How I use Emacs Org Mode for my weekly reviews

Posted: - Modified: | emacs, geek

Summary: I use a custom Emacs Lisp function to extract my upcoming tasks and logged tasks from my Org agenda, and I combine that with data from using a JSON interface.

I use Emacs Org Mode to keep track of my tasks because of its flexibility. It’s difficult to imagine doing the kinds of things I do with a different task management system. For example, I’ve written some code that extracts data from my Org Mode task list and my time log to give me the basis of a weekly review. Here’s what my workflow is like.

Throughout the week, I add tasks to Org Mode to represent things that I plan to do. I also create tasks for things I’ve done that I want to remember, as I find that I forget things even within a week. I track my time through, a website I built myself for tracking things that I’m curious about.

On Saturday, I use M-x sacha/org-prepare-weekly-review, which:

  • runs org-agenda for the upcoming week and extracts all my non-routine tasks
  • runs org-agenda in log mode and extracts all finished tasks from the previous week
  • gets the time summary from Quantified Awesome’s JSON interface

Here’s what the raw output looks like:


I like including a list of blog posts so that people can click on them if they missed something during the week. Besides, my blog posts often help me remember what I did that week. I customized my WordPress theme to give me an org-friendly list if I add ?org=1 to the date URL. For example, here’s the list for this month: . I copy and paste the relevant part of the list (or lists, for weeks near the beginning or end of a month) into the *Blog posts section*. I could probably automate this, but I haven’t bothered.

Then I organize the past and future tasks by topic. Topics are useful because I can see which areas I’ve been focusing on and which ones I’ve neglected. I do this organization manually, although I could probably figure out how to use tags to jumpstart the process. (setq org-cycle-include-plain-lists 'integrate) means that I can use TAB to hide or show parts of the list. I use M-<down> and M-<right> for most of the tasks, and I also cut and paste lines as needed. Because my code sorts tasks alphabetically, I’m starting to name tasks with the context at the beginning to make them easier to organize.

If I remember other accomplishments, I add them to this list. If I think of other things I want to do, I add them to the list and I create tasks for them. (I should probably write a function that does that…)

The categories and time totals are part of the weekly review template inserted by sacha/org-prepare-weekly-review. I use my smartphone or laptop to track time whenever I switch activities, occasionally backdating or editing records if I happen to be away or distracted. If I’m at my computer, I sometimes estimate and track time at the task level using Org Mode’s clocking feature. Since I’m not consistent with task-based time-tracking, I use that mainly for investigating how much time it takes me to do specific things, and I don’t automatically include that in my reports.

When I’m done, I use org2blog/wp-post-subtree to publish the draft to my blog. I preview it in WordPress to make sure everything looks all right, and then publish it.

It’s wonderful being able to tweak your task manager to fit the way you work. Yay Emacs, Org Mode, WordPress, and making your own tools!

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