Windows when you right-click a file for properties. Amazingly it’s always right now. You’d think that after a few decades of seeing this done right on other operating systems, they’d know better than to update the metadata of a file when asking for that metadata. Either fix it or remove it from the display.

I also detest applications that want to re-write files just because they were opened. If I don’t make any changes, don’t write anything out to disk, ok? That’s what the “accessed” metadata timestamp is for … oh, wait.

Oops, I’m starting to rant. Next time around I’ll describe a simple but handy notational convention for those running notes I mentioned in the scratch paper post.

Category: Daily-Grind
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