Want a free year on Tuts+ (worth $180)? Start an InMotion Hosting plan for $3.49/mo.
With the Mac App Store open and business booming for Apple developers, it's easy to get into the habit of grabbing a bunch of useful third-party applications to handle your computing needs. While there's nothing wrong with doing this, you may find yourself surprised at just how powerful some of OS X's built-in tools are. The next stop on our quest to help you make the best of your Mac is Stickies, the surprisingly powerful built-in notes application that you may not be using to the full potential, if at all! Let's fix that, shall we?
Stickies lives in your Applications folder by default, and you can always pull it up quickly by using Spotlight (Command + Space) or your preferred application launcher. Each time you open Stickies, it will restore everything just as you left it — all your notes in their exact positions, so you never have to worry about losing your scribbles.
You'll notice that the notes themselves look a lot like basic post-its, and for those of us who used to swear by sticking post-its to our monitors to remember things, it's gratifying to see the same eye-catching look making its way to the digital equivalent.
For the purposes of this article, we're discussing the features of the actual Stickies application rather than the almost-identical Dashboard widget. The two are not one and the same, and the widget lacks some of the functionality of its big brother, so just keep in mind that you may not be able to apply these tips to both.
In any event, Stickies notes are a lot more robust than their paper counterparts, so let's walk through some of the basic features to start with:
Since it makes use of the same text engine that drives TextEdit, Stickies is ready to handle all sorts of common text formatting commands including modifications of font type, size, color, and style with ease. If you want to insert a list as you type rather than having to paste one in and modify it, simply hit Option + Tab and you've got your first bullet point ready to go.
In addition, Stickies also supports the built-in dictionary so you can use your handy Control + Command + D shortcut to pull up the dictionary box in an instant. Remember, that little shortcut doesn't need you to have a word highlighted — as long as that key combination is held down, a definition will automatically be pulled up for any word under your cursor!
One of the most immediate advantages of Stickies over paper post-its is that you are free to drag the corners to make your notes as big or as small as they need to be; perfect for containing your information without cluttering up the screen too much. You can easily change the color of each sticky too by using the Color menu, which makes it easy to categorize them as you like.
Sticky Shrinking and Info
It's also worth remembering that you can quickly de-clutter your stickies by minimizing the ones you don't need to see all the time. To do this, just double-click each sticky's top bar, or select it and press Command + M to shrink it down to a short little bar with only the first line of text showing.
If you want to then get a quick sense of when you made each sticky and when you last modified it, without having to bring it back up to size, you need only hover your mouse over it and a window will appear giving you all the details. This also works when the sticky is maximized, of course.
And if you want them to fade into the background a bit, you can adjust their transparency too: simply go to the note you'd like to make translucent and hit Command + Option + T. Hit the same combo again to bring the note back to its original opacity.
You can also access this function through the menu via Note -> Translucent Window, and if you've set up your sticky to be just the way you need it, then you can hit "Use As Default" in that same menu to ensure that all your new stickies conform to those settings.
One of the most useful features of Stickies is that you can choose to make any sticky remain pinned on top of all other windows so that you never lose it behind the other things you're working on. This is especially useful for notes that you find yourself referring back to frequently, like to-do lists, code snippets, etc.
To get a note to float like this, simply select it and hit Command + Option + F. Alternatively, you can use the top menu by going to Note -> Floating Window.
Cycle Through Stickies
Once you've got some stickies floating and some not, it can be a hassle to quickly select the one you're after, especially if they're hiding behind other windows. To circumvent this annoyance, simply select any one of your stickies and hit Command + ~ (tilde) to cycle through all your stickies just like Alt + Tab does for applications.
Other File Types
In addition to holding text, Stickies will happily take most document, image, video, and audio files that you toss at it. Simply drag a file into the sticky and you're good to go!
Plays Well With Others
One of the coolest features of Stickies is the ability to send text and other data from nearly any native OS X application using the Services menu. For instance, if you want to remember one of the handy shortcuts we've mentioned here, you can simply select the paragraph, go to the application's menu (so, for example, you could click "Firefox" up left beside "File"), go to Services, and hit "Make New Sticky Note".
There is, of course, a shortcut for that, so if you want to save yourself some needless clicking then simply select your text and press Command + Shift + Y. Works with all sorts of things, so give it a try and save yourself some copy/pasting time!
More Fancy Features and Tricks
If you're yawning at the basic functionality above, then read on for a look at some of the more clever things that can be accomplished with Stickies. Roll up your sleeves though, because a few of these tricks require you to get your hands dirty...
Linking To Emails
In the same way that you can drag in most media files, many users overlook the ability to drag in emails to Stickies. If you're already keeping track of to-dos with Stickies and want to make it easier to handle emails that you need to follow up with, you should get in the habit of dragging them into your to-do sticky.
They'll show up as a link (with the subject line as the text) and you can add any additional notes that you need. That way, when you're ready to deal with the email, your sticky will not only remind you and tell you what kind of response you were thinking of, it will also give you a handy link straight to the email so you don't have to hunt it down manually.
Start Stickies on Startup
This one's easy, but it's something that doesn't occur to many people. If you want your stickies to be available right from boot (which makes sense if that's where you keep your to-do notes!) then it's simply a matter of adding Stickies to your startup applications list.
You'll find this list in System Preferences -> Accounts. Just select the "Login Items" tab and hit the little plus button, then find and add Stickies to the list and the next time you log in with that account, Stickies will start automatically for you.
Stickies, Meet Dropbox
This one's more involved. By now you know how much we adore Dropbox, so it should come as no surprise that there's a trick for getting your Stickies synced between all your machines using the service.
The method is identical to the one described in previous articles on the subject, but for those unfamiliar with the process, we're going to essentially move the real Stickies database file to our Dropbox folder and then create a symbolic link to it (kind of like a more powerful alias) in its original location. It's not overly complicated, but it requires a bit more work.
You can do this manually using the Terminal, but if you'd rather not have to do that each time you need to make a symbolic link, we recommend grabbing this set of Automator actions.
To use them, open the package and open Automator. Go to File -> Import Actions and select the "Create Symbolic Link" action from the root of the disk image.
Then simply navigate to the Sample Workflows folder on the disk image and double-click "Create Symbolic Link" to open it in Automator. The last step is to go to File -> Save As Plugin and give it a name (I called it "Create Symbolic Link").
Now whenever you need to create a symbolic link, simply right click the file, select More -> Automator, and the menu will now have "Create Symbolic Link" (or whatever you called it) as an option!
With that out of the way, setting up sync is easy. Go into your User/Library folder, grab the "StickiesDatabase" file, and drop it wherever you want in your Dropbox folder. Once it's in there, right click it, select Create Symbolic Link as described above via the Automator menu, and point it right back to the User/Library folder.
Name it "StickiesDatabase" and click Continue to place the symbolic link. That's it!
Create a Symbolic Link
Now whenever you want to sync your Stickies with another computer, simply navigate to that computer's User/Library folder, delete that StickiesDatabase file (after backing up the info you need, of course), and create a symbolic link back to there from the StickiesDatabase file that's already in your Dropbox!
This one's for the real nerds. If you have the OS X developer tools installed, you can fix one of the only annoying issues with Stickies, which is that notes with large amounts of text do not produce scrollbars, so you must use your arrow keys to navigate them. It's a silly oversight, and one that will take you five minutes to fix.
With a copy safely made, right click the original Stickies application icon and go to "Show Package Contents". Then, in Contents -> Resources -> English.lproj, look for a file called "StickiesDocument.nib" and double-click it to pop it open in Interface Builder (part of the developer toolkit).
The Icon Box and Inspector
When it opens, you should see a mostly white window with Stickies in the title bar, a library box on the right, and a window with several icons on the left. If you don't see the blank Stickies window, then double-click the "Window" icon in the left box to bring it up.
You'll also need to go to Tools -> Inspector to bring up the Inspector window. The Inspector window's title bar will most likely say "Stickies Window Attributes".
What you need to do at this point is simply click once inside the white space in the blank Stickies window. This will change the Inspector window's title bar to "Scroll View Attributes".
You'll now notice the Inspector is giving you check boxes for both horizontal and vertical scrollers, as well as the option to automatically hide them. We want to check "Show Vertical Scroller" and "Automatically Hide Scrollers" to get the functionality we're after.
When those are done, you can use Command + S to save the file, then safely quit Interface Builder — you're done! Next time you open Stickies, they will sport proper vertical scroll bars whenever your text is too long to fit. You can use the same method to enable the horizontal scrollers too, if you like.
Let There Be Scrolling!
Stick With It!
Hopefully you've gleaned a few neat things from our collection of Stickies tips. There are others to be found, and we'd love to hear how you're using Stickies — or if you aren't, what you use instead!