Org Mode as an Exocortex

Jeff Terrell has an interesting video up that considers Org mode’s role as an exocortex. By “exocortex” he means (roughly) “memory external to your brain that helps you remember things you don’t need to be thinking about right now.” The idea is to improve your focus by offloading facts that aren’t important to the task at hand.

On the one hand, there’s not really anything new here. Most of us maintain a TODO list to record tasks that need doing but that we aren’t working on right now. By not having to keep those in our active memory, we can improve our focus on the current task. As Terrell says, there are many devices that can serve as an exocortex: a notebook, a calendar app, and the many software implementations of a TODO list.

His video considers why Org mode is a excellent exocortex and he looks at ways to use it for that purpose effectively. Terrell goes over some of the features of Org and shows how they can be used to improve your focus by not having to worry about remembering future tasks. Most of the features he considers are those comprising the agenda and capture functions in Org. He does not, for example, consider Babel or the publishing aspects. One nice feature that he’s configured is the ability to pop up a capture buffer from anywhere in his system. That makes it really easy to capture an idea or task in a low friction way. I have the same thing and use it all the time. It’s hard to overstate how useful it is.

One other point that Terrell mentions is that it’s really handy to be able to carry your exocortex with you and Org’s iOS and Android apps make that possible. He even gives an example of recording things he needs to talk to his wife about and checking his phone at dinner to see what they are.

The video is 14 minutes, 45 seconds long so you can easily fit it into a coffee break. It’s definitely worth while watching, especially if you aren’t already an Org user and are trying to figure out if it could be useful to you.

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