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Emac’s Org Mode will improve your software engineering (medium.com/rtotheohan)
210 points by rohankshir on March 17, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 125 comments

I don't know why so many people make the point that hierarchical structures are how the brain works. Graphical structures are how the brain works. The hierarchical structure is how the physical world works (you can't put the same shirt in two closets), and we have an unfortunate habit of trying to force our brain to work the same way, but it's an impedance mismatch.

Unless I'm the only one that is frustrated that you never know where to find vegetable oil in the grocery store. Is it in the cooking aisle near the flour, or the condiments aisle near the vinegar? Seems like every store chooses differently since it doesn't make sense for them to put it in both places.

I agree with you that emacs org-mode is definitely not very graphical !

Regarding non-hierarchical information organization however, keep in mind that this article was only a very quick intro to the most basic possibilities of org-mode.

Org-mode actually provides a pretty powerful set of non-hierarchical structuring functionalities by using tags.

Within org-mode you can add arbitrary tags to your items, you can define custom sets of tags for auto-completion, you can get a filtered view based on a tag search across multiple documents and so on (see for example http://sachachua.com/blog/2008/01/tagging-in-org-plus-bonus-...).

In addition to tags, org-mod provides a second similar mechanism with properties (searchable key/value pairs annotations to your items).

So org-mode definitely does not restrict you to a hierarchical organization. It is a very cool tool box that, coupled with the programmability of emacs, offers a lot of flexibility to adapt to your own way to do things.

Yes I tend to agree. I still see people at work hunting for the correct folder to store email. Showing them how to use labels (in whatever client they are using) is often something of a revelation. Seeing the freedom you have just handed them can be quite surprising as well as a great way to get a free pint!

I'm a avid command-line and vim user and for a long time made use of text based todo and note taking tools. Whilst my naming schemes and structures always made perfectly logical sense, they never flowed when in use. After many years I concluded that I needed something more than just a river of text and started using tools like Trello and Todoist. Whilst my inner nerd feels like I have failed the command-line in some way, I'm really getting much more out of my tools than I have to put in.

Central todo-systems never worked for me. I use a combination of calendar entries, mails in my inbox, reminders, post-its, physical notes and text-files. I'm not a chaotic person, mind you, i just feel that forcing every task into the same shape (a line of text) tend to distort real priorities.

I don't like much of the lean cargo-cult, but I do really like kanban boards and their origins in manufacturing.

I prefer them to todo lists cause they force priorities by limiting work-in-progress.

Yes this too. I think I read GTD as too prescriptive and sought a single system. It took me a long time to realise that that wasn't necessary.

You might enjoy taskwarrior, a command-line based system. It supports tags, and also true graphical dependencies.

Org-mode supports tags http://orgmode.org/manual/Tags.html

Though "chunking" (group related stuff) recursively is exactly how the brain works https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chunking_(psychology)

And if tags fail you, or you forgot adding a tag I found org-occur-in-agenda-files will almost always let me find what I am looking for fairly quickly.

Chunking is fine, but there's nothing about our brain that limits us from having the same item in multiple chunks.

Emacs / Orgmode can be graphical with tables and inline images: http://orgmode.org/manual/Images-and-tables.html

Orgmode tables have let me finally ditch excel for most uses, and bring tables to my Git based workflow.

I also like to keep picture mode on, but I am not allergic to trailing white space https://www.emacswiki.org/emacs/PictureMode

I much prefer to work in a text based world. When I write I draft in vi and then have some scripts that have the formatting turned into something word can deal with for sharing.

So you have to share tables through excel that come from org mode? If so, how do you manage that?

Orgmode can convert tables to csv. http://orgmode.org/manual/Translator-functions.html

If I have to deal with others I just use excel directly though. Orgmode is for me and my command line.

I use a mind map which is probably equivalent. There's a lot to be said for using a second dimension.


Mind map is not really equivalent unless you restrict connections to rigid hierarchy, but ability to make more flexible connections is part of why you'd choose mind map software over an outliner.

FWIW, orgmode does export outlines to Freemind mindmapper (using ox-freemind.el which is part of the org-plus-contrib packaging at Emacs' elpa repository.

As some others have said, orgmode does get beyond hierarchical structure of outlines by allowing searches on tags, properties, dates, and other items, which then consolidates all relevant headings -- potentially from dozens or hundreds of different files -- in the Orgmode "Agenda". They are thus visually connected in the Agenda, which in addition to consolidating in one spot provides easy access for directly editing, jumping between the relevant headings, and more.

I use Orgmode, have used Freemind a little bit in the past, but find Orgmode a far more flexible tool; Orgmode has so many features that go beyond mere outlining or mind-mapping.

Freemind is primarily hierarchical but you can easily make non hierarchical links (hyper and visual). Also you can add multiple tags/attributes to nodes

Exactly. The org-mode -->> freemind conversion works fine, translating textual hierarchical outline to freemind's graphical representation. I don't think the current exporter has support for exporting non-hierarchical links (e.g., org-mode tags) to freemind, but that would be a nice feature.

Totally agree - being able to not only list things from top-to-bottom but more visually seems to work far better for me as well (though I suspect people's brains may work differently?)

My love for outlining like in Workflowy or org-mode but my need for more visual-based tools like Scapple or mind-mapping is what led me to scratch my own itch and create Mindscope. It's an attempt to be the best of both worlds. Would love feedback, of course... http://www.mindscopeapp.com

I'm a little put off by ipad-only: I want to be able to at least read my data from anywhere. I don't want it gone for a week when my iPad gets run over by a car. I'd also like some non-video content on the website: when I visited the page just now (on Android) I see two videos and an app store link. I'm not going to watch a video on the bus right now so that leaves me with no info at all.

I love the ideas behind this app. I haven't tried it since it's iPad only and the last update was in 2014, but looking at the video, it has so much promise. It's the first app that I've seen that looks like it has the potential to replace The Brain. Hopefully you can find a way to make some money off it and keep it going!

This looks to be a cool UI for tree hierarchies, but I was more referring to graphical data structures. Can a child node have multiple parents?

You're right about hierarchy in the world, but there's a deeper truth that you're missing that relates to hierarchical structures being more amenable to description:

  The fact then that many complex systems have a nearly decomposable,
  hierarchic structure is a major facilitating factor enabling us to
  understand, describe, and even "see" such systems and their parts.
  Or perhaps the proposition should be put the other way around.  If
  there are important systems in the world that are complex without
  being hierarchic, they may to a considerable extent escape our
  observation and understanding.  Analysis of their behavior would
  involve such detailed knowledge and calculation of the interactions
  of their elementary parts that it would beyond our capacities of
  memory or computation.

  - Herbert A. Simon, "The Sciences of the Artificial", 2nd edition, page 218
Also, hierarchy in the physical world is not just due to one object being able to only be in one location at a time (or only one object being in a one location). It also arises due to the improved evolvability of hierarchic systems. Again, see Herb Simon's "The Sciences of the Artificial" for a delightful treatment of hierarchic systems and our cognitive relationship with them.

Nit: The pigeonhole principle is exactly the opposite of "only one object being in one location at a time".

It says that if you have m pigeons and n holes, and m > n pigeons, at least one hole is going to have two pigeons in it.

It's not the same pigeon that's twice in the same hole though, so it's not "exactly the opposite" -- just orthogonal.

You're right. I've removed the erroneous reference so that it doesn't detract from the rest of the post. Thank you.

I guess my POV is that hierarchic systems are inherently limiting to us, for data that isn't truly hierarchical (as is usually true for data).

Using graphically-linked data, one could write a process that would generate a hierarchical structure that minimizes crosslinks, and that hierarchy would presumably remain stable right up until the point that a certain relationship is changed, at which point the entire generated hierarchy might be reshuffled. But if we manually assert such a hierarchy, then we have incentive to ignore relationship changes, or try to force them to work within the same hierarchical structure that doesn't serve it anymore. It inhibits our ability to process and understand.

We have more and more ability to visualize true graphical structures and I think it's underutilized in general.

Thanks for the recommendation; I will check it out.

The observation that hierarchical things are easier to describe is interesting. Maybe it has something to do with the adjointness of syntax and semantics [1], and that posets induced by hierarchical structures just naturally share more structure with our hierarchically-structured languages, so they are easier to glue together with Galois connections.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galois_connection#Syntax_and_s...

There are so many excellent org-mode export back-ends, it wouldn't surprise me if there was already one for graphviz[1], at least for arranging the header entries into a labeled branched graph (and with inter- and intra-document linking they aren't necessarily acyclical (trees)). And/or it shouldn't require too much effort to write one.

[1] http://graphviz.org/

Orgmode supports export to the graphical mind-mapper, Freemind. Graphviz/dot is supported as a language you can use within org documents as part of org-babel functionality, but I don't think there's actually an exporter to graphviz (main use in babel would be to process the dot commands to generate graphviz diagram--e.g., a separate jpeg file--that will then be included as part of an exported org document).

As I understand it, Freemind is preferable to graphviz for export/translation of the org document itself, more oriented to combining text with visual mind-mapping than graphviz, which is focussed more on diagrams. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FreeMind

Language overloading strikes again... I meant graphical in terms of the data structure, not the UI. In FreeMind, can a child node have multiple parents?

Ahh, yes, in Freemind there is, strictly speaking, only one parent. I think they adopted this restriction because folding/collapsing of nodes is hard to define and/or hard to understand without this restriction, and folding is an important part of helping mind naturally grasp the big "picture".

However, within the visual Freemind diagram it is also possible to create arrows from one node to another that are not part of the main restricted hierarchy. I know some users have created these with the intent of creating multiple parents for a single node. So I would say that although Freemind doesn't support it very well (i.e., it's a hack, not natural like with graphviz), it does support showing visual relationships of single child with multiple parents. (And as far as export to Freemind from orgmode goes, I expect the export could be written to include arrows that are intended to show multiple parents of a single node, although I'm pretty sure it doesn't right now.)

Graphical structures are how the brain works

Not my brain. Mine is spacially topographic, and ontologically N-way associative (and, fafaik, ontologies are hierarchical). But I can't think of any way to describe my brain as graphical.

What is a graphical structure, btw?

Since this is a computer science (well, sort of..) board, I'm guessing he means 'graph like structures' in the sense that we're taught as first year undergrads -- nodes and edges.

Ah, that makes more sense. That kind of matches my "n-way associative" descriptor.

I think that would be "graph structures" not "graphical structures"

>I don't know why so many people make the point that hierarchical structures are how the brain works. Graphical structures are how the brain works.

Holographic to be precise...

hierarchical doesn't imply that every organizes their hierarchies the same. The vegetable counter example is moot.

The brain works in many different ways - I'm sure you're not wrong about the graphical structures being intuitive. But there's a reason why outlining is so ubiquitous in daily life and many professions.

My thinking seems to enjoy being structured as a directed mostly acyclic graph. That can represent causal links as well as containment, association, and so on. I've done brainstorming with GraphViz and found it quite wonderful. The syntax is also somehow inspiring and fun.

Maybe it's just me, but at my grocery store I've seen them stock the same item in multiple places because it makes sense both places. That said, they're a hippie health food place.

That is a solution, along the lines of xeroxing your insurance forms to store them in multiple folders in your filing cabinet. It has synch problems, though - if you have to update in one place, you might forget to update the copy. Or in the store, you might run out in one place and not the other, which causes waste of effort.

A step better is how libraries have card catalogs, but a step better than that is online grocery shopping - which definitely does not store their products in a hierarchical database.

In a way, but hierarchical imposes choices and structure and I believe means that you know enough to organize, conceptualize and order things.

I believe gestalt theory disagrees with you.

It doesn't really have much to do with how brain works. Graphical way of arranging stuff is just something you are accustomed to. I find graphical ways of organizing information harder to use and much prefer hierarchical structures.

But arguably you can remember far more with Memory Palaces or the Dominic System.

I don't know about Dominic System, but Memory Palace method is not about analyzing and/or grokking relations between items at all. It's simply a method that helps you remember stuff. Outlining is not about remembering stuff. It's about analyzing, breaking into component parts, understanding relations.

After outlining you will typically "remember" a subject better, but that comes about as a side-benefit of having a better understanding of the subject, not because of some method that simply helps brain recall things.

What this story and many of the comments herein miss is that org-mode coupled with org-babel is a full-fledged multilanguage literate programming environment. When you have access to the shell, Python (w/ matplotlib for graphs), Clojure, R, etc. right in your org buffer, and can interact between them (and even pass data between cells of different languages), you really do have what Ken Iverson (inventor of APL, Turing award winner) called a “Tool for thought”. This prose first style of programming where text is punctuated by code (instead of the other way around) is excellent for your own thought process, exposition (via Latex, MD, HTML, text export) as well as taking notes. The only downside to org is that it is intimately tied to emacs, so if you don’t like emacs (lisp) you won’t want to use org. And one more thing, the hierarchical folding in org is second to none. That should be a simple matter, but no other environment/editor handles that feature like org.

I agree, Babel is often overlooked subset of orgmode's features. The linked article that's spawning these comments doesn't do an especially good job of explaining why a developer would should want to use orgmode. Common problem, though, orgmode is far more than an outliner tool, a lot of what it does is truly mindblowing.

Orgmode has so many features, and there are so many ways to combine them, that it's really hard to get a grasp on everything it can do. It is certainly not just an outlining tool restricted to working with strict hierarchies. E.g., searches can be done within a file -- or throughout hundreds of files -- which will then assemble all responsive headings (i.e., all connected items) in the Agenda buffer (which is, in a sense, virtual, since it doesn't represent any file or document at all; it temporarily collects items from different files). Many org-mode users "live" in their Agenda buffer. The Agenda buffer isn't technically "graphical", but in many ways it's better and more powerful than a graphical solution because the relevant, connected items all then appear as items in a single buffer, no need to follow lines on a picture connecting sometimes far-away items in a complex, confusing graphical representation.

There's so much more it's hard to know even where to begin. For programmers, learning more about org-babel is definitely a good place to start.

I've been using org-mode in various capacities for a little over a year now. I've tried other tools but keep coming back. As far as complexity goes, I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface. I like what Neal Stephenson has to say about emacs (which applies just as much to org-mode):

In the GNU/Linux world there are two major text editing programs: the minimalist vi (known in some implementations as elvis) and the maximalist emacs. I use emacs, which might be thought of as a thermonuclear word processor. It was created by Richard Stallman; enough said. It is written in Lisp, which is the only computer language that is beautiful. It is colossal, and yet it only edits straight ASCII text files, which is to say, no fonts, no boldface, no underlining. In other words, the engineer-hours that, in the case of Microsoft Word, were devoted to features like mail merge, and the ability to embed feature-length motion pictures in corporate memoranda, were, in the case of emacs, focused with maniacal intensity on the deceptively simple-seeming problem of editing text. If you are a professional writer – i.e., if someone else is getting paid to worry about how your words are formatted and printed – emacs outshines all other editing software in approximately the same way that the noonday sun does the stars. It is not just bigger and brighter; it simply makes everything else vanish. [1]

A few things for newbies that might help:

1. A lot of org-mode 'power users' post their workflows and all of the attendant emacs lisp code [2] [3], and many new users feel like they have to customize their org-mode experience to that level to get any use out of it. DO NOT DO THIS! Start completely fresh with a clean install, just use it as a braindump outliner, and SLOWLY start adding new features as you go, based specifically on what you need for your individual workflow (the most useful first thing to learn for most people, after basic outline creation and folding, is probably the agenda view). This way you 'grow' the program to fit your own needs organically, rather than trying to shoehorn yourself into someone else's idea of a perfect workflow.

2. One customization thing I will say you should do immediately is to change the theme to match your preferred UI style. It will make a huge difference in how you 'feel' while you're using it. I love emacs but I hate, hate, hate the default UI look-and-feel. I will plug leuven-theme [4] as my current go-to for org-mode, but also dig the sanityinc tomorrow themes [5].

I will also throw in a compliment to the awesome community around emacs. It's happened to me many times where I've encountered some shortcoming or 'missing' feature of my existing setup, thought to myself "if only I could do X and Y," and discovered after 5 minutes of Googling that someone has already written something that does exactly what I'm looking for...

[1] from 'In The Beginning Was The Command Line' (1999) [2] http://pages.sachachua.com/.emacs.d/Sacha.html [3] http://doc.norang.ca/org-mode.html [4] https://github.com/fniessen/emacs-leuven-theme [5] https://github.com/purcell/color-theme-sanityinc-tomorrow

Very true about folding, and org-babel is amazingly capable. It is great for things like examples, notes, short tutorials, etc.

But, I have never been able to actually make use of the features in any kind of a more complicated setting: I find that too often you really need to have the code in standalone files, for example for batch jobs, running in other environments, sharing, etc. etc., and having code within the .org file really does not mix well with that. Perhaps your workflow somehow resolves that problem?

So it's like ipython notebook?

Similar, but in a lot ways org is more powerful than Jupyter Notebooks which I am also a big fan of, BTW. It is more powerful because of the exporting facilities, tangling, and you have all of emacs at your fingertips. I actually would like to develop an org exporter to ipynb format.

I spent a few months on emacs, mostly so I could experience the magic of org. I didn't get it. It's a super powerful outliner with scripting... Through that experience I rediscovered pen and paper, actually. No scripting, but I can write sideways and sketch things. A pocket sized notebook was the answer for me.

> I didn't get it. It's a super powerful outliner with scripting...

At its very heart, yes. And that alone is cool, I think (the scripting part).

But it's also a lot more: org-mode supports a simple form of task management (TODOs, Agenda views,...), it has a built-in spreadsheet editor (with formula support, all in ASCII), you can export contents to various backends (HTML, Beamer, ...) -- it really is a beast!

Pencil and paper is much better for me for making quick notes to be honest. I actually don't like writing my brain dumps on a computer because it makes it harder for me to think about them. I find that physically using a pencil helps me develop my ideas more because I have to reiterate what I'm writing while writing it. It's definitely a personal preference, maybe it comes from the fact that I always draw things on paper when designing them and always do working out for Physics and Maths problems on paper. When I go to write it in a file, it always feels more official and like a proper document than just scribbles.

The problems with paper notes are poor searchability, linking, extracting/copying of data, and portability.

But yes, there are advantages to paper, like the ability to easily draw diagrams and link ideas with arrows, etc.

On the other hand, if you need that, you could always use something like a Wacom tablet, or maybe some other touch-screen device with a stylus. That would give you the best of both worlds.

Wacom tablet/touch screen+stylus have same problem of poor searchability. (Assuming that you are suggesting "drawing" digitially, as opposed to on paper)

Are there tools that will let the user search "hand drawn" digital image ? One can always use tag like system, which one can't with paper, but then it is extra work, and adding "text" tags is easier when using something like org-mode, or just plain text.

I wasn't arguing that digital drawings wre searchable, but that typed text was.

Still, there are ways to make drawing somewhat searchable too.

The (typed) names of the drawings you make are searchable, as are the tags (if you've used any, and you should), and their location on your filesystem. If there's some writing on the same page as the drawing, that's potentially OCR'able, and then searchable. Finally, you could always combine drawings with typed text, wich will be searchable.

Or the worst of both worlds?

Personally, if I am dumping thoughts out, keyboard and screen works well, especially if it's text heavy and long (like a blog post or story chapter). On the other hand, if am trying to understand something, I prefer a pencil and paper and writing it down and perhaps drawing things makes me understand it better.

I guess it depends on what /kind/ of brain dump it is. I usually like writing up blog posts on a computer too. But for jotting down "things I did today" and "list of things to do tomorrow", it feels much more natural to write it down. But that's probably my research student genes coming out (my supervisors gave me a book on my first day and said "WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN" -- and I guess it's stuck with me for the past year or two).

Also, time tracking and reference management, and calendar integration.

I'm currently using both org-mode and a stack of index cards. I use Emacs a lot, so that could be why I'm sticking with it. org-mode is now solely for note taking.

At least for me, it's hard to beat physically crossing something out (or tearing a card in half) after finishing something on my to-do list.

Right? I don't have any science, but I'd wager the amount of dopamine released by crossing out a line on paper is significantly greater than hitting `t` (right?) in org.

The nature of the tool differs, but it's definitely a good idea to carry around something to put down your ideas and organise them, it doesn't matter if it's not Org mode.

I was an Emacs user that read about Org Mode, then started using it.

After a few days of memorizing commands and learning -- my reaction was "WTF, I could have gotten 90% of the functionality I use from a (web) GUI app with 15 minutes of learning?!"

A bit later I realized that Org Mode have two advantages and still use it:

- It is always here, integrated with my development enviroment. With everything I need. (And if not, I can extend it.)

- Just using the keyboard in an editing environment I was used to, instead of a GUI, made the app "disappear" from a cognitive load perspective. Org Mode is like paper + pen for me in the way. I just use it naturally, with a minimal effect on my concentration.

I'm pretty into org-mode. I got started from this article by Sacha Chua[1]. Her note taking style helped me learn faster. (This post was written in emacs.)

[1] - http://sachachua.com/blog/2014/01/tips-learning-org-mode-ema...

Do people here have opinions on Workflowy? https://workflowy.com/

As a Vim adherent, I never really got into Org-Mode, but from what I've seen from my Emacs friends, Workflowy seems kinda like Org-Mode Online, but with additional features like being able to share a sublist as a URL (which was noted in this blogpost as a weakness of Org-Mode: "The caveat here is that it’s mostly a one man show.").

I use it very much like this blogpost describes, to quickly jot-down and organize thoughts, then later reorganize them, update them, or archive them.

Have you tried evil mode with vi bindings? The good thing of org-mode is that it runs locally and through ssh, but any task outliner tool is useful to organize thoughts or tasks.

evil mode is pretty good, but I find that there's a few rough edges. Also, I can't find a good type-ahead search plugin for picking files like in TextMate, Sublime Text, or (my current preferred tool) the Ctrl-P plugin for Vim [0].

[0] https://github.com/ctrlpvim/ctrlp.vim

My personal favorite for this is find-file-in-project - it's decently fast and is very customizable (https://github.com/technomancy/find-file-in-project).

Some other examples of Ctrl-P replacements for emacs are fiplr, helm-projectile (helm-projectile-find-file), and helm-ls-git.

You probably want helm. I generally just have one key that considers open buffers, files in the current directory, recently used files, and then locate. You can also use it with ag or find or whatever.

Helm is closer to vim's Unite (which was inspired by it) and can be used with arbitrary non-file related sources (e.g. the text in the current buffer).


You didn't search hard enough ;) Really, Ctrl-P is joke to anything compared available in Emacs.

Can you provide some examples and/or the name of the packages etc. I've just started emacs and the way I use dired mode is too slow. In terminal I have a bunch of aliases for fast navigation. How do you do this in emacs?

You can have aliases in emacs as well - just use bookmarks. Set a bookmark with C-x r m and jump to a bookmark with C-x r b (I bound this to a "bj" keychord to invoke bookmark-jump faster). If you install ido/helm/ivy, you'll have a quick fuzzy selection mechanism to grab whatever bookmark you want with just a few letters.

Plus you'll want to install a fuzzy file finder like find-file-in-project.

you need projectile to create projects (most of the time it's automatically inferred from the VCS) and helm-projectile to jump to any project file with fuzzy lookup.

I'm not sure exactly what the Ctrl-P does, but that sounds a lot like ido for Emacs.

Ctrl+P is a bit more "fuzzy finder" than ido-mode. It fuzzy finds paths under the current directory (or up to a project root if there is one above your current directory, though this is configurable). You can switch between "find in filename" or "find in path".

I've grown accustomed to it, but it's not the end-all-be-all. For example, I can type exact filenames in some work repos and get matches that are not for the file I'm looking for because the fuzzy finding is too fuzzy and starts hooking in matching from the directory structure in the path.

Love workflowy demo which I played with, would prefer it was open source and I could host my own server which is why I do not use it. I was not able to get Hackflowy[0] working well 6 months ago on my debian server... may try again in the near future.


I just signed up for WorkFlowy and it looks very nice! Thanks for the suggestion.

Workflowy is really great. For anyone who likes it, some similar-but-different online outliners also worth looking at are Checkvist, Dynalist, and Quire.




Disclaimer: I'm a paying customer of two of these four, and am likely to sign up for the other two as well, to support their efforts in online outlining.

I just wish I could make up my mind which one I like best!

I like this. Not because I use this process or even Emacs, but because it focuses on the center of the issue: Bringing your full mind to bear on the object at hand. If there's anything that will de-stress a frustrated hacker, it's that sort of directed, decisive action toward the best perceivable outcome.

Often you don't even have to save your notes file if you are just using this as a method to defeat procrastination or build up momentum for a busy day. Many of mine don't survive the day and that's fine.

The biggest issue I had with org-mode was the sad state of mobile clients. They were all convoluted to set up and, once working, didn't work very well [1]. The experience was much worse that what I've become accustomed to with Todoist, Nirvana, etc. where mobile sync is pretty seamless.

Org certainly is interesting and ticks the main boxes for me: outliner/TODO system, open source, text file, etc. With a better mobile solution available, I could definitely see myself using org-mode as my primary organization system.

[1] To be fair, this was under Android. I've not rerun the experiment using iOS, but I'm seeing one MobileOrg app in the store, last updated in 2013, with the most recent comments citing issues similar to what I experienced.

http://www.orgzly.com/ isn't quite there yet (no automated sync yet), but is a vast improvement over MobileOrg for Android

MobileOrg on iOS is unusable. I got it working, however you cannot edit or add to your org files from your phone. You can only view them. That makes the app useless in my book.

There's Orgzly. I only just downloaded it today though.

Others here have described really well the defects in most products for information managers, knowledge managers, note-takers, etc etc. I created OneModel (http://onemodel.org), as an org-mode alternative. (Really, an everything-else alternative.) Free (AGPL), and contributors welcome. Especially feedback! It has many advantages over emacs org-mode (details in the FAQs, but e.g. the speed of navigation, ease of learning, and flexibility).

Vision, in buzzwords: outlines + mind mapping + evernote + wikipedia + knowledge management + spreadsheets/apps + PIM, you decide what to share or import. It lets you organize arbitrary knowledge in a structure that makes sense to you, based on how you think. It is meant to be very easy to learn. It is (so far) text- and keyboard-only, since everything you need to know at any given time is on the screen. It is highly efficient to navigate.

For "what it is today" with details, & links to more about the future: http://www.onemodel.org/1/e-9223372036854622523.html

I finally got GTD implemented in OneNote. Now you're telling me I now need to move on to Emacs org mode?

God, it's like trying to choose a Javascript framework.

Emacs org-mode will be there long after OneNote is gone. And the format is all text. It's a life-long investment.

There are already (to me) very useful places where I can get OneNote where I can't get emacs -- Android and iOS. I don't expect to ever see Emacs on iOS, and I tried it on android but it doesn't work well at all.

Not sure why you think emacs org-mode will be around forever. While I'm sure emacs will be around forever, I've had vim (not emacs, I don't use it I will admit) extensions which rotted as new versions of vim came out.

Not Emacs but Org-mode.

There is http://www.orgzly.com/ for Android. not sure about iOS.

Not sure how up-to-date these applications are, but there are Android and iOS applications designed to read and edit org-mode files.


Honestly, I'm working on reducing my dependence on computers/pen/pencil/whatever for todo lists and organization. I try and keep it all in my head -- if I can't, that usually means I'm biting off way more than I can chew.

I am all for whatever works for you, but GTD and some other psychology texts make an argument against this: that writing things down allows you to release them from your memory and thus focus more clearly, which GTD refers to as a mind like water.

Except that you ll have a lot of fun trying to share and migrate your one note to whatever else

So this boils down to take notes, add do/done flags for items. OSX' Notes app can do the same thing...

Not to downplay org mode's usefulness, but this isn't really a post about org mode, just some general note taking strategies.

Surprised he did not mention org-capture for this use.


This has also been my experience, journaling helps a lot both while working on something and when getting back to it, especially after a longer period of time.

I found this discussion interesting too: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9895713

Very happy org-mode user here. Two things that are worth mentioning:

+ org-present, which lets you write presentations as org files

+ Orgzly, which gives you a great interface to search, create and edit org-mode files on your Android device

I kind of agree.

But I just use plain text files with bullets.

I haven't seen a compelling argument to justify learning all the concepts and keystrokes of org-mode. I don't need all the bell and whistles. Export to HTML? Why?

If you're already an emacs user (is it supported in other editors?) you can start here and grow as you need it. At least, that's how I've done it. Started with bulleted lists (folding was convenient and really all I made use of). Then expanded to linking within a document and to other documents. My .emacs file auto-loads an index.org file for me, this has links to numerous other documents. Some are little more than scratchpads, one is a list of PDFs. Some of those have become links to org files that link to the pdf and I have notes/annotations in the org file. It's my own wiki.

Export to HTML was useful a couple times, but not something I've used much of. I generated some code samples and used org-babel mode. The HTML view was nice enough to share out to other people.

I'm still barely using any of its features. The compelling thing for me is that when I've wanted a new feature, it was already there 9 times out of 10.

If all you're doing now is plain text with bullets there may be nothing to gain. If, however, you have main bullet items that then have subitems, you'd gain the advantage of "collapsing" items (what in some coding environments is called "folding").

To get this benefit all you'd need to do is open a blank text file with '.org' suffix, then instead of bullets use an asterisk. Put one asterisk in front of main bullets, two asterisks in front of subitems. Then use <tab> key to expand or collapse subitems of current bullet item. Or <shift-tab> to expand or collapse subitems throughout the document. That's all you need to get started using org-mode productively.

A key point to this article is that the author does his development work in Emacs, so for him, taking notes doesn't require him to switch or launch a new application.

As a lowly Windows developer, I struggle to make use of any note taking application outside of a sheet of paper. I'm sure a tool like OrgMode, Zim, or OneNote would help me organize my life, but as soon as I try to do this, I simply ask myself, why not just simplify?

I use OneNote on a daily basis and really like it. Mostly just an easy way to write down text with simple markup. Tables work well and you can add checkboxes if you want.

OneNote's search is IMO it's killer feature. After you've built up a sizable amount of content you're going to start to need to search for stuff and it's pretty much instantaneous. Also returns results for pictures too (using OCR).

I use a Windows Phone which came with OneNote. It automatically syncs between my phone and my desktop. It's really nice when I'm out on the town and have an idea or something I want to jot down.

I think the main takeaway here is not that org mode will make you more productive, but that taking notes will. I have tried many programs including org mode, and found that OneNote works best for me. It is stored in the cloud so always available, has native clients for mobile, and a web client. It does impose a bit of structure which some people may or may not like.

I use my own wiki for everything I want to remember, and have used it as a GTD method. But in the end I moved away for GTD stuff. I used Chandler, and really liked it, but then it was abandoned. Then I used Quickfox Notes in Firefox to make a simple plaintext todo list. That works OK til now. Lately I've been using Evernote more and more, and now I mix them all more or less.

I've tried Emacs, tried the Eclipse todo, but neither caught on with me. I hear great things about Emacs and about Vim, and although I use Vim a lot to edit files on the server, I keep having difficulties changing to either of them for development. Maybe it's a matter of time.

I had a similar issue has well. I ended up in Onenote for years, and honestly I had no real issue. . . until my move to linux mint. Now I'm using raw text for the time being.

The webapp version of OneNote works pretty well. I use it on Linux with no troubles.


I built a system to generate SVG burn down charts from Org Mode task lists stored in Git (for historical project data): https://github.com/pjkundert/burndown

It was somewhat useful, but requires regular updates of project status to be checked in; somethings I found challenging to remember to do.

I use this exact process only without any special mode in emacs. I do not mark items complete I just remove them when they are no longer relevant.

When something important comes up it goes to the top and often when I am finished with it a lot of the stuff below it can be deleted too.

This title really puts me off. I can't find a conceivable reason for anyone who actually uses Org Mode to write it as "Emac's Org Mode". Another reason to never go to this particular website I guess.

Should be Emacs', not Emac's

What is Emac?

Someone should just edit the title. It's not "emac's" it's "emacs"! The name was originally derived from "Editor MACroS". Here is the wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emacs

Indeed. Even though the HN guidelines say that the original title should be kept - it should still be acceptable to fix (non-intentional) typos.

It's a bit like Vi.

Oh no... you didn't... Guys, he's starting a war here :-P

It's really not at all like vi.

It was a dumb pun on the last letter of "emacs" being left off. :P

> your software engineering

What does this mean?


I doubt it

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