I’ve recently created a note in my Zettelkasten with a structure I haven’t used before: a timeline. It’s basically an enumerated list with 40 items and a divider that marks “now”. Things above the divide are in the past; things below the divide are in the future. I’m collecting rough things to keep in mind below the divide (like a GTDtickler file would). Above the divide, the granularity increases as I track individual things that happened.
In the previous post I showed some settings to manage a tab dedicated to Org Agenda and its related org files. I also mentioned that I didn’t like how that tab was actually handled, e.g. when I wanted to break out into other tabs.
Emacs’s outline-mode only has font settings aka “faces” for 8 outline levels; then they wrap, so level 9 looks like level 1 and so on. org-mode inherits these faces, and thus also only defines 8 styles. That’s more than enough, I believe, to have some visual variety in your outlines and also sufficient distance between repeating styles.
To get more structure into my day so I get work stuff done in time and have free time in the evenings to tackle other things, I’m now experimenting with notifications to end the work day. The following is a translated version of the current data. I am using the German term "Feierabend" (which you can shout well); “end of work” is a bit clumsy, and it doesn’t sound like an exclamation.
I used to rely on M-h to mark the structural element in Emacs; in text buffers, that’d be the paragraph, in org buffers, that was the whole outline item (when the cursor was in the heading line, at least). Ever since I installed Emacs for Mac OS X which now is also on Emacs 28.1, this shortcut wouldn’t work for me anymore, because my Meta key is my left Command key, and Cmd-H is the macOS shortcut to hide the frontmost app.
In Emacs org-mode, you start with two states for your outline headings by default to manage tasks: TODO and DONE. I recently introduced a new state in between: DOING. That helped me come back to stuff I had to let lie for a while. In code, that means at least: I actually have multiple sequences, but these don’t matter for this demonstrations.
I’m a fan of linking into my Zettelkasten. I usually do this via a convention: when a 12-number digit is used to signify a timestamp with accuracy to the minute, like 202102101025 for 2021-02-10 10:25, then I expect this to be a note identifier in my note archive. When the timestamp is accurate to the second, I expect this to be something else outside my note archive, like invoices I filed away. To utilize this information, in the worst case, I have to copy the ID and paste it into Spotlight to get to the note.
During app development, I track the tasks in an org-mode task list. And I track the stuff I finished and want to highlight in the release notes in a Markdown block right there. When I release an update, I’ll copy & paste the Markdown part to the “Release Notes” of the app and push the changes to the server online.
I noticed that I still had the journaling app Day One (macOS) on my computer. I haven’t touched it in ages. So I figured it’d be time to export to plain text and then shove all the goodness from 2004 and onward into my Emacs org-mode diary.org. Turns out there’s no Day One to org-mode exporter.
beorg is a bit weird. It’s basically a task manager and calendar, but based upon plain text files that I sync via Dropbox. It’s not a particularly user-friendly application, and its UI didn’t win any prizes, unlike e.g. Things or OmniFocus (I’m often confused by the app icons and lack of labels, but also glad because my iPhone 5S screen is so smol). So why did I pick this app, then?
beorg is a mobile companion for my Emacs org mode files. It’s capable of handling org mode outlines, and parts of these outlines can be tasks or TODOs, and you can group them in projects, and then display an overview or “Agenda” – and things get out of hand quickly from there. Emacs is ridiculously customizable, and org mode is no different. beorg makes these information available on mobile.
So since over the years I moved from OmniFocus 1 to Things to OmniFocus 2 to Emacs, I got used to viewing tasks on my mobile phone and iPad; and I really much like the capability to capture information on the go. A piece of paper will do most of the time; but having a web clipping synced to my computer directly is nice.
You can even write Scheme scripts inside beorg! I haven’t touched that topic at all. The REPL (yes, it has a REPL!) provides a sandbox for experimentation, and by convention beorg will load and run init.org file from your list of files right after bootstrapping. You can even customize the app’s UI with this. Writing org files that auto-execute during launch to customize the behavior of the editor is a long-running theme, see this random example (source).
Regarding the business model: most stuff is free, and the free version will get you really, really far. You currently can buy access to additional features:
“Properties” will let you add custom key/value pairs to any item; it’s mostly a UI affordance for the plain text underpinnings
“Encryption” to, well, encrypt your items or files
“Task Timers” to track how long you work on a task (ahem, I suggest an automated service like Timing for that; note: this is an affiliate link)
“Export Themes” are CSS styles to generate HTML from your outlines because, well, org mode is supposed to be a structured markup language for HTML and LaTeX export and such thing
“UI Themes” for Solarized and additional dark modes in the app
“Saved Searches” to more quickly access the results of complex searches
“Box Sync” to … sync to Box.net (beats me why this of all things is an add-on)
The developer provides release notes for updates in the app, which I absolutely adore for this kind of “make it your own” pro user application, to make sure I keep up-to-date with the good stuff. The tip jar that goes along with it is probably the main source of his income – at least as much as I’m concerned. The updates are really good and much appreciated.
Emacs is a text editor, kind of. But I use its Org mode for “keeping notes, maintaining TODO lists, planning projects, and authoring documents with a fast and effective plain-text system” – its Agenda became my daily productivity hub. It’s a calendar view of all things scheduled for the day, plus some other info interspersed: thanks to the plain text nature of the whole interface, it’s simple (albeit not easy) to re-style everything you see there. Add sub-headings, spacing, links, text, what have you.
There’s no standard shortcut to fold the current subtree of an org-mode outline. When I work in org-mode outlines, I usually am 3 or more levels deep into a so-called “subtree” and want to get back to the root item, fold it to hide the details, then drill down into another item. I use that when I am working on an app and want to have a look at a planned milestone nested deep down at a different point in the outline.
I use beorg on iPad/iPhone to view my Emacs Org files. Until today, I did use it only for viewing files, not edit tasks, because I ran into sync conflicts. This is how I solved the problem with a few simple settings. First, put your org files into the Dropbox. I have all .org files in one directory and use the directory as org-agenda-files:
In my quest of total immersion into Emacs, I am trying to write blog posts in Emacs instead of TextMate. That means my TextMate macros are gone for good, including insertion of YAML header information. On this very blog and on Zettelkasten.de, I used to type cthead and zkhead respectively, then expanded the YAML header with tab. TextMate’s great template feature even allows you to specify multiple points inside the templates to jump to by tabbing forward. Emacs works a bit differently, so I adapted the templates to request information up front instead and fill in the values.
I am using GNU Emacs for a while now to do all kinds of stuff. I’m thinking about migrating away from OmniFocus as my task manager and use Org mode instead. What I like so far is the free-form list nature of Org files. I can have an outline of notes and sprinkle TODO items inside them. This way I can take notes on puzzling problems I’m working on and mark things I need to do later. This is super useful to remind myself what to clean up before a commit, for example write or amend tests or remove debug code somewhere. I like it. I got used to a lot of shortcuts already, so most of the pain of daily use is gone.