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Organize Your Life With Org-Mode

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For decades, I have been interested in methods and tools to organize my life. There are multiple reasons for that. The most obvious reason is that I don't want to forget or miss important things. Furthermore, I want to be able to concentrate on the current task without having to worry about some different things I have to remember in the meantime.

A very important motivation is the need for curating a knowledge base. This knowledge base is crucial for my life. With it, I can re-construct the past to a great level of detail. When I faced a certain issue and was able to find a solution, my knowledge base is able to tell me the solution when the issue re-appears somewhere else.

This is about the journey for the best tool there is to organize my life.

Looking back

During my journey, I have used many different tools and methods. From a variety of paper-based approaches to the huge universe of the digital ones, mobile or not.

In 2011, I attended a talk where Eraldo showed some really basic stuff of Emacs Org-mode. From then on, I found the ultimate tool of choice for almost all of my workflows. Meanwhile, I work within Org-mode for about ninety percent of the time I work with my computer. I published many blog articles about Emacs and Org-mode.

It's not about an editor

For simple editing tasks (email, Usenet, config files, ...), I still do use the vim editor on a daily basis. This is no contradiction at all because Emacs is not just an editor.

Org-mode, as an extension to the Emacs platform, is like an endless box of Lego bricks. With those bricks, you can build your personal information management (PIM) environment. Everybody takes different bricks out of this box. For every Org-mode user, Org-mode is slightly something different.

Therefore, with some given urge to develop yourself, you get a tailored toolset which is unique for your personal tasks. My set of tools is a loyal companion for many years. The knowledge I accumulated by playing around with Emacs and/or Org-mode is knowledge that lasts for decades, not just until the next major release. Even more, I do think that this ecosystem is an example of a totally new kind of software system. Something that tears down the walls we have between our applications. Something that lets us put the information in the center of all and not separate files, software applications or even features. Everything that relates to each other is in one common place.

As simple as possible but very powerful at the same time

The basis of Org-mode are simple text files. They are the definition of openness and therefore I don't have to worry about the future. My data can be read and processed by all kinds of tools forever. Data-wise there won't be any migration loss between Org-mode and something different.

Within my Org-mode files, I can embed and link all kinds of data. Contrary to many people who have never seen the capabilities of a modern Emacs, my environment is able to display images and even PDF files within the editor window. For experts, embedded source code snippets can be even executed in-line and the output may be re-used by a different code snippet (in a different programming language) or visualized using any decent tool. Even those advanced features are implemented so that I don't have to be a genius in order to use and control them.

As a matter of fact, basic Org-mode keyboard shortcuts are not that hard to learn. With a handful of mnemonic shortcuts, you are ready to go for your daily work. Starting with simple things like brainstorming ideas, collapsing and expanding content, moving around within your data and creating new items quickly - shortcuts you can remember within minutes.

Text within Org-mode is written in a very simple and most beautifully designed markup language. No comparison to hard-to-type markups like HTML, complex ones like LaTeX or IMO badly designed ones like reStructuredText. Good news: Org-mode can export your information in all kinds of formats including HTML, LaTeX, docx, LibreOffice, and a big variety of markup languages. Even PhD theses and whole books are written using Org-mode.

Emacs showing an Org-mode buffer with some syntax examples

Never in my life have I seen a more beautiful piece of software that scales well from very simple note taking to the most complex workflows you can imagine. Its community is awesome, you can meet the most nicest people.

To me, Org-mode solves things like simple todo lists, note taking, project management, spreadsheet calculations, calendar, contact management, file management, blogging system, knowledge base, quantified self, lifelogging, reference management, bookmark collection and so forth.

Of course, for you, there will be different tasks and workflows you want to accomplish. And there will be cool answers for you within Org-mode and related projects.

My recommendation is that you should ignore any prejudice you might have and give Emacs and Org-mode a try. Don't be overwhelmed by the advanced features I have mentioned or that are documented in the very good manual. You start simple and learn more complex features as your requirements develop themselves on the way.

Your knowledge is the only limit.


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