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Org Mode – Organize Your Life in Plain Text (norang.ca)
408 points by gjvc 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 232 comments

I see a lot of comments arguing that it's not "worth it" to spend dozens of hours to "get into org-mode" when there are "intuitive tools" such as Evernote or Trello or Todoist etc.

What some are missing is the fact that low barriers to entry sometimes turn into barriers to growth at a later stage. After (!) one has sunk thousands of hours into them. I used to keep my academic notes in Evernote and it turned into hell after about 2,000 notes and a few years of work. I couldn't find things when I needed them, it didn't support a non-linear mode of work. It became my personal black hole that swallowed up information but never gave it back.

With org-mode I have created my very own filing and research system. After years of using it and thousands of articles I find things. Quickly. Now, with org-roam, I create hubs of knowledge and ideas that I can come back to at a later point without worrying about linearity or chronology. No longer do I need to know where things are. I know what ideas are in there. If I don't like a certain workflow, I can grow, develop or change my filing and note-taking system as I see fit.

In my opinion, org-mode eliminates the risk of hitting any sort of barrier after years of sunk costs.

Also, people forget that their favourite SaaS-du-jour probably won't be around after their "Incredible Journey" ends and there won't be a migration path, or it's going to cost too many hours to be worth it.

Emacs will be here for us in the next decades, even well after our career ends, and then some.

Besides, Org is not complicated. It has lots of features, but at its core it's just a plain text outliner with hyperlinks, keywords and timestamps.

Org is like Common Lisp in many ways. It offers you lots of paradigms to build your own workflows, but you don't need to use or understand them initially.

An it might suffer from the same PR problem Emacs has. Manuals, tutorials and guides throw all features at once without focussing on core concepts first. And it's overwhelming for newcomers.

Would really appreciate links to guides that don't suffer from this.

Sadly, I am not aware of any.

Perhaps some articles and the book in https://www.masteringemacs.org/.

At some point, I would like to write an introduction to Emacs, Org, Notmuch and friends. Their docs are great if you have been using Emacs for a long time. But if you are a newcomer, the learning curve is really steep. And it shouldn't be like that. At their core all these are conceptually simple, easy to understand, and to hack.

Emacs and friends are IMHO really worth investing time into due to the Lindy effect. They will be around when most of the current software is gone. Besides, a text-mode Lisp VM (which is what Emacs is), makes your life as a developer much more enjoyable.

I've tried org-mode a few times, but I just couldn't get over emacs and the mobile app situation.

For now I've settled on Apple Notes which works well with the iPad and pencil across all of my devices. I also use Drafts for longer form writing. The downside is that I'm trapped in Apple's ecosystem, but I'm already deeply there so I might as well embrace it.

There are now several solutions for org-mode on mobile. Organice, beorg, org-web, Orgzly etc.

They are all very nice. I really only need to capture new things on mobile for the most part, so my needs are minimal. What holds me back, however, is not supporting Google Drive for synchronization, as I use that anyway. As is, I would have to use another service like dropbox to sync mobile edits back.

Wait - I see that org-web says it does sync with Google drive, so I will try that out. Seems like I can use it by self hosting and not requiring giving google credentials out to some scary startupm (or large corporate entity I don't want to trust either).

Thanks for the tip!

Capturing is very simple since it is just plain text. For example here is a guide which uses siri on iOS to capture voice notes to your org-mode inbox: https://orgmode-exocortex.com/2020/04/30/voice-capture-org-m...

There is also a guide for android https://orgmode-exocortex.com/2020/04/28/voice-capture-org-m...

Organice does support Google Drive, Dropbox and WebDAV. (Organice is a fork of org-web)

More fundamentally, if you (anyone reading) can think of any easily usable way to sync files between devices, I think it might not be too hard to get Organice/etc. to support that as yet another backend.


And if needed, we'll migrate to it. Meanwhile, any SaaS-du-jour that actually has data export does the job right now. I'm more interested in moving forward than in noodling on a system that, once it will be completed, will maybe help me make progress on my actual goals.

They also don't give me RSI, which is a welcome change from emacs.

Just remember that, just like you don't actually have a backup until you successfully restore a system from it, the SaaS-du-jour doesn't actually have data export until you use it and import it somewhere, and verify all the data you care about survived the transition.

There's nothing wrong with using alternative solutions, but your critique of Emacs is mostly FUD and a repetition of cliches. Your two points are:

1. Org-mode (or Emacs?) is not completed, by which you imply it is in some kind of premature state that it's not ready to use. like some kind of "version 0.2 beta, use at your own risk". Nothing is further from the truth. Org-mode is currently on stable release 9.3.6. It has been tried and tested for many, many years and is widely used in its niche.

The fact that it is under active development is not a shortcoming, it's a plus. Unless you're arguing by analogy that you cannot use such software as "Chrome" or "TensorFlow" because they have not yet been completed.

2. RSI - I've heard this argument multiple times, and I believe that it actually might affect some people. I, for one, have been using Emacs for well over 20 years and have never had any problems along those lines. But for those who do experience issues, there are multiple solutions around that you might want to give a try. They range from remapping of some central keys to completely different ways of inputting commands, e.g., inspired by vim.

Don't get me wrong, you can user whatever you want. But if these two points are the only reason you shy away from giving org-mode a try, do not worry and don't let them stand in your way.

I mostly refer to the fact that org-mode isn't a complete system - it lacks many integrations. It is, in every article I read, an excuse to faff about with configuring things.

In fact that's pretty much the start of every org mode article - "here's how to change your config file"

(There's nothing wrong with that - I totally enjoy it for some things. I just need a workflow now, not when I've put all the pieces together)

And the "remapping central keys"/"completely different ways of inputting commands" is exactly the faffing about I refer to as well. I know I can customize it to my heart's content. I've done that. I've written way too much elisp. I don't want to any more. I want something that works for me, as out-of-the-box as possible. Many SaaS offerings do.

It's not to say you shouldn't use org mode if it works for you. But I'm not "going to give it a try" if I have a solution that works right now. Nope. Thanks. I have things I'd rather do.

Fair enough, there's nothing wrong using something else if you've found something that works for you. But that is a different statement than what came across from your first post which was worded a bit more negatively, and sounded slightly like bashing (to me anyway).

Also note that my point about the remapping was this: I never had RSI issues with Emacs, so for me it actually works pretty much out of the box. If you experience certain problems, Emacs provides what it takes to adjust it to your specific needs. Can these other SaaS tools do that too?

It's great that not everyone has to use the same tool to get the job done. Variety rules.

I've been using DynaList, so I guess I am vulnerable to this risk. But for some reason I could not figure out a way to make org mode work across all platforms in anyway close to as seamlessly. I was able to sometimes get cross-linking across but it was still pretty clunky. if I wanted to use org mode and I wanted to send random articles and other things to it via share function or send function and a mobile phone or iPad, edited on desktop in emacs, and then search find edit etc from any mobile device, is this really a possibility?

Here were my "sunk costs" of org-mode.

1) org-mode makes a bad spreadsheet

2) No good Android interface, Orgzly is OK, but doesn't do advanced features and often crashed for me.

3) Despite lots of trying, I couldn't get "into" using the Emacs shortcut keys, which are different to every other application on Windows.

4) I like variable width fonts, and variable width fonts don't seem to work with various bits of org mode (for example tables)

I'm sure you love org-mode, and that's great, but plenty of people over the years have tried and failed to love emacs, and lost a whole lot of time in the process.

For 3 -- I've always been a vim user, and I know maybe 3-4 native Emacs hotkeys, thanks to evil-mode. Also Spacemacs/Doom emacs provides a reasonable layer of bindings outside org-mode

1) Is there any note taking application that makes a good spreadsheet? Just use a dedicated spreadsheet program.

2) I'm using Orgzly and yeah, it's OK. For me, OK is all I really need here since I mostly need org-mode when I'm infront of a computer. When I'm away all I really need it for is quickly adding things to do.

3) Definitely takes getting used to. I started using org-mode a couple years ago as a vim user.

I've also lost a lot of time trying different apps such as Evernote, OneNote, and Trello. And setting everything up to integrate between them. Eventually I decided on markdown files for notes, but the TODO and tag integration of org-mode is what made me switch.

It should be possible to use monospaced fonts only for tables.

They're syntax highlighted in a distinct way and that should be all you need.

This is the fundamental tradeoff of emacs, basically: it's nearly always possible to get exactly what you want, in exchange for an unreasonable amount of effort.

I've actually found, that for me org mode spreadsheets (table with formulas) make a lot of sense and I like having them together with all other stuff I put in an org mode file. I appreciate a lot, that it is still all plain text.

Once one gets the hang of using those spreadsheets and has written oneself a few examples, from which one can always copy or look things up, I think they are pretty amazing. Perhaps this is exactly the time you do not wish to spend on it, which is fine. Just saying, that for many purposes those spreadsheets work very well. There is after all GNU Calc behind them and if you want a complete programming language in form of Elisp as well. Power they do not lack, that is for sure.

> 4) I like variable width fonts, and variable width fonts don't seem to work with various bits of org mode (for example tables)

Same. I use mixed-pitch[1], a package on MELPA[2]

  M-x package-install mixed-pitch
will take care of Org tables and more. Doesn't attack the problem minimally, but comes with sensible choices; it's been basically a drop-in-and-forget activation snippet.

[1]: https://gitlab.com/jabranham/mixed-pitch

[2]: https://melpa.org/#/mixed-pitch

1) org-mode makes a good spreadsheet 2) Not being Android user myself, I have only heard good things about Orgzly from Emacs people around. What features exactly are you missing? 3) you can use any keys you want with Emacs. I have my own setup that I am using along with the Vim key bindings/text objects. 4) pretty much everything else works well with fonts and colors; tables yeah, tend to keep simple formatting.

Emacs is not ideal. But it is the most flexible and configurable piece of software in the world - and org-mode is the best outliner ever created.

Thanks, I hope this will be useful for other people!

1) When I google for some advanced operations (like multi-column sort), the advice seemed to be export as CSV and do it in openoffice.

2) While orgzly is a good attempt, if you google around you will find lots of limitations (it's too long since I've used it), as it is a reimplementation of org-mode so can't hope to be feature complete.

There are packages you can install to make the copy/cut/paste keys and a few others more Windows-like.

M-x cua-mode should work out of the box

cua conflicts with org, so you can't use them both together (I've been told, and googling suggests this is true)

There are a few key binding collisions, but otherwise they can be used together.

So now you are telling a noob who just wants to get some task done to start resolving key binding collisions.

The noob probably won't even be aware of the collisions if they're a new emacs user. The org-mode keybindings will override the cua-mode bindings. Afaik, it's only shift+arrow keys.

A noob can pick up emacs, type M-x cua-mode M-x org-mode and have a simple to use outliner which recognizes most of the keyboard shortcuts they're familiar with.

Ah fair enough then

This sort of resonates with me.

I use emacs extensively, but I started using omnifocus years ago and that is what I still use. The features for me are: just about perfect sync across devices. self-hosted data. enough sorting and prioritizing features.

But I will say around ios 7 timeframe they drank the apple Koolaid and changed just about everything in the app - and most were meaningless look-and-feel changes. Just about everything else in the app was negatively impacted.

to think of putting my data - the data I run my life with - into something that will only ever improve over time is very compelling.

As a full time linux user I can't use OmniFocus anymore. But I tried it in the past, and to be honest, mastering it required no less time than I put into my unsophisticated org-mode setup.

>, org-mode eliminates the risk of hitting any sort of barrier

Ultimately, it depends on the type of user but the "barrier" may be that it's plain text. So Org Mode's data format as a desirable selling point is also its ceiling of functionality.

Yes, I store 90% of my notes in plain text. But I also store some programming notes in MS Excel because I need a datagrid as UI with dynamic calculations. I store some project notes in MS Word because I need to embed graphics along with text. I suppose I could use Org Mode as a "single source of truth" by linking to .xlsx and .docx files but I reorganize my folder structures too often to make such file links stable.

I made a previous comment why Emacs Org Mode along with everything else I tried in the last few decades to organize life is a very hard problem of "boiling the ocean": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23112843

Actually org mode can do all of those things:

* Recalculate formulas a la excel: https://orgmode.org/worg/org-tutorials/org-spreadsheet-intro...

* Actually you can go way further than cloning basic excel functionality. For example, you can write inline code to generate or retrieve some data, feed that into a graphing program, and then inline the resulting chart back into the org file. https://orgmode.org/worg/org-contrib/babel/intro.html

* Display inline images: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/17621495/emacs-org-displ...

Just because it's possible in theory doesn't make it a good idea. In org-mode, anything that isn't plaintext is quite painful to set up and to maintain, at least until you've memorized two dozen arcane key chords. I would love for Emacs to get a Notion-like UI (still with plaintext underneath obviously) one day but until then, I'm okay with people using the best tool for the job, which isn't a text editor.

(I'm an enthusiastic org-mode user, by the way.)

In practice, I've used org tables (as a minor mode) even before I've started to use org mode regularly -- so much I've liked it (use case: manual entry of smal tables with occasional formulas)

I find inline pictures very helpful when Org Babel is used as analog of Jupyter notebooks (plantuml diagrams, pandas plots).

I honestly tried to use org-mode tables and formulas to record and process student grades and it was a huge failure. I am very comfortable with emacs, but this particular aspect of org-mode took 10x the time a simple spreadsheet software would have taken. And I don't see this time decreasing with repeated usage.

I am back to using org-mode for other stuff.

Org-mode documents can include graphics[0] and (formula-driven) spreadsheets[1].

[0]: https://orgmode.org/org.html#Images

[1]: https://orgmode.org/org.html#The-Spreadsheet

Yes but I use MS Excel features like pivot tables and MS Word graphics features like drawing arrows as overlays on top of screenshots to annotate them.

The other limitation of out-of-the-box Org Mode "plain text" architecture is that it limits collaboration of letting other users edit my file because fine-grain locking is not as straightforward as with a db file like SQLite. My "master todo list" is easier to manage if I can let my significant other can enter items for me instead of me doing all the manual data entry myself.

I do understand that since Emacs has Lisp, it can ultimately do anything if you really want to customize/extend/research it.

These are actually not that hard to do in org-mode, if you are willing to use babel and push the pivot out to something like pandas. :D

That said, no, I don't actually think it is a replacement for spreadsheets. Especially not if you are already fluent in them.

Come to think of it, someone should write pivot tables for Emacs. Could be an alternate mode for opening CSV files (which then could also be used when editing code snippets in Org Mode).

(EDIT: In the meantime, I guess you could shell out to https://www.gnu.org/software/datamash/manual/datamash.html.)

https://www.gnu.org/software/datamash/manual/datamash.html Fixed link

On the topic of commandline spreadsheets; I'm a huge fan of sc(1), a cute curses-based spreadsheet calculator.


I'm not sure what you are describing. Note that doing this with python and org is already pretty easy. Or R. No, you don't fully open the csv in org. But, that usually seems a feature. The firehose that is large csv is typically best as a related file.

I'm thinking of the middle-sized use cases. A table with couple hundred to couple thousand rows. Small enough that you can load it into Emacs without a performance penalty, but too large to pivot by hand. Personal and freelance business budgeting come to mind.

However, at this point I'm OK with shelling out to external tool for data wrangling.

That is still easy with pandas/babel. Just set the table as an input for the snippet, and then you can output a pivoted table. (That make sense?)

Yes, it does, and is probably the best option for most people.

> by linking to .xlsx and .docx files but I reorganize my folder structures too often to make such file links stable.

Linking implies too many manual operations to keep things tidy when moving headings around. Try Org attachments[1].

- Basically, a heading has an attachment directory, whose name is by default generated by Org, and optionally inherited from some level in the outline hierarchy.

- Any attachment is represented by a heading with the :ATTACH: tag and an ID in the :ID: property of its drawer. Actual files can be e.g. copied, moved, or symlinked.

- Attachment directories, the :ATTACH: tag and :ID: property are conveniently added by one of the attach commands, but can also be customized (`org-attach' is the dispatcher, bound by default to <C-c C-a>).

- For a given heading, run a command (conveniently, from the dispatcher) to visit the attachment directory for the heading from the configured file browser or Dired: <C-c C-a f> and <C-c C-a F>, respectively.

If it makes sense to move attachments when moving headings around, or when otherwise adding files externally to the attachment directory, there is `org-attach-sync' (<C-c C-a z>):

  Synchronize the current task with its attachment directory, in case you added attachments yourself. 

[1]: https://orgmode.org/manual/Attachments.html

Further explanation: When moving headings around, one can choose to also move the attachments along, for example, by relying on OLD-HEADING and NEW-HEADING's respective attachment directories. Changes to these directories can include external modifications (e.g. addition of files produced by a spreadsheet app). `org-attach-sync' makes sure these changes are propagated to the Org file (and/or its memory representation).

When referencing one of the attached files within the heading, one can use the `attachment' link type, which points to files resolving to the attachment directory[1]. The format is [[attachment:FILE-IN-ATTACHMENT-DIR][DESCRIPTION]] and can be easily inserted with completion by `org-insert-link'.

For more complicated attachment linking scenarios it might be better to configure the attachment directory to be absolute (`org-attach-id-dir').

Conclusion: The use of Org attachments and the attachment: link type stabilizes links to files.

[1]: https://orgmode.org/manual/Attachment-links.html

You hit the nail on the head. A well designed system has coherent building blocks. When you scale that up, you don't end up with a rat's nest. Funny you should mention Evernote. I'm building https://histre.com/ as the said coherent alternative to it (among other reasons), as Evernote truly turns into a hoarder house after a while.

I'm a big org-mode user as well, and that solves most of the "write stuff down for later" needs for me.

> In my opinion, org-mode eliminates the risk of hitting any sort of barrier after years of sunk costs.

Nah, it moves the barrier, but it's still there. There always are barriers. In case of org-mode it's the limitations of emacs and time you need to invest into forging them into whatever system you seek, which often is not even possible with emacs.

Sometimes getting emacs to do what you want can take a ridiculous amount of time.

However, if there's something you really cannot do in emacs, my advice would be to try praying, because at that point nothing else can help you.

Or just start a rich environment, like a browser, or excel. Interface-wise there are many things that emacs can't do. Feature-wise there is even more missing because of lacking manpower.

But that's okay. Every job it's right tool.


Chrome in emacs? No problem. Excel on linux on emacs? No problem, just run Excel on Windows on VirtualBox on emacs.

(in case you missed it from my first comment, I'm being facetious)

That's not "in emacs". Still seperate process and environment and limited to no integration into emacs.

If you do stuff like this, at least use https://github.com/manateelazycat/emacs-application-framewor... for some better level of integration. Though, still seperate and limited.

I think they were being completely facetious. That said, I also think requiring it be "in process" is unnecessary. One of the most powerful features of org is babel, which clearly pushes out the execution to the external tools.

> That said, I also think requiring it be "in process" is unnecessary.

No, this is important for integration. Integration is the main benefit you have while using emacs.

> One of the most powerful features of org is babel, which clearly pushes out the execution to the external tools.

Yes, but it has very limited interaction with them. The whole interface is in emacs. Emacs is doing many of this embedded fire n' forget-style interactions. That doesn't make them richful.

In this, I just disagree. Yes, I agree that emacs main strength is that everything is programmable. No, I don't mind that I have to reach out to other computers/programs for some things to happen.

If anything, I think I dislike the other tools so much because they do fall into the trap of requiring all things be in process. I think that is a huge reason that they don't focus as much on the serialization of their data in a friendly way.

That is to say, if other programs worked harder (or at all) at making themselves programmable, their programs could force a form of stability that is unheard of in many of them. And then I could happily control them from emacs. :D

Why would you commit important work to some online service?

When I visit evernote.com, I see the obvious fails: "sign up", "log in".

You gotta own the data, so that no matter how bad the program turns out to be, you have some a nice local file sitting on your hard drive from which you can ferret it all out somehow.

I'm a Vim guy but with Spacemacs it was easy to get into Emacs. The spacebar action to see following actions (whatever it's called) really helped me figure out what the keyboard shortcuts were for various commands, or it just told me the exact name of said command.

There isn't a single piece of software that has replaced as many other tools, or simplified or otherwise benefited me as much as Emac+OrgMode.

OrgMode is what I now use for:

- journalling

- time-tracking

- project management

- various almost-literate-programming tasks

- calendaring, to a very extensive degree

I could probably spend a good few paragraphs explaining how making a note in my 'knowledge base' file can be given a due date so it shows up in my calendar, etc., but I'll just say that Emacs+OrgMode has effectively replaced:

- iCal

- Twitter

- DayOne (personal journalling)

- Toggl

- Journler

- OmniFocus

- Reminder/whatever-app-is-on-my-android-phone

- and probably a few more

> low barriers to entry sometimes turn into barriers to growth at a later stage

I don’t happen to agree with this in the specific case of org-mode, but it’s a useful generic insight.

That's great but is there anything that has the best of all worlds? Low barrier to entry and maintenance of a fast workflow after years of notes?

i have >5yr years of daily/weekly org'd notes, several dozen files i refile into (made easy by using symbols as first letter in categories and a catg naming convention that grew up along with the setup) and some days i totally forget that i'm 'in a program', because its easy. sure i get lost cause i forget i wrote some code here or there, but it just works.

Org Mode keeps being pushed again and again, but honestly this title is one of the boldest claims I've seen about it.

Just look at the document. It's a 400+kb HTML page of Emacs configurations, keybindings and other stuff that makes absolutely no sense unless you've been an avid Emacs user for years. Where is the Plain Text here? I see nothing of the sort. Sure, the output might resemble Plain Text, but it's clearly not.

I have nothing against it or those who use it, more power to you, but please be realistic.

Sorry about the rant.

The article is pretty clearly written for someone who is already an emacs+org user. I guess it was posted mostly as a teaser of what can be done with it.

The "plain text" catch phrase is not baseless, though. One of the best things about org mode is that there really is a simple and intuitive markup format at its core. Most users probably only ever use the "outliner" features, which are pretty obvious. But once you're used to that, there are lots of more complex features you can start using, one by one. Or just ignore.

Being text, org mode files are also pretty easy to e.g. grep.

Every time I see something about org mode it makes me want to learn emacs, but I am very used to vim. This one is especially tempting, though.

doom emacs have evil bindings so you can vim while you emacs https://github.com/hlissner/doom-emacs Really a great starting point

Good thing evil-mode exists. That was my own path - started with using emacs just for orgmode, now fully shifted over.

Then I suggest to try doom emacs

This user is probably in the 0.01% of hardcore org-mode users. For others like myself, org-mode files are far simpler. I have, for example, long eschewed even commonly used features like task management, preferring to focus on things like recording ideas, how to notes, anniversaries, progress logs, etc. After nearly a decade, I truly believe it has organized my life, in plain text.

I have used Emacs for 30 years or so, but only started using org-mode a few years ago. I'm using it for activities of the kind you mention.

I suppose it is like saying: "Python: Write computer programs in plain text!"

In my experience, one does actually just edit text files using org-mode. It is different than the Tasks sub-application of Thunderbird/Lightening, for instance.

Yeah, my first thought when I started reading your comment was “yeah, it’s a bit silly, but you can’t ‘grep’ Jira”.

I’ve been a long time org user and am slowly starting to move bits of my workflow out of it to ease collaboration with the staff I’m planning to hire in the next couple months. I absolutely love Org and am not particularly happy about moving away from it, but... it seems like trying to use it in a collaborative way is not going to go well. I’ll keep using it for myself though because it’s awesome :D

> you can’t ‘grep’ Jira”.

Well, you can, if you export your issues. Jira has a well working API. It's not hard to write a script for fetching your stuff locally. There are even one or two plugins on melpa for loading it directly into org-mode.

I haven't had great luck with the melpa plugins, but I'm probably going to try it again here, maybe things have gotten better in the last couple of years.

Running `grep` from the root of my Org directory gives me access to about 10 years of notes from various projects across various organizations. In hindsight, I could have tried to periodically dump things out of my clients' various project management systems for historical reference, but just using Org on its own has proven pretty effective at that :)

> it seems like trying to use it in a collaborative way is not going to go well.

Could collaboration be done using a public git repository?

Possibly. That adds a fair bit of friction though. My workflow right now is to use Org to organize projects, do time tracking, and keep relatively free-form notes on each task I work on. Currently stored in Dropbox so that the same set of files is auto-synced to multiple machines.

Forgetting to commit and push my notes before switching from my Mac laptop to my Linux laptop would be pretty disappointing, compared to them magically showing up. On the other hand, if I had multiple people working on the same set of org files in Dropbox, I suspect Dropbox would start having trouble with conflicts pretty quickly.

And... unfortunately... it seems unlikely that someone I'm going to hire is going to be on-board with project management in Emacs. While I'd love to have an army of Emacs lovers working for me, that seems unrealistic to expect :)

Org-mode clearly is two things:

1. A syntax for organizing information 2. An Emacs configuration to create and maintain files in said syntax.

Clearly, the "plain text" part of the quote that tripped you off refers to 1. And in theory, you can write and read that format in any editor that supports plain text files. But I think you're right that in reality, and unlike competitors like Markdown or reText, this one is tightly coupled to a single text editor: Emacs.

Does that make the tag-line wrong? I don't think so. But perhaps it sounds like a stretch in the light of point 2.

At the same time, I think this motto ("your life in plain text") has been around for a long, long time - from a time, when org-mode was less complex. Like many successful (niche or non-niche) products, it has grown tremendously in terms of features. So, perhaps that motto was more fitting to org-mode's beginning.

That said, all tools for using anything with a non-trivial set of options or features are complex. Think IDE's or Photoshop etc. -- you don't need all the features to get started and you won't even use all features on a regular basis. But whenever you want to do something, and the tools gives you the possibility to do it, it will make you happy.

That's why you end up with long instruction manuals.

Is it different for any other tool of sufficient complexity?

I use Org with Emacs, but am confident I would be able to continue using my old notes on any editor, should I switch. It would impact my workflow, sure, but not to the extent where I'd rather have used a more universal format in the first place.

So I think "Your life in plain text" still holds today.

I think it's a perfect excuse to procrastinate. You can spend months configuring Org Mode, tweaking and hacking away, instead of using something like Things, Todoist, or OmniFocus (or thousands more, whichever one you like best) and focusing on the things you should actually be doing and organizing. I've been guilty of that myself.

I have a pretty large emacs config. I wrote it over 4 years. I tend to figure out repetitive tasks on my workflow and code them to key bindings. It saves time in the end and it is quite lazy. I also get all crazy refactoring tasks at work, cause colleagues know I will write a little emacs script and have it done in no time. So 4 years of time "wasting" seem to be valuable for my employer and colleagues.

I use org cause I can write code in multiple languages as well as having my notes and thoughts on the process. Again colleagues like that I then share those as HTML. I like that is instant documentation. Trello and family don't do that.

> I think it's a perfect excuse to procrastinate.

Well, I mean this does come up all the time, where people talk about how much time they sink into Emacs. Emacs is an interface to a programming language. Of course you can stick time into it, just as people spend hundreds of hours writing code with any programming language. For basic usage, you don't need to. I don't think Emacs needs to apologize for being a lot of fun for experimenting and customizing. Those same people would be scrolling Twitter or Facebook if they procrastinated using Emacs.

I write polyglot literate programming academic papers with it. Nothing compares. We are many with that use case.

Confession: 30 year emacs user here. Have been using org-mode since 2008 or so (I think the first org-mode shipped in 2003). So, why so many articles? Emacs is dwindling away. There are enough users, emacs will likely never die.

I think there are a lot of org-mode users that would like to see org-mode for VS Code (there are some starts) and other editors. Org-mode is really an extendable dsl for personal information. Source code (which is what you are calling the output) is interesting in that it looks like a semi-structured text file, and compiles to many output formats (pdf, HTML, spreadsheets, etc).

If you use any of the Emacs hosted mail readers, org-mode is tremendously useful for tracking actions/TODOs. I use it with GNUS and the org agenda mode is how I organize my work (enterprise sales). It was a game-changer for me.

I have been using Emacs/Orgmode for a year. Can you point me to a setup/configuration about your workflow? I am in enterprise sales too. Thanks much

Shameless plug: I wrote a package called Gnorb that is meant to tie Org and Gnus more closely together, precisely for this sort of project management. It's in the ELPA repository.

Thanks for your suggestion, I will explore the package.

A few simple observations:

- the venn diagram of people using emacs and using org-mode seems to largely overlap. That makes it impractical in non emacs heavy environments (aka. the wider industry).

- tooling outside of emacs is mostly not there.

- org mode is a basically similar to other wiki dialects with similar syntax, limitations, tooling, etc. Other than the (emacs) tooling, I don't see a strong reason for preferring it.

The above makes it a non-starter for me personally (not an emacs user) or for teams that have non emacs users (i.e. all teams I've been on, ever). That does not invalidate it as a personal note taking tool of course. But lets indeed not overstate its utility. Some people like post-its, scribbling in a notebook, simply remembering to do stuff, or their super duper emacs setups. Whatever works for you.

Honestly, even though it's not sold that way (it's usually promoted with links to encyclopedias like this) I think the vast majority of computer users could easily use org-mode productively without knowing anything about Emacs.

1. org-mode is already installed in Emacs. Open a .org file in Emacs and you have everything you need ready and waiting.

2. You can make an outline by putting * for first-level heading, two * for second-level, and so on.

3. You can add notes below a heading simply by typing.

4. You can link wiki-style to other documents with the shortcut C-c C-l and entering the filename. Remember to include the path as in ./filename.org. The same shortcut works to edit the link. You can click on the link to open it and then start typing.

5. You can move headings and the full subtree below them using the Alt key plus arrows. This outlining capability is very nice if you're used to it from Workflowy or Dynalist.

There are lots of other things you can do with org-mode, but as a basic way to organize your information, it's very simple even if you've never used Emacs.

I think you just proved my point.

I guess that's up to you, but I'd be genuinely curious as to what exactly "proves your point"? Is it the part about org-mode being installed by default? The difficulty of pressing C-c C-l? The difficulty of pushing Alt-arrow?

Be dismissive of my comment if you want, but I'm guessing you either didn't bother to read it or to understand it, because there's nothing in there that the vast majority of computer users don't already do.

> That makes it impractical in non emacs heavy environments (aka. the wider industry).

Depends. It's very practical if you're an independent contractor. I run my contracting from Emacs, including tracking tasks, time, generating invoices and processing documents. The main extra integration I have is LaTeX, which I use to generate nice PDFs to send to customers.

Before, as a salaried employee, I still used it for task management and time tracking - regular software used for that purpose (e.g. Jira) is nowhere near ergonomic enough to make detailed TODO lists, and store notes and code samples along with them. Not to mention, it's not the kind of stuff you'd want to spam on public time/task tracker systems. So Org Mode works really great as a private, more detailed tracking/noting system. Bonus points if you develop with Emacs too, as then you can achieve nice synergy (e.g. evaluating code snippets straight from the notes).

> org mode is a basically similar to other wiki dialects with similar syntax, limitations, tooling, etc. Other than the (emacs) tooling, I don't see a strong reason for preferring it.

That's only partly true. Org's markup language is pretty similar to Markdown. But it's the tooling - the Org Mode - that makes it unique, and mostly unusable outside of Emacs. Within Org language, like TODO markers, priorities, drawers, header options, code block parameters, etc. serve as hooks for the tooling, and this is what lets you turn an .org document from a glorified Markdown into a fully-featured outliner/task tracker/time tracker/spreadsheet/literate programming environment.

> org mode is a basically similar to other wiki dialects with similar syntax, limitations, tooling, etc. Other than the (emacs) tooling, I don't see a strong reason for preferring it.

Org-mode has a strong focus on organisational features (hence the name) and is quite extendable and modulare. With org-babel it has also a very sophisticated environment for literate programming. How are wikis in that regard this days?

Anything involving code samples, I pretty much reach for github flavor markdown. I came across asciidoc as well recently. I've never encountered any org mode in the wild (no emacs users on any of my recent projects).

Yep, it's close to how I see it.

org-mode is great tool for emacs as an environment. If the idea of having such a tool so close so tied into how you're working then it's the best tool I know of.

If you just want a markdown-ish outliner you can probably get that workflow elsewhere.

I started using org mode with doom Emacs. As an Emacs novice it was pretty easy to set up and came with some nice defaults for org mode.

The document is just plain markup exported to HTML, no fancy data formats involved here. It just happens to explain emacs and org mode, so naturally there's a lot of writing and code blocks that "makes absolutely no sense unless you've been an avid Emacs user for years." But this is the property of the document, not the org mode markup itself.

That being said, there are many tools built on the org mode format to help with things like todo management and interactive execution of code blocks, but it doesn't make it any less plain text.

I have just started the plunge into the emacs and org mode life, so I am by no means a die hard defender of the name.

Org modes files do export as plain text; this makes them super simple to deal with. It looks similar to a non-rendered markup file. Not pretty, but definitely plain-text.

One huge feature of org mode I have yet to use is that you can nest org mode files. So you can have ten org mode files from different parts of your life all get pulled and displayed into one screen.

So... do you prefer the (only 234kb) plain text [1] version?

[1]: http://doc.norang.ca/org-mode.org

for those of us who are working to improve our ability to use org & lisp+emacs this is incredibly helpful.

You are welcome, mr_spothawk. This was exactly my intention in posting it.

Just curious, what is the org mode alternative for the average knowledge worker?

rant appreciated!

this thing is a 5 year old specialist's setup and its not appropriate for new users, even the installation instructions have not aged well.

that didn't stop me from copying way to much of his work into my initial setup and crying about the mess i made when i got started though :) if you want to get started with org or that strange editor, consider yourself as having been trolled and look for something that has popup captures and does linked images not something this time/billing specific at first!

Or just markdown

Markdown is comparable the the org mode format (although not favourably), but it can't be compared to org mode as a whole.

Agreed. I'm finding how often it's posted quite bizarre. I tried it for a while about six years ago - no idea what the enthusiasm is for.

Bed wetters in the house. The weekend is over.

I agree. Why use Org Mode when, for example, Workflowy exists?

The latter is robust to your hard drive failing and downloadable in plaintext, too. And it looks better. And you don't have to learn a billion key shortcuts with silly names like "yank" to use it.

But you don't really have to learn many keyboard shortcuts at all to get started with org-mode. TAB is pretty much all you need in the beginning.

And later on, if you decide to keep using it, you can decide to add more shortcuts to your repertoire on a case-by-case basis.

"Yank" is not specific to org-more, btw, but Emacs lingo which predates, of course, a lot of modern UI conventions. Most other names are quite straight-forward.

Note also, that it's not the keyboard shortcut that is called "yank" - the latter is the name of a functionality which you could, if you wanted so, type out in order to use it. The keyboard short is there so you don't have to, and you don't even have to remember the proper name of the function that the shortcut is for.

If Workflowy does exactly and everything you want, then sure, use that. If there are times though when you wish it did something a little different or a little more or integrated better with some other tools you use then, well, with emacs and org mode you could scratch that itch with probably just a few dozen lines of elisp code.

Or if you later find some other tool that suits you better it may not be possible to move all your data to the other system, or at least prohibitively hard. With org mode, you can probably whip up an extension that mimics that other tool, or else just port you data.

The attraction of org mode is that it it's probably close to the simplest, most primitive way of solving that problem it solves, while also being one of the most easily extensible and customizable (because, emacs).

But, Workflowly literally does exactly and everything I want. It exports plain text, so my data is always portable. It's great.

I don't want primitive, I want convenient and easy to use. I don't want to have to think about how I'm taking notes or write in lisp or "rice" anything.

Also, Emacs is ugly and doesn't sync with my phone. I'm sure I could fix both of those things with sufficient effort, but again, I want to put forth effort solving actual problems, not remaking my Workflowy setup.

This entire topic is microcosm of goofy command line/unix fetishism.

If you want primitive, get a paper notebook. One page per day. That works well, too (seriously).

With Org you do not need to use a fancy web interface that might disappear from one day to the next. (Though you definitely have the option) The default representation is plain text but you may export to HTML, LaTeX, etc. which is what you are seeing in the original submission. Org can also be used without learning any shortcuts and Emacs terminology, but they are always at your disposal if you need to improve your workflow.

I'm not claiming Org is a silver bullet, or even better than WorkFlowly or anything else people might use, but it definitely has it's place.

Org mode has so many more functions than workflowy. You also don't need any of the keyboard shortcuts -- they simply Ardmore efficient ways to edit text, but they are just editing text. Orgmode is also plane text and extremely easy to replicate, even with Dropbox &c.

Workflowy has the opposite problem of orgmode. Workflowy owns your data and unless you frequently sync it with your hard drive then you risk losing all of your notes.

However, the best tool is the one that fits your needs and that you're familiar with. That said, would I encourage you to Wade into the orgmode pool? Most certainly!

I'm sorry I didn't proof-read this post before submitting. It's embarrassing.

I use it because I already spend about 70% of my computer time in Emacs, and I use org mode almost exclusively for the same things I use Emacs for (getting things done).

It syncs to 3 places, of which 2 are encrypted off-site backups. Since I already do everything in Emacs, org mode extends all the tools I already use (links to emails, specific lines in a source code file, contacts, IRC). I spent one hour learning it about 4 years ago and I use it to manage just about everything I have to do on my computer.

If you are not already sold.on Emacs, however, I understand that it can be a tough thing to swallow.

A lot of people use org-mode for writing documents and note-taking. For instance, there are tools like the following:


If you also use org-mode for tasks then you can add todo items to your notes that show up in your general agenda, which you may be using to keep track of meetings or events, as well.

There's always cua-mode if you want something more compatible with usual text editors. No telling what will happen for any other Ctrl,Alt shortcuts, but most regular keys should work as expected. And there's always M-x to just search a command (which will also tell you the hotkey, if any).

Besides "yank," calling alt "Meta" is another silly thing, too. And yes, I'm aware of the reasons. It's still silly in 2020, as was discussed in the recent HN topic on why Emacs isn't attracting new users.

if you happen to remember the headline title on that, i'd be interested to read about why Emacs isn't attracting new users.

in the last year i know two new developers who have written their own emacs configs.

I suspect it was this piece:


Having been using Emacs and org-mode for about 4 years now, I've been thinking a big mistake has been made in how the system is pitched. It's always something about it being 'plain text', which makes non-Emacs users say 'Why would I switch from my plain text editor? Or 'Why would I switch from a flashy GUI webapp version of this particular feature?'

Emacs can't be appreciated for any one feature, even org mode, powerful as that is. You have to take the entire system and all it's possibilities into account. Org mode is particularly special because it integrates so many of Emacs' features, from literate programming to keeping a Wiki, to scheduling, to keeping a diary, to file browsing, to accounting, to emailing, to so much more. But to try to judge one package like org mode is a bit like judging a car by the quality of its seats.

The only thing I've experienced which compares to this is, perversely, the Office 365 suite. Yes, of course, all the functions are completely different and I'm not making a like-for-like functionality comparison. But in Office365 an email client (Outlook) is integrated with a team's documents (via Sharepoint), chats (via Teams), calendar, etc, etc. The value of Office365 isn't in any one app, it's their integration. It's the entire system.

Obviously the Emacs system has a completely different and opposing design philosophy to Office365's. It's ground-up, fully-extendable, initially demanding, text based, exportable, self-hosted, free, and so on. All of which increasingly goes against the grain of the trajectory of software today. However for those who give it the time and effort, it really does offer to organise your life, and yes, in plain text.

Another difference between emacs and Office 365. The code and functionality of both are also sustained by an ecosystem.

For Office 365 that ecosystem is by and large constituted by the paid labour of workers employed by Microsoft, together with a minor subset of plugin contributors for certain applications.

For Emacs, the ecosystem includes everyone who adopts the use of emacs.

In other words, to Microsoft's system you are a customer. Microsoft may choose to adapt their system to your use case if you are lucky enough to represent a big enough user or use case. To emacs you are part of the very ecology which sustains the whole system. That's where the sense of empowerment and 'freedom' (I hate the term) comes from.

That's one of he best pitch for Emacs I've ever read. I wish GNU were able to communicate that.

Starting in 2005, I've been keeping dated text files in a Log folder, organized by year and month. Anytime I need digital "scrap paper" I make sure I keep it. If I need to save files, I open instead a dated log folder.

There's a critical optimization problem here the young often get wrong. One needs to "Huffman code" the work put into organizing on entry, versus the work later in retrieving. For example, I save physical receipts into four rotating bins by quarter, then I vacuum pack the old receipts and stash them in the garage. Occasionally I save hundreds of dollars by proving I shipped something (and that would be a receipt I probably scanned) but any more work than this on entry would be a mistake.

It's the complete lack of organizational structure, other than date, that make my log files so useful. I instead get good at including keywords, always asking how I would find this later. I never have to wonder whether I filed this under "garden" or "tomatoes", resorting to a system-wide search. And this system has survived many editor migrations.

I agree with the arguments not to use a commercial system. That's like putting an aspirational cookbook on your coffee table. Org Mode is also too structured on entry to be optimal for me.

> It's the complete lack of organizational structure, other than date, that make my log files so useful.

A thread here about a week ago on bookmark management reinforced this idea for me.[1] When it comes to general knowledge management, complex, predefined taxonomies don't feel worth the overhead when retrieval is so often ad hoc and messy. Grepping about in log files for keywords usually does the trick. Tags are nice, but like you say, getting good at including searchable keywords performs a similar function.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23228861

Regarding physical hoarding of bills, you should consider investing in a scansnap scanner - you can throw paper that's barely organized into a pile and it'll scan both sides into fully ocr'ed beautifully corrected duplex PDFs. Can't imagine life without it anymore!

It looks like some people want to spend more time organizing their life than living their life. IDK man, I already need some willpower to use Trello and looks far easier.

Hah, as much as I wanted org-mode to work for me, I realized I'm spending more time on building a framework for organizing my time than probably actually organizing my time. And it's never over.

Sync all my calendars, OS notifications (considering the time it would take me to walk/drive), sync all this in mobile/iPad and be able to edit effectively there, and the list goes on. Laptop/Mobile notifications are the biggest ones, as if I'm not reminded on what I've to do, I will probably miss it anyways.

I've found org-mode much more practical for taking notes while working, as I'm already in Emacs writing code.

I think beorg[1] solves a lot of your problems? It integrates with your calendar, shows you notifications and allows you to properly edit your entries.

I found out about it through HN, iirc, and it’s how I got started with using org-mode.

[1]: https://beorg.app

I imagine the difference is that tinkering is the appeal, for some. I like optimization as a hobby within reason but if you aren't getting anywhere quickly it hardly feels optimal. That said, I've yet to try org mode, just emacs.

Yes. I'm definitely a tinkerer, and have spent hours configuring my Emacs just the way I want. However, its super addicting and often you'll find yourself doing things with little ROI. A 20 yo me, would have definitely hacked till death, now almost 30 with job and hobbies outside tech I've to more thoughtful about ROI about the things I do (I swear if Emacs LSP doesn't perform well in emacs27, I'm going VSCode path -- and there's my unrelated rant).

I spent less time figuring out my org mode system than anything else I've tried.

I just stick it all in a single file. Well, two: one for work, one for personal. It's still fast. It's still easy to pull information up when I need it.

Yeah. Many times over the years I have decided to be organised about something, or just my life in general, and made notes, taken research clippings, etc. using whatever system I designed at the time. Sometimes I look back at these years later and realise that I spent so much time creating them, never really used them, and now they are completely irrelevant or useless.

For me, organizing stuff is something I enjoy to a point where I'd consider it "living my life". I get a lot of joy out of using emacs/org mode every day, but I can also totally understand someone who doesn't.

Which isn’t always a bad thing! Having a good system to collect and organize information can be a high value skill. But org mode is not much of a tool meant to get out of your way to let you get shit done...much more an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine to tune

Trello will forever be the relatively slow, clunky, time-sucking platform that it is.

In org mode you get faster, more efficient and more powerful as you develop, which means you don't need to summon that willpower.

XKCD : Is it Worth the Time?


This assumes that there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow at all. In my experience foss tools are often pushed insincerely by activists.

For instance when I asked about accessing org from a phone, this person told me he sshed in and accessed it using a phone terminal emulator.

Yeah... No... That's not my ideal way to organize my life.

I love that XKCD, though the person you're responding to was talking about willpower, not time.

Can I get a quick rundown on why Org Mode is better (easier/faster/more organized/whatever you prefer) than a ~/TODO.md file?

I use this format:


## yyyy-mm-dd name of the homework

- for tasks that have to be done

! for tasks that contain a warning, careful, beware

> for tasks I am waiting for others to give me output about

? for tasks I am not sure about

v for tasks I've completed

x for tasks i won't do, WONTFIX


so, for example, today i'd have: ```

## 2020-05-25 orgmode

> ask about orgmode on hn

v rant on hn about my own flatfile task management

x install emacs

? look if orgmode can be tested on vi ```

Agenda (custom search expressions and aggregation for all kinds of notes), capture buffers (quickly take notes while doing something else), time tracking, column mode (hierarchically sum up time spent and other properties), easily link items to files, even emails or RSS entries, tags, solid latex-export (you can just \textem{mix latex markup in like that}, I don't even write Latex anymore), org-babel, which is kinda like Jupyter, but for everything, including R, Python, etc. in-line image support (works with Latex, so you can have in-line formulas in your latex documents. This is surprisingly useful if you take math-y notes), org-ref which is like bibtex, but for org, and sane, so you can easily manage citations and sources

… seriously. The list is so long. That's just off the top of my head. Granted, some of this is more useful in academia, but depending on how much research you do, it can come in handy at any time.

In org-mode I can stop and start time running against a task and when I'm done get a breakdown of the total time spent on that task.

I can close tasks and it automatically update when I closed them. I can use keyboard shortcuts to cycle through what state a task is in. e.g. TODO, DONE, BLOCKED etc.

I can assign types to the task, and update these with a few simple keyboard shortcuts.

If I have a list of tasks, e.g.

    TODO Foo [0/3]
      - [ ] A
      - [ ] B
      - [ ] C 
As I mark off A, B or C, the total on Foo [0/3] will auto update.

I can plan my week ahead org-mode agenda,where it will auto generate my week. I can see reports based on what I did and didn't get finished. I can archive this data off to an archive file.

I can easily create plaintext tables that will auto format for me to fit stuff, I can do calculations in them (as these plaintext tables are basically spreadsheets).

All through just typing text and learning some keyboard shortcuts.

And its always just plain text, I can open it in any editor and what I see will make sense.

Can write code in line in a number of languages (e.g. Ruby, LISP etc) and have it executed in the file.

Can I use org-mode without emacs?

I've never tried org-mode without emacs, but this says you can get an equivalent in other editors like Atom and VS Code.


I don't know how customisable it would be in those editors. My org-mode is pretty customized via my emacs config and I don't know if they would support agenda.

Thanks, I'll take a look

Organice[0] is one option. Works well on mobile also.

[0] https://github.com/200ok-ch/organice

Found that, but I don't like not being able to use git for my file. I ended up figuring out how to get started with org-mode in emacs rather quickly anyway.

In short: org mode is software that sits on top of the markup language, and lets you interact in sophisticated, semantic ways with the information in a file.

The markup is just markdown, modulo a few conventions. The power of org mode is manipulating the data / text / content you have written and marked up

> In short: org mode is software that sits on top of the markup language, and lets you interact in sophisticated, semantic ways with the information in a file.

As one example of this, org mode makes it easy to collapse/expand the content of a task.

That’s a good point—the software provides new types of UI, too! I had been thinking about rearranging text and org-capture, but you’re right that another excellent feature is the ability to view and interact with text fluidly and easily

For me the advantage is that I mostly use org-mode for other reasons, like note taking, but when it makes sense to integrate TODO functionality, which comes up frequently while taking notes, it is there and I don't need an additional app using some other database which I then need to synchronize with my note taking system.

Org-mode does nifty things like letting you plop a date tag anywhere and indexing it for reminders later, like 5 day outlook.

Its basically text only onenote.

The key to using org-mode effectively is ignoring most of the features and using only a tiny subset that you actually need.

You aren't going to look like a wizard, but you are also not going to need to maintain anything ever. These kinds of cookbooks are nice to have around, but it's best to treat them as references, not guides.

In remember seeing this exact document five years ago and being completely overwhelmed.

Now, looking at this, all of these features make sense to me, but I'm far from using all of them. Agree it's more of a kitchensink reference.

I like the idea of Org Mode, but for me it is just a painful to use. Vscode with the "Markdown All in One" does everything I could possibly need. It is still plain text and it should be portable to any tool that can display markdown files. The biggest draw is the keyboard shortcuts are far less complicated and more ergonomic (though perhaps less powerful than emacs, but that is fine with me).

edit: Also interestingly Vscode feels much more cross platform for me. I have tried to get Emacs running on windows and it wasn't a good experience.

Yeah, unfortunately, while Emacs on Windows works, it kind of feels like a fish pulled out of the water. What I do when I work on Windows machines is build and launch Emacs under WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux), and use an X Server on the Windows side (VcXsrv) to get a GUI window.

I do use org mode for writing documents and presentations but I feel like a lot of these 'organization' tools just result in spending more time tweaking them than actually doing the work you set out to organize.

It's deceptive to look at a document like this and think that you'd have to use all of that knowledge and configuration in order to use org mode for planning your tasks.

Much like Rome, this document wasn't written in a day. You can start using org-mode for task planning and agenda with a fresh (Doom/Spacemacs/vanilla)-Emacs install and be productive from the get go. That's what I did.

Then, you add things whenever you feel like it. You may never feel like it, the default is already very powerful, and I don't have a lot of customization around agendas, etc. in my configuration. The only thing I actually do is set where my org mode files live, set a couple of keybindings, and add one agenda view. That's it. I've been using that same setup for years now.

The rest of my config is merely making it a bit prettier, because default Emacs is somewhat ugly.

Maybe my problem is I don't do complex enough work to warrent a tool like this (I'm still a BSc student). I do use emacs for almost everything already but I don't use anything for organization really because it just seems like a really complex way of just setting a reminder somewhere

I use org mode and my work is fairly simple. Never underestimate the power of being able to go back to your thought process on something you did 1, 5, or even 10 years ago.

"organizational tools"

Are a great business idea for this very purpose because it gives people the illusion that they are getting organized --> productive.

It looks insanely complicated for no reason.

Why do such super organisation, where you have great search at your disposal?

I just have everything inside Notes folder with subfolders if any project is getting bigger. Anytime I want to look for something, I just do global text search for the whole Notes folder.

There are lots of features I don't use in org. In fact, in the beginning I only used the most basic feature of keeping a foldable hierarchical text file of notes, which is basically the same thing as your Notes files, but with some nice structure editing and folding keybindings built in. But I have been slowly integrating org features into my system when I think they would be useful to me.

First I started scheduling things. With org, you can schedule items and have them show up in your agenda regardless of what org file they are in. Org agenda gives you an outline of your week, and your current day, and it says how many days you have left until certain items are due. This has replaced my calendar, and feels superior to a calendar to me.

Then I started using org-drill, which lets you drill org notes, emulating the spaced-repetition behavior of Anki. You could just use Anki, but it's nice to have all of your personal information management in one place, and have it editable from your text editor.

I've also started using hyperlinks to make links between my org files and also to any other file on my computer, to web URLs, to executing a script, to mailto links... This has been helpful.

I still don't use plenty of features, like the literate programming stuff, tables, tags, capture, etc. But I don't need to. They're there for me if I feel they would be helpful. But they're invisible to me otherwise. Org isn't "insanely complicated" because it's mostly just a text file, and the features are there for you to use if you need them, but there's no cluttered UI that actually adds any complexity.

I suppose this is for the same reason that people structure databases. There are often non-trivial relationships between different types of information that are useful to keep track of. Citations and links are useful features for note taking.

Because "great search" is not even close to good enough and handles only a fraction of the features.

This is like saying that excel is insanely complicated for no reason, when pen and paper exist. If this is all you need, great, but if it is not then the comparison does not even make sense.

Notes and reference material benefits from good search tooling.

But tasks or todo lists benefit from being well-organised.

Former org-mode user here. One of the anti-features of emacs/org-mode for certain people, particularly those who get obsessed with tooling, travel down technology rabbitholes, and are subject to crippling bouts of procrastination, is the extensibility and the common paradigm that one should do everything in emacs.

Ultimately, I switched to using specific tools for specific tasks. For example, I found Zotero a much better way of managing research, while still allowing export to BibTeX.

I still can organize in plain text, I just avoid getting tripped up with endless tool maintenance and customization.

I surprised myself when I stopped using org-mode when I "retired" (ha!) March 2019. At my last on-site job, I had to juggle managing a small deep learning team, work on 100+ US patents, and all of my own technical work and research. Org-mode was perfect to keep everything organized.

Now, I rely heavily on Apple Notes (this required discovering a little app that exports the notes for backup, and also realizing that I can use the web apps in iCloud.com on my Linux laptop).

This reliance on Notes may change however as just recently I have developed the habit of keeping a Mosh (like SSH) session always open between my iPhone and iPad to my remote server, with appropriate tmux setups for each device. I was just thinking yesterday about how I could now always keep a tmux pane open to emacs+org-mode.

Big mosh user here myself. How do you deal with tmux limiting window size to the lowest common denominator device? I usually run a little bash script manually to disconnect other tmux sessions whenever I switch devices, which gets annoying.

Also which app for Apple Notes exports do you use?

tmux can be configured not to limit the window size since tmux 2.9, and it is the default since tmux 3.1.

Thanks- was using through byobu wrappers, need to check what version is on our company machines. Edit: 2.7, so that explains it.

can you recommend any ways for me (a low-mid developer trying to improve my skills with e.g. tmux & mosh) to get access to the brains of mature/retiring expert level engineers? mostly i'm interested in learning these sorts of productivity patterns.

unfortunately, i don't work closely with any developers. i took a job a couple years ago in order to apprentice under a linux guru, but unfortunately he left the company 2 days before i started. i was fortunate to learn a lot from the remaining team before the company shuttered 8 months later.

If you know what specific skill you want/need to pick up (e.g., "learn to use Mosh to effectively do development on remote servers") that can be a simple web search for tutorials. I guess that the real issue is discovering what skills you don't even know about.

Where ever you work, it is fair game to ask people there for advice.

Recent CS graduate here. Used org-mode for every assignment and report. Used it at every internship. Will be using it in my full-time work. Use it at work to automate pull-request bureaucracy and notes. Use it for design notes and render into other formats.

It's the highest productivity format I have ever encountered, and we haven't even touched org-agenda.

How do you use org-mode to automate pull-requests? Do you make the pull request inside emacs? Are you using it to compile a note from all of the commits in a certain branch? Or something else?

Preface: I like very detailed pull-requests. For me this includes JIRA information and implementation notes. Most of my recent work has been backend API stuff, and org-babel/restclient [0] lets me do fast test-driven-development in the same file. These inputs / outputs are included in the PR render so it's easy to see what the API is doing.

> How do you use org-mode to automate pull-requests?

I have a script called 'new_jira $JIRA_NUMBER' which pulls relevant JIRA information from the REST API and generates an org-mode file. I do my work and list implementation details, gotchas, and generally narrate work done. Details are light for easy tickets, and heavy on complex ones. Finally, render it as markdown and copy/paste in the GitHub PR field.

I also include tips / tricks if it's not appropriate to comment directly in the code base. I come back and search for these later (knowledge base).

> Do you make the pull request inside emacs?

I've usually faced admin issues trying to get the necessary tokens to make PRs in emacs. Just render, copy & paste in the PR title/description field.

> Are you using it to compile a note from all of the commits in a certain branch?

That's right. All work relevant to a particular ticket is captured in a single org-mode file. I keep my git history clean and well documented so it's not necessary to use these files to understand commit history though.

> Or something else?

For work unrelated to the JIRA flow (e.g. security bug hunting) I use org-mode to track the entire narrative and use org-babel to inline code necessary for the exploit. This makes security reporting easy as I just render as PDF and shoot it off to the security people.

[0] https://github.com/pashky/restclient.el

I've been an org mode user since 2012. When I started using it, I was learning emacs at the same time, really didn't know anything about lisp. But I had used a lot of other organizational systems going back to palm pilot days, I knew what I wanted. This website gave me everything I needed and I was able to start adding pieces one at time to my config file to get them working. It's a big part of my setup and I'm really grateful for the person who put it up that they did it (and kept it up to date) for a long time.

I take all my work notes in org-mode and had a hard time viewing them on my iPad, so I made a cross-platform mobile reader app:


(It's FOSS but available on the App Store and Google Play for convenience. It will be available on F-Droid soon as well.)

It'd be great if there's was a trial option.

I wish the stores let you do that easily :(

If you're on Android then you can wait for F-Droid, or you can get an automatic refund from Google Play if you uninstall it shortly after purchase.

Otherwise you can always build and install from source, since it's FOSS.

My life is now organized just in time to die of old age learning this system. I'm the most organized dead-guy I guess.

When my scroll bar turns into a tiny square in the top right of the window for something as trivial as a note-taking system I nope right out of there.

Org is not a note taking system. It’s an emacs app that can do a lot and that you can use and tweak as you want. Note taking, todo list, calendar, scientific notebook, literate programming, bibliography, ... It allows to mix static (what you insert) and dynamic (code execution, graph generation, tables, images, spreadsheets).

The author logged how he customized his setup to do whatever he needed and shared it. I found great tips there.

I fail to understand the negativity in the comments for such hacker friendly system and submission.

> I fail to understand the negativity in the comments for such hacker friendly system and submission.

One would have thought that a programmable editor (using LISP, no less) would be held in high regard by the majority of people on here.

Just goes to show that you can't please all of the people all of the time.

> Just goes to show that you can't please all of the people all of the time.

Maybe these people are hackers who hack as-in "hacksaw", to punch a hole quickly. There is no sense of urgency in the french synonyms etymology.

So I started taking a course recently based on an HN post about putting everything in org-mode: https://tasshin.com/blog/implementing-a-second-brain-in-emac...

What I found pretty quickly was that org-mode is great for organizing things in emacs. BUT if you ingest any meaningful amount of ideas from outside of emacs, it gets orders of magnitude more difficult to put your "whole life" in there. Emacs was built in a pre-web, pre-mobile world, and it's a frustrating experience to try and wire those up to emacs.

There are some helper packages, to be sure, but tools like Evernote have seamless capture built across all the platforms without any effort on my part. I found once I'd decided to switch from using org-mode to using Evernote as my life organizing destination a whole class of challenges simply disappared.

In my opinion, we should use the right tool for the job. Org-mode, by the nature of living in emacs land, is very difficult to actually get you whole life into, even if it would be nice to organize once you did so.

Favorite all time personal productivity tool: ClipX (last version 15 years ago). Besides being an clipboard manager, you can save all clipboards to a text file. I have a file running 3 years and just text search it to find old information.

Lots of comments about Org mode being complicated. This link shouldn't be representative. This is the culmination of an iterative effort over years. I don't know the history behind it and not a hardcore user. But I would suggest start out with basics and building slow. Bring in what's useful and learn that well before moving on to other things. I would not drink in this entire doc all at once.

This is what procrastination looks like.

Nicely organized procrastination though.

Org mode has always been too flexible for me. The lack of constraints on what could be done made it very hard to actually create a system that was reliable for me.

Also, I stopped using Emacs as my daily driver when I started working in Java professionally.

<rant>I've been trying out orgzly as a note dump replacement for Trello on mobile. It works ok but I tried setting up actual emacs the other day in order to convert the Trello json output to .org, and the experience was horrible. I couldn't install plugins because I needed to install a plug-in manager, and I couldn't install that because I needed to install another plugin or change some obscure GPG setting. On top of this you have to learn not only a whole new set of overly complicated commands but new vocabulary as well. I finally did get it working but oof. I'll stick with vim.

Sounds like you got an amalgam of bad first impressions. Sorry to hear that!

So, something that helped me get pass that inertia was learning where init.el resided and how it is loaded. After I read about that, installing a package manager that's not constrained to the minibuffer was a 3-4 line endeavour (use-package). Save, reload. After that, you might get a notification of Emacs warning you about trusting an unknown source. (I always accept here.) After that, it was a matter of using M-x use-package and installing packages that I remembered from Spacemacs: which-key, restart-emacs, swiper/counsel/ivy, and hydra were enough to get me up and running.

Regarding the overly complicated commands, I agree that they're a bit lengthy but you are able to change the ergonomics of your keybindings at will. My config is heavily inspired by evil-leader and I put a lot of functionality behind "C-;". So, "C-; f p f" will open a search dialog for all of the files in the current VCS repo. This might be lengthy for some but it feels right to me. I like that about Emacs.

Sorry for the rambling! If you ever decide to try it out again, feel free to message me and I'll help where I can.

YMMV, but Emacs and Org Mode have made my life finally seem manageable after basically a lifetime of struggling to keep track of everything. If that sounds like you, it might be worth your time to try.

would you be willing to put up a few screenshare videos describing your workflow?

I do all my research, note-taking and idea brainstorming in org-mode. Couldn't live without it.

I've been playing with org-mode as the basis for a literate programming workflow. So far, the results have been nice, though tangling is slow. (For that, I wrote little tool to do the tangling for me, including following the noweb references. Combined with inotifywait, this gives me tangle-on-save.)

The most detailed org LP example I have is at


the tangled products are at


and the "woven" HTML is at


Sometime in the near future I'll split the LP tools off from the rest of my configuration so that others can use them more easily, if they're so inclined.

I love the concepts and workflow that org-mode, as well at surrounding extensions, promote. What I rue, however, is how tightly it is married to Emacs. vim extensions for it aren't up to the same level yet, and the mobile apps for org-mode are quite lacking, after trying them.

It just seems like it has so much promise, and people have done a lot of interesting things with it, but it's clouded behind this learning curve and toolchain.

I can feel this deeply because even though I'm an Emacs user, and thoroughly like the Emacs + Org experience, I was never able to keep a working system organized with Org mode.

I ended up using OmniFocus for my tasks and Notion for "information and note storing"; they have great, built-in support for the things I need to do and I spend very little time managing them and keeping them in order, so they simply do "what I need them for". They also play nice with mobile devices, images and external documents, and integrate with my Outlook calendar (something I am forced to use for work).

I have no doubt that a proficient Emacs user could create something similar, even better, using only Org mode; I don't use third party configurations and keep mine to one hundred lines, more or less; when things get more complicated, I notice that I mostly end up in a game of min/maxing without getting the same amount of "useful" that I get from other systems.

The big problem is that, the way I'm running now, I don't own my data; OmniFocus worries me particularly because, as already said in other comments, it's Apple-only. Notion worries me too: I wish them all the best, but what happens if they go out of business? Sure, I can export everything in plain text, but the structure of my data would be pretty hard to recreate in another system.

Even though configuration + Org files amount to some amount of complexity, I can have trust that their format is long lived and that they are stored where I decide. This is a sort of "peace of mind" I can relate with, and that I have somehow lost when I decided to use these other systems; however I am infinitely more satisfied with two systems that do "exactly what I want"; I hope to find a way to reconcile these ends sometimes, but for the moment Org mode is "only" my outlining tool of choice.

As many in here mention, org-mode has a few very good features but is much too complicated to get into. My absolute favorite for self organization is Joplin: - self hosted - markdown - file attachments - cross device - lean interface - encryption

Those are my core must haves, but there is much more which really motivated me getting into Joplin.

Org mode is a fun note taking tool built on top of emacs, and it’s great that it works so well for some people. But, in my experience, the hard lock-in to emacs makes it impossible to make a central part of my workflow.

Plus, org mode encourages so much planning to be productive and customization that I end up without any time to get any real work done

I was a big fan of org mode, and I still think nothing beats it for free form note taking. But if your use cases are very simple todo tracking, you might want to try OmniFocus. I have bene using OmniFocus and found a very easy to use replacement. It doesn't match the flexibility of org mode but gets the job done.

The wider implications of recommending a proprietary application (worse: a GUI based one which costs money and is only available on one platform) is that now your documents are tied to a particular time of reference in an ecosystem. Something which moves.

For context I have lost files because the old version of the software which could read the formats would not run on my operating system, and purchasing a new license for the updated version was no guarantee that it would work either as the format had changed.

Yes, this is a stupid qualm to have when Excel/Word exists, but in those cases the alternative is not easily digestible plain text documents.

The case for making things more proprietary and costly should come with serious considerations.

Especially at $10/mo. That's more than I pay for Netflix.

(FD: I'm not an org-mode or emacs user, and this was written on a Mac)

Information on the '.ofocus' file format here: https://github.com/tomzx/ofocus-format

I think OmniFocus can export in a wide variety of formats, including plain text formats, so you can always take backups of plain text files.

I agree that a FOSS solution is preferable to a proprietary one, however, an easy to use software with a GUI is also preferable to one with a good amount of learning curve. I don't have any issue with the GUI.

I also don't have any issue with costing money. Quality software can cost money, since it costs money to create it. The alternative is software which spies on you and serves you ads. I don't know any other model by which a note taking app can make money.

What's wrong with costing money anyways. A vast majority of HN earns fat salaries writing software. Either those salaries have to come from selling software or from tracking users. I much more prefer software being charged for.

It's not about costing money, it's about costing a lot of money and being a proprietary format.

The idea of locking myself out of my data is unappealing.

And as I replied to the sibling: the ability to export to a format does not mean that it's the default, that it's optimal and not lossy.

If you were able to change the output format permanently to .taskpaper and the software "just worked" I would have less of an issue.

I don't mind software costing money (I pay for an all-license JetBrains account) but that doesn't lock information away in proprietary formats requiring me to renew my subscription or lose my data.

What information is lost in OmniFocus when backing up to a textual format?

Inside the link to the .ofocus teardown you can see references to task parallelisation, along with "rankings", "project"-scopes and so on.

All of this is lost on export/import from .taskpaper, since there's no easy taskpaper representation of such data.

Representing this as a "backup" implies that it can be completely recovered, but that would certainly not be the case, this is an export, a new, lossy, representation of data.

That is also assuming that you consistently export to .taskpaper and not just rely on the default format - which is what everyone and there mum is going to be doing. Because consistently exporting to plaintext is not a common workflow.

The wider implications of recommending a proprietary application (worse: a GUI based one which costs money and is only available on one platform) is that now your documents are tied to a particular time of reference in an ecosystem. Something which moves.

I am not an OmniFocus user, recent versions of OmniFocus can export data to the TaskPaper format (which is just plain text) or to a CSV file.

That is not the native format, therefore it doesn't really matter.

You _can_ export Excel documents as CSV too.

It's interesting, never used it although it looks like it would require more time than it could actually save. The very best products I've encountered are the exact opposite, so easy to use that they feel like they're essentially useless.

Organising life is an abstract monster that no one has ever gotten even close solving it. The question of how do make the most out of our time in our short and unpredictable lifetimes has become somewhat intriguing and boggling to me.

Over the years I've been playing around with a architecture of a tool that would take a crack at this ambiguous challenge.

If someone's interested in trying out an early version, feel free to leave your email here. https://forms.gle/tqpuNpfdpdB3DZLi9.

am I bad for not having a personal notes system or even not taking notes about anything? I feel like any time I take notes on something, I rarely (read, _never_) go back to them, mostly because I don't care or just forgot I took those notes.

I use vim, so what is my alternative? Not gonna learn emacs for the sake of org mode.

You should try. I also was a loyal vim user, but OrgMode was so wonderful I switched to two-editor solution. Emacs for OrgMode and vim for everything else.

Remember, that you don't actually have to learn Emacs, like you had to learn vim to use it. It's just an ordinary text-editor, no huge upfront time investment is needed, especially if all you are after is OrgMode.

Okay, I'll consider giving it a try!

Doom emacs

nice! thx, that is exactly what I need right now!

Since remote work happened, I use a big single org file, with headers and a date here or there.

Now I have the opportunity to fix this and a guide to how.

There is orgmode plugin also for Vim[1].

[1] https://github.com/jceb/vim-orgmode

I love org mode and use it every day. It's killer misfeature for me is I can't collaborate on wikis or Google docs with org mode.

I've seen a great org mode webapp here, but Google drive permissions means you are forced to grant the webapp read/write to everything (not just a folder or mimetype).

In spite of that I still use it because I've never seen anything like it in terms of functionality.

One very special use-case for org-mode I have in "my life" is literate programming. I've not used any other tool, that can do this as well as org-mode.

(1) I can export to many formats.

(2) I can choose what to code export (source blocks).

(3) I can choose what code to run on export.

(4) I can give names to source blocks and then link to them in other source blocks, basically building a code dependency tree with them, allowing me to focus on one aspect at a time.

(5) I can link to other source blocks out of order.

(6) I can specify how the output should be put back into my document.

(7) I get syntax highlighting for any language, that is usually highlighted in my Emacs.

(8) I can use multiple (programming) languages. For example I could output a data table and then have another source block using GNU Plot to make a nice diagram.

(9) I can write explanations next to the source blocks in a lot of detail.

There is probably more, that does not come to mind just right now. Then there are some git hosts (notabug), which can render org-mode files like the usual hosts render markdown files (readme.md). So when you upload into git, you get instant readability in a rendered version, plus possibly syntax highlighting on the website.

That is only one aspect where org-mode really shines. I find it also indispensable for to-do lists. Using shortcuts to check or uncheck items and recalculating done/to-do count or percentages in a higher level of the to-do list. One can prioritize headings and use tagging, to enable later filtering of headings and narrowing down visible content.

One can also render Latex formulas inline for preview. If you need only standard document classes, you can go ahead and output to latex. Or you can create your own document class in your init.el file and customize everything as you would in writing Latex yourself, only that you get the benefit of writing org-mode instead. Much more focus on the content.

And then of course everything is plain text, which makes this even better and easy to manage in version control.

I just love org-mode! For me, easily one of the huge selling points for Emacs. The only other easy to use plain text format, that could get close was reStructuredText for me. Unfortunately there are few good reStructuredText parsers in many programming languages.

As a vim user, I've wanted to learn org mode for years. I kept thinking I had to start by learning vanilla emacs and then progress to org mode. Recently I've tried starting with doom emacs which emulates the vim keybinds and found it to be much easier going. I'd recommend it to any vim users wanting to get in to org mode.

I tried to use Org Mode at work last year, to take meeting notes, track time spent on the 12 different projects I have to chip in to and to organise my calendar.

It was okay, but I didn't (and still don't) use Emacs for anything else.

I get the impression that unless you live your life entirely in Emacs then it's just not worth it.

It's not the same, but I'm using a QOwnNotes based setup. It does document-tocs, images, and a git versioned history if you wish, and a freeform fs layout for your notes which are saved as plain markdown. If emacs is what's stopping you from using orgmode, QOwnNotes may be something for you.

Is there something that could sync text/org files as seamlessly as Evernote/Google Keep does?


Don't two devices have to be online at the same time?

The first section of this article is called "How To Use This Document" and it immediately reminded me of: https://xkcd.com/1343/

For people who just want a very simple CLI to manage tasks/todos I would definitely recommend task warrior: https://taskwarrior.org/

A very simple org-mode workflow that I use to great effect is to just use org-capture and org-agenda and basically ignore all the other features.

Yet another org mode will change your life post.

does anyone know a simple app that allows hyperlinking between notes? I want to create a roam-style knowledge base, but org-mode is too heavy for my purposes.

No thanks

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