2009-03-18

in praise of org-mode

The bread-and-butter of emacs is text-editing, of course. But starting from that, emacs has gone beyond that -- far beyond, with things like e-mail clients and games. For me, one of the most useful things to with emacs is to use it as a planner/agenda - and for that I use org-mode.Now, org-mode is quite popular already - but I am sure there are many people who haven't heard about it - and if this blog entry helps only one of them, it has served its purpose.

I won't go through the basics of Org-mode here -- this has been documented very well already. I can recommend reading the reference manual; the web is full of useful tips, and the org-mode mailing list is very nice - and org-mode author Carsten Dominik is amazingly responsive.

Traditionally, I've found it hard to keep track of the things I need to do, paying bills and sending in forms on time, and so on. I solved that using some techniques like GTD ('Getting Things Done', or 'To-do lists on steroids') -- I am using it in a dilluted form that works well for me. Spending so much time with computers, it's only natural that I want some computerized to help me with that (and keep a Moleskine notebook as a low-tech satellite system). There is some dedicated software and some webapps to do this, but they never really appealed to me - they are quite rigid, and I am very picky when it comes to quick navigation, not requiring mouse operation, and so on. Of course, you wouldn't expect different from an emacs user.

So, how does org-mode solve this? In org-mode I just keep all my notes (to-do items, appointments, meeting notes etc.) in plain-text files. Within these text files, I can organize items hierarchically, ie.

* item i
* item ii
** item ii.a
*** item ii.a.1 
and so on. Org-mode gives them some funny colors, allows you to show/hide part of the hierarchy, and so on. This is excellent for notes, and that makes org-mode already quite useful, even if you don't use anything else.

Still, you might. So, you can add dates to items, say:

* TODO: fix my bike SCHEDULED: <2009-03-18 Wed>       :home:
Org-mode will recognize this as a TODO item, and recognize that you'd like to do it on a certain day. The :home: is a tag, which means that this is something to do when I'm at home; alternatives could be car or work, but tags can be anything; we'll see how tags come in handy.

The 'magic' now is that you can generate an agenda (week, month, year, filtered) or todo-list, which takes the items from all your org-files, and shows what to do today, this week, ..., and you can filter by tag. Thus, you can have a specific TODO-list for the office. It works really nicely.

Org-mode also allows you to export your todo-lists and agenda's to webpages. You can mark your TODO items as 'DONE', and move them to an archive file. You can have recurrent items. You could add, say, 'MAYBE:' and 'CANCELLED' to complement TODO/DONE. Just about anything is configurable.

And of course, it's all plain-text. This makes it easy to script, and it will work well with a revision control system, such as subversion or git -- and through that, you can easily use org-mode from different computers, home, office, anywhere.

So, with this entry I hope to encourage everybody who likes to manage their time with emacs to try org-mode -- and I only scratched the surface. You can start using it as an alternative to simple text files for writing notes, and then slowly define your very own 'best way' to handle all the other things.

Let's end with some interesting links:

So, let's get organized :)

6 comments:

Mekk said...

Don't forget the excellent video introduction

PS And let me add my tiny idea of using org-mode in non-typical fashion.

Mekk said...

Ugh, I somehow missed that you posted the video link too. Sorry :-(

Still, I'd like to recommend this video. I've read about org-mode 4 or 5 times, but only after watching this presentation I decided to really try it. And I am glad.

Also, I found that while I love mind-maps, org-mode outlines do fairly well as a replacement, especially when I plan some document

djcb said...

@Mekk: I like to play with these kind of tools, but I never really got into mind maps. Indeed, org-mode works better for me.

valvo said...

I'm going to see that video... :) I already use org-mode but what I dream something more... I dream that one day I could write my slides and presentations with org-mode instead of using damned OpenOffice... Does anyone know something about it? Is it possible to do? At the moment I have to use an horrible self-made piece of code but I would like something better, something directly from org project... :)

I'm sorry if I seem little OT and I'm sorry for my bad English...

Bye and congratulations fro this wonderful blog!

djcb said...

@valvo: there is some (experimental) support, see http://www.mail-archive.com/emacs-orgmode@gnu.org/msg07842.html

an alternative would be to use LaTeX and the Beamer package for LaTeX; not sure how well that goes with Org-Mode latex export though.

valvo said...

thanks djcb, I discovered your solution yesterday evening: adding this line:

#+INFOJS_OPT: view:info toc:nil path:/home/val/.emacs.d/org-info.js sdepth:2

I can have a nice slideshow ;) ...I need to export it to pdf, I'll see if it is already possible, otherwise I'll write some piece of code to have it ;)

Everything is well documented here: http://orgmode.org/manual/Javascript-support.html

:) Really nice... However I used Latex beamer but I found really more exciting (and quick...) using org syntax...

Thank you guys ;)