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495 Chapter 18. Organizing your Life with Nisus Writer

In this chapter, you’ll learn…

In Chapter 16, we saw how Nisus Writer can be used to complement, or even to replace, your E-mail programs. Many people find it very convenient to use just one application for as many tasks as possible, and it’s also great to have all of Nisus Writer’s powerful tools available when you’re working on your E-mail. But this concept can easily be expanded to other tasks as well. With a bit of initial effort, you can set up Nisus Writer to substitute for a wide variety of other applications, making your system more compact and allowing you to make use of PowerFind, macros, glossaries, and so on no matter what you’re doing. In this chapter, we look at some of these activities and see how Nisus Writer can help you organize your work and your life.

496 The Nisus-Centered Life

I will never forget my first visit to Nisus Software. I had been a Nisus user for years, and had just been selected as one of a dozen people to become the first Nisus Authorized Trainers. (The program has since, sadly, evaporated.) We came to San Diego from all parts of the country for a week of training and meetings. The classes were conducted by Ryland Madison and Mark Hurvitz, both of whom are geeks like myself (though they might not put it that way) and longtime Nisus employees. Although I thought I knew Nisus pretty well already, had written quite a few macros, and in general felt myself to be quite the pro, I was shocked and delighted by what I saw that week. These guys didn’t just use Nisus as a word processor—they used it for everything. Sure, they had lots of macros and keyboard shortcuts, but the really fascinating thing was how many different activities they did, during the ordinary courses of their day, in Nisus—calculating expenses, editing E-mail (this was before PowerTalk!), keeping track of their schedules, and much more. I left San Diego that week overwhelmed, wishing I had a job that let me use Nisus all day long! There was just so much you could do—with a little creativity.

There are more information-management programs out there than you can shake a stick at, each one specially designed to simplify some particular part of your life. Heck, even Nisus Software makes both a calendar/to-do list program (Easy Alarms) and a personal note database (MailKeeper). But what if you don’t have the money, RAM, disk space, or inclination to buy and learn a whole bunch of programs? Perhaps, like me, you’re a “starving student,” or perhaps you just like the idea of keeping everything in one place—or of pushing technology as far as you can. If you’re such a person, this chapter is for you. Here we’re going to imagine that Nisus Writer is in fact your main—or even your only—application program, and see just how much of your life can be organized with this one tool. You might find this to be just an interesting experiment. Or you may actually find that there’s so much you can do with this 497 program that you don’t need to bother with a lot of other things you thought you needed! Ready? Away we go!

The Contact Manager

When I was living in Pittsburgh, I met a woman at a user group meeting who runs a Macintosh temp agency. At the time, I thought I might like to work for her, and I was trying to impress her with my Mac geekiness. “So, which database do you use to keep track of your clients and employees—FileMaker Pro or 4D?” I asked. She said she didn’t use either. “Oh, then you must use Now Contact or TouchBase, right?” No again. “Actually, I don’t use a database at all,” she said, “I just keep everything in a big Word file.” Now wait a minute, I thought. That couldn’t possibly work, could it? She must not be a real Mac geek! But she explained her system to me. Everything she worked on during the day went into this one big file. Names and addresses, telephone numbers, client info, records of conversations. Everything. When she needed to retrieve some information, she just used Word’s Find… command. Time to print a letter or an envelope? No problem, the data is already there, no importing, scripting, or anything else needed. She figured she’d have her word processor open all the time anyway, so why not just put it to work? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the true geek is one who can accomplish a great deal—elegantly—with limited resources. And that’s exactly what she did.

Now of course, I’d never recommend using a Word file for this purpose…but the point is that the fact that we’ve always done things a certain way doesn’t mean there’s only one way to do things. And you may find some unique advantages to the “one big file” approach (or some variant of it). Let’s look at the kinds of things you might need to keep track of in a contact manager and how you might do this in Nisus Writer.

If you do decide to keep all your information in one file, please remember to use Nisus Writer’s autosave feature to back up your work automatically, preferably storing copies on multiple volumes. You don’t want to lose this information!

498 Names, Addresses and Phone Numbers

Unless your database of contacts requires extensive calculations and linking, there is little to be gained by keeping every piece of information (first name, last name, zip code, date of birth) in a separate field or “slot.” Interestingly, a contact database called InfoGenie (formerly QuickDex) recognizes this fact, and allows you simply to type all the info you need on a person into a single big field. The only times you may want to keep these pieces of information separate are if you plan to use Nisus Writer’s Merge… command to create form letters or mailing labels, or if you need for a macro to have special access to just part of the information (like a telephone number). In the latter case, the easiest approach may be to assign different defined styles (all of which may look identical) to each portion of the contact information. That way, you could perform a Find for any instance of, say, “Frank” with a style of Last Name in order to locate records for Bill Frank or Alice Franklin but not Frank Smith or Franklin Thomas.

There is, of course, no need to type in all these pieces of data, format them nicely, and apply styles separately to each one. A macro can easily do all of that for you. For instance, when you want to enter a new contact record, you could choose a New Contact macro that would jump to the “Contacts” portion of your file, ask you to type each piece of information into a dialog, then paste it all in, properly formatted, and with the necessary styles applied to each portion.

Macros can also automate the retrieval of contact data. For instance, you could have a special macro that performs a search by company name, and another that searches by last name or some other criteria. If you have an application or extension that can communicate with your modem and receive Apple events, you can even have a macro dial the phone number of your contacts.

499 Other Contact Information

There are several other types of contact information you may want to store. Nisus Writer macros, once again, can make all of these much more useful.

If you’re interested in creating macros such as these, consult Chapter 12 for background information, and also examine the “Form Filler” macros in the Chapter 14 folder on the enclosed CD-ROM. Developing a simple system like this to keep track of your contacts can be a excellent way to practice all the Nisus Writer skills you’ve learned so far in this book!

The Journal

Mark Hurvitz has an interesting set of macros for keeping track of both his schedule and his daily activities. In the morning when he gets to work, he turns on his computer. Nisus Writer launches automatically, since an alias is in his Startup Items folder. His InitInit macro (which runs automatically when the macro file is opened), among other things, displays 500 his calendar, records the time he arrived for work, opens his diary file, and stamps it with the current date. As he works, he records conversations and the tasks he accomplishes in his diary file. At the end of the day, another macro records in his calendar the time he stops work, closes and saves his diary, and quits Nisus Writer. Of course, this concept can be expanded on endlessly. But if there are pieces of information that you have to record manually every day, chances are very good that a macro can automate some or all of that work for you.

Keeping a journal or diary in Nisus Writer is in one sense a trivial task—just open up a file and start typing. A few little steps, however, can make this much easier and more effective:

The Workbook

Having spent, so far, more than 20 years of my life in school, I can testify that one of a student’s most valuable possessions is The Notebook—that one special binder or book that contains all of the class notes, assignments, sched-501ules, and other information for an entire term. Having worked in the business world too, I can tell you that there’s nothing more frustrating than chasing around thousands of memos, Post-It notes, and all those other little scraps of information accumulated in the course of a day. A single notebook that contains all your most important business information is a great tool. Naturally, computers can store all those little pieces of information too, and if, like me, you have a PowerBook surgically attached to your wrists, it can even be practical to carry around your “notebook” as you go about your daily business.

Of course, whether your notebook is a legal pad or three-ring binder, you’ll probably do more than just record notes. You’ll do calculations, doodle, write reminders to yourself, and jot down phone numbers. And when you do, your notebook becomes a workbook—the book that you use to do your work. In Nisus Writer, too, you can do much more than just record text. I’ve even known people to figure their taxes in Nisus Writer! Even if you don’t use a single file (like the ones discussed earlier in this chapter) to hold all your work, you can still configure Nisus Writer in such a way as to perform all of your workbook functions. A big key to the “workbook” concept is, not surprisingly, macros. Here are some specific hints to get you started.

The Nisus Macros file on the CD-ROM groups together some of the most useful macros for day-to-day work, including calculation and editing macros.


The ideas presented in this chapter merely scratch the surface, but it should be clear that Nisus Writer’s usefulness extends far beyond its ability to help you write letters and reports. It can help you to manage your work in many ways. I’ve often said that if I were stranded on a desert island with my PowerBook and could have just one application (not a very likely scenario, I admit), that application would have to be Nisus Writer, precisely because it’s so easily adapted to just about any need—it is truly the “Swiss Army Knife” of word processors!

While the good things I can say about Nisus Writer could go on indefinitely, all good things must come to an end. I hope you’ve found the ideas in this book useful, educational, and maybe even thought-provoking. If you haven’t already done so, now’s the time to start exploring the enclosed CD-ROM, which contains the dozens of macros referred to in this book and loads of other goodies (to say nothing of the Nisus Writer application itself!). As Nisus Writer continues to evolve, so will future editions of this book. If you have any comments about this book or suggestions for a future edition, I’d love to hear from you. My E-mailbox is always open; I can be reached at kissell@computergeeks.com.

I now have a new e-mail address: jk@alt.cc.

Copyright © 1995, 1996, 1999 by Joe Kissell

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