OrgMode Tutorial – Episode 01

This article is in English because of my friends in the LinkedIn GTD group. I recently had the idea that I should produce some screencast tutorial for OrgMode because then I can show how things work and this is maybe more helpful than just writing about it.

The first shot I tried on June 01. I was very optimistic and tried to record a whole episode in one run, but then learned that its not so easy to do when you have 2 kids in the house that come and interrupt you from time to time. So after 3 attempts I have made a video, but looking at it on YouTube was not so nice, blurred image, wrong screen resolution because I recorded what happened on my 1280×1024 monitor and difficult to follow. So if you want to see that bad video, click on this link.

So I decided to do this again. Better hopefully and shorter. I spend some days to record smaller pieces (snippets) that just introduce one or two basic concepts and then stop until the next snippet. I tried to prepare a lot in advance so that the person that watches the video doesn’t get bored by just watching me typing things. And I switched to the 1920×1080 monitor. This also had the advantage, that now I can show the Emacs window and besides that I can show some documentation of what I want to introduce in this snippet. So the documentation is on the left side of the screen and the demonstration is on the right side.

I also installed key-mon, that’s a nice applet that hovers on top of all windows and shows what special keys I’m pressing on the keyboard. So people can see, what key combinations I press and what happens. Emacs is an acronym for „Escape-Meta-Alt-Control-Shift“, you know? So for the rework of episode 1 I created 5 snippets.

Before starting to record I had to do some small customization to emacs:

So this is what you need in your „~/.emacs“ file to get the basic customization for orgmode. Then I recorded the snippets:

  • Snippet 01 is all about headlines and the outline mode in OrgMode. And about visibility cycling. It also covers how to move headlines up and down or how to refile a headline under another headline.
  • Snippet 02 introduces the ToDo keywords. We start with the defaults „TODO“ and „DONE“ and extend them to a set of keywords that fit better into the concept of „Getting things done“.
  • Snippet 03 is about schedules, deadlines and we introduce the agenda view. Agenda views are great to cherry pick from you big bucket of ToDo’s and prestent you what you have scheduled for now.
  • Snippet 04 covers repeating tasks. It introduces the concept of scheduling new occurences automatically once a task is marked as done.
  • Snippet 05 introduces checklists. I present my system for a daily plan by creating a datetree and a simple ToDo checklist for every day.

So after reworking the first episode I think, that the new format with the snippets is better because the video quality is much better with the new setup. And using the documentation on the left side of the screen the viewer can see what I’m talking about. Also key-mon proved to be very helpful. What I didn’t achive was to be shorter. The bad first attempt took almost 32 minutes, but if I sum up all 5 snippets of the rework, I’m ending up at somewhat around 40 minutes.

So for the next episode I need to prepare better I think and maybe limit the topics to just one or two. Would be nice if you leave a comment with suggestions, so that I can improve.


7 Gedanken zu „OrgMode Tutorial – Episode 01

  1. Hi Rainer. I’m a big fan of your series. Learning a lot. Please keep it up! I think the speed and topic size is just right. I also really appreciate the notes on the left side of the screen which list the key concepts and shortcuts. I am a PhD student using Org Mode to keep track of everything, and whilst I think I’ve got the basics, I’m still learning new features from your videos (such as follow mode in the agenda view). Thanks for all of your efforts. I haven’t commented on the videos as I don’t have a YouTube account and have no intention of setting one up.

  2. Hi,

    this tutorial is the first one that helped me getting into emacs. Thank you very much for your efforts!

    What I like: small snippets, text and keyboard shortcuts on one side of the screen, additional explanations here in your blog.

    Here is a question:

    I have problems with C-c C-c — installed the .emacs file with your customizations as above (nothing else), got my Mac keyboard working etc. — just C-c C-c gives Symbol’s value as variable is void: –some command or variable name–. Maybe the problem is in my site-lisp file: there is no „org“ file — what can I do?

    Thanks for any help,


      • Rainer,

        Thanks for your reply. After all, it was a mixed installation of org-mode, since I updated via MELPA. I had to get rid of every shadow of emacs on my Mac and installed a pure emacs again, did no modifications, and it works now. The mailing list was helpful as well.

        Now I am looking forward to digging into your tutorial again!


  3. Hi,
    in addition to my question above: C-c C-c does work in terminal emacs, so I filed a bug to the Emacs mailing list, may be a problem in the GUI.

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