Friday, 21 January 2011

Notes and tasks with Emacs' Org-Mode

In Afrikaans, I would be described as loskop. That probably translates best as "absent-minded" but, as ever, Afrikaans' simplicity cuts to the point: I really do just lose my head. Since I tried Tasks in Gmail, I've been looking for a superior way of keeping together everything from lists of books I want to read, things I need to pay and notes for upcoming blog posts. I've discovered I needed to look no further than the nearly omnipotent text editor: Emacs. I probably should never have doubted that it had this ability. Forgive me, Emacs-god. (Is there a M-x finish-phd command yet?)

Basic functionality is pretty straightforward. I haven't tried anything particularly advanced yet. Start Emacs and enter the command M-x org-mode. Obviously, if you get errors at this point, then you probably need to install the org-mode extension. The feature I yearned for, given its annoying absence from Tasks, is being able to nest collections of tasks or notes into collapsible trees. To make a collapsible heading, precede it with *. If you want a second-order heading, precede it with **. And so on. You can enter text under these headings and it, too, will collapse. To (un)collapse things, just hit Tab while the cursor is on that line.

For example, you could type the following.

* Notes
** Google CEOs
-- Eric Schmidt (til April 4)
-- Larry Page (after April 4)
** Perfect numbers
-- 6
-- 28
* Shopping list
- bread
- milk

Hitting Tab while on the "Google CEOs" line will reduce it to

* Notes
** Google CEOs...
** Perfect numbers
-- 6
-- 28
* Shopping list
- bread
- milk


Hitting Tab over "Notes" gives

* Notes...
* Shopping list
- bread
- milk

Tab again will re-open them to their previous state. It's all stored as plain text, so you can modify the file without Emacs, but you won't get the collapsibility and syntax-highlighting.

Org-mode can do much, much more, including setting deadlines and timestamping, never mind a bottomless bucketworth of C-c type shortcuts. You'll find more complete guides with a Google search but if you're lazy, here's The Compact Org-mode Guide and an article at Linux Journal.

2 comments:

  1. org-mode is the most powerful task manager i have used, and i have pretty much used them all...

    the best thing to start with would be to watch the movie here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJTwQvgfgMM

    but do note that it's 45 minutes long.. and worth it..

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  2. I used Emacs org-mode for about a year, used it for tasks and outlines, but I've since moved to special purpose stuff:

    - Remember The Milk (rememberthemilk.com) for task management
    - spreadsheet for contact backups
    - Tomboy Notes for, well, notes about stuff
    - Google Bookmarks for URLs
    - GoodReads.com for books

    I found that my org-mode todo list wasn't there on my phone where I need it, and it just kept on growing. Remember The Milk is flatter, tag the tasks instead of nest them.

    ReplyDelete