Back to sewing!

I’ve been thinking a lot about clothes lately. This was partly motivated by a dress-up extended family dinner. W- dusted off the suit that he hadn’t worn in years. I realized I wasn’t happy with any of my cold-weather dress options, so we checked out the shops. Dealing with the overwhelming array of choices, none of which I liked, I realized five things:

  • Because it’s difficult for me to find simply-styled, good-fitting clothes in small sizes, I should buy them when I find them, even if they’re at full retail price because the season has just started
  • Likewise, it’s probably worth increasing my clothes budget, considering things even if they’re more than a hundred dollars a piece
  • If I shopped more frequently instead of waiting until I needed something, it might be less stressful
  • Medium-term, I should learn what alterations can do and how much they would add to the price of an item
  • Long-term, I’m probably best served by learning how to sew. Then I can make the basics of my wardrobe in whatever styles and colours I want.

2015-02-10e Shop or sew -- index card #clothing #sewing #shopping

2015-02-10e Shop or sew – index card #clothing #sewing #shopping

2015-02-11d Do I want to invest in clothes or in sewing -- index card #sewing #clothing -- ref 2015-02-10

2015-02-11d Do I want to invest in clothes or in sewing – index card #sewing #clothing – ref 2015-02-10

I ended up wearing my office clothes (a blazer, blouse, and black slacks) to the family event, and that worked out just fine. But I didn’t want to end up in this situation again, so I decided to work on desensitizing myself when it comes to this shopping thing. After all, I remember going from “Waah, this is overwhelming!” to “Actually, this is pretty interesting” in terms of shopping at Home Depot, so maybe I could do that with clothes as well.

While organizing my wardrobe, I realized that I had donated many of the T-shirts that I used to pair with skirts. I had a lot of technical tops, but they didn’t go with slacks or skirts. For example, I didn’t have anything to pair with the purple skirt I’d stored with my other summer things. I added T-shirts to my shopping list. When I saw a nice relaxed-fit pink V-neck shirt at Mark’s Work Warehouse, I figured it would go with the purple skirt, my brown skirts, and my jeans. I also picked up an aqua shirt, a light blue shirt, and some khakis. Still couldn’t find any other items I liked, though.

Although there are quite a few beginner and intermediate sewing classes in Toronto, I decided to see how far I could get by learning on my own. After all, I’d already made a couple of skirts and dresses I was passably happy with. If I got stuck, I could always check Youtube for tutorials or reach out to friends.

I remembered struggling with sewing before. Sometimes I’d do something incorrectly out of impatience or ignorance, and then I got frustrated trying to fix things. It was hard to pay enough attention to details. But I’d noticed myself mellowing out over time. I felt more patient now; I acted more deliberately and spoke more slowly than I used to. Maybe it’s growing older, maybe it’s because of the abundance of time in this 5-year experiment, maybe it’s because I stopped drinking tea… Whatever the reason, maybe sewing might work better for me this time around.

2015-02-11c What were the friction factors for sewing last time, and how can I improve -- index card #sewing #kaizen #reducing-friction

2015-02-11c What were the friction factors for sewing last time, and how can I improve – index card #sewing #kaizen #reducing-friction

I knew I’d enjoy things more if I could start with a small success, so I looked for a simple pattern: cotton, no buttons, no zippers, nothing finicky. None of my stashed sewing patterns met those criteria. I thumbed through the patterns at the Workroom (a small sewing studio near Hacklab), but they were more complex than I wanted to start with.

Eventually I found the free Sorbetto pattern from Colette, which also served as my introduction to downloadable patterns. I printed it, cut out my size, and doubled the pattern with newspaper so that I didn’t have to mess about with folds. I’d previously decluttered my fabric collection, but one of the remnants I’d kept was large enough for the pattern.

I deliberately slowed down while making it. Instead of cutting around the pinned pattern, I chalked the outline of the pattern first, and then I cut that. Instead of cutting on the basement floor (where cats would definitely interfere), I cut on the large square coffee table in the living room. Instead of trying to use the sewing machine’s guidelines for my seams, I chalked all my seam lines. Instead of eyeballing the darts, I chalked the dart lines and the centre lines. I cut and picked out the mistakes I made in staystitching or basting. I neatened the thread tails as I sewed. Instead of using store-bought bias tape, I made bias tape from the same fabric. I zigzagged the other edges instead of using my serger.

2015-02-23 13.48.13It took me a while, but it was a pleasant while, and now I have a top that I’m happy with wearing either on its own or over a blouse. More than that, I have a pattern for as many tops as I want, and the knowledge that that’s one less thing I have to worry about buying when the stores have the right style, the right size, and the right colour.

I think I’ll make this in:

  • black (to pair with a black skirt, if I need to be more formal),
  • white (to pair with everything),
  • red (because that’s fun),
  • and maybe some geeky pattern that’s in line with my interests, to wear to Hacklab and events as a conversation piece? Even better if I could wear it to the office and still blend in as I’m walking through the corridor. Maybe a subtle print? Spoonflower has lots of geeky patterns, but none of them particularly appealed to me because they signal geekiness without actually being my flavour of geekiness.
    • Not really me: chemistry, circuit boards, moustaches, hornrims, calculators, video games
    • More like me: Emacs, tracking, cats, cooking, doodling, blogging, Greek/Roman philosophy

So maybe I’ll stick with solids for now. =)

I turned some scraps into a hair clip, since that felt like a more restrained way to match things than to have a scarf of the same print. Matching things tickles my brain – my mom can tell stories about how I wanted dresses with matching bags when I was a kid. Even now, I like it when people echo colours in their accessories. I’m looking forward to playing around with that through sewing, although maybe with more solids rather than prints.

Whee!

Related sketches:

Trying on common goals

I’ve been thinking a lot about goals lately, thanks to a few discussions with friends. I don’t feel particularly driven by big, hairy, audacious goals (BHAGs). Instead, I focus on small wins and low-hanging fruit, accumulating progress. I don’t have a clear picture of exactly where I’d like to be in 40 years. Instead, I have a multiplicity of posibilities.

But maybe I’m not a special snowflake, and I can learn from the kinds of goals many people have. It’s fun to put on a different hat and try things out. By trying on common goals instead of rejecting them off-hand, maybe I’ll figure out more about what I really want and how to get there.

2015-01-21 What if I tried on common goals -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 What if I tried on common goals – index card #popular-goals

Aristotle says that happiness is the ultimate goal.

2015-01-21 Playing with popular goals - Happiness -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Playing with popular goals – Happiness – index card #popular-goals

I find it helpful to think of happiness as a response to life instead of as an external state to pursue, so this goal feels a little odd to me. But it’s interesting to imagine a happy 90-year-old Sacha and what that life would be like. I think it involves building specific warm-and-fuzzy memories, maintaining a good perspective, and minimizing stressors.

Let’s take a look at other typical goals: wealth, power, fame, and knowledge/experiences.

2015-01-21 Popular goals - Wealth -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Wealth – index card #popular-goals

This might be the easiest of goals to desire, since it’s popular and measurable. Based on my reading, I imagine that conspicuous wealth will bring more problems than I’d like, so I don’t aspire to high-flying lifestyles. I value freedom, so it makes sense to have a financial buffer and to avoid becoming too accustomed to luxuries. That increases my security, which allows me to do more experiments. (I’m already privileged as it is!) Tools can be good investments, and it’s great to be able to strategically use money to make a bigger difference. Money also makes decisions easier: instead of worrying about cutting into your safety margin, you can try things out and see what happens.

2015-01-21 Popular goals - Power -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Power – index card #popular-goals

Power includes determining your life and influencing other people’s lives. I definitely care about having power over myself, but I’m not driven by the idea of making big decisions that affect thousands of people’s lives.

2015-01-21 Popular goals - Fame -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Fame – index card #popular-goals

I think I care more about depth of connection (tribe) than about breadth of fame (celebrity). I’m not sure about legacy. On one hand, it’s good to do things that are remarkable enough to help or inspire people throughout the years. On the other hand, what do we do that will matter after a century, and how can we get things to even be remembered for that long? I’ll think about this a little more while reading history. What makes essays resonate with me even after all that time, and how can I also reach across the years?

2015-01-21 Popular goals - Knowledge or experience -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Knowledge or experience – index card #popular-goals

I like the goal of learning more so that I can appreciate life better, maintain my independence, contribute meaningfully, and make better decisions.

I focus more on knowledge in the sketch above, but I think the popular approach to this goal is to focus on experiences. Bucket lists are practically all about experiences: seeing this country, climbing that mountain. That’s why travel is so big, I guess. What kinds of experiences would I like to have if I were to travel more?

2015-01-24 Thinking about collecting experiences -- index card #goals #experiences

2015-01-24 Thinking about collecting experiences – index card #goals #experiences

I currently don’t like traveling, but it’ll probably be less of a hassle once I get my Canadian passport sorted out.

2015-01-23 What would help me enjoy travel -- index card

2015-01-23 What would help me enjoy travel – index card

Still, with J- in school and three cats at home, it’s hard to plan. Maybe this will be something for later.

2015-01-25 On the other hand - travel -- index card #travel #learning #cooking

2015-01-25 On the other hand – travel – index card #travel #learning #cooking

Besides, I’m not totally convinced that travel is the best way to learn these things. It was fun being immersed in a language and going to local shops. But traveling to learn more about cooking seems a little wasteful, since airfare alone will buy lots of ingredients (and even personalized cooking classes). Staying home means I focus on cooking dishes I can enjoy long-term, and I can take advantage of our kitchen setup. So there’s an advantage to staying home, too.

What about other intrinsic goals?

2015-01-21 Popular goals - Health -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Health – index card #popular-goals

Health makes sense, since your enjoyment of many things can be curtailed by poor health. I probably won’t strive for buffed-up awesomeness, though. I’m mostly focusing on functioning all right, with maybe a little effort here and there to do a bit better.

2015-01-21 Popular goals - Meaning -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Meaning – index card #popular-goals

People want to make a difference at work and in their relationships. Many people feel that their work doesn’t matter a lot. Despite the abstraction of my work (I move bits around? I crunch numbers and questions? I write tools for a tiny, tiny fraction of the world?), I’m pretty good at convincing myself I have a small impact. =) Do I want to trade up by focusing on work that has a bigger impact (either for more people, or deeper in people’s lives? I don’t know yet.

2015-01-21 Popular goals - tranquility, equanimity -- index card #popular-goals

2015-01-21 Popular goals – Tranquility, equanimity – index card #popular-goals

I like this goal the most. Stoicism tells me that it’s the one thing under my control. It transforms the ups and downs of life into opportunities for growth. It doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy things, I just shouldn’t get so attached to them that I become afraid. It doesn’t mean that I can’t be sad, it means I can try to take a different perspective on things.

Hmm. Trying on popular goals helped me take advantage of the collective centuries (millennia?) of thought that have gone into those goals. I still have to come up with my own specifics, but it’s good to be able to quickly test what resonates with me instead of trying to formulate everything by myself. If tranquility, happiness, and knowledge are my major goals (with health as the goal I know I should have), I can focus on coming up with specific ways I want to explore those areas.

Do you resonate with some common goals? What are they, and what are you learning from that?

Tell the difference between diminishing returns and compounding growth when it comes to investing in skills

When is it worth improving a skill you’re already good at, and when should you focus on other things?

I started thinking about this after a conversation about what it means to master the Emacs text editor. Someone wondered if the additional effort was really worth it. As I explored the question, I noticed that skills respond differently to the investment of time, and I wondered what the difference was.

For example, going from hunt-and-peck typing to touch-typing is a big difference. Instead of having to think about typing, you can focus on what you want to communicate or do. But after a certain point, getting faster at typing doesn’t give you as much of a boost in productivity. You get diminishing returns: investing into that skill yields less over time. If I type a little over 100 words per minute, retraining bad habits and figuring out other optimizations so that I can reach a rate of 150 words per minute isn’t going to make a big difference if the bottleneck is my brain. (Just in case I’m wrong about this, I’d be happy to hear from people who type that fast about whether it was worth it!)

Some skills seem shallow. There’s only so much you can gain from them before they taper off. Other skills are deeper. Let’s take writing, for instance. You can get to the point of being able to competently handwrite or type. You can fluently express yourself. But when it comes to learning how to ask questions and organize thoughts I’m not sure there’s a finish line at which you can say you’ve mastered writing. There’s always more to learn. And the more you learn, the more you can do. You get compounding growth: investing into that skill yields more over time.

I think this is part of the appeal of Emacs for me. Even after more than a decade of exploring it and writing about it, I don’t feel I’m at the point of diminishing returns. In fact, even the small habits that I’ve been focusing on building lately yield a lot of value.

No one can objectively say that a skill is shallow or deep. It depends on your goals. For example, I think of cooking as a deep skill. The more you develop your skills, the wider your possibilities are, and the more enjoyable it becomes. But if you look at it from the perspective of simply keeping yourself fueled so that you can concentrate on other things, then it makes sense to find a few simple recipes that satisfy you, or outsource it entirely by eating out.

It’s good to take a step back and ask yourself: What kind of value will you get from investing an hour into this? What about the value you would get from investing an hour in other things?

Build on your strengths where building on those strengths can make a difference. It can make a lot of sense to reach a professional level in something or inch towards becoming world-class. It could be the advantage that gets you a job, compensates for your weakness, opens up opportunities, or connects you to people. On the other hand, you might be overlearning something and wasting your time, or developing skills to a level that you don’t actually need.

When you hit that area of diminishing returns – or even that plateau of mediocrity – you can think about your strategies for moving forward. Consider:

  • What kind of return are you getting on your time? (understanding the value)
  • Is there a more effective way to learn? (decreasing your input)
  • Can you get more value out of your time from this skill or other skills? (increasing your output)
  • If you learn something else first,
    • will that make more of a difference in your life?
    • will that help you when you come back to this skill?

These questions are helping me decide that for me, learning more about colours is worthwhile, but drawing more realistic figures might not be at the moment; learning more about basic Emacs habits is better than diving into esoteric packages; and exploring questions, doing research, and trying things out is likely to be more useful than expanding my vocabulary. I’ll still flip through the dictionary every now and then, but I can focus on developing other skills.

How about you? What are you focusing on, and what helps you decide?

Related:

Using Emacs to prepare files for external applications like Autodesk Sketchbook Pro

To make it easier to draw using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro on my laptop (a Lenovo X220 tablet PC), I’ve created several templates with consistent dot grids and sizes. Since I want to minimize typing when I’m drawing, I wrote a couple of functions to make it easier to copy these templates and set up appropriately-named files. That way, I can save them without the grid layer, flip between files using Sketchbook Pro’s next/previous file commands, and then process them all when I’m ready.

Index cards

I’ve been experimenting with a habit of drawing at least five index cards every day. Here’s a function that creates five index cards (or a specified number of them) and then opens the last one for me to edit.

(defvar sacha/autodesk-sketchbook-executable "C:/Program Files/Autodesk/SketchBook Pro 7/SketchBookPro.exe")
(defun sacha/prepare-index-cards (n)
  (interactive (list (or current-prefix-arg 5)))
  (let ((counter 1)
        (directory "~/Dropbox/Inbox")
        (template "c:/data/drawing-templates/custom/0 - index.tif")
        (date (org-read-date nil nil "."))
        temp-file)
    (while (> n 0)
      (setq temp-file
            (expand-file-name (format "%s-%d.tif" date counter)
                              directory))
      (unless (file-exists-p temp-file)
        (copy-file template temp-file)
        (setq n (1- n))
        (if (= n 0)
            (shell-command
             (concat (shell-quote-argument sacha/autodesk-sketchbook-executable)
                     " "
                     (shell-quote-argument temp-file) " &"))))
      (setq counter (1+ counter)))))

Afterwards, I call sacha/rename-scanned-cards function to convert the TIFFs to PNGs, display the files and ask me to rename them properly.

Rename scanned index cards

(defun sacha/rename-scanned-cards ()
  "Display and rename the scanned files."
  (interactive)
  (when (directory-files "~/Dropbox/Inbox" t "^[0-9]+-[0-9]+-[0-9]+-.*.tif")
    ;; Convert the TIFFs first
    (apply 'call-process "mogrify" nil nil nil "-format" "png" "-quality" "1"
           (directory-files "~/Dropbox/Inbox" t "^[0-9]+-[0-9]+-[0-9]+-.*.tif"))
    (mapc (lambda (x)
            (rename-file x "~/Dropbox/Inbox/backup"))
          (directory-files "~/Dropbox/Inbox" t "^[0-9]+-[0-9]+-[0-9]+-.*.tif")))
  (mapc (lambda (filename)
          (find-file filename)
          (delete-other-windows)
          (when (string-match "/\\([0-9]+-[0-9]+-[0-9]+\\)" filename)
            (let ((kill-buffer-query-functions nil)
                  (new-name (read-string "New name: "
                                         (concat (match-string 1 filename) " "))))
              (when (> (length new-name) 0)
                (revert-buffer t t)
                (rename-file filename (concat new-name ".png"))
                (kill-buffer)))))
        (directory-files "~/Dropbox/Inbox" t "^[0-9]+-[0-9]+-[0-9]+-.*.png")))

I might tweak the files a little more after I rename them, so I don’t automatically upload them. When I’m happy with the files, I use a Node script to upload the files to Flickr, move them to my To blog directory, and copy Org-formatted text that I can paste into my learning outline.

Automatically resize images

The image+ package is handy for displaying the images so that they’re scaled to the window size.

(use-package image+
 :load-path "~/elisp/Emacs-imagex"
 :init (progn (imagex-global-sticky-mode) (imagex-auto-adjust-mode)))

Get information for sketched books

For sketchnotes of books, I set up the filename based on properties in my Org Mode tree for that book.

(defun sacha/prepare-sketchnote-file ()
  (interactive)
  (let* ((base-name (org-entry-get-with-inheritance  "BASENAME"))
         (filename (expand-file-name (concat base-name ".tif") "~/dropbox/inbox/")))
    (unless base-name (error "Missing basename property"))
    (if (file-exists-p filename)
        (error "File already exists")
        (copy-file "g:/drawing-templates/custom/0 - base.tif" filename))
      (shell-command (concat (shell-quote-argument sacha/autodesk-sketchbook-executable)
                             (shell-quote-argument filename) " &"))))

By using Emacs Lisp functions to set up files that I’m going to use in an external application, I minimize fussing about with the keyboard while still being able to take advantage of structured information.

Do you work with external applications? Where does it make sense to use Emacs Lisp to make setup or processing easier?

Different dimensions of scaling up

When I was coming up with a three-word life philosophy, learn – share – scale felt like a natural fit for me (Nov 2012). Learning and sharing were pretty straightforward. I thought of scaling in terms of sharing with more people, sharing more effectively, building tools to help people save time, connecting the dots among people and ideas, and getting better at getting better.

A recent conversation got me thinking about scale and the different dimensions that you can choose to scale along. For example, startups often talk about scaling up to millions of users; that’s one kind of scale. There’s saving people five minutes and there’s launching people into space; that’s another kind of scale.

What kinds of scale I see myself exploring? Here’s a rough categorization. (With ASCII art!)

Category Left Where I am Right
Size “This might save someone five minutes” X--------- “I’m going to help people get into space.”
People “This might help 1,000 people.” -X-------- “I want to help 1 billion people.”
Time “This might help 1,000 people over ten years.” X--------- “I want to help 1,000 people tomorrow.”
Team “I’m going to gradually develop my skills.” -X-------- “I’m going to build a team of people.”
Performance “We’ll start by doing it manually.” -X-------- “I want to get to sub-second response.”
Focus “I’m going to explore and see what comes up.” X--------- “I’m going to focus on one idea and knock it out of the park.”
Variety “I’ll put lots of things out there and people can tell me what they value.” --X------- “I’ll choose what to put out there and connect with people who need that.”
Demand “I’ll come up with the idea and find the market.” ----X----- “I’ll find the market and then come up with an idea.”
Pace “If I grow slowly and steadily, I’ll build a solid foundation.” --X------- “If I grow quickly, I’ll have momentum.”
Time/money tradeoff “I’m going to make my time more valuable.” ---------X “I’m going to make something outside the time=money equation.”
Risk “If I mess up, things are still okay.” X--------- “If I mess up, people die.”
Empowerment “I’m going to do things myself.” -------X-- “I’m going to support other people.”
Teaching “I will build systems so that I can catch fish for more people.” --------X- “I’m going to teach more people how to catch their own fish.”

Hmm. This is similar to those visions of wild success I occasionally sketch out for myself as a way to test my ideas and plans. Wild success at scaling up for me (at least along my current interests and trajectory) probably looks like:

  • Learning about a wide variety of interesting things
  • Writing, drawing, and publishing useful notes
  • Getting better at organizing them into logical chunks like books and courses so that I can help more people (including people who don’t have the patience to wade through fifty blog posts)
  • Reaching more people over time through good search and discovery in my archives
  • Getting updates to more people through subscriptions and interest-based filters

What would an Alternate Universe Sacha be like? I’d probably keep a closer eye out for problems I run into or that people I care about run into, and practise building small websites, tools, systems, and businesses to solve those problems. I might start with trying to solve a problem for ten people, then a hundred, then a thousand, then ten thousand and more. I might look for medium-sized annoyances so that it’s worth the change. I might build tools instead of or in addition to sharing my notes. (After all, The $100 Startup points out that most people don’t want to learn how to fish, they just want to eat fish for dinner and get on with the rest of their lives.)

Hmm. Alternate Universe Sacha makes sense too. Since I’m doing fine in terms of Normal Universe Sacha and scaling up here is mostly a matter of gradual accumulation, it might be interesting to experiment with Alternate Universe Sacha sometime. Maybe during the next two years of this 5-year experiment, or in a new experiment after that?

It’s good to break down a word like “scale” and figure out the different dimensions along which you can make decisions. Are you working on scaling up? If so, what kind of scale are you working towards?

Learn how to take notes more efficiently in Org Mode

How do you take notes in Org? Are you buried in a heap of uncategorized notes? Do you manually open the right file and navigate to the right heading? Are you mystified by org-capture and org-refile? Here’s a path that can help you learn how to more efficiently take (and organize!) notes in Org Mode.

  1. Set up a keyboard shortcut to go to your main Org file
  2. Use org-refile to file or jump to headings
  3. Use org-capture to write notes quickly
  4. Define your own org-capture templates for greater convenience
  5. Pull in additional information

Step 1. Set up a keyboard shortcut to go to your main Org file

Instead of using C-x C-f (find-file) all the time, set up shortcuts to jump to the Org files you use the most. This way, you can easily type that keyboard shortcut, go to the end of the file, and add your note. Here’s some sample code that sets the C-c o shortcut to open organizer.org in your home directory. You can add it to your ~/.emacs.d/init.el and then call M-x eval-buffer to load the changes.

(global-set-key (kbd "C-c o") 
                (lambda () (interactive) (find-file "~/organizer.org")))

Alternatively, you can use registers, which are Emacs data structures that can hold text, file references, and more. The following code sets the o register to organizer.org in your home directory:

(set-register ?o (cons 'file "~/organizer.org"))

You can then jump to it with C-x r j (jump-to-register), specifying o at the prompt.

Once you’re in your Org file, you can use M-> (end-of-buffer) to go to the end of the file, or you can use C-s (isearch-forward) to search for some text.

You’ll still need to switch back to your original buffer or window configuration when you’re done, but that’s something you can fix when you learn how to use org-capture.

Step 2. Use org-refile to file or jump to headings

The next improvement is to use org-refile to move the current subtree to a specified heading, or jump to one without moving any text. This will let you quickly go to a project or task from anywhere in Org Mode.

By default, org-refile will show you only the top-level headings of the current file. Let’s configure it to show you headings from all your agenda files. You can use M-x customize-variable to change org-refile-targets. Click on the INS button, then click on Value menu next to Identify target headline by. Change this to Max level number. In the Integer field, fill in a suitably high number, like 6. This is the maximum depth of headings that will be shown.

If you prefer to set your variables using Emacs Lisp, here’s the code that you can add it to your ~/.emacs.d/init.el. Call M-x eval-buffer to load the changes.

(setq org-refile-targets '((org-agenda-files . (:maxlevel . 6))))

Be sure to add your main Org Mode file to your agenda list. You can do so by going to the file and typing C-c [ (org-agenda-file-to-front), or by setting the org-agenda-files variable.

The standard Emacs completion interface isn’t as friendly as it could be. I use the Helm package to make it easier to select and complete input. Since Helm can be a little complex, you may want to start with ido-mode instead. Here’s how you can set Ido up to use with Org Mode:

(ido-mode)
(setq org-completion-use-ido t)

Once you’ve set up your org-refile-targets, your agenda files, and either Helm or Ido, you can get the hang of using org-refile. The standard keyboard shortcut for org-refile is C-c C-w when you’re in an Org Mode buffer. org-refile can do different things depending on how you call it:

  • By default, it moves the current subtree to the specified location.
  • If you call it with the prefix argument C-u (like so: C-u C-c C-w), it jumps to the specified location instead of moving the current subtree.
  • If you call it as C-u C-u C-c C-w, it jumps to the previous refiling location.

First, practise using it with the prefix argument (C-u C-c C-w) to jump to a location. Once you’ve gotten the hang of that, go to some of your uncategorized entries and use org-refile without the prefix argument (just C-c C-w) to move the entries to the right place.

org-refile gives you a quick way to jump to a heading, but you still have to find your way back to whatever you were working on before you wanted to take a note. After you’re comfortable with refiling notes to the right place, move on to learning how to use org-capture to quickly take notes from anywhere.

Step 3. Use org-capture to write notes quickly

org-capture can help you take notes quickly by popping up a window or leading you through prompts. When you’re done taking the note, it will return you to whatever you were looking at before you started. In order to take advantage of this, though, you’ll need to customize org-capture.

The Org Mode manual recommends giving org-capture a global keyboard shortcut such as C-c c.

(global-set-key (kbd "C-c c") 'org-capture)

You can use M-x customize-variable to set org-default-notes-file to the filename you would like notes to be saved to, or set it in Emacs Lisp code like this:

(setq org-default-notes-file "~/organizer.org")

Make sure that the file exists and is automatically opened in Org Mode.

If you type C-c c, org-capture will display a prompt. t is a simple task template, and C will show you the customization interface for org-capture-templates.

Let’s start with t. It will show you a buffer with a simple TODO entry. You can fill in the rest of the details, use C-c C-s (org-schedule) to schedule it for a particular day, set the deadline with C-c C-d (org-deadline), etc. You can change the TODO keyword or delete it.

When you’re done, type C-c C-c to automatically save it to your default notes file (as specified by org-default-notes-file). Changed your mind? Cancel with C-c C-k. After either C-c C-c or C-c C-k, you should be back to whatever it was that you were working on.

Practise using C-c c (org-capture) to quickly jot down several tasks or notes. Then go to your notes file and use C-c C-w (org-refile) to move the notes to the right place.

You can also refile the notes right from the capture buffer. Instead of typing C-c C-c to finish your note, use C-c C-w to refile it.

Get the hang of using org-capture to take notes, organizing them every so often (maybe at the end of your day, or once a week?) or refiling them as you go.

Step 4. Define your own org-capture-templates for greater convenience

If you find yourself capturing different kinds of notes often or you want to capture in another format (table entry? list item?), invest the time in customizing org-capture-templates. In the beginning, you might find the Customize interface you get from M-x customize-variable org-capture-templates to be easier to work with than setting the values in plain Emacs Lisp, since the Customize interface lists the options. Read the documentation and look at examples of how other people have configured their org-capture-templates for more ideas. I have quite a few templates defined in my config, and http://doc.norang.ca/org-mode.html has a number of templates too.

Step 5. Pull in additional information

org-capture and org-refile are great when you’re at your computer, but what if you’re away? Quite a few people use MobileOrg to take quick notes on the go. I haven’t gotten around to setting that up for my workflow properly; instead, I use Evernote to jot quick notes on my phone. As part of my weekly review process, I look at the notes in my Evernote inbox and copy them into Emacs as needed.

You can manually copy information from your preferred non-Emacs note-taking tools, or you can figure out an automatic way of doing so. For example, I have some code to copy Evernote notes titled “Journal” into an Org Mode file structured by year-month-day.

Tweak your workflow!

Here’s a quick sketch showing some of your workflow options when it comes to capturing and organizing information with Org Mode. Which combination do you prefer, and how could you make it even better?

2015-02-09 Capturing Org Mode notes more efficiently -- index card #emacs #org #capture #refile

2015-02-09 Capturing Org Mode notes more efficiently – index card #emacs #org #capture #refile