Planner, basic configuration

If you're the kind of person who likes scribbling free-form tasks and notes in your day planner, then Planner might be a good fit for you. In this blog post, I'll show you how to use Planner to organize the things you need to do by the day you need to do them, check the things you need to do, mark tasks complete, and review what you've finished. I assume that you've already got GNU Emacs 22 installed and that you're comfortable with using Emacs as a text editor, although it might not yet be your way of life. (Just you wait! Planner was the thing that pushed me over the edge. ;) )

Set up

Here's the bare minimum you need in order to use Planner to manage your tasks day by day. You'll need Planner, which is a separate package that you can get from http://www.gna.org/projects/planner-el . As of this writing, Planner is at version 3.41. You'll also need Muse, the markup engine that Planner is based on. You can get Muse from https://gna.org/projects/muse-el . As of this writing, Muse is at version 3.11.

Download the latest versions of Planner and Muse, and unpack them. If you don't know where to unpack them, I suggest creating an ~/elisp directory and extracting the archives to that directory. You should end up with two new directories: ~/elisp/planner-3.41 and ~/elisp/muse-3.11.

Here's how to configure Planner:

1. Create a directory such as ~/Plans . This is where your Planner pages will be.

2. Add the following to your .emacs:

;; Load paths - change as necessary
(add-to-list 'load-path "~/elisp/planner-3.41")
(add-to-list 'load-path "~/elisp/muse-3.11/lisp")  ;; (1)

;; Basic configuration
(require 'muse-project)
(require 'planner-autoloads)
(setq planner-project "WikiPlanner")

;; Adjust this if you already have other Muse projects
(setq muse-project-alist
      '(("WikiPlanner"
	 ("~/Plans"                          ;; (2)
	  :default "TaskPool"                ;; (3)
          :major-mode planner-mode
          :visit-link planner-visit-link)))

;; Some handy keyboard shortcuts
(global-set-key (kbd "C-c d") 'planner-goto)                            ;; (4)
(global-set-key (kbd "C-c t") 'planner-create-task-from-buffer)
(global-set-key (kbd "<f9> d") 'planner-goto)                     ;; (5)
(global-set-key (kbd "<f9> t") 'planner-create-task-from-buffer)
(global-set-key (kbd "<f9> <f9>") 'planner-goto-today)      ;; (6)
(global-set-key (kbd "<f9> <f8>") 'planner-goto-yesterday)  ;; (7)
(global-set-key (kbd "<f9> <f10>") 'planner-goto-tomorrow)

(plan)  ;; (8)
  • (1) The lisp/ subdirectory is added to the load-path, not the base directory.
  • (2) Change this if you put your planner projects somewhere else.
  • (3) Muse will open the default page if you open a project.
  • (4) You'll use these two commands often, so it helps to keep them close by. You can remember them as C-c d(ate), which jumps to a Planner date, and C-c t(ask), which creates a Planner task.
  • (5) I like dedicating one of my function keys to different Planner shortcuts. "F9 d(ate)" jumps to a Planner date and F9 t(ask) creates a task.
  • (6) You'll check today's page frequently, so make it an easy-to-hit shortcut. I like F9 F9 because I can just tap the key twice to see my tasks and schedule.
  • (7) This pair of keyboard shortcuts make it easy to navigate through pages.
  • (8) If this line is one of the last few in your ~/.emacs, then your Planner page for the day will display every time you start Emacs. It's a good way to remember that it exists. ;)

Evaluate the code with M-x eval-buffer, or restart Emacs. Then you're ready to plan!

Planner and day pages

The first thing you need to learn is how to get to day pages quickly. Planner needs to be at least as fast as opening a paper-based day planner and finding the right page. Here are the two keybindings from the previous section on setting up Planner:

F9 d(ate) or C-c d planner-goto Jumps to any day's page
F9 F9 planner-goto-today Shows today's page

F9 d (planner-goto) is smart. You can click on a date in the calendar that pops up, or navigate to a date and press RET. Typing in the date is much faster. The date format is yyyy.mm.dd, and it understands partial dates (mm.dd, or just dd).

For example, if the date today is December 28, 2007, here's what

Example Result Explanation
. 2007.12.28 Today
30 2007.12.30 Which day in the current month
1.30 2007.01.30 Which day and month in the current year
2008.01.30 2008.01.30 The full date

planner-goto also understands relative dates, and this is where things get more interesting. If you are looking at a day page, dates are calculated based on the day you're currently looking at, or today if you're not looking at a day page. This allows you to use "+2fri" to jump to successive paydays or use -1 to see the day before the one you're reading. Here are some examples that will show you what you can do:

  1. Jump to the day page for December 28, 2007 with F9 d or C-c d, specifying 2007.12.28 for the date.
  2. Use F9 d +5 to jump five days ahead. You should now see the page for 2008.01.02.
  3. Use F9 d -3 to jump three days back. (2007.12.30)
  4. Use F9 d +tue to jump to the next Tuesday. (2008.01.01)
  5. Use F9 d -2fri to jump to two Fridays ago. (2007.12.21)
  6. Use F9 d +2wed2007.12.01 to jump to the second Wednesday after Dec 1, 2007. (2007.12.12). +2wed01 would have worked, too.

(If you ever find yourself using a date shortcut like the one in (6), please e-mail me, as I put that code in just for fun. =) )

Practice jumping around to different dates using F9 d or C-c d, the two shortcuts we set up earlier. If one of those shortcuts feels more natural to you, go ahead and use it. (Or bind it to something else, if you want.) While you're opening different day pages, write a few reminders to yourself.

The basic configuration I suggested also has some handy shortcuts for going to the previous and next days. Press F9 F8 (planner-goto-yesterday) to go to the day before the one that's currently displayed, and F9 F10 (planner-goto-tomorrow) to go to the day after the one that's displayed. You'll find this handy when doing your weekly planning. The standard shortcuts are C-c C-j C-y and C-c C-j C-t. You may find those easier to type, but they were like a game of Twister on my tiny keyboard. (This is also the reason why I've remapped most of my keybindings. I simply can't do the Escape-Meta-Alt-Control-Shift thing.)

So now you know how to open different day pages. You can stop here and already have a decent, minimalist day planner, using it like a collection of text files that just happen to have useful navigational commands. However, with a little more structure and some handy shortcuts, you can be even more effective at managing your tasks.

Creating tasks

Two of the keyboard shortcuts in the sample configuration are C-c t and F9 t, both bound to planner-create-task-from-buffer. This is an incredibly useful function, and it gets even better as you set up more parts of Planner. The key idea behind planner-create-task-from-buffer is that you should be able to quickly jot down a task and GET BACK TO WORK RIGHT AWAY. No need to fiddle around with other files or dig your planner out of your backpack. No switching to another application (at least, if you do most of your work within Emacs). And if you set it up, you even get hyperlinks back to whatever you were looking at, saving you time in searching for the file you wanted to work on or the e-mail you wanted to answer.

Try it for yourself. Use C-c t, F9 t, or M-x planner-create-task-from-buffer to create a task. Type in the task description. For now, accept the default date and plan page. The task will be created on today's page. The task will also be copied to the TaskPool page. To view today's page, type F9 F9. You can use TAB (muse-next-reference) to move the cursor to the next hyperlink, and RET to visit the link.

planner-create-task-from-buffer understands all the date shortcuts that planner-goto does, so you can easily schedule a task for this Saturday (+sat) or three days from now (+3). If you create a task that's scheduled for some other day, you can either open the day page with F9 d (planner-goto), or review it on the TaskPool.

Okay. You've got day pages. You've got tasks. You probably want to find out how to mark tasks as done before your growing TODO list turns into a monster and eats you.

Marking tasks as done, pending, or cancelled

When you finish a task, go to the day page or the plan page it's on and use C-c C-x (planner-task-done) to mark it as finished. Think of it as marking completed tasks with a big X. In addition to the satisfaction of seeing completed tasks grayed and crossed out, you'll also see the completed tasks drop to the bottom of your task list when you save the file. This makes it easy to see what else you need to do. Just pick the next item off your list and keep working.

Not quite done? You can mark it as pending with C-c C-p (planner-task-pending). You can think of it as Pending or Postponed or Procrastinated.

Realized that you didn't need to do it after all? Either delete the task with M-x planner-delete-task, or mark it as cancelled with C-c M-C-x (planner-task-cancelled). Think of C-c M-C-x as similar to C-c C-x (planner-task-done), but even better—you've gotten away without doing something. C-c M-C-x doesn't work on all terminals, so if your computer gets confused and marks the task as done, call M-x planner-task-cancelled instead.

NOTE: If your task is on both a day page and a plan page, make sure you use these Planner commands and M-x planner-edit-task-description in order to change the task status or description, and M-x planner-delete-task to delete the task. These commands update the linked page as well. If not, your tasks could get out of sync.

Even with your newfound powers of Planner task management, you'll probably still be left with unfinished business at the end of the day. Unfortunately, Planner does not have a M-x planner-dilate-time command, so you'll just have to reschedule the tasks for another day.

Rescheduling tasks

If you wrote your tasks into your calendar using a paper-based planner, you'd have to copy unfinished tasks to the next day one by one. This is a powerful incentive to trim your task list and keep it short. Planner can automatically copy unfinished tasks from the previous days onto today's page, saving you a lot of scribbling. Do not let this tempt you into procrastination.

If you go back to the basic configuration, you'll notice that it ends with one command:

(plan)

This reviews the past few days of pages for unfinished tasks, carrying them over to today's page. By default, the past 3 days are checked, which should be enough to get you through a blissful no-computer weekend. If you're in the habit of going for long spans of time without opening Emacs (like 4 days! *gasp*), you may want to change the line in your ~/.emacs to something like

(plan 5)        ;; Check the last 5 days

or even

(plan t)        ;; Check all days. Can be slow!

You can also call this interactively with something like C-u 5 M-x plan, which checks the last 5 days.

plan carries unfinished tasks from previous days to today. What if you want to trim today's task list to a manageable size by proactively and intentionally procrastinating things that you don't need to do today? That's where planner-copy-or-move-task comes in.

To reschedule a task, move your cursor to the task on the day or plan page. Type C-c C-c (planner-copy-or-move-task) and specify the date. Again, planner-copy-or-move-task understands all the Planner date shortcuts. If you reschedule a task from a day page, remember that relative dates will be calculated based on the day page. For example, if you're on 2008.08.12 and you want to reschedule a task, +1 means 2008.08.13. If you reschedule a task from a plan page, dates are relative to today.

If you want to reschedule many tasks, you might find it more convenient to use M-x planner-copy-or-move-region. Move to the beginning of the first task you want to move, press C-SPC to mark the beginning of the region, move to the end of the last task you want to move, and call M-x planner-copy-or-move-region.

Ruthlessly reschedule until your task list for today looks manageable. A large task list can be overwhelming. It feels better to complete everything on your task list and then add some more, than to end each day with many unfinished tasks.

Review

You've got your day pages. You've added and scheduled tasks. You've checked them off. At the end of the week, you're wondering where all the time went. Just hit F9 F9 (planner-goto-today) to jump to today's page, and then use F9 F8 (planner-goto-yesterday) and F9 F10 (planner-goto-tomorrow) to navigate around. (See, those keybindings were there for a reason!)

But wait, there's more! I'll cover projects, timeclocking, and other Planner goodies in an intermediate article on using Planner, so stay tuned.

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