The First Rule for Using Org

I've seen lots of pointers lately to this message from Carsten Dominik on the use of Org mode and managing its perceived complexity. At the end of the message he says

What people miss when they are new to Org-mode is this:

Don't try to set up the "final" task managing system from the start. Because you have no idea yet what your system should look like. Don't set up many TODO states and logging initially, before you actually have a feeling for what you working flow is. Don't define a context tag "@computer" just because David Allen has one, even though you are sitting at a computer all the time anyway! Start by creating and managing a small TODO list and then develop your own system as the needs arises. I wrote Org-mode to enable this development process.

This is excellent advice; advice I failed to heed when I first started using Org. I had read Bernt Hansen's excellent Org Mode — Organize Your Life In Plain Text! and was really impressed. Being new and ignorant and unaware of Carsten's advice, I jumped right in and duplicated much of Bernt's configuration. The result was that my agenda configuration was perfect for Bernt's work flow but not for mine. As a result, I made almost no use of the agenda capabilities of Org.

Years later, I realized that I could perform many of the tasks I was doing manually by defining some capture templates and custom agenda reports so I threw out the unused templates and reports and started over adding just the ones my workflow required. The result was a huge increase in my productivity and the ability to find old items easily.

Many of these templates and reports are concerned with managing Irreal and are still evolving. As I find ways of automating tasks or making it easier to track blog post ideas, I add a template or report to my configuration. Likewise, when I find I'm no longer using part of the configuration, I get rid of it. That's the point: don't worry about adding a template or report until you need it. Adjust your configuration to your workflow, not the other way around.

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  • This approach is also a remedy to anxiety over reading all of the Org-Mode documentation. The Org-Mode documentation serves you better by doing what you want and when the desire arises, doing some research. For example, I never use the agenda. Eventually I added states to my headings via keywords. After a year or two this worked so well that I had a lot of headings in their done state, I wanted to "retire" headings. I searched and there it is: `org-archive-subtree'. No clue of I'm doing it wrong but it works really well for me.