I am Apt

An opiniated guide to using Org Mode in Emacs

Published on Thu May 25 2023 20:24:44 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)

On Hacker News I’ve seen several posts of how people are using Org Mode to manage their notes and task management. Yet everytime I tried it, it never stuck. Being someone who mostly uses Bear and occassionally vim for note taking, Emacs felt like a huge step back.

Yet Org mode’s creator Carsten Dominik had a massive selling point: note taking and task setting should happen in the same place. You do not want to use two separate applications. Normally tasks come up while you’re taking notes (in a meeting), so this made a lot of sense for me.

Luckily I’ve now found an approach which works for me. If you are not an expert in Vim or Emacs, I feel this guide can help you get started. I’ve become so comfortable, I actually wrote this post in Org mode, exported it to Markdown and got it up on my blog in no time!

Use Doom Emacs

You first need to install Emacs, and I heavily recommend using Doom Emacs. Emacs users love to start with a vanilla install, and then customize it. You don’t have time for this, so save yourself the effort and just start with a nice set of defaults. To install, see their Getting Started guide.

Use Emacs key-bindings, unless you are a Vim expert

If you use Doom Emacs, you need to choose your keyboard shortcuts (key-bindings). As Doom Emacs is a shell application, not a GUI (Graphical User Interface) application, you are going to have to learn a set of key-bindings. You can choose between:

If you are a Vim expert, stick with the default, otherwise, switch to Emacs key-bindings. They more closely match what you are used to in other applications (Microsoft Word, Bear, etc.). If you don’t like vim key-bindings, you can disable it (comment it out) in ~/.config/doom/init.el. You are looking for the (evil +everywhere); come to the dark side, we have cookies setting. After changing this, you need to run doom sync in your terminal to reload Doom.

With some vim experience, I chose to use evil mode, and have been using this cheatsheet to help me with some obscure commands.

Use M-x a lot at first

Doom Emacs comes with many built-in functions. You probably don’t know any of them, so keep typing M-x. That means, Alt + x on your keyboard.

You’ll then start to learn new short-cuts. In Emacs, keybindings with M mean the Alt key, and the C key means Control/Command. The more often you use M-x, the more often you are going to learn a new function which you then can memorize.

Using Org Mode

With Doom Emacs set-up, create your first .org file, and have fun. The moment you open an .org file with (Doom) Emacs, it will set the editor to org mode. To learn about all of its features, check-out the Org Mode site and this handy cheat-sheet.

Try to make the most of its features, such as:

Have fun!