In my first post in my series on Emacs, I described returning to Emacs after over a decade of vim, and org-mode being the reason why.
I really am astounded at the usefulness, and simplicity, of org-mode. It is really a killer app.
So what exactly is org-mode?
I wrote yesterday:
It’s an information organization platform. Its website says “Your life in plain text: Org mode is for keeping notes, maintaining TODO lists, planning projects, and authoring documents with a fast and effective plain-text system.”
That’s true, but doesn’t quite capture it. org-mode is a toolkit for you to organize things. It has reasonable out-of-the-box defaults, but it’s designed throughout for you to customize.
To highlight a few things:
- Maintaining TODO lists: items can be scattered across org-mode files, contain attachments, have tags, deadlines, schedules. There is a convenient “agenda” view to show you what needs to be done. Items can repeat.
- Authoring documents: org-mode has special features for generating HTML, LaTeX, slides (with LaTeX beamer), and all sorts of other formats. It also supports direct evaluation of code in-buffer and literate programming in virtually any Emacs-supported language. If you want to bend your mind on this stuff, read this article on literate devops. The entire Worg website
is made with org-mode.
- Keeping notes: yep, it can do that too. With full-text search, cross-referencing by file (as a wiki), by UUID, and even into other systems (into mu4e by Message-ID, into ERC logs, etc, etc.)
I highly recommend watching Carsten Dominik’s excellent Google Talk on org-mode. It is an excellent introduction.
org-mode is included with Emacs, but you’ll often want a more recent version. Debian users can apt-get install org-mode, or it comes with the Emacs packaging system; M-x package-install RET org-mode RET may do it for you.
A good tutorial…
I’ve linked to a number of excellent tutorials and introductory items; this post is not going to serve as a tutorial. There are two good videos linked at the end of this post, in particular.
Some of my configuration
I’ll document some of my configuration here, and go into a bit of what it does. This isn’t necessarily because you’ll want to copy all of this verbatim — but just to give you a bit of an idea of some of what can be configured, an idea of what to look up in the manual, and maybe a reference for “now how do I do that?”
First, I set up Emacs to work in UTF-8 by default.
org-mode can follow URLs. By default, it opens in Firefox, but I use Chromium.
(setq browse-url-browser-function 'browse-url-chromium)
I set the basic key bindings as documented in the Guide, plus configure the M-RET behavior.
(global-set-key "\C-cl" 'org-store-link)
(global-set-key "\C-ca" 'org-agenda)
(global-set-key "\C-cc" 'org-capture)
(global-set-key "\C-cb" 'org-iswitchb)
(setq org-M-RET-may-split-line nil)
I can press C-c c from anywhere in Emacs. It will capture something for me, and include a link back to whatever I was working on.
You can define capture templates to set how this will work. I am going to keep two journal files for general notes about meetings, phone calls, etc. One for personal, one for work items. If I press C-c c j, then it will capture a personal item. The %a in all of these includes the link to where I was (or a link I had stored with C-c l).
(setq org-default-notes-file "~/org/tasks.org") (setq org-capture-templates '( ("t" "Todo" entry (file+headline "inbox.org" "Tasks") "* TODO %?\n %i\n %u\n %a") ("n" "Note/Data" entry (file+headline "inbox.org" "Notes/Data") "* %? \n %i\n %u\n %a") ("j" "Journal" entry (file+datetree "~/org/journal.org") "* %?\nEntered on %U\n %i\n %a") ("J" "Work-Journal" entry (file+datetree "~/org/wjournal.org") "* %?\nEntered on %U\n %i\n %a") )) (setq org-irc-link-to-logs t)
I like to link by UUIDs, which lets me move things between files without breaking locations. This helps generate UUIDs when I ask Org to store a link target for future insertion.
(setq org-id-link-to-org-use-id 'create-if-interactive)
Configuration: agenda views
I like my week to start on a Sunday, and for org to note the time when I mark something as done.
(setq org-log-done 'time)
(setq org-agenda-start-on-weekday 0)
Configuration: files and refiling
Here I tell it what files to use in the agenda, and to add a few more to the plain text search. I like to keep a general inbox (from which I can move, or “refile”, content), and then separate tasks, journal, and knowledge base for personal and work items.
(setq org-agenda-files (list "~/org/inbox.org" "~/org/email.org" "~/org/tasks.org" "~/org/wtasks.org" "~/org/journal.org" "~/org/wjournal.org" "~/org/kb.org" "~/org/wkb.org" )) (setq org-agenda-text-search-extra-files (list "~/org/someday.org" "~/org/config.org" )) (setq org-refile-targets '((nil :maxlevel . 2) (org-agenda-files :maxlevel . 2) ("~/org/someday.org" :maxlevel . 2) ("~/org/templates.org" :maxlevel . 2) ) ) (setq org-outline-path-complete-in-steps nil) ; Refile in a single go (setq org-refile-use-outline-path 'file)
I like a pretty screen. After you’ve gotten used to org a bit, you might try this.
(require 'org-bullets) (add-hook 'org-mode-hook (lambda () (org-bullets-mode t))) (setq org-ellipsis "⤵")
Coming up next…
This hopefully showed a few things that org-mode can do. Coming up next, I’ll cover how to customize TODO keywords and tags, archiving old tasks, forwarding emails to org-mode, and using git to synchronize between machines.
You can also see a list of all articles in this series.
Resources to accompany this article
- org-mode compact guide
- Full org manual
- List of tutorials
- Carsten Dominik’s excellent Google Talk on org-mode
- A great intro: “My workflow with org-agenda”
- A more detailed intro
- David O’Toole’s org-mode tutorial
- Getting Started with org-mode video by Harry Schwartz (another excellent watch). He also has his example config files available.