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What the Zuk: Stickies is the best sticky-note application money can't buy

stickies

What the Zuk is a (very) occasional feature, in which I review software that I have been using for many years, and which is instrumental for my work. These are the first tools I install on every new system, the reliable work-horse applications I turn to for every need. In every installment I will try to explain what makes this particular program special, and why I find it so vital for my computing experience.

Today's What the Zuk is about Stickies, which is an utterly fantastic sticky note program which has been an essential part of my workflow for years. So, here we go:

Remember the Milk, Google Tasks, GQueues, Toodledo ... I could go on. The number of ways I have tried to keep track of my sprawling to-do list over the years is truly massive. After all, trying to figure out what's the best way to manage one's tasks is an advanced form of procrastination. So I've ended up trying just about any task management system I was able to lay my hands on – some for just an hour or two, and some for weeks or even months.

And somehow, I always find myself going back to the cluttered simplicity of sticky notes. I don't know – maybe it's just me, but there's something about the visual nature of sticky notes which works very well for me.

I have a dual-monitor setup. My secondary monitor usually carries at least 4-5 sticky notes, if not more. If a note becomes urgent, I can make the font larger. If I have a ton of notes and I want to make one stick out, I can change its color.

There's something deceptive about a to-do list, for me. Sometimes the mere act of putting an item on a to-do list is almost like doing it. I mean, the list is so nice and orderly, and now that the item is there, it is "no longer bugging me". It can rest in peace in the cozy nest of the list, until it's completely forgotten.


Conversely, there is something irritating about a sticky note taking up precious wallpaper space. It's always right there, in front of me. I don't have to look at the to-do list to see that it's there – the task is calling out to me, "come on, get this over with already!"

After all, I usually don't need reminders for the stuff I feel like doing. The tricky things are those I don't really feel like doing, but have to do anyway. Hiding them in some to-do list which I have to actively look at is really not workable for me.

Okay, but so far I have only touched upon the concept of sticky notes and why use them. But there are numerous sticky notes programs on the market, some of them free. Why go for Stickies?

In a nutshell, this is an absolutely incredible sticky-note program. It does everything I could possibly wish for (save for just one thing -- at the end of this post), and is very graceful. I won't list all of its numerous features, just list those I personally use time and again, and find invaluable.

  • Lightweight and fast: Stickies is super-fast, despite being powerful. It never lags on me, no matter what I do. Creating a sticky note is instantaneous – I can create it just as soon as I think of it. Very responsive.
  • System-wide hotkeys: Again, speed is key in catching fleeting ideas or even jotting down tasks. Thanks to Stickies' system-wide hotkeys, it's so convenient to use I never want to switch to any other solution. Win+S creates a new sticky note in the middle of the primary monitor, no matter what window is currently active. So I just hit Win+S, type whatever I want, and I'm done with it. And if the screen is too cluttered and I want some peace and quiet, Win+Shift+S hides all of the stickies instantly. There are several other hotkeys, all configurable, but these are the two I use.
  • Sticky-specific hotkeys: Ctrl-D closes a sticky; Ctrl-Shift-A sets a reminder for later. Ctrl-T sets it to always-on-top ... there are many others, but you get the picture. You almost never need the mouse. Again, the whole thing is optimized for speed.
  • Reminders: Ah, the cornerstone of my personal time management system. You can set a reminder as soon as you create the sticky, and optionally set the sticky to sleep until the time comes. It then vanishes from view, only to pop up right when you need it, with a very irritating (and effective) "vibrating" effect that simply cannot be ignored. Once it has popped up, you can right-click it and "snooze" it for ten minutes (configurable). You can set the reminders to a specific date and time, or set them for a certain interval ("in 10 minutes"). It even supports recurring reminders!
  • Keeps closed stickies: This is a very handy feature. When I close a sticky (Ctrl-D), it's not gone for good. For quite some time after I closed it (30 days, I think, or more), I can still go into the Manage Stickies window and search for it. It's all right there, and I can easily restore it. It keeps its original position, size, and formatting.
  • Sticky storage: This is a fairly rare use, but sometimes there's a tidbit of information I just need to have on hand. Maybe it's a tracking number I will need in a week, or anything else I just need to have handy but I don't want cluttering my workspace. I can create a sticky note and then store it in any number of categories. Stored notes are never deleted, and are always searchable and accessible from the Manage Stickies window.
  • Rich Text and RTL support: RTL means Right-to-Left, the way Hebrew and Arabic go. Stickies handles Hebrew without a hitch, which is a nice bonus for me. Also, its support for rich text means I can make any text bold, italic, underlined etc. and play with font sizes so as to create the exact visual impact I wish to convey. It's like making a bumper sticker for myself.
  • Support for Hyperlinks: Related, but somewhat different, is the fact Stickies support Web links. It makes them clickable. You can't link to other Stickies like you do with Tomboy notes on Linux, but still, it's a very handy feature.
  • Image Stickies: A few weeks ago, I had to remember a small range of cells in an Excel sheet. The whole table was the result of a calculation, and I wanted to keep it for a week or two. I just copied it, hit Win+S to create a new sticky, and pasted it. What got pasted was a screenshot of that range of cells in Excel! Beautiful, elegant and smart. Rather than messing about with OLE or trying to link into the Excel sheet, I just got a screenshot. Of course, when I copy/paste from Word or from the Web I get editable text. But it's very handy to be able to paste an image right into a sticky.
  • Sticky titles: You can easily (Ctrl-Shift-T) set the title for any sticky you're working with. Then you can double-click the sticky's title bar to collapse it, and you're left with just the title. The visual reminder is still there, but it's not as obtrusive.
  • Sticky styles: What if I always mark my "urgent" stickies with a red background and a large font size, and my "personal" stickies with a light blue background? No problem! Stickies supports up to 9 visual styles, each with its own hotkey (1-9, I believe).

There's a ton of other features I haven't touched on, such as text highlighting (changing the background of just part of the text), other hotkeys (Ctrl + or Ctrl - to change font size), custom skins, setting per-sticky opacity ... really, this is a powerhouse. But still, there was one feature I really needed, which was missing:

Scoop

I work in several distinct "contexts" using the same machine. There's the day job, there's Download Squad, there are my own projects ... so at any given time, at least several stickies taking up space on my monitor were reminding me to do things which are not relevant – things which I actually should not do right this minute.

I wrote Tom Revell, Stickies' developer, and asked for his advice on this. Stickies has an open, powerful API, and I was looking for a way to only show a subset of stickies, appropriate for a given context.

In response, Tom released a great add-on called Scoop. It's a utility which "scoops" stickies according to certain properties. As you can see on the screenshot, it lets you perform batch operations based on a number of sticky properties. It's not just hide or show, either – you can roll them up or down, set their skin, etc. Want to hide all of your always-on-top stickies in one fell swoop? No problem!

When you run Scoop, one more thing happens: the context menu for each sticky gets a new entry, titled Set Category which does just that. There's no category list or key-binding yet (remember, this is bleeding-edge stuff) but you can set a category and then hide/show all stickies in a given category, or do anything else you want to do with them. Beautiful!

Tags: freeware, reminders, stickies, sticky notes, StickyNotes, utilities, zukerlist

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