The Slow Obviation of Yojimbo

For the past few months I’ve been contemplating just how useful Yojimbo still is for me.

Often times we don’t know what sort of solution we want, or even that there is an area of friction that we can remove. When we find an app we love we often accommodate a bit to its workflow. And as we get set in our ways, we sometimes forget to tinker.

The longer I use my computer, the less and less I enjoy tinkering. I prefer to lock in with a handful of world-class applications and learn them inside and out. Such has been the case with Yojimbo over the past 3 years.

In my review of Yojimbo in 2009 I advocated the need of an “Anything Bucket” and heartily recommended Yojimbo:

Anything Buckets should be more about ease of use than about depth of features. The very best ones lend themselves to perpetual use. And if you use them, depth will come from breadth.

The info we throw at them can be permanent, temporary, important, or trivial. It doesn’t matter. Regardless of who, what, when, where, or why, the best Anything Bucket is ready to receive any bit of information that threatens to elude you.

[...]

Put plainly, Yojimbo is the simplest way possible to save any bit of spontaneous information. No matter how indispensable or arbitrary that information is.

I still agree completely with what I wrote in 2009. Everything doesn’t always fit nice and neatly into our current set of apps and file hierarchies. But in my willingness to break habits and workflows that may no longer be the case for me — I’m considering a transition away from Yojimbo.

This is a subject that saddens me to even think about, let alone write about.

I’ve used Yojimbo every day since early 2009, and it is the only Dock Application I have set to launch when I boot up my Mac. Because, like TextExpander or LaunchBar, if Yojimbo isn’t active when I expect it to be, I’m thrown off for a moment. I’ve written several custom AppleScripts for it. A huge part of my daily routine revolves around tossing stuff into Yojimbo. I store all sorts of things in this fine app: bookmarks, passwords, serial numbers, encrypted notes, regular notes, and more.

But over time, many of the things that I first used Yojimbo for have been replaced. Apps and services like Pinboard, 1Password, the Mac App Store, FileVault 2, and Simplenote/nvALT have all but obviated the majority of Yojimbo’s daily usefulness for me.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve begun using superior, dedicated bookmarking and password apps. Or perhaps I’ve settled into my groove for how I use my computer and what sorts of files I keep. (It’s probably a bit of both.) But whatever it is, there is now little left for my Anything Bucket.

In fact, the only regular thing left for me to store in Yojimbo is receipts and serial numbers. But receipts is a legacy habit at this point. Now that shawnblanc.net is run under an LLC, I’ve far more tax-deductible expenses than I used to. Which means I no longer use a calculator and add up my receipts for year-end accounting purposes — I only keep them around for just in case. Saving them to a Finder folder is now easier in the long run and more efficient.

Search & Bookmarks

This all started with search. They say a good filing system is one in which you can find whatever you’re looking for in 60 seconds or less.

I currently have 2,523 total items in Yojimbo. About 650 of those are bookmarks, and 800 are notes. As my Yojimbo library grows, I’ve increasingly been having a hard time finding certain things when the time comes. Since search results are not sorted by relevance, looking for an obscure bookmark or a particular note means scrolling through a lot of the more-current but less-relevant items first.

The more I add to Yojimbo the harder it is to find things. This is not a desirable behavior.

It was this search-related friction that led me to give Pinboard a shot. Several months ago I stopped adding bookmarks to Yojimbo and began adding them to Pinboard, and a few months later I’ve grown to love the service.

Pinboard has proven to be fantastic. I’ve easily been able to find specific bookmarks I’m looking for, I have tag completion when adding from the browser, and since apps like Reeder, IFTTT, and Instapaper all work with Pinboard, I can add more bookmarks from more places. It’s a wonderful service and I highly recommend it.

And thanks to this slightly-wonky-but-yet-still-effective script, I was able to port all of my 650-some-odd bookmarks from Yojimbo into Pinboard.1

Encrypted Files and Notes

With the advent of built-in SSDs and FileVault 2, there’s no reason not to encrypt my Mac’s entire drive. For the one-off note, PDF, image, or whatever that needs to be individually locked down, then 1Password can do that (albeit, not as elegantly or easily as Yojimbo).

I already use 1Password to store all of my login and password information and there’s no reason not to use it for the storing of secure notes as well. Additionally, these notes sync to my iPhone and iPad. And with my transition to my iPad as my traveling work computer, having access to some of this information when on the road may prove extremely advantageous one day. You see, the thing with synced data like that is you never know when you’re going to need it.

The disadvantage of 1Password compared to Yojimbo is with how extremely easy it is to add a note to Yojimbo. In fact, that is the whole point of Yojimbo: super easy capture. But the need to create an encrypted note is such an infrequent occasion, I am willing to suffer 1Password’s extra steps (and uglier UI).

Simple Notes

One question I still get on a regular basis is how do I differentiate between notes in Yojimbo and notes in Simplenote / nvALT?

Basically, Simplenote has been for anything in progress and Yojimbo was for anything worth keeping. I don’t write in Yojimbo, I store. And for a long time I didn’t store in Simplenote, I just jotted.

But since finding notes in Simplenote is so easy and quick, I’ve taken to storing some long-term, non-private bits of information in there right alongside the short-term notes. My Simplenote library is currently hovering just under 800 notes. This includes random quotes, articles in process, outlines for potential articles, and even things like my Southwest Rapid Rewards number, relevant specs about my Jeep, and the lightbulb specifications for the various fixtures around our house.

Getting Stuff Out

Something else Yojimbo excels at (that I’ve always known, but haven’t experienced first hand until now) is how easily it lets you export your data. It’s as easy to get your stuff out as it is to get in. With a little effort I was able to port all my bookmarks to Pinboard (see above), and with very little effort I just dragged and dropped all my 2012 tax expense receipts into their own Finder folder.

It’s likely that I will continue to use Yojimbo for odds and ends here and there, but it’s no longer the daily workhorse app that it once was. Times change and so do our workflows.


  1. If you try this script, note that any Yojimbo bookmarks with apostrophes, commas, or parentheses in the name will cause an error on export. You’ll also have to be sure to empty your Yojimbo trash because the script will read those bookmarks as well. I spent about half an hour doing some manual cleanup of my data, but once all was polished the script ran fine. It took about 40 minutes to run its course.
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