Beeminder + Org Mode = Heaven

I just recently bit the bullet and learned emacs and org mode. I didn’t realize that this is what my scatter brain needed my entire life.

“Org mode” (which basically means “the ORGanizing extension”) is an extension to the “Emacs” editor which allows you to take notes and place all your TODO items and scheduled items anywhere in your outline, and it also scans the entire document to make an interactive report called the “agenda view” where you can see and interact with all of your calendar scheduled entries and to-do items.

It’s also a PIM (Personal Information Management) tool. It’s sometimes called “a second brain”. And it has many more functions, such as integrated email, spreadsheets, news feeds, web browsing, and more. Emacs with org-mode is used a lot by programmers, researchers, and writers. Some people publish blogs straight from their org mode file(s). Others publish articles, books, and advanced research papers with bibliographies. But many people simply use org mode to manage their life!

And of course, the beeminder integration is nice!

Here are some screenshots.

SCREENSHOT #1

SCREENSHOT #2

It’s actually all just plain text, the exact same that you would get typing in Windows Notepad. (In fact, you could edit and save your org files using Notepad.) But the emacs editor is super powerful.

And you can customize how it’s presented in many ways. Those previous screenshots are using a color theme called “Leuven”, which helps to highlight the structure of org mode. (For example, the red text on the right side above are items that are overdue.) There are many different color themes, and they are all customizable. Here’s the same screen above with a different theme.

SCREENSHOT #3

Here’s the catch. Emacs with Org Mode can be difficult to learn. Org mode has been around for 20 years, and Emacs for 45 years, so some of the terms and interface metaphors are a bit odd. Learning to use Emacs is more of a journey than a destination, but it’s worth it. There are many reasons why, but my own personal favorite is that it’s most likely a tool that I’ll use for the rest of my life. Because it’s withstood the test of time, and will be around forever.

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I love org-mode! I’ve been using it to manage my life for the greater half of a decade now using a GTD-lite system.

The best things, IMO:

  • org-roam: I never found a hierarchy that worked well for me; org-roam provides really good support for a “wiki-like” approach to note taking.
  • it’s so flexible. I can write custom views to do things like “hide errands to stores that are closed right now” and “bug me about blocked projects with no currently scheduled due date.”

There’s a couple downsides:

  • The mobile support is limited. I’ve tried some of the apps, but they’re more-or-less perpetually halfway complete.
  • It’s so flexible. Sometimes I find myself procrastinating by changing my org-mode config.
  • I’m not sure that I would recommend it if you don’t know how to program. It’s possible to use otherwise (and maybe even a good way to learn) but to get the most out of it, writing some code helps.
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